Saturday, 29 December 2012

Top 12 of 2012

I'm not messing about with this one. No plugs; no chit-chat; no waffle (besides this).

Honourable mentions

The Imposter
Moonrise Kingdom
The Hunger Games
Silver Linings Playbook

12 of the best (all films as per released in UK cinemas in 2012)

#12 Skyfall

#11 Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

#10 21 Jump Street

#9 Rust and Bone

#8 Excision

#7 Life of Pi

#6 The Descendants

#5 Wild Bill

#4 The Dark Knight Rises

#3 The Master

#2 Amour

#1 Shame

Roll on 2013...

Friday, 14 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Rating: 12a
Duration: 169 mins

NOTE: this review is based on 2D, 24fps.

Echoes of a collective groan emanated from the deepest, darkest bowels of the Internet when it was announced that Peter Jackson’s latest tackling of Tolkien literature would be split into three (yes, three) separate films. Rightly or wrongly jeered, there are always a number of  Jackson certainties a film of such magnitude box ticks: grandiose spectacle, jaw-dropping CGI and masses of indulgence. The Hobbit – all 169 minutes of it – bodes well in terms of the first two, but in typical Jackson fashion, is slightly bogged with sentimentality in the cutting room.  But that’s not to say this first instalment isn’t a good one, though.

As young Bilbo is introduced (Martin Freeman) in the quaint vibrancy of The Shire, aesthetically it feels as viable and convincing as the multi-Oscar winning excellence of The Lord of the Rings. New characters are introduced as fluently as old ones are reacquainted, notably the divine Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, as both premise and context are established, the following set up is more akin to The Fellowship of the Ring, as it practically retraces its steps. This comparison can be detected throughout, and whilst it may seem a mild hindrance, it doesn’t necessarily stifle the film.

Visually the entire film is a marvel. Wonderfully conceived and executed, it’s sure to be a strong contender for Oscars in technical achievements, not simply due to the breathtaking CGI for Andy Serkis’ Gollum, which is noticeably superior to Weta’s efforts a decade previous, but also for its conscientious strive to dazzle and amaze, much like LotR did. The journey that Bilbo, Gandalf and band of dwarves embark on is fundamentally a series of escapades that differ from whimsy adventure to life-threatening peril, yet are linked by stunning set pieces and special effects that make these moments all the more exceptional.

Once the film’s overarching expedition does kick in, audiences are whisked into Middle-Earth to bear witness to misadventures that literally encumber their progress. However, it’s the beginning of the film that opens laboriously, taking its sweet time to get things going. The pace is noticeably gradual and will no doubt frustrate some, but can be forgiven because the entirety doesn’t drag as one might imagine. Occasional scenes see it plod, but Martin Freeman forges a fresh take on Bilbo Baggins that’s quintessentially British that proves hugely charming in both quips and subtlety of facial expression. Similarly, Sir Ian McKellen is on top form as Gandalf, too, as such established characters stand out against the largely indistinct band of dwarves (including James Nesbitt) that form the backbone of the travelling party.

The Hobbit is more whimsy, accessible and light-hearted than some of the darker and frankly more terrifying aspects of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but still crams so much in and exudes an epic severity the impending excursion is about to offer, and does so in gorgeous style with unrivaled special effects.  In honesty, with two further films to come, it does feel a tad stretched for a single 320-pager, but possesses more than enough good to quash the bad; Freeman begins his quest to Lonely Mountain on a positively delightful note.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Review: Amour

Rating: 12a
Duration: 127 mins

Every so often you come across a film so profoundly powerful that it has lasting effect way beyond the final credits. In rare instances a motion picture can be so emotionally overwhelming that you'll remain devastated for days after. Michael Haneke's latest, Amour, is no exception.

The Austrian director's Palme d'Or winner is portrayed with a simplistic elegance and grace that deems it an utterly mesmerising experience, but one you'll never wish to impose upon yourself again. The subject matter: old age, unequivocal love and devotion in the context of mental health deterioration.

About an elderly couple -- Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) -- Haneke devises a sumptuously poignant story that primarily centres on the two, requiring very little external interference, other than a few supporting roles that interject throughout. As we settle into the pace and routine of their lives, an incident takes place one nonchalant morning that forms the premise for the two hour filmic journey of Anne's onset of dementia.

So uniquely divergent from Hollywood is Haneke's overt style, it's easy to pick up on both the use of long, static, richly composed shots, with slow, methodical pans and tracks, as well as the strong character-focused narrative that uses an apartment as its solely filmed location. 

The most deftly balanced and striking aspect of all is the phenomenal quality of acting on display. The sheer scope of emotions that transcend over the duration are breathtaking. There's so much to take in: from heartfelt adoration; to unfathomable dedication; to gut-wrenching endurance. Audiences will unquestionably be left despondent, exhausted and grief-stricken by the events of a harrowing subject matter that's bound to affect those with similar life experiences even more than those detached from it.

The depiction of both physical and mental ageing is fascinating, and effortlessly immerses you from the very start. It is this early engagement with the characters that serves to shatter your defences; it'll transform a majority into quivering wrecks regarding events impending. Admittedly, as the story progresses, there are several scenes that threaten to break audience resilience. It genuinely hones in on audience vulnerability, and in truth doesn't ease up for quite some time.

Whilst this may seem like one to avoid for anyone with a fragile disposition, Amour is something that demands your attention. A terribly uncomfortable and unforgiving duration it may be, but the manner in how it's handled must be commended -- especially its evocative prowess and production sublimity.

The notion that reminiscing days later still bares an unrelenting weight of distress speaks volumes. Amour is one of 2012's finest. It may be unbearable at times, but is nonetheless an utterly engrossing, intrinsically rewarding, accomplished piece of modern cinema.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review: Excision

Rating: 18
Duration: 81 mins

Besides a mere trailer for what can only be described as batshit horror/drama with a splash of erotica, there’s been little else in terms of marketing or promotion for Excision, other than the semi-recognisible face from E4’s 90210. AnnaLynne McCord fronts this modern Carrie-like pseudo-high school drama/horror, with a quite magnificent performance as oddball teen Pauline.

The story is the vague subconsciousness and reality of a girl with a particularly disturbing psychological imbalance, but devoid of any paranormal powers per se. She is, however, keen on the study of medicine and all things surgical, with a somewhat hazy ambition to one day enter said profession (as a surgeon). However, her clear disdain for all things academic deems such goals unrealistic.

But this is not to say Pauline isn’t without passion. Her keen interest in dissecting dead birds in her bedroom and tasting their blood reflects the film's themes, especially a recurring visualisation of blood, gore, mutilation and sexualisation – key factors that dominate her pimpled adolescent existence as she embarks on a sexual awakening that includes a curious fascination as she begins to menstruate.

There are two sides to Pauline’s character, and indeed, the narrative within the film. One is her on-the-verge-of-maturity, transitional state of girl to woman (reality), and the other being her subconscious: a much darker side that haunts her dreams with imagery of body horror gratuity and intrigued eroticism; a side that threatens to spill into real life. Aside from a Carrie comparison, her family life mirrors that of another angstful deviant: Donnie Darko. A domineering mother (Traci Lords) and placid father (Roger Bart) only antagonises a youngster plagued with more psychological issues than her ignorant household can imagine. Chastisement is a daily occurrence, until the realisation of the film's climax clicks, and the true horrors of Pauline’s mind finally unveils and spills over.

For a film that’ll puzzle many by the mere mention of its title, it's extremely well executed. The acting, especially McCord's superlative turn, is of a consistently high standard, and the script constantly intrigues, darkly amuses and feels fetishly fresh in its approach. Pauline’s character is complex and layered, and perhaps offers one of the best female performances of 2012; not that the Academy will recognise it, but they seriously should.

As unforgiving and perverse as Excision may appear, once you delve into the troubled mind dealing with numerous mid-teen issues such as angst, rejection, puberty and resentment, you begin to see the exquisite excellence of this extraordinary, if not hugely grotesque, beast.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Review: Argo

Rating: 15
Duration: 120 mins

They often say things come in threes. Whether it be buses, accidents, or peas in a pod, it seems to be the way. But does the same rule apply when it comes to movies? Can someone with a hit-and-miss career in front of the camera produce a trio of successes behind it?

Ben Affleck has emerged as one of the industry's most promising talents, as long as we banish memory of what can only be deemed an ugly acting career, because the past half decade has seen him blossom behind the camera. Argo is Affleck's third directing effort, with Gone Baby Gone and The Town lavished with critical praise, it seems the 40-year old has finally found his niche.

Based on the real life events of the 1980 effort to rescue American diplomats pinned down in a hostile, revolutionary Iran, the Pearl Habour star asserts his now established skills at directing in a simple, yet effective manner that does an equally good job at balancing story progression with audience engagement.

Unlike his previous two, Argo tackles real life, and plays upon the intense nature of a narrative to engage its audience and drive it towards a climax. What's more, the finale of this particular film is its most rewarding part. Utterly engrossing; you'll find yourself on the edge of your seat for a good twenty or thirty minutes simply willing a peaceful resolution.

Without seeming overly negative, this is a strong and accomplished movie that does exactly what it sets out to achieve, but aside from its many pluses, there's no spark to make Argo anything more than a well made, solid movie.

However, what the film does do really well is to create and build upon a tense and edgy situation and elevates the level of danger to its peak. It boasts an understated subtlety without the need to veer into elaborately sensationalised territory, especially with Affleck's lead performance. His 'every man', reserved nature never once threatens to steal the show or hog the limelight; instead, that honour is left to a trio of sublime performances from Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. These characters, specifically, offer the wittiest moments and biggest laughs the script has to offer, and back up their quips with stand-out turns that prove memorable.

Argo is well structured, sharp, often funny and unbelievably tense at times -- more so in its final half hour. The story is consistently gripping, if not remarkable in incident, yet affirms itself as a strong Oscars contender for its decidedly capable execution of direction, screenplay and acting.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

Rating: 12a
Duration: 143 min

There are several reasons why you can't not know about the release of the new Bond flick. Firstly, it coincides with the 50th anniversary since Connery wooed us with his suaveness in Dr. No, thus prompting the 'Bond 50' Blu-ray release. Secondly, you must be living in a batcave to have avoided the unbearable amount of tie-in advertising and promo; from watches, to beer, to cars, to computers, to aftershave, to... well, anything imaginable. Oh, I forgot Coke. And thirdly, because Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty; Jarhead) is taking control of the franchise for the first, and supposed, only time.

You'll have noticed a Batman reference within the first paragraph, and with just cause, because Skyfall boasts a story that attempt to express darker, similarly toned material, including character exposition, as Nolan's superhero epic. In truth, it's difficult to ignore the success of The Dark Knight, but it by no means encumbers or defines the film in question.

In construction alone, Mendes opts for a stripped down, simplistic plot in keeping with Daniel Craig's other notable depiction of the lothario spy in 2006's Casino Royale. Its goals remain focused and clearly plotted with occasional exposition, yet masses of subtext to feast on. Side characters offer what's required, and don't overexert or outstay their welcome. As per usual, the focus is Craig's mysteriously brooding 007. However, the sublime Dame Judi Dench's M is at the forefront of the story, along with newcomer Ralph Fiennes as MI6 operative Gareth Mallory. 

Javier Bardem assumes the role as rogue terrorist Silva, and offers up a most flamboyant turn that will remind Bondaphiles of villains gone by, yet situates himself in a starkly modern period. Not only is Bardem's reminiscent of characters of yesteryear, but the film, as a whole, teases and amuses with nods to the franchise in various subtle and not so subtle ways. What could easily turn into well matured Stilton is surprisingly the opposite: early Moore-era locales blend wonderfully with nostalgic touches that feel faithfully traditional to the franchise, yet mesh seamlessly with a consistent reminder of its edgy modernity.

Of course, it isn't all completely perfect. Craig asserts himself in typically awkward fashion that is both fitting to his character's persona, but also exposes a particular woodenness in his ability (noticeably when he runs/walks). It's not enough to dampen proceedings, because everything else sets the bar extremely high; set pieces are tense and utterly gripping, yet never overplayed: think the high-octane nature of Casino Royale's opening chase, and you'll have an idea of Skyfall's quality in both intro and subsequent action sequence.

To go with the raw nature of rebooted Bond is a brave poignancy Mendes generates thanks to specific plot devices. Using London as the centre of terrorism risks upsetting a lot of people, especially the unforgiving manner it expresses itself in. However, layered with an overwhelming sense of compassion and sentiment, it works both in the context of the film and as a fitting tribute to the atrocities of 7/7.

And all this is achieved with a sublime beauty courtesy of Roger Deakins, whose framing and sepia-toned lighting transforms each scene into a mouth-watering spectacle. Whether that Oscar will finally be delivered is anyone's guess, but there's surely no better platform to showcase his skills.

Skyfall is a welcomed return for the franchise. Far superior to Quantum of Solace, yet not quite on par with the superb Casino Royale for its subtlety and gritty nature, Mendes's effort compensates with juicer exposition, greater thematic passion, and a focused simplicity rarely seen in billion-dollar franchise blockbusters.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Review: Frankenweenie

Rating: PG
Duration: 87 mins  

There are two types of people in the world: those who loyally adore the works of kooky visionary Tim Burton, and those who detest the life out of the wacky-haired maestro.

The Marmite director returns after the lukewarm reception of his other 2012 film Dark Shadows, as Frankenweenie looks to be somewhat of an anomaly from his safe zone; boasting the possibility of emulating Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not only that, but there's also no sign of cohorts Johnny Depp or (shockingly) the missus, even though they've featured relentlessly in recent years.

Frankenweenie follows suit with the kooky, quirky nature synonymous with the Sleepy Hollow director. And it's with good reason, because aesthetically the entire set up is beautifully unique and oozes charm, but it takes far more than striking visuals to make a great film (see Corpse Bride).

After loosing his beloved dog Sparky, schoolboy Victor decides to take the initiative from his science class teachings and set up an experiment to reanimate his pooch. As the pair begin to re-bond, the secret resurrection becomes know to fellow pupils, which results in some darkly comic moments, as it elevates to levels of mild horror that's perhaps unsuitable for the little'uns.

Morally, the story attempts to place its ideas on a pedestal, claiming to have a message regarding coping and coming to terms with loss, as well as obvious themes of life and death. However, this entire ethos is dispelled, leaving a warm but unfulfilled aftertaste in its preachings.

The story works on a stripped down, basic level, and only really steps up a notch as it approaches its climax. Certainly quaint in its stylistic manner, it possesses a black and white nostalgic quality that works surprisingly well.

3D is incorporated as a prominent feature, and one must admit that it actually strengthens the film as a whole. Devoid of misconceptions of 'jump out the screen' and instead serves its true purpose of creating a rich, vibrant and pleasing depth of field that adds needed weight to what is a flimsy, filler-heavy script.

But it's not all completely at fault. Carefully woven into the script are numerous nods to classic cinema from (the obvious) Frankenstein to Godzilla, with nuances the more observant viewers will pick up on. Background subtleties feel Aardman-inspired, which likeably generate laughs, but are sadly much too infrequent.

Frankenweenie turns out to be conformist Burton territory after all; it rarely strays from the by the numbers formula. It has a wonderful attention to detail in its design, but with a complete lack of meat in story, wit and entertainment, it falls short when evaluating as a complete package.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Lawless

Rating: 18
Duration: 116 mins

John Hillcoat's last film, The Road, was a faithfully-adapted, bleak take on the apocalypse, and his latest also falls into the category of novel adaptations; this time courtesy of Matt Bondurant (the grandson of the story's protagonists).

The transfer from novel -- originally titled The Wettest County in the World -- to big screen in the capable hands of Nick Cave (The Assassination of Jesse James; The Proposition) assures a well-paced, intensely authentic depiction of the Bondurant brothers (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke and Shia LaBeouf, respectively) that proves an interesting if somewhat vague tale of the so-called immortal siblings.

With LaBeouf recently announcing his desire to pursue a career down the indie route, Lawless is appropriate to showcase his talents in an attempt to distance himself from the annoying twerp in Transformers. And it serves him well, because not only does he take centre stage ahead of the up-and-coming Hardy and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it contribution from Gary Oldman, he succeeds in delivering a performance to match the amount of screentime he's given.

Set in rural Virginia during the Depression, the three brothers make a living from their illicit dealings in moonshine, as they enforce a local Bondurant law of fear and violence. That is until a new, unhinged deputy (Guy Pearce) enters the fray. It's perhaps his portrayal that is most memorable, with his shaved eyebrows, centre-parted, slicked hair and (debateably) immaculate sense of style that set him apart. Both Hardy and Jessica Chastain offer subtle, more reserved performances, with the former generating humour with grunty nuances from time to time.

Whilst the acting is consistently strong, the narrative leaves a little more to be desired. As the feud between Bondurants and local law intensifies, there's little incident along the way that significantly builds to its climactic finale. Neither is there a particularly strong presence of sub plotting or subtext,  either, rendering the emotion of the characters somewhat impenetrable. What's more, the vagueness of plot points and lack of exposition prevents the characters from feeling particularly rounded or muster depth and engagement with them.

Even though the story is loose and tends to hone in on the plights of family and responsibility, it has its moments during a lengthy runtime, yet lacks the compelling nature of what it should be due to the overuse of ambiguity. Commendably, Hillcoat's period piece certainly looks the part with an authenticity that makes you wish you were able to experience things firsthand. However, such is the throwaway nature of the beast, Lawless ultimately culminates as a good film rather than a great one.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Review: Total Recall

Rating: 12a
Duration: 118 mins

Inevitable comparisons to Paul Verhoeven’s fantastic original sci-fi epic will be made, and even though it was released twenty two years previously, Len Wiseman has a lot to live up to if he wishes to satisfy existing fans and entice new ones.

Conceptually, the vision and premise are intriguing: the film begins with slick exposition of how the dystopian, bleak planet functions in the future, and is something audiences can buy into. Visually, it is, at times, noteworthy, but at others is awfully generic: The Colony -- a densely populated section of Earth -- is straight out of Blade Runner; the vehicles and action-orientated vertical chases are similar to Minority Report; whilst the legions of robotic authorities parallel I, Robot or even the clone armies of Star Wars. The result is droplets of imagination, drowned in rivers of creative laziness.

Len Wiseman -- known for his relentless Underworld series -- is simply unable to justify his decision to remake the Philip K Dick story. Rather than utilise the ideas of sci-fi, he simply moulds the existing story into a straightforward chase film, with a climax that possesses little in common with the genre. 

In fact, the two hour film is seemingly comprised of four overstretched, adrenaline-fuelled sequences. Glaringly apparent is Wiseman's obliviousness to over-indulgence, the narrative structure scraps any balance of action, exposition and storyline; instead opting for lengthy chase after lengthy chase.

What's more, the little storyline that is included feels like a condescending slap around the chops. Instead of the ambiguity and subtlety the original offered, Wiseman prefers to spoon feed his audience, insulting even the most primitive of minds. For example, a line Hauser (Colin Farrell) has early on -- a seemingly flippant comment about wishing he'd learnt to play the piano -- comes into play when he finds himself in the apartment of the life he has no memory of. We see a piano subtly chopped out of frame (which would have sufficed); followed by a shot of it in full frame; followed by Hauser sitting down and playing, as it reveals its significance in the plot. Surprisingly, we don't hear an echoey, internal monologue along the lines of 'I wish I'd learnt to play the piano' -- because it's that kind of film we're being patronised with.

Whilst the set pieces are action-filled and acceptably entertaining, they do -- as mentioned previously -- tend to drag. Regardless of whether director or editor is at fault, the sentimentalism and debauchery is plain to see, which resonates in lengthy, unnecessary segments that shape the entire film. 

The wonderful Bryan Cranston is woefully underused as villain Cohaagen, with Farrell and the eye candy combo of Kate Beckinsale/Jessica Biel offering acceptable, if  unimpressive performances. That's not to say it isn't a trio worthy of attention, because the casting are aesthetically pleasing, if nothing else.

Total Recall is a film that thinks it is far cleverer than it actually is. A lack of subtlety, intelligence and ambiguity renders it a story that could take place within any genre, dispelling all appeal of a sci-fi adventure. The trouble is that it takes itself far too seriously, yet insists on including numerous clunky references to Verhoeven's tongue-in-cheek masterpiece, as well as cringeworthy dream puns littered throughout the cheesy dialogue. 

All life has been sucked out of the satirically edgy original in favour of a straight-cut attempt at a thriller. However, without reference to its predecessor, it works on the most basic of entertainment levels. In principle it is a needless reimagining of Verhoeven's, and more significantly, Dick's work; serving merely as a modern update for non-savvy audiences in search of a popcorn flick.


N.B. Unsurprisingly, there's a nod to the three-breasted woman, who's not only heavy-handedly plonked into a random scene, but appears to be the only mutant in existence. Odd.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review: Brave

Rating: PG
Duration: 100 mins

With Pixar recently announcing sequels to Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and Toy Story, there were fears that originality was running dry, but their thirteenth and latest feature, Brave, shows that flare hasn't dried up just yet.

A story involving princesses, kings, castles, witches, spells and bears is anything but the norm for the animation giants, and turns out to be a refreshing change, especially with its woven references to many a fairytale: it shares a sensibility with Shrek for this very reason. Initially, it threatens to drift off into mundane territory a la Cars, but thankfully the strong, entertaining plot, keeps it afloat, allowing it to shine.

Whilst it may suffer from predictable plotting, the whimsy, funny and entertaining elements develop into an engaging and likeable fantasy set in Scotland. Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) defies her father, the King (Billy Connolly), and her destiny to marry one of three suitors as per the kingdom's custom, which forms the basis of the film.

As with each Pixar entry, the animation and attention to detail is sublime. Subtleties such as Merida's thick, auburn locks as well as various animal textures impress, but the most breathtaking visuals are perhaps the appearance of water -- one scene in particular springs to mind. It's this steady progression over the years -- as well as the consistency of their well-written scripts -- that keep Pixar one step ahead of the competition. Unlike Aardman's Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, which boasted style over substance, Brave achieves satisfaction on both levels and actually gains momentum and strength as it progresses towards its finale.

The conclusion is both tidy and resolute -- qualities you'd expect for both studio and genre. It remains perfectly paced throughout with its humorous level of wit and intellect that transcends younger and older audiences alike. It boasts a subtle comedic presence, specifically its approach to animals conveying thought without the ability of speech -- think along the lines of the mute genius of WALL-E as a guide.

Adhering to current trends, the film has been converted into 3D, and, as per a minority of its counterparts, does a credible job in creating depth of field. It's effective as an added extra, but in the context of the filmmaking it remains gimmickry is unnecessary.

Brave offers up a fairytale style story previously unexplored by Pixar. It works, and even though it doesn't quite capture the magical highs of Up or WALL-E, it still succeeds as a solid and hugely enjoyable film that performs well and looks the part, too.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Competition: Win Wild Bill on DVD

A spur of the moment competition here at The Littlest Picture Show, The Hut have kindly given a copy of the new British movie Wild Bill (released just last week) to be won. You can check out my cinema review here.


If you're on Twitter, simply retweet the following:

Simply RT and FOLLOW @littlestpicshow! 
More details here:

ALTERNATIVELY,  if you're not on Twitter, then simply leave a comment below with your name and email address.

Competition closes Sunday, August 5th. Winner announced Monday, August 6th.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Review: Ted

Rating: 15
Duration: 106 mins

Seth MacFarlane's first venture into mainstream cinema was always to be an anticipated affair, especially if you're partial to his long-standing shows Family Guy and American Dad!

Creator MacFarlane assumes control over director and writer duties for a movie that is about a talking teddy bear. The premise focuses on John (Mark Wahlberg) who, as a child, wishes for his new stuffed toy -- a bear he aptly names Teddy -- to come to life, which it subsequently does. The fact that Ted is the only walking, talking bear of his kind is irrelevant (kind of), as girlfriend Lori's (Mila Kunis) acceptance of the unique situation and bond appears to wear thin.

It all begins promisingly with the sultry narration from Patrick Stewart as the first couple of scenes play out nicely. Seth MacFarlane's desire to break into Hollywood after small screen success is clear, but his venture may have worked better had he persisted with the shockingly offensive nature of Family Guy rather than catering more towards the Superbad demographic. Not necessarily a bad move, the style of Ted is overtly mainstream, as many of the jokes within it accommodate for this audience. But what's ill-fitting is how this essentially adult comedy with a potty-mouthed child's toy is set within a fairytale-style narrative. It makes for a bizarre combination, as the anti-Semitic jokes fail to gel with the more tender moments -- and, believe it or not, there are a few. 

Whilst the CGI character looks rather convincing at times, the gratuitous profanity quickly becomes stale. Therefore, those who prefer a more intelligible rather than gross-out, sweary form of comedy will find large chunks of the film laborious.

That said, there does come a point where it manages to create poignancy, and the story -- albeit as far-fetched as it is -- does deliver on a basic, engaging level.

There are a couple of cameos; mainly appearances from Family Guy regulars Alex Borstein and Patrick Warburton, as well as a few other well known faces that generate genuine laughs, but the overall quality of comedy is far too inconsistent.

Ted is obvious mainstream fodder, as MacFarlane sways from more obscure cultural references to ones about Twitter and Taylor Lautner. The gags throughout are very hit-and-miss: when they work -- and they do at their most edgy and controversial -- they're hilarious, but at other times the set-ups and 'safe comedy' simply fails to impress.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Rating: 12a
Duration: 164 mins

Chris Nolan's third instalment of the successful and much loved Batman reboot is finally unveiled, with the pressure of surpassing the billion-dollar-earning, Oscar-winning sequel The Dark Knight, can The Dark Knight Rises live up to its ridiculously high expectations?

To begin with, it's worth declaring that Rises is a breathtaking spectacle on a sublime scale; more so than Batman Begins, and on par with The Dark Knight. 

We're thrust eight years into the future, and therefore the film takes a little time to re-establish itself, but does so satisfyingly within the opening half hour. The script incorporates snippets of relevant exposition in order to burst into the film's second and third acts with great momentum, allowing the events that take place thereafter to have the most impact possible due to the existing investment in the characters.

Christian Bale thrives as he does in previous entries, mixing billionaire recluse Bruce Wayne with masked vigilante well. Michael Caine's Alfred has meatier segments of dialogue early on, which certainly allow Caine to showcase his ability more than before. However, it's Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Selina Kyle that really impresses, as she threatens to steal the film all by herself. Tom Hardy's Bane is effective and as accomplished as his brutish character can be, but is unable to offer the dexterity of Heath Ledger's Joker.

Whilst the narrative and early structure isn't as polished as The Dark Knight, the set pieces and action sequences are just as mind-blowing. What's more, the screentime Batman and Bane share is just as riveting as the ones with Joker in the previous entry.

Various moments present a poignancy that's largely devoid in the other movies, and achieves the balance of emotion just right, especially where key characters are concerned. Things aren't hampered by the tremendous score courtesy of Hans Zimmer, either, and adds to the grandiose magnitude of events.

The Dark Knight Rises is a truly epic conclusion to Nolan's breathtaking trilogy. Apart from a slightly slow beginning, the majority is pacey, slick, thrilling and utterly spectacular. Anne Hathaway surprisingly stamps her authority, as Bale et al remain as watchable as ever. If there's one film to see this year, it's this.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Review: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Rating: U
Duration: 80 mins

For some, The Muppets will be forever cherished. Timeless is their appealing nature, the latest feature length, self-titled movie merely proves the insurmountable, continuous love the globe over.

This concise, yet utterly poignant documentary touches upon the story of Kevin Clash -- the man that brings the child-like voice of Elmo to life every day. Seeing him as a youngster will galvanise -- for his first puppet he resorted to taking existing in-use materials from around his home in order to craft a Henson-style muppet -- because his story comes across as a uplifting tale of achieving one's dream, but the real emotional grab of the film is how Clash uses his fame and influence to bring sheer joy to others.

Touring the famous muppet workshop is truly an eye-opening experience, as we gain a glimpse of the day-to-day goings on of both puppeteers and crafters. Clash spends a large segment of the doc showing us how much comfort Elmo can bring to children, too (ones he specifically meets are often terminally ill), with a consistent subtextual message of togetherness and making the most out of life. Not only that, but Clash remains grounded and utterly genuine as he offers a helping hand to other wannabe puppeteers yearning for the big break he so graciously received himself.

Being Elmo is a taut and wonderful insight into the world of The Muppets. It's a brief, but very inspiring documentary that is well worth seeing, not only as a suitable alternative to blockbuster fodder, but simply as a pleasingly quaint and moving documentary.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Rating: 12a
Duration: 136 mins

Not unusual nowadays is the repackaging and re-branding of film franchises that are barely older than one's underwear in an attempt to offer a fresher, more modern and even better alternative to what we've seen in the past. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a prime example of said quick turn over with a mere two years between Swedish original and Fincher remake.

Relative newcomer Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) takes on the inaugural task of rebooting Marvel's Spider-Man franchise a decade after Tobey Maguire donned the latex in what culminated in a surprisingly well-received genre flick followed by an even better sequel. 

Familiarity aside, the main differences are the new cast. Andrew Garfield assumes the role of teen misfit Peter Parker, who offers a likeable portrayal of the young hero with not only a superior acting pedigree, but a more fitting stature, too. Emma Stone replaces the po-faced Kirsten Dunst, and instead fills the role of Gwen Stacey rather than Mary-Jane -- a character that emerged long before MJ as an original love interest for Parker.

The script is well formulated, which includes a sparse but worthwhile amount of laughs -- the most memorable being Spidey's reaction to a car thief as he falls to his knees exclaiming, "You found my weakness, it's small knives!" However, as much as a reboot may sound fresh, it actually treads very similar ground to the Sam Raimi films: sure, it has to remain faithful to the comics and as an origin story, but there's virtually no inventiveness or originality to Webb's interpretation aside from a non-organic web shooter; instead, one that is attached as a wrist-sized mechanisms. In fact, it treads the steps of Raimi's 2002 original a little too closely (apart from a different villain and heroine), with rehashed scenes displaying Parker's stance against the high school bully for example, albeit achieved in a slightly different way.

A strong focal point is the relationship between Parker and Gwen, whose unfamiliarly with one another quickly develops into an awkward acquaintance before blossoming into something more. This element is perhaps the strongest aspect Webb conveys, as the pair bashfully interact in high school hallways, and what's more is that they convince with their chemistry. The balance of comic book origin tale to high school love story sways largely towards the latter, as a bigger portion of the movie follows their developing romance, detracting from Rhys Ifan's Dr. Connors/The Lizard until the final half hour.

Whilst Webb succeeds with the romantic plot, it would appear the villain of the piece is forgotten about, and when he does begin to feature the lacklustre CGI and pristine lab set-up amongst the faeces of the sewers merely assert it as whimsical rather than threatening. Furthermore, one gets the feeling the director's lack of experience is exposed as the comic book essence is there, but loses its way in the middle.

The subtext is as obvious as Stone's attempt to blend in wearing those arousing knee-length socks, with the film progressing at a safe pace and cautious tone, afraid to delve into darker territory as per Nolan's Batman series. Its messages are a little heavy handed in places -- glaringly so amidst a poignant scene involving the wonderful Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben.

A noticeable disappointment is the amount of exposition that never quite delivers. A promising start indulges in some mystery and intrigue into Parker's earlier life and the relevance of his parents involvement in the film. We're privy to some backstory, but as soon as a snippet of info is extracted the entire thread is extinguished and forgotten about. 

VERDICT: It may be daft in places (a crane alignment scene in particular stands out), but which Marvel films aren't? Webb does a better job with teeny romance than masked vigilante, but The Amazing Spider-Man tweaks what we saw from Raimi and Maguire ten years previously, serving as an alternative, entertaining, yet altogether not-so-different spectacle.

N.B. The cameo from creator Stan Lee is probably his best yet. Borderline genius.