Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)

mr_peabody_and_sherman_ver11_xlgA fun enough blast through history that sweeps through place to place or more accurately, time to time. There may not be too much in the way for adult entertainment but the animation is fresh and funky to keep children in wide eyed delight and if overlooking the sometime wibbly wobbly timey wimey plot there’s a nice film with heart and drive here to keep all parties at a happy medium.

Rob Minkoff, the guy who co-directed one of my favourite ever Disney films…scratch that, films in general (The Lion King) is on full directors duty here telling the story of Peabody and Sherman who come from a TV sketch background where they featured as part-time folk in ‘The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’. Here for their big screen treatment we see the intelligence and trying fatherly role of Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) in all his doggy glory as he attempts to raise his adopted son Sherman (Max Charles) in the right manner. On his first day of school however he ends up locking horns with the preppy bully Penny (Ariel Winters) and Peabody could lose Sherman if the overbearing Trunchbull-esque family service agent has her way in regards to the incident. Through time and space can the dog and boy grow closer, save the day and stay together? 

Of course, with no spoiler warning the answer to the above on all three counts is yes. It’s a children’s film, of course everything works out, though there are some bumpy patches along the way that work nicely in giving this film an element of welcome sweetness and emotional weight. The adoptive father-son relationship is a simple enough tool to get going but they utilise it well and as their journey back and forth goes on you feel some mild attachment to their cause and you will Peabody to become a better, or at least a closer father to Sherman. The declaration of love and such is an obvious script line from the time Sherman says it and Peabody doesn’t, that you just know it’ll crop up by the end with a twist around but it doesn’t make the sentiment any weaker. The actual time story is good and meaty for a kids flick but in that there’s the issue of how much would fly over their heads. It is in fact quite a convoluted plot of never crossing paths with yourself, saving history, wormholes and anti-gravity spins. They do get it right though and the careering crashing sequence of the final act makes for visual glory that would keep the little ones distracted from the sciency angle anyhow. 

There’s a few gripes that got me as the film grew in running time, firstly the character of Penny who never really gets on your good side. One minute she’s like one of the Plastics in ‘Mean Girls’ and then she’s nice and reaching out to be friends with Sherman. I just didn’t got on with her arc at all, not likable or interesting enough really. The third chair in the WABAC also infuriates as if Mr. Peabody didn’t want anyone else knowing about it why the heck did he install another seat in the machine?! The earlier running joke of Sherman laughing at his dad’s puns and then not getting it was irritating, a bad running joke anyway but why would he laugh if he didn’t know it was a joke/pun in the first place? The timey stuff loses the saving of the day grandeur when just before the credits you see modern life being handled in the past which would just set off all sorts of major problems in the present day and now also everyone knows about the WABAC, in no terms of story gripes just in fear of how much Peabody is going to get hounded for the fact he’s crafted an actual way to travel through time!!

The voice cast are cool though and Ty Burrell of ‘Modern Family’ fame gets the warmth and wit of Peabody down to a T. You totally buy into his smarts and the voice he has works for that character even if it’s sometimes hard to look past Phil Dunphy. Ariel Winters plays the bratty Penny with the girly ringing in her speech needed to sell the earlier bully stage of her character before using the same girly mannerisms to try and bring more kindness into her role. Max Charles is actually really energetic and engaging as the voice of Sherman and gives lift to the more human side of events. Patrick Warburton boosts the film with his booming voice as per usual and really lifts the film when his Agamemnon comes into play. Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann are fun minor additions but they are just that, minor. 

This is a zippy film with whizz and bang in loud and colourful heaps and it wins for the Oedipus joke alone. There are plenty of sight gags in history to try and keep the adults on side as kids may not understand them. It’s a party for children more so but it’s definitely entertaining, sweet and rip-roaring in it’s design.

6.5/10 

Life After Beth (2014)

trailer-fo-the-zombie-comedy-life-after-beth-with-aubrey-plaza

An enjoyable zom-com without too much of the rom that plays on eccentricity of situation to get the stronger laughs. The idea itself and its execution are done pretty well to be honest and watching the deterioration of the female co-lead is made all the more interesting and better thanks to the physical and believable make-up non CGI zombie appearance. 

This American comedy directed and written by Jeff Baena sees Zach (Dane DeHaan) at a loss after hearing his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) died on an ill-fated hike. He gets closer with her family in the mourning process but soon Beth’s father, Maury (John C. Reilly) shuts him out and Zach thinks Beth is back and alive. It becomes apparent though that there’s weirder things going on and once he reunites with his flame she isn’t the woman she once was. 

I really do like the idea of this in general, perhaps it fails on occasion in being drawn out into feature length format where some of the jokes fall flat because they’ve been done already. Though the thought of it in terms of something a little bit new and different makes it enough to keep you engaged. There’s mild humour on the most part but every now and again there’s a burst of something altogether daft or funny. The near end with Beth is kooky and so surreal in seeing this deranged girl and an oven, I won’t say how that plays into it but the imagery alone is just downright stupid it makes you laugh. 

The main positive stems from the zombiefication (not a word but I’ll use it) of Beth. The way she goes through stages makes it more horrible in a sense and with some of the increasing dread piled on top with Zach’s family getting their own visitors you feel that these zombies are a threat even in their attic obsessed muddy manner. Beth looks the part and Aubrey Plaza stands out as the central star here even if the main character is probably Dane’s Zach. By the time she’s doolally and reciting ‘together forever’ you utterly buy into her state. The make-up of course helps and really goes a long way to turn her into this grimy disgusting creature. The latter stage of her zombie evolution is nearly scary if it wasn’t so amusing to see her and Zach casually strolling along together, another example of comedy in situation of turning something with the potential of doom into lighthearted fare, even if I guess there is some case of doom arriving at the end of the hike yet even that is damned hilarious.

You can tell it’s filmed with a smaller budget but they get around the zombie scale of disaster by honing on Zach and how he and the people close to him deal with the return of the dead. There’s enough of little burning fires or off screen sounds of shouting and choppers to gauge there is devastation landing all around the place. It does fail to be as smart, witty and funny as ‘Zombieland’, perhaps an unfair parallel but they’re in the same genre so it’s to be expected. The inclusion of Anna Kendrick doesn’t elevate the material much either as she only serves as a weak female character to clearly be there as the sunrise to Zach’s bleak day. The only real greatness is in seeing the surreal nightmare like dream of it all unfolding and in that you get some laughs. As I previously mentioned the comedy does seem to recycle and the more serious aspects get drowned by kookiness which itself loses appeal by the end. 

A great idea maybe stretched out too much but one that leaves Plaza to chew up the scenery and comedy in her zom-like gaze. It’s strange and different enough to films out there that it’ll easily leave you entertained.

6/10

Winter’s Bone (2010)

936full-winters-bone-poster

A powerfully driven drama about the steaming pace of gossip in a rural community, this on top of the strength of close and distant family connections makes for a really watchable, interesting and incredible film.

In the sticks of Ozarks a 17 year old called Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is pretty much alone in raising her younger brother and sister as her mum is too ill to do so. Then one day she finds out her father is absent and if he doesn’t show for his court date then thanks to him signing the house over, Ree could lose her home and her family. She takes it on herself with brave boots to go from person to person to try and find out where her dad could be.

This film is thick and dripping heavily with dread….and I love it. The feeling of this helps tick the film along and keep you in constant suspense of this bleak and strange out-land where Ree is facing danger. The hushed and warned of mention Thump Milton makes for a drastic and wholly dramatic confrontation later on that really shows you the power of people sticking together in this place. You just can’t help but feel for Ree in her plight as she is a well drawn likable character with a mission that you sympathise with, so the dread reaches boiling point when she returns for her wish to speak to Milton. Even in the look of the film alone you gain that sense of dread and haunting worry as the colour is almost drained out to nothing leaving the audience a dull world to face. This works so well in making her life seem washed out, the threat of no home being an even bigger way to wash her out of everything. This film uses a palette of greys, blues and blacks much better than Hardwicke in my previously reviewed write-up. Winter is definitely represented harshly in this film and gives every story turn a jagged cold edge to keep the bleakness going.

Debra Granik directs and screenplays an adaptation of the 2006 novel with an eye for truly capturing the journey of character and the ties of family. The homes and landscapes of this rural community are seen as unforgiving and chilling, the burnt out splintered meth lab that Ree investigates is a clear example of how dangerous this place can be. Women and big strong men all stick together and their unison is a dangerous power for Ree to face too. It’s like the people of Ozarks have become the way they are due to their surroundings. The writing of this movie is great with characters coming to blows making for loud exchanges in dialogue contrasted with more subtle brooding moments such as Ree and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) being pulled over by a cop. The main story itself of finding family, distant relations in her missing dad and close knit relations in her bringing up her sis and bro give good showcases of how family is an emotional seesaw.

Jennifer Lawrence really became a star here and I honestly felt her role and acting in this film is much more complex and interesting than the role she won her first Academy Award for. Tiffany in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is an okay character but it’s striving to be rom-com material with an easy character of sick backgrounds, Ree is a much more independent, strong willed and smart female character and Lawrence plays this driven girl with so much conviction. She tiptoes from withdrawn and quiet in the fear of others to stomping in the face of danger with a loud, motivated and assured actors grip. This is the film and role she should have achieved an Oscar for but oh well. John Hawkes plays the mysterious uncle greatly in providing suspense of character as you just can’t always pin what side he’s on. Is he helping, will he turn on Ree, does he know something? It’s all questions and even if they weren’t answered I’d still like his character as it’s not paper thin and the 3-dimensional aspect gives Hawkes something to get his teeth into. I must give applause to Dale Dickey too who gives a creepy-esque performance especially in her later stages in the glow of the night with a chainsaw. I say no more. Her protective and dominant role in trying to push Ree back is fantastic and you can tell there’s trouble lurking in the midst of her character.

The only thing I thought was a little odd was a possible dream sequence of Ree’s that looks like a school projection video, just some li’l squirrels running around to the terrifying sound of felled trees. To me it added nothing and took nothing away, a near pointless mini moment, but apart from that this film explores and identifies with family problems with a fine microscope and the results are gripping to watch.

A tough and bleak movie but one that boosts the appeal of Jennifer Lawrence even further. It also sheds cliched dramas about family right down to the bone leaving us with the raw and colder aspects of blood bonds which is fantastic.

8/10

 

Red Riding Hood (2011)

red_riding_hood_poster

You can clearly tell this is from the director of Twilight as Catherine Hardwicke takes the classic folk tale and breathes a tween romance and heavily washed out tone to the proceedings. It works here though in making the iconic red coat and hood stand out all the more, even if the romantic side of things feels cheesy there’s still slightly enough in the way of action and mystery to keep you watching.

Obviously you must know the plot in terms of the roots it stems from, well here it gets turned on it’s head slightly with sprightly Hood now called Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), the prettiest of her siblings who is arranged to marry Henry Lazar (Max Irons) even though she wishes to flee the village with woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). That romantic triangle cheese ball gets threatened with the full moon ritual of a wolf terrorizing the village. The arrival of hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) makes them realise the wolf is one of them and Valerie may be the only one to get that secret uncovered.

It’s a shame the script by David Leslie Johnson is chockablock with cliche ridden drama and cheese stringed romance. Some of the lines honestly take you miles out of the movie as you either laugh or cringe at how obviously written the dialogue is. It pains to see Seyfried or Oldman have to deliver such awful words. The actual love triangle thing itself is boring and been done so many times and I couldn’t care less for Valerie and whoever she ends up with. It’s this whole washed out angsty vibe that was big at the time with a demographic that lapped up strained romantic qualities. The writing of the mystery of who is the werewolf is also never inspiring or out-there-wow-oh-my-what-a-twist sort of material. In fact there’s too many options gifted of other suspects making it clear it’s not them and I pegged the correct figure behind the teeth and fur halfway through before forgetting all about it in the lack of interesting progression.

The village itself looks very Brothers Grimm inspired and has that snowy postcard look of a story such as this but I just don’t get why it needed to be done at all as a modern movie with changes. The palette is very Twilight, the feel is also that category of dark fantasy but the funny thing is it never feels that dark really. The only dark aspect which I liked and got me drawn back into the movie was the elephant used as torture, where a human is subjected to being stuffed in a hollow elephant over a fire until they talk….or die. The look of the wolf is another unfortunate weak point with the CGI failing to give you goosebumps as the wolf looks more like the Animagus of Sirius Black, all the more odd considering he’s in this damn film and in ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ Black’s dog was more scary anyway.

Amanda Seyfried is beautifully captivating as the central character and does the best to make you feel for Valerie as a character and at few infrequent moments I did but that’s not down to her acting, that’s thanks to the shoddy workings of the script. Seyfried looks the part and what big eyes she has to convey all the emotions needed but even her grace and talent can’t shake you from realising the film doesn’t have much to offer. Gary Oldman pulls out another dud in his film career where he seems to rock from hit to fail all the time. Another character with that weird accent and villainous air to add to his bow though aside from exploitation devices, hammy acting and cheesy dialogue he does provide a reasonable counter part to Seyfried’s heroine.

This is a pretty bad movie though not as horrendously bad as others have said, I preferred watching this to the last film I reviewed, ‘Dazed and Confused’. If you can look past the lack of darkness, tension, sexual connections, bad writing, visuals and a surreal dire last scene of dreams and endings then there’s an okay film to see here. Like only just scraping being okay by the claws of the big bad wolf.

5.5/10

 

Dazed and Confused (1993)

MPW-16704

I can’t think of too much to write in regards to this movie, at least in appreciation terms. This movie clearly garnered a lot of love over the years but I just don’t feel the same. I liked minimal aspects of this film and most of that boiled down to the choices of outside music on the soundtrack. The story, in my eyes, was hardly there, full of macho bullying and babble about high school futures, it never felt inspiring to me, maybe it’s because I’m now older, not American or didn’t grow up in the 70’s but there was near to nothing in the film that livened me up.

Mega opening paragraph than normal aside let’s mosey on over to the plot of this 1993 Linklater film. Basically it is the last day of high school and the year is 1976, the movie follows seniors and upcoming freshman on their trials and tribulations in the aftermath of school’s out. Expect paddle beatings, young loves and stoner hangouts.

The film does achieve the style of the 70’s with ease and strength at least and every corner of the screen oozes with that sense of the period. The characters are dressed right, the vehicles and surroundings are typically American 1970 hangouts and the soundtrack is pumped with loud and proud rocky tunes. It’s the confident and brilliant selection of tracks used that felt the best thing to me. The range of artists from KISS to ZZ Top and Alice Cooper to Black Sabbath just demonstrates the kind of style the music possesses. It can switch songs so often that it feels like you’re watching some fast paced music video channel but that’s the only weakness I can think of in terms of the best feature of the movie: the soundtrack supremo.

I guess this film has a lot in the way of respect and interest in kickstarting a few big named actors careers. You can see the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich and Ben Affleck in their youth here and that does come with a degree and sprinkling of cool. The movie is also clearly set up for the freshman/senior divide but does well in blending the age gap to follow the plight of one severely ass paddled kid called Mitch, as he breaks into the mould of the seniors and becomes more adult in one night. That was the most interesting story arc I thought and it was played believably by Wiley Wiggins.

There are some relatively fun moments, such as mailbox bashing and O’Bannion’s soaking but on the whole the majority of the film kept me pretty dazed and confused by how unexciting it is, it didn’t have a hold over me of inspirational magic that everyone else seems to comment about it. I honestly felt bored by it. I didn’t want to use that word but it’s how I felt. Shame because I wanted to get caught up in the rebellious high school attitudes and behaviours but I was just waiting for the film to end.

The music is proper good, some of the film in parts looks or feels cool but overall I’d say this film is just sort of alright alright alright.

5.5/10

The Nut Job (2014)

the-nut-job-poster03

Nothing to see here but an unmemorable animation that fails on likability, visuals, excitement and plot. It’s one of those films that can interest a really young movie goer or someone that isn’t looking for much demand in the way of good films.

This South Korean co produced film released by Open Road Films sees a park in Oakton struggling to find food to store for the oncoming winter, they realise under the order of Raccoon (Liam Neeson) that they may have to work with the selfish Surly (Will Arnett) as he knows how to find and get food. Surly, the park hero Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and obvious love interest Andie (Katherine Heigl) work in the midst of a fake nut store to try and get the bags of food out whilst human burglars use this ‘shop’ front to dig under a nearby bank and steal money.

The only interesting character I thought had some merit was Buddy, Surly’s buddy the rat. He doesn’t even have one speaking word and more could be seen on his face than the guff that came out of some of the other animals’ mouths. A brief moment where he keeps switching sides to stare into Surly’s face gave this movie an actual nice snippet of how sweet and touching it could be and then it was gone. Mole too was slightly funny in the initial exploration of him sent on a mission during the day and being blind but then they kept on playing to it and it lost the humour. The problem with the character work is you don’t feel anything towards them, especially in the case of the lead. Surly is just too unlikable and his comments are never witty or funny to make you feel a strange connection to him, there’s just nothing really.

Animation-wise the look of the film isn’t anything special, in this day and age where other companies strive to make their films stand out this seems to do the opposite and looks like a hack job to get the film out there asap. In Pixar you get finessed detail with water droplets and hair strands, DreamWorks too focuses on the small things to make everything look real. ‘The Nut Job’ fails in having excellent cartoon creativity, the fire and water more than anything looks pretty terrible.

The score for this film is wholly underwhelming with no real kick or drive to it to make the sequences played out feel exciting. Maybe as a child the sight of squirrels and the vague resemblance of a energetic track can do the trick but for the majority it loses any spark and magic from the get go. Even the insanely catchy earworm of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ can’t lift the film from it’s depressing slump.

From obvious villainous turns to uninspired character names there’s not a lot this film really does right, perhaps now and then it has some alright slapstick moments and the dog Precious is quite amusing when she isn’t being annoying but even the vocal cast seem to realise the film isn’t a brilliant affair and they never seem to breathe much life into their characters. It really does seem to aim squarely at children with some red bird attached to Raccoon drawn and behaving like an Angry Bird, farts, multiple ‘you must be nuts’ jokes and all round easy story telling.

Sadly a sequel has already been announced to this uninteresting, messy flat animated drivel.

4.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Poster-High-Res

Awesomely spectacular in sci-fi visuals, battle-tastic sequences and high class comedy. The tenth installment in the Marvel cinematic universe and 100% one of the best. James Gunn the director and co-writer of this penultimate Phase Two feature has mastered a wise cracking, zippy futuristic barnstormer to once again keep the threat of stale superhero movies well away.

‘GOTG’ kicks things off with a simple enough back story into Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past of 1988 and from there he’s whisked away into the land of space and the unknown. This movie revolves around him 26 years later as his space pirating ways lead him to grab a much sought after orb. Having this item however is more dangerous than expected and in the process of keeping it he stumbles upon a motley crew of bandits who become friends. (Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper) They all must try and stop the orb falling into the wrong hands, i.e the paws of one mighty villain named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

*very mild spoilers may follow in this write up*

This is such a damn good movie, the movie keeps shuffling along at a speedy pace but never in a way that you feel it’s over before anything has begun. The story is suitably told even if it is predominantly a item for sale kind of shtick. It might be basic but it never feels dull with interesting character interactions to keep the story amusing and fresh. The book-ended Earthy quality to reflect Quill’s background help add that grounded touch to bring us back to more level standings after flying high in the future. The mum, present and Star-Lord aspects all get their time and help make the arrogant, witty dude in charge more three dimensional, which I believe was needed, even if skidding across an empty cave and singing into weird creatures is epic cool. The main likable story focus is centering on them as a gang, a unit, friends and possible a family because of them working together, all their rapports are scripted brilliantly with comedic one liners, miscommunications and personality divides all adding to the hilarity of this odd bunch coming as one. James Gunn and Nicole Perlman have done a top notch thing in writing this film, mixing funny with feels, whizz with calm.

The science fiction is like something wholly and delightfully different to the Marvel films to come so far. Each planet and scene is detailed with futuristic eyes for design and wonder that it’s a treat to see each place appear on the big screen, especially when captured on an IMAX screen. They all work with the unraveling plot and suit the impending darkness of Ronan’s influence. Though Xandar always seems clean, white and like some new Colgate commercial or a Jetson’s city. The sci-fi gizmos are fun and Star-Lord, you know….Star-Lord, oh forget it, he has a Batman like utility belt of gadgetry to deploy; from a handy helmet to some jet-packed boots. It’s all stamped with an assured extreme modern look that gives this film the fun identity you hoped it would have.

‘GOTG’ has a soundtrack of insanely great proportions that relate nicely to Quill as a human with his travelling mixtape, appropriately titled Awesome Mix Vol. 1 that gifts us the sounds of the 70’s and each song ties in with the action it’s played over. Of course there’s the great ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ by Blue Swede but other gems come from David Bowie, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, The Jackson 5 and The Runaways who have one of the best song-to-scene moments with ‘Cherry Bomb’. It’s a very musically felt film even when a song isn’t blasting through the cinema speakers like some phat boombox-esque disco tune. Peter Quill utilises on the moods of ‘Footloose’, he twinkle toes…quite a fair bit and even uses this knack for such a great way to deal with the enemy, very Han Solo tapping on a Stormtrooper to distract jobby.

Chris Pratt is a great leading man and shines as Star-Lord, seriously no idea? Okay, nevermind, the cockiness is just right, never leaning into proper douchebag territory, he has a great sense of comedic timing clearly picked up from his time in ‘Parks and Recreation’, but there’s a sensibility lurking under the leather and helmet of Quill and Pratt showcases this human emotional side when needed to settle the soaring visuals with hearty story, maybe not huge hearty story mind but hearty enough. Zoe Saldana is a great kick-ass assassin and plays green Gamora with the hit-girl precision, she also keeps Quill in check and turns a corner for him without even meaning to. Bradley Cooper is never seen but is utterly fantastic as the voice of the violent Rocket Raccoon, the furball is cute and somewhat softened by the end but he comes out with insults and lines to crack you up constantly, the funniest thing in the film by far. Stan Lee has a cameo, as per. Karen Gillan has black eyes and blue skin in her most evil role yet and she carries that baddie role well giving long stares into shots to convince you she can do harm, underused as a character and I was saddened that after hype of a great female fight between Saldana and her it feels cut short and not that impressive when it comes down to it. Lee Pace is bulky and very bad as Ronan and booms as the central villain, it’s a great play but this film does side more with the journey of the Guardians leaving the villains with less time to breathe.

The best thing about this film is you can tell the makers had a blast getting this made and so you have a blast watching it. It’s zany and piled to the stars with silly and smart comedy, shining special effects and grand fun. A Jackson Pollack comment says it all for some of the greatly scripted one-liners and the dazzling lights and kindness of Groot’s heart tell you how sweet and sad the film can sometimes be. It succeeds it making you care about the good guys an awful lot and each one gets enough screentime to warrant you liking them all, they’re the new Avengers in a way, more weird but just as easily to get attached to. Heck this film even bangs out a final act more impressive and neatly wrapped up than ‘The Avengers’ managed to achieve.

Mad fun, great sounds and sights can be found in this action filled space adventure. An exhilarating ride that makes you want to go round again and again.

8.5/10