The Way Way Back ****

Perhaps it’s because summer is still with us that the nostalgic carefree days of yesteryear are still very much in flavour at the box office with another coming-of-age film set in the sunshine, after The Kings of Summer release last week. Writing duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have co-penned another poignantly funny feel-good story set among familiar strife, after the Oscar-winning The Descendants in 2011. This time they successfully have a go at directing too, beautifully balancing comedy with melancholy with some wonderfully colourful but very real characters in The Way Way Back that’s like ‘Summer Break for adults’, only with a kid forming the linchpin of sanity.

Shy 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on summer vacation in New England with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his surly older daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a tough time fitting in and dealing with some ugly secrets, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park while dealing with his growing feelings for next-door neighbour Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

It’s another character-building road trip of highs and lows that reunites Little Miss Sunshine stars Carell and Collette, again playing problematic parents. Carell expertly portrays another against-type character, one if the most hateful to date in Trent who tries to control the situation in the most sociopathic and non-empathetic way. Collette is a mother trying to retain her own identity. The story centres on Duncan but uses the actions of the adults – who turn into irresponsible ‘teens’ themselves as soon as they see a bit of sun and sand, such as tragic lush Betty (Allison Janney at her finest) – to allow the youngster to begin developing into a rounded young man before our very eyes. With escapism comes a price, it seems, and it’s a lesson in responsibility.

Ironically, one of the most childish but refreshingly liberating kidults is Owen (delightfully played by Rockwell) who turns out to be the most responsible in the end – something this ‘big kid’ would baulk at hearing. The reason for this surprise maturity might be because both Duncan and Owen seek the same thing – stability – in order to help them progress individually to the next level; for Owen, this is being the kind of man his embattled deputy and on-off lover Caitlin (Maya Rudolph) needs to be happy.

All this world-changing drama is set in one of the most fun-filled vacation places in the world, a tired-looking water park to create a cradle of comfort to allow the nurturing of these rites of passages to manifest. Meanwhile, you can’t help but envy Owen and team (including eternal dude Roddy – Faxon himself) who seem to have the perfect life-work balance that’s missing from the other kidults’ existence, hence their impending foolishness.

Faxon and Rash’s story may be cut form the same cloth as others of the same ilk over the years, but this pair has a knack of molding genuine characters that you really care about watching and following their progress while laughing, cringing and sighing at them along the way. Grab this slice of volatile vacation heaven before the sun sets, complete with a great cast to boot: It’s a guaranteed sigh of cinematic contentment.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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You’re Next ****

Just the title alone means business, and sounds like something from the Scream franchise will be re-enacted here. However, this is a smarter-than-average and well-paced home invasion horror that has both gore and sniggers from horror filmmaking duo, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, who reunite several cast members from their 2010 film, A Horrible Way To Die.

Wealthy family, the Davisons comes together to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of the parents, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), in its large and secluded country mansion, unware that the neighbours down the road have been slain earlier in the evening. The family just sits down to its meal when the fraught reunion is bloodily and abruptly ended by the gang of mysterious masked killers responsible for the neighbours’ grizzly deaths. Under siege, they try fighting for their lives while attempting to work out why they are being targeted.

You’re Next does feel somewhat fresher than the slasher norm, but only after the initial sacrifice sets the tone of brutality for the battle ahead. It’s the only indication we have as to the kind of menace the family faces and it doesn’t hold back. The film then follows the usual pattern of delivering certain cast members that are ideal victim fodder as they are so disagreeable, such as sarcastic troublemaker, eldest brother Drake (indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg) and his caustic other-half Kelly (Margaret Laney) and annoying American Pie cutesy (and Daddy’s girl) Aimee (Amy Seimetz).

The rest of the bunch include a couple of shadier characters, including younger brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his unsually quiet goth pal Zee (Wendy Glenn). Aimee also brings along arty underground documentary filmmaker Tariq (real-life horror flick maker Ti West) ­– probably to rile the oldies – who is instantly identified as one of the first for the chop as he utters self-dilusional drivel. In fact, the standard cinematic cliches prevail for why this family need culling: arrogance/indifference, vast wealth and being socially inept, except among like-minded, priveledged peers. It also speaks volumes about the filmmakers’ views on America’s overseas military offensive, with the patriarch being a recently retired arms expert ­– the irony of which is not lost in the ensuing fight and choice of weaponry.

The only supposed agreeable ones of the group are Crispian (A.J. Bowen) and his friendly and confident Aussie girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson). It’s clear these two are to play a major part and both actors do well to mould their characters beyond the stereotypical. However, Wingard and Barrett make an unlikely hero of the pack, nevertheless, who fast becomes the film’s key point of fascination. This character then presents us with an intriguing array of survival techniques, should any of us find otherselves in the midst of a murderous home attack. In a sense, there is more to enjoy than just the usual body pile-up for genre fans.

On top of the survival training, Wingard and Barrett throw in twist after final twist to keep things from being merely another hunting expedition around a large abode. Old grievances muddy the picture, even de-demonising the attackers at one stage, suggesting they are also victims. There is a healthy sense of female aptitude to the situation, too. It’s all a clever and continual to-and-fro play on our ingrained genre assertions, adding to the film’s freshness.

The great production values demonstrate that both director and writer are cinematographers as well, with some well-framed and lit shots. In fact, rather than being presented with endless creepy, shadowy takes for evil to lurk and jump out ­– though it naturally has these too, a lot of the more shocking carnage is played out in full overhead lighting. There is a frank appeal to the whole affair that leaves nothing to the imagination, even with SFX at play.

You’re Next shakes up the genre after a raft of recent contenders, such as the slicker-looking (but less effective) The Purge. Wingard and Barrett have also thought about delivering other areas of interest (such as the survival tips) while keeping true to the genre and splashing out on gore. The end result is an unlikely sense of horror innovation with the bloodletting familiar still present. You’re Next is certainly a cut and slash above the rest and well worth a butchers.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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We’re The Millers ***

It seems like ‘dumb-ass’ comedy on offer here, a goodhearted road movie that covers a lot of bumpy ground along the way. However, it has a strong will that you just can’t knock that aims to make the lives of its delinquent fake family a little more gratified in the end. Oh, and it promises Friends star Jennifer Aniston in her undies – as gratuitous (and irrelevant as the plot goes) as can be imagined, naturally.

We’re The Millers’s improvisation actually works against the darker-edge humour it tries for in the first half. Falling in the former category means a lot of the characterisation is stereotypical and events rather predictable. However, like any road movie, it’s always how the players get from start to finish that counts, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s film is no exception: has its funny bits and its flat bits but generally, it’s an entertaining watch.

When small-time drug dealer David (Jason Sudeikis) gets robbed, his unhinged yuppie boss, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), forces him to bring a batch of cannabis over the US-Mexican border, telling him to say it’s for ‘Pablo Chacon’. David hatches an idea of creating a pretend family to take along as a cover story – jaded stripper and neighbour Rose (Aniston) as mum and nitwit neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) and foul-mouthed ‘homeless’ girl Casey (Emma Roberts) as his kids, all travelling in a Winnebago as a normal family on holiday. With a few hiccups along the way, including an encounter with fellow ‘average’, travelling family, the Fitzgeralds (great turns from Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn, with Molly C. Quinn) and with the real Pablo Chacon (Tomer Sisley) and his henchman on their tail, will the Millers get home and dry with the dope…

We’re The Millers will be remembered for two things: ‘walking yoga ad’ Aniston in wet skimpy briefs like some Victoria Secrets model, trying desperately to move sexily like a seasoned pro, and Poulter sporting a painfully embarrassing never-region injury inflicted by a spider. If cheap gags are all it takes, this film serves them up for sheer entertainment value. Shame, really, as there are two standout scenes, one involving both sets of parents (Millers and Fitzgeralds) as things get a little experimental, and Sudeikis and Aniston in one of the film’s better improvs unwittingly turning into their elders.

Sadly, Aniston’s fit form and Poulter’s crotch job overshadow anything resembling well-written gags gets because the tone can’t decide between slapstick and dark humour, so slides to the former – even from the start with infamous YouTube joke clips. This goes to trivialise any touching comedy innovation of, say, the Little Miss Sunshine variety, another ‘self healing’ road movie with mismatched family players.

That said We’re The Millers is also very self aware, with some looks to camera that say ‘yes, we know’, allowing daftness to prevail and injecting a gleeful sardonic side. Combine this maybe with the bittersweet edge of Miss Sunshine – after all, each Miller member has individual issues that need addressing – and we could have had a more intriguing concept to bear witness to. After all, Marshall Thurber has a great cast to hand, especially in one-to-watch Brit Poulter of Son of Rambow fame who gets his ‘career highlight’ moment entangling with Aniston. Instead, the film is one gag set up and played out, followed by the anticipation of another. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just We’re The Millers appears to be trying harder to be more than a gag reel of silliness as it has genuine heart and concern. Stick around for the end credits for an Aniston surprise – or not, perhaps? There’s also a faint whiff of sequel on the cards too, if we take to the Millers.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Kings Of Summer ****

The Kings of Summer is a film that evokes a buzz of excitement in that both director (Jordan Vogt-Roberts) and writer (Chris Galletta) are first-timers and have tuned in totally to the teenager psyche when life seems ‘tough’ and we’re itching to get away from the oldies. It’s like a funny Stand By Me, using humour to highlight the irony and poignancy in events that mattered in your early teens. There is a feel-good sense of adventure and old-fashioned play that is missing in this technology age too.

Teenager Joe (Nick Robinson) just doesn’t seem to get on with his father Frank (Nick Offerman at his finest) anymore since his mother passed away. In fact, it feels like father and son will never see eye to eye, but while he’s living under his family’s roof, he has to abide by his father’s rules.

Joe decides enough is enough, and along with best friend Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso) who is an only child and henpecked by his embarrassing parents, the pair venture into the woods for the summer to build a house of their own and live off the land. Tagging on for the ride is eccentric but loyal new companion Biaggio (Moises Arias – voice of Astro Boy). However, does their newfound independence bring them the happiness and freedom they seek, especially when a girl comes between friends.

Vogt-Roberts transports the viewer back to a magical time – we’ve all built dens as such, but this goes a stage further, and with a little imagination on just how the boys got the resources to build the home, it’s a thrill to watch them create their own world while batting off sarcastic retorts from Dad (Frank) and humiliating comments from Mum (Mrs Keenan, played by Will & Grace star Megan Mullally who does ‘annoying’ perfectly).

Far from the troubled childhood of some of the Stand By Me characters, there is the reassurance that these kids belong to comfortable homes that to them appear frustrating and uninhabitable. With this in mind, we are allowed to enjoy the tart humour in the knowledge that the boys just don’t know how lucky they have it.

The beauty of this film is the celebration of choice: Joe and co chose to live rough on their own terms, in turn, exposing them to the adult dangers and pressures of life that they are normally shielded from. What they can’t run away from are affairs of the heart, which provides the catalyst for everything coming away at the seams. It’s a true-to-life and uplifting coming-of-age tale with highs and lows, laughter and tears, but with a real sense of accomplishment that shines through.

The film is wonderfully cast, which is half its success, aside from the astute writing. There is an easy style to it, where the directing just allows a nature state of affairs to flourish. The one to watch comes in the diminutive shape of Arias as the quirky and free-spirited Biaggio who absolutely steals the scenes and gives a career-defining performance. Galletta has been wise to ground his character so he is unlike any other ‘zany’ characters of other coming-of-age films. There is a delightful mix of childishness and years-old wisdom to Biaggio that Arias teases out perfectly.

The Kings of Summer demonstrates what happens when good writing meets good directing and casting with a delectable, touching tale that will tap into anyone’s childhood memories of pure escapism.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones ***

There’s no surprise at the anticipation surrounding the screen adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling novel, directed by Harold Zwart (2010’s The Karate Kid). With a gap in fantasy adventure market left by the globally successful Harry Potter and Twilight sagas, studio bosses are hungry to find the next best thing. It needs the right mix of teen passion, independent spirit, fantasy existence and sexy young things to stand a chance. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones may tick most boxes but leaves a little too much unanswered on the adventure front while bombarding us in other respects, relying on its young star attractions to grab interest in a sequel ­– and one’s already on the cards.

Clary (Lilly Collins) discovers she’s different from most teens when she witnesses a slaying at a local nightclub that no one else seems to notice. After her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey) is attacked and goes missing from their apartment, unexplained supernatural events begin happening that all have something to do with the symbols she’s been drawing. In clear danger, Clary soon discovers her heritage is that of ‘Shadowhunter’, an angelic demon hunter, like her mother. She is drawn into the new world with best ‘Mundane’ friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) fighting demons and other evil entities, with help from fellow hunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower). But the real villain is closer to home than they all think.

Leather bondage Goth gear is nothing new – just look at Buffy and Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing, but it’s the stuff of deviant character that teens lap up. Zwart and design team know this. Getting the right look is key to this film that generally has all the magical, mystery intrigue of a Potter film but also the glam (Goth chic) that’s missing from Bella Swan’s wardrobe in her earlier Twilight years. Throw in some good-looking young actors in cutesy Collins, self-assured Sheehan and the chiselled-cheeked, puppy-dog-eyed Campbell Bower, and you have a winning formula right there. There’s the prerequisite love triangle too, to keep the young audience swooning and wanting more.

Where City of Bones falls down is where it tries to be too clever, ticking all the boxes of every fantasy trope going in one swoop, and so offering vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, angels and demons etc that story elements get missed, say, in terms of how all came about and where each lie in the hierarchy of the centuries-old battle. True, there’s lots of explaining to do for the newbie and there’s a fantasy element for every fan of the genre. Indeed, the filmmakers can get more sinister than a Potter or Twilight film: City of Bones is certainly pitched at the older teen, with subjects like implied incest among other things. A refreshing sarcastic twang to some of the dialogue keeps things not too serious, allowing you to go with the flow, however farcical the plotline is at times.

Like a Dan Brown novel, there are also some ‘real-life’ puzzles to ponder over, one of which includes another surprise talent of composer Johann Bach that should prompt some checking afterwards – a kind of ‘cultural research’ for teens if you will.

Zwart and SFX team are also highly aware that awesome effects are a must nowadays, and there’s no shortage of these to backup the fantasy world they are gleefully creating. That said it’s a little too effects-heavy sometimes to the detriment of some really good, old-fashioned, choreographed fights to prolong the colossal struggle facing the characters. It’s only at the end – resembling a Buffy-styled episode – that these come into some effect with the arrival of corrupt Shadowhunter, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who departs too quickly to grasp any real idea of what his beef is, especially as when he locates what he wants, there’s a far easier way of getting it that doesn’t just involve Clary’s coercion.

Still, with more to learn about the markings or ‘Runes’ and the ancient culture, and an appealing-looking cast caught in love’s turmoil, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones may have its major flaws and be a copycat of other standout films, but it will prick hormonal teen interest in a big way now R-Patz and Bella are an old married couple – plus it helps that Campbell Bower cut his teeth in the infamous vampire saga too, adding another draw factor.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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2 Guns ****

After the gritty Contraband last year, starring Mark Wahlberg as an ex-smuggler forced to make one last haul, the actor teams up again with Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur for more action in 2 Guns. It’s a cockier, smarter-mouthed role for Wahlberg who we tend to naturally like and root for as the solid type. Add another charismatic guy in perma-cool Denzel Washington as his partner in crime, and 2 Guns becomes a surprisingly enjoyable contender at the box office this week.

Washington and Wahlberg play two guns for hire, Bobby and Stig, who plan to rob a safety deposit bank that holds the crime proceeds of Mexican drug kingpin Papi (Edward James Olmos). Unbeknown to the other, Bobby is actually an undercover DEA agent and Stig an undercover Naval Intelligence officer; both have been ordered to set the other one up by their superiors. However, when the heist goes wrong and the pair gets away with way more millions in cash than briefed, they find they’ve been set up by their respective authorities, robbing from another powerful organisation that wants its cash back. Soon they’re on the run from this entity, their own bosses and the drug cartel.

2 Guns is based on the Steven Grant graphic novels of the same name, and in a week that sees Kick-Ass 2 released too, this is an action flick with a comic-book visual style that doesn’t reference its origins. Although darker in tone than your average drug cartel film, the emphasis is on action and comedy working hand-in-hand, rather than simply gore. The desert setting feels all too familiar – though beautifully captured – while the twists and counter-twists and outrageous plot set-pieces bolster the film’s arrogant streak.

Adding to this unabashed over-confidence that drives the film’s momentum, Washington and Wahlberg make a highly appealing screen partnership. Wahlberg hands over his stalwart baton to Washington while he explores a wilder side on the edge and provides a lot of laughs with his throwaway retorts. Washington wears one stylish hat after another while keeping his nerve under interrogation in a role we love seeing him play. Throughout, the mismatched pair bickers like an old married couple so fuelling the comedy factor and taking the edge off some of the nastier moments. The permanent sense of unease and distrust of all players adds to the intensity, plus Kormákur’s arthouse influence elevates this production out of the video nasty pile of clichéd drug crime capers.

There are also some great supporting acts from Bill Paxton as the psychotic CIA man, with some fantastic lines delivered to chilling perfection in a Tarantino-esque vein. Olmos embodies the kingpin role with sinister aplomb, complete with an unhealthy interest in cattle. Meanwhile Paula Patton as DEA agent Deb provides the tough cookie eye candy in some eyebrow-raising scenes where flesh and lingerie are flaunted, hence reducing her input to nothing short of Bobby’s love interest (another Déjà Vu for Patton and Washington) rather than a character of interest in her own right.

Kormákur effortlessly varies the shots and keeps a good pace, injecting sporadic brutality to sharpen the senses and emotions that move from thrills to laughs to mindless thrills as things get more explosive. At the core is the pivotal partnership, well cast in Washington and Wahlberg, that transcends the outrageousness surrounding them and provides the fun factor in the process. We could get used to hotheaded wise guy Wahlberg too.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Kick-Ass 2 **

Those hoping for a repeat of the cool shock tactics of Kick-Ass might come away feeling rather short-changed after watching the sequel. Granted, all the key characters are back, in particular, Kick-Ass himself and the petite purple dynamo Hit-Girl that sees Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz take up their costume-clad roles respectively, verses Christopher Mintz-Plasse as grudge-holding Chris D’Amico – even the dearly departed daddies (played by Nic Cage and Mark Strong) pose in amusing pictorial reminders. The violence and coarse language is also abundant in a ‘bigger, badder and ballsier’ follow-up.

However, there is a combination of issues that make Kick-Ass 2 feel somewhat wanting. Admittedly, the shock factor that marked out the original is long gone, and like a one-trick pony, is sadly inevitable. The sequel also lacks the finesse of the Goldman-Vaughn writing style that married violence and humour amicably with thrilling, animated results, climaxing in an unforgettable, blood-drenched finale that put Hit-Girl firmly in the frame. This new offering, penned and directed by Jeff Wadlow – but still based on the Millar-Romita Jr comic book and produced by Vaughn, has lots more superheroes with justice on their mind against lots more baddies with malice to spend but ends up as one big West Side Story style punch-up with a touch of The Spy Who Loved Me that loses the slick comic-book pow-wow factor.

Three years on the story picks up where the 2010 film left off, seeing Hit-Girl/loner schoolgirl Mindy Macready living with her dad’s colleague and barely surviving a seemingly average High School life. Actually, Hit-Girl is skipping school to train and continue her late father’s ambition to rid the streets of bad guys, teaming up with Kick-Ass (school nerd Dave Lizewski) while coaching him to toughen up. After events get out of hand during a gang attack, Hit-Girl makes a promise to her guardian to hang up her costume and fit in with the school’s popular crowd.

Meanwhile, a frustrated Kick-Ass joins a bunch of superheroes, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (an unrecognisable Jim Carrey) to continue the frontline fight. It’s only after news of the bloody rise of The Motherf****r – aka a vengeful D’Amico dressed in his newly departed mother’s bondage gear – and his bunch of vicious thugs, plus a bad experience with the school’s mean girls that Hit-Girl returns to what she knows best, and helps Kick-Ass and co wipe the floor with the new evil entity.

The first film had a tragic but admirable quality to it of ordinary folk turned vigilantes who wanted more out of life: to live the superhero dream under another, powerful identity and deliver justice the authorities haven’t/couldn’t. They were charmingly vulnerable and got royally hurt. They were also endearingly superhero comic-book and web and social media savvy. That’s all still apparent here. Nevertheless, it’s the worrying level of unstylish violence that oversteps the line of comic acceptability and is actually quite disturbingly gratuitous in parts, turning into a misplaced, grizzly Mafia-style thriller. In fact, there is an inferred failed rape scene played for laughs that leaves a very sour taste, especially given the lead protagonist is a young teenage girl. It’s all a tad disjointed, tonally, even if daddy vengeance is the supposed primary goal.

Where the film feels flimsy is ironically when Hit-Girl isn’t in the frame as interest in Kick-Ass and his bunch of oddball superheroes, roaming the streets at night in slow-mo like an eccentric pop band, wanes in parts as Wadlow tries to keep the original fantasy alive. Even the highlight sequence of the Colonel leading an attack on a local bunch of sex slave racketeers feels samey and unimaginative.

The film’s real stunts and thrills are reserved for Hit-Girl, as is the cool factor with her zooming along on a customised purple motorbike. Perhaps more could have been made of Macready’s fight against schoolyard tyranny – where evil originates from and cultivates, even if she sets the bimbos straight in a way that is both funny and ironic.

Moretz steals her scenes, which is hardly surprising as she is the obvious draw from the first film – Taylor-Johnson’s Kick-Ass being too wet and rather bland to compete, regardless of how much gym time the actor has put in to get his buffed bod. Although Mintz-Plasse’s The Motherf****r is hilariously foolish in a panto way, the film feels vacant of a real, meaty bad guy like D’Amico’s late father to test Hit-Girl. In fact, she squares up to another Amazonian female in the end face-off, the beef for which – apart from being another female and in D’Amico’s gang – is not adequately explained.

Wadlow is undoubtedly a fan that has perhaps got a little too enthusiastic and missed the essence of the first film with his sequel: less is more (it’s the average man at play that won over a wider fan base) and choreographed style is a necessity in all fights. Thanks to Moretz, the film is not a complete turn-off, as she saves the day (again), single-handedly offering enough entertain in what is a wayward follow-up in the name of vigilante justice.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Lone Ranger ****

A lot is being uttered about The Lone Ranger, a Disney film that reunites Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp, in what has got to be the most expensive ‘western’ in recent years (£165million to be precise). But although battered by American critics and arriving on these shores this week with attached low expectations, this sprawling and historically flawed visual reboot of a 1930s radio show is actually incredibly funny, mildly eccentric and a big-hearted and entertaining treat for Pirates fans – even if there are some tonal wobbles to question its family suitability.

Newbie lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) arrives in Colby, Texas, in 1869, armed with a copy of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and determined to practice the law. However, after witnessing the brutal murder of his brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) at the hands of outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) then saved from being buried alive by Silver, a curious, spiritual horse who loves dizzy heights and sipping hooch, John (who is now officially dead) teams up with an unlikely sidekick; a Comanche oddball loner called Tonto (Depp) with a dead crow on his head to put wrongs to right and bring Cavendish and other unsavouries to justice.

This has Pirates’ grand production values all over it, ambitious but beautifully shot for starters with some glorious landscapes to feast on, and complete with lots of galloping horses and some cowboys/militias-and-Indians punch-ups for western lovers. The fact that it obviously borrows from the likes of John Ford, with some stirring musical moments to get the juices flowing (such as the William Tell Overture to accompany an exhilarating train battle/crash) is not a bad thing either. Surely it’s high ho Silver away?

For most never old enough to contemplate details of the original work, this will always be a Depp draw as he plays another eccentric chump with face paint to rival his beloved Captain Jack character. Only this time, in Tonto, Depp adds subtlety of wisdom and is more straight-laced madcap (like a latter-day Buster Keaton) to help oust the tailspin that Hammer’s Reid finds himself in. This comedy duo works a treat, with many laughs given the breath to air in knowing pauses and head-slapping stupidity. Add a comical horse into the mix, Depp’s injection of ‘Kemosabe’ remarks and gravity-defying leaps, and this unlikely trio blaze across the screen with enough puff to reach the end point.

It’s understandable, perhaps, why some, Stateside, have objected to this film’s making – Lone Range story assault aside and historical inaccuracies, with its anti-American Dream stance and headline act being a Native American sidekick – and not the gallant hero on horseback. That said Verbinski has stuck with the winning formula of Depp in odd drag to get audiences to a ‘comedy western’ – it’s Depp’s show as Tonto after all, as he opens and closes the story (stick around after the credits for a melancholy moment of reflection). It’s also refreshing surely, to see a challenge to the birth of American consumerism in the suggestion that the great railroads’ birth was steeped in blood – which if you think about it, must have been the case.

In terms of the odd tonal issue, Dan Reid’s grizzly death is unnecessary, even in terms of plot, as the untimely outcome should be enough alone to spur any sibling to avenge. Helena Bonham Carter’s whore Red Harrington and her impressive wooden leg feel like something out of another quirky comedy and although titillating and amusing, is merely there to (often mechanically) move the plot along, plus an excuse to visit a whore house in an innocent, family-orientated Disney manner.

In the end, it could be argued that the Verbinski-Depp Pirates’ team has boldly used an American icon to forge yet another kooky character, hoping that Lone Ranger fans wouldn’t mind them ‘borrowing’, while counting on Pirates’ Sparrow fans to fill seats. It’s been an expensive gamble that is yet to pay off. But regardless of the naysayers’ protestations, The Lone Ranger has fun and madness at its core – much like the latter marauding saga, even if it brazenly wags its proverbial finger at the foundations of the American establishment in the process.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Heat ****

Sandra Bullock as another uptight FBI agent sounds suspiciously like a Gracie Hart rendition from the Miss Congeniality films. True, she dons another dark suit and comfy shoes for her new role as social pariah Sarah Ashburn. What’s of greater interest is whether the on-screen chemistry between her and Bridemaids star Melissa McCarthy pays off, what with two big personalities at play. The answer is extremely well and highly entertaining as they feed of each other’s character’s quirky points. It’s all done with a 70s good/bad cop flair to it (queue the titles), proving again how uncompromising and seriously funny female comedians can be and how accessible to any audience.

Ashburn is so good in her FBI role, she arrogantly thinks she’s in line for promotion, but her social skills leave a lot to be desired. Her boss sends her to the tough streets of Boston to track down a drug lord. The trouble is, she has to work with Boston’s finest – and baddest ­– female cop, Sharon Mullins (McCarthy). Ashburn is about to experience a completely off-the-record and personal way of cleaning the streets of perps.

Unlike Miss Congeniality this isn’t a chick flick. The world of female-cast comedies – Bridesmaids included, which was directed by Paul Feig who directed this – is changing the landscape forever, smartly revelling in ladette behaviour and coarse retorts. But the ‘girls behaving badly’ routine in The Heat is done with a lot of heart and raw emotion that it balances out any offending vulgarity some might feel. In fact, the exchanges between the leads are both laugh-out-loud hilarious and painfully ironic. It’s the kind of film that pivots on a strong comic pairing or would have fallen flat, especially as the plot is a carbon copy of many a cop drama.

It’s actually McCarthy’s time to shine, with Bullock effortlessly providing her notorious uptight and prissy screen stance for McCarthy to play off and with – Bullock stepping back from the limelight to play the straighter role. The duo also marries well as both play up characters with alarming personality traits that enhance rather than muddy the comedy value. The bar scene is an absolute tonic to watch as McCarthy and Bullock are left by Feig to improvise. Even McCarthy’s brash-handed response to everything as Mullins never gets tiresome and is beautifully timed to show once again how she’s top of her game at the moment for delivering shocks and giggles simultaneously.

Admittedly, The Heat is predictable in outcome – there’s nothing new trialled here – but it’s the riotous interim to that end that’s deliciously funny to watch unfold and done with such comedic skill that there’s no surprise a sequel is on the cards.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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