Kingsman: The Secret Service ****

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Ever wondered what injecting a Bond film with a bit of comic-book madness would be like? Kick-Ass writer director Matthew Vaughn – who teams up with co-writer Jane Goldman again – has the answer: Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s part-spy, part comic-book caper that doesn’t take itself seriously.

Testament of Youth star Taron Egerton plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, a lippy kid from a London sink estate who is recruited into a secret spy agency comprised of upper class ‘tailors’ from Savile Row. Little does Eggsy know that his late father was also part of the same elite force, having lost his life to save debonair agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) in a botched Middle East operation.

Hart left little Eggsy a calling card that he now uses when his mum’s violent partner’s thugs come a-knocking, and is surprised by the special killer moves from a nibble Hart in action. This then begins Eggsy’s Kingsman recruitment and training – much to the disapproval of the agency’s leader Arthur (Michael Caine). Meanwhile, scheming phone billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) plans to take over peoples’ handsets and the world and ‘cleanse’ it. Eggsy first mission becomes a vital one to save the planet.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Hart, a part so fitting for Firth, in both temperament and physique that you can tell the actor is having an immense amount of fun portraying him. It’s a close as we get to seeing Firth as Bond too – and Firth the marital arts expert. His immaculate manners and Egerton as Eggsy’s lack of compliment brilliantly and make for great rifts as the youngster learns not just the spy business ropes but etiquette. You do long for even more jokes along the George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion line. It is also a big, sharp poke at the ingrained English class structure, something Vaughn relishes in.

If Testament of Youth wasn’t a great start to a fledging career for recently graduated drama school alumni Egerton, Kingsman propels him into the big time and puts him on pop culture’s radar. The young actor really carries the part well, not only bringing well-timed humour when needed, but also proving he’s a contender for any future action roles. Maybe a young Bond in the making?

Caine gives an intriguing turn as the agency boss – equipped with a great twist towards the end. Mark Strong is the agency’s Q-styled character who unlike the Bond character, actually gets to see some action. Jackson is hilarious as the lisping megalomaniac with an aversion to blood – watch out for the dinner scene with Hart too, and its Bond references. It’s a credit to the writers.

As for the action, it’s back to pre-(awful) Kick-Ass 2 standards. It’s a thrilling ride, from the pub brawl between Hart and thugs, to the evangelical church ding-dong between the British gentleman agent and some super prejudice worshippers that will literally have your jaw hitting the ground at the choreography, blood thirst and speed. For those wanting tropes of Bond action, it pays homage to that too.

Kingsman: The Secret Agent takes the spy genre down a comic-book route (not for those faint of heart though), opening it up to a wider audience but not forgetting to both gently mock and honour British spy pedigree. It’s an espionage blast – simplistic plot aside – that puts characterisation and beautifully choreographed action first to offer cinematic value for money.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2014: The Imitation Game ****

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The life of the brilliant-minded Alan Turing is not known by most. That will certainly change after this film, The Imitation Game, with the genius British logician and cryptologist forever associated with cracking the Nazis’ Enigma Code and helping the Allies win World War II. But inventor of the modern-day computer – as is suggested here, is stretching the truth a little.
What will also be established is Benedict Cumberbatch as one of Britain’s leading actors with his outstanding portrayal of Turing. Some might cynically say it’s total awards-baiting in production and delivery, though it is Cumberbatch’s finest hour.
Mathematician Alan Turing arrives at Bletchley Park, code-cracking HQ to attend an interview with Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance). What he seriously lacks in social skills, he makes up for in numbers brilliance, recognised by MI6 spook Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong). He is recruited into a team of code-crackers led by ladies’ man Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) that includes Scot John Cairncross (Downton’s Allen Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard).
His colleagues tolerate Turing’s odd behaviour but don’t like him much. This resentment increases when he starts demanding resources to build his code-cracking BOMB machine (so-called because it ticks) and is then put in charge of the others. Turing recruits crossword whiz Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) – about the only person who likes to spend time with him. But time is running out to crack the Nazis’ Engima Code, as well as the patience of Top Brass.
The performances are faultless, with Cumberbatch delivering some immensely funny retorts without consequence. Turing’s interview with Denniston is a prime example, that the man managed to achieve anything is incredible with his catalogue of social faux pas. There is also another scene that involves getting soup for lunch which is equally delightful. These are the comedy moments in a film that is about serious stuff. Knightley and the rest of the cast are naturals – as expected, the former effortlessly providing her Atonement-style clipped responses.
In fact, director Morten Tyldum fits the Brit period drama mold perfectly, with any reference to his brilliant black Norwegian comedy Headhunters long suppressed. Indeed, the whole process while beautifully achieved, does feel like many other Brit war period dramas. What really makes Turing tick – aside from his codes and his first love affair with another boy at school – will be left a little too ambiguous for something that is supposed to be a biopic.
The really emotive part that strikes a chord is the ending when the to-and-fro narrative finally centres on events in the fifties, after Turing was arrested and investigated for a homosexual act. Finally, Cumberbatch is given some leeway to get under Turing’s skin and truly act out the character’s suffering from chemical ‘treatment’ to suppress his improper (and illegal) impulses.

The Imitation Game is a gripping and well-crafted period dramatisation of British national pride – the ending suggesting national shame at not recognising national treasure Turing when he was still alive, as well as the very real side effects of homophobic ignorance. Indeed Cumberbatch and co should be proud of their achievements here.

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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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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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

By @FilmGazer

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Black Gold **

The prospect of another, more contemporary Lawrence of Arabia that focuses on relevant current affairs in the region today, and with big acting names involved is an attractive proposition, especially as Black Gold has been producer Tarak Ben Ammar’s long-time goal by bringing the finer points of Hans Ruesch’s rousing novel South Of The Heart to the big screen – all directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates, Seven Years in Tibet). The reality though is a dull, dusty, overly long epic attempt that has jarring and frankly odd sporadic bouts of humour in a story that is primarily of a serious nature.

Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centres on a young, bookish Arab prince, Auda (Tahar Rahim) who is taken with his older brother as collateral in a peace-keeping pact between the charismatic Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and his conservative father Sultan Amar (Mark Strong). When Western interest flags the possibility of oil in the heart of a ‘no man’s land’ area agreed by both tribes as part of the peace process, Prince Auda finds himself torn between allegiance to Sultan Amar and his modern, liberal father-in-law. To complicate matters further, Auda is married to his childhood sweetheart, Princess Leyla (Freida Pinto), and the daughter of Nesib who uses their alliance to his benefit.

Such films set in such environments require a certain breathing space to enter that world and realise the passions that drive the culture. Annaud is sensitive to this need to immerse the modern-day (Western) audience as such, and he builds a distinguishing picture between the old and new ways of both factions. There are also some wonderful, (if déjà vu) panoramic fighting vistas that capture the spirit of Arabia.

However, a downside of all this is the inevitable clichéd script, unnecessary obvious plot flags and nauseating worldly morals about West and East needing to learn much from each other. Rahim as Auda spends much of his time in his own thoughts for the first part of the film – or in a book, or biting his tongue, that it feels there is genuinely little connection established between us and him to warrant feeling the heart of his struggle and rallying behind this unusual leader. It is only with the assistance of ‘joker’ character, half brother Ali (Riz Ahmed) that we get any greater sense of how Auda ticks to truly care, and Ahmed turns out to be the most intriguing watch of the whole thing.

What is also off putting is the mixture of accents, with playful Banderas complete with Spanish tongue simply coming across as Banderas dressing up in Arabic dress for the thrill of playing a greedy oil baron. It’s unclear whether the humour that exudes from this character’s presence is intentional or not, or just a result of Banderas overly camping up his contribution, and hence detracting from the really interest points of corruption, greed and power of the region the film attempts to tackle. As for Strong, his stoic, leaderly acumen always produces a credible performance in whichever role he takes on, but we don’t get to see too much of it in this – and sadly far much more of doe-eyed, pouting Pinot who does little in the shape of any real acting, and is merely the glamour shot.

A contemporary Lawrence of Arabia, Black Gold it is not because it’s not beating with any passionate heart around the issues, merely pulsing with crude oil moments, misplaced humour and copycat desert fight scenes.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ****

Tomas Alfredson came to attention in 2008 after his atmospheric thriller, the acclaimed Let The Right One In, about a young boy who befriends a vampire. The Swedish director now takes his chills-making expertise and coolly applies it to a John le Carré spy thriller adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and adds a spectacular cast of seasoned actors at the peak of their careers, including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Ciarán Hinds, to produce a powerhouse spectacle of acting prowess.

Set in the bleak days of the Cold War (1970s), espionage veteran George Smiley (Oldman) is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s echelons, known as the Circle. There are four possible suspects who may be the mole that is leaking secrets to the Soviets. Can Smiley discover the culprit before he realises Smiley is hunting him down and destroys the evidence?

Alfredson’s film requires the viewer’s full and undivided attention if it’s to succeed. With this in place, it’s film plot gold, with only a smattering of action sequences of the traditional, film noir-style ‘shoot-them-up’ kind, rather than all-out excess that often peppers contemporary spy thrillers. More a character study within a traditional thriller mould, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy matures at its own deliberate pace in a marvellous recreation of sharp 70s style and growing anxiety, fitting of Le Carre’s work.

That said the captivating elements of the film are not necessarily the spy story itself that builds the tension beautifully as almost a sub-context, but watching the riveting screen exchanges between some of the finest British actors today, in settings that are worthy of capturing as a photograph or painting at any one instant; each scene is superbly crafted.

Oldman’s man-of-few-words Smiley is a force of reflective menace, sumptuously underacted but utterly domineering in any exchange he finds his character in, and surely worthy of Awards recognition. Firth is naturally at home in the British corridors of espionage power, almost typecast in a sense, in a boisterous and outspoken part as suspect spy Bill Haydon, a role that befits his eloquent tones and flamboyant air. Jones, Hinds and Swedish star David Dencik as the other possible moles on Control’s (Hurt) chess board all give stellar performances that alternate between conceited highs to cowardly lows. Hurt makes his own mark at the start as the linchpin of the operation, callously set up and brushed aside, but forever the film’s looming conscience.

Two younger actors, though, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, deserve special recognition for their more ambitious moments that involve a lot of the film’s action sequences, placing them on a par with acting stalwart Strong in injecting the film’s nail-biting set-pieces as Smiley’s dig for clues escalates, especially Hardy as Ricki Tarr who delivers his reveals with pose and purpose.

Alfredson’s screen version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an acquired taste, a return to cinema of the 40/50s that requires cerebral input and facts recollection, even though some might guess the culprit long before the coldly calculated end reveal that might possibly diffuse the mounting intrigue and suspicion. Nevertheless, for those who do, the prize is being proven right, adding a whole different, but still exciting dimension to the riddle. As said this film is more a platform of acting greatness that defines British cinema and novel writing as world class. It is a nostalgic tour de force that demands due diligence.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Green Lantern **

You can hear the fanboys/girls buzzing away with anticipation at yet another comic-book adaptation bursting onto the big screen this week – with more ticket-hiking 3D promises. Indeed, Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern is probably one of the most down-to-Earth (pardon the pun) and human of the majority of superheroes in the DC world, so instantly feels like a winning lead character for the uninitiated. As for this film, think X-Men: First Class, in terms of “how it all began”, as Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern is how Hal ‘became’ part of the green-glowing intergalactic police force.

In the film, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky, maverick test pilot trying to break free from his deceased pilot dad’s shadow, and risking everything to constantly deal with his demons. One day, an intergalactic peacekeeper called a Green Lantern, who is badly wounded fighting a sinister, fear-hungry enemy called Parallax, crash-lands on Earth and changes Hal’s life forever. His ring chooses Hal as its replacement owner when he dies, a great honour to have bestowed on anyone, and Hal is the first human ever selected. Powered by the lantern, the ring allows its owner the ability to create anything the mind can imagine to defend the Universe and the immortal Guardians who rule over the Central Battery, the green source of energy. Hal must now conquer his fears and rise to the challenge of defeating Parallax and save humankind from extinction.

The central theme of the film is good verses evil, in the shape of will verses fear: Overcome your fear with a strong will, and you can achieve anything. It’s an interesting notion that’s highly appealing, if it didn’t start grating from the constant nauseating reminders from well-intentioned characters at every opportune moment.

Naturally, green is the colour of life, therefore ‘hope’ or ‘will’, and hence the film’s suggestive environmental slant about saving planets. In fact, the Green Lanterns’ enemy, Parallax looks and is reminiscent of one big, insipid yellow virus cloud consuming fear – and souls – like an alien Dementor. Indeed, Campbell’s vision seems to be an amusing mish-mash homage to the likes of Harry Potter, Top Gun, LOTR, Superman and even Ghostbusters, to the point were Parallax’s clouds form downtown and people start praying – you can almost hear the 1984 music marking the arrival of the 2011 Zeul.

The odd beginning of Green Lantern, set in a US Air Force base, is necessary to paint Hal the risk-taker, and harks back to when Top Gun‘s Maverick does his air stunts and hangs his wingman – or woman in this case, co-pilot, childhood friend and love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) – out to dry. Heck, it even has a bar with a jukebox, as well as a picture of his Pa on the wall so Hal can feel at home.

The subject of Reynolds playing Hal Jordan is a mixed bag. On the one hand, here’s a actor normally associated with average ‘Mr Nice Guy’ parts, so we do instantly relate to his cheeky charm and flaws in this. These qualities – plus his infamous toned physique that’s fully ‘on show’ at times – work to his advantage, and will certainly get the average female punter interested. On the downside, because of his average-guy stance, Reynolds still feels a tad misplaced as a credible superhero – even though he gives it his all and has fun in the process. His laughs come down to what we usually expect from a Reynolds’ performance, not necessarily because he gets under Hal’s skin and makes him funny. It’s almost as if Reynolds is not taking his responsibility of being the first actor to play Green Lantern completely seriously. Just as well, perhaps, as this film can’t be taken too seriously either.

Lively aside who’s merely pretty, ballsy eye candy, Campbell’s cast is impressive, and includes Mark Strong and Peter Sarsgaard. Strong is the leader of the Green Lantern Corps and Hal’s adversary, Thaal Sinestro, who doesn’t believe the human has it in him to be a worthy Green Lantern – especially taking the place of his former mentor, the fallen Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison). As ever, Strong commands the screen and matches Reynolds’ flippant, defensive reactions with a steely purpose. As the only actor in heavy prosthetic gear, Strong looks magnificent, including his eyes – plus those of Reynolds when in Green Lantern mode.

Sarsgaard seems the relish playing a multi-faceted character, Hal’s jealous, reclusive childhood friend, Hector Hammond, who through forever disappointing his powerful senator father (Tim Robbins), turns into a fear-filled villain after a brush with Parallax’s bodily fluids from working as a xenobiologist – biologist of extra-terrestrial life – on Abin Sur’s remains. Sarsgaard as Hector never fully changes or adopts a silly superhuman name, and like ‘average’ Reynolds, is thrilling to watch as an unlikely super-villain choice.

As for fans of the comic book, other Green Lanterns on the Corps’ home planet of Oa, Xudarian Tomar-Re and Kilowog, are present in this adaptation. In scenes with Strong, these CG characters do look blatantly animated and lacking, which is disappointing, even though they are brilliantly brought to life by the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan, respectively.

But in terms of effects and design, the latter is down to the production designer’s reliance on a film researcher and self-confessed comic-book expert, and is said to faithfully recreate every detail and enhance the imagery for the big screen. Oa is a spectacular vista to behold, with its dazzling green light and shapes, but some of the 3D conversion and viewing experience detracts from the detail, which is a shame. Another issue is what seem to be large chunks missing from the final cut, or badly edited sequences – when Hal visits his nephew on his birthday, for example, and gives him his present. Although Hal with the ability of the ring can zip around easily from place to place, the plot does too, creating mysterious black holes in places, and rendering the big climax between Hal, Hector and Parallax, then Hal verses the Parallax very disjointed and rushed, like a galactic anti-climax.

And if you think it’s a 3D film, it is, but only in the sense of all the others trumpeted this year, with a bit of fly-out action moments, but mostly depth-of-field enhancements. In terms of the intricate production design, you may get more out of Green Lantern seeing it in 2D.

Overall, you want to like Green Lantern – and you partly do because of a couple of leads who are not normally associated with comic-book stories, Reynolds and Sarsgaard, bringing their own personalities to the roles. That said it’s all a bit daft and sentimental at times. Indeed, through drumming home Hal’s ordinariness through what we know of Reynolds – who’s far from ‘ordinary’ in the physical sense, we never quite get the elation of that transforming moment to Green Lantern status. The film also needs a jump-start or a new Central Battery sometimes that Reynolds alone simply cannot provide. And if you’re not a fan of the comic series, one fantasy world looks the same as any another, so without a greater purpose and an impressive head-to-head confrontation, Green Lantern is left a little wanting. Still, like most films of late that force you to watch the credits, a promise of a sequel in one brief clip of further clarity may reignite your will for a revisit.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Way Back – 3*

With highly respected film-maker Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) behind a new adventure, you know you are in for a visually stunning treat, born of meticulous planning and hard graft to get it factually right. The Way Back is no exception to the Weir catalogue of cinematic triumphs, a sumptuous film adaptation based on the equally fascinating true story of a 4,500-mile trek against nature’s odds by seven escaped prisoners from Stalin’s Siberian Gulag in 1940.

Weir spares no expense in the grand scheme of things, whilst managing to convey the intricate personal stories of all his characters, played by an intriguing variety of acting talent. Jim Sturgess is Janusz, a polish national who falls foul of Stalin’s ideals, opposite Colin Farrell as the dangerous and blade-obsessed street criminal Valka. Ed Harris is American prisoner Mr. Smith, a man of few words, alongside the only female lead in the film, The Lovely Bones star Saoirse Ronan as runaway Polish orphan Irena. Harris and Ronan develop a convincingly tender father-daughter relationship, in the midst of the harshest of living conditions – both on and off set – that makes Weir’s film even more compelling, as Irena unlocks each man’s inner personality.

Indeed, the four leads deliver some exceptional performances, and some of the best of their respective careers, which is hardly surprising, given the rich subject matter and history at their disposal. In fact, this is an enlightening history lesson with lots of danger and action on its own about a period that’s often overlooked in the classroom, in favour of Nazi domination in mainland Europe at the time. Therefore, it can be argued that it’s hard to detract your feelings about the then-realities, from whether or not this is a good film.

As journeys on film go – and there haven’t been many epic ones, the likes of Lawrence of Arabia or Out of Africa in decades, unless you count Australia by Weir’s countryman Luhrmann, The Way Back is one that sounds incredulous, had it not been based on truth. This entanglement of truth and fiction shows the power of Weir’s storytelling skill, as well as his commendable casting.

Admittedly, the lead performances are strong on their own, but are helped by an excellent supporting cast of foreign actors that provide some of the lighter moments in the film; Romanian Alexandru Potocean is wise-cracking accountant, Tomasz who likens eating snake to eating a “big black poisonous chicken with no legs”. Weir nicely balances these very detailed human exchanges in the face of adversity with the wider ones, to avoid pretension and possible tedium. However, as with such a film, it does suffer from flatter moments, as you wait for the next thing thrown at the group, even with yet another breathtaking panoramic wide to feast on.

Weir fans will not be disappointed, though, and fans of the cast members will be equally impressed, too. This is solid, old-school epic film-making that is deeply affecting with its captivating human spirit, and makes for a welcome break from the incessant 3D out there.

3/5 stars

By L G-K