WORKING ON IT!

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Funny trying to find a construction image. Typed in Google search for images of a frantic writer or a “working on it” slogan. Found some pretty weird stuff . . . and Taylor Swift. Why? I don’t want to know. But I found this little gem. Hey, I am the Mad Ranter!

Reviews are in the pipeline for the following hits/disasters:

*I have attached a quick rating mark next to them*

Reviews will follow but please enjoy some THROWBACK REVIEWS that have been sitting in one of my documents while I rush to provide some up to date ranting!

If there are any you want me to review first, just holla! (Hopefully somebody will)

The order will be (unless changed by you lovely people):

What We Did On Our Holiday 3.5/5

The Riot Club 2/5

A Walk Among The Tombstones 3.5 (just)/5

Gone Girl 4/5

Dracula Untold 2.5/5

Dolphin Tale 2 2.5/5

The Rewrite 2/5

The Equalizer 2.5/5

And . . . The Best of Me 2/5

What?! Why?! I hear you ask. You will find out . . . eventually. I’M WORKING ON IT.

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THE BOXTROLLS REVIEW

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I laika it but I didn’t love it. From the makers of Coraline and Paranorman comes a delightfully animated, if predictable affair that certainly impresses in detail but lacks in story. Enough for the little ‘uns but I can’t help but feel that some of the darker and more satirical moments may whizz over their head and leave them fidgeting in their seats.

As I’ve said before; kids films, or should I say, family films are always a challenge. They have a lot to aspire to and must have enough pace, character and story to entertain children and adults. But normally, a good portion of the time you can bank on them to deliver the goods. Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks have proven this time and time again. They are normally the films I can rely on in the ever growing list of mediocre and plain right terrible movies I’ve had to endure this year.

Now the American stop-motion studio Laika certainly delivered with the creepy but brilliant Coraline. ParaNorman was a mixed bag. A watchable one. At its best, dark, very funny and endearing. But let’s not forget the ending wasn’t perfect. It felt like it had run out of ideas and rushed towards a corny and flat finale.

So what’s this one all about? The Boxtrolls are a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who lovingly raise an orphaned human boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright – Game of Thrones) in their cavernous home built beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. However, when evil exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls. Eggs decides to venture above ground and “into the light”.

Eggs? That’s right. Eggs because that was on the box that our protagonist chose to wear. A nice touch.

The opening was a little slow and a little dark with a Boxtroll appearing to steal a child and Snatcher brokering a deal with the high class elite who appear to be wasting the town’s budget on fancy hats and rich cheese. A fun poke at the inevitable class and society issues that still plague the present day.

The little ones may find themselves fidgeting a little bit. Even I could feel my eyes looking at my watch. That is until our little cardboard creatures finally make their appearance.

The animation is fantastic. Once the little sewer gremlins emerge from their cavernous domain and begin scavenging the streets, I was in awe. Their little expressions and the detail in which they use their boxes as props to climb over gates and as cover from any passing humans. Their bickering and amusement with the rubbish dumped on the streets made them instantly loveable and entertaining.

The 3D was a complete waste of time. Thoroughly disappointing as this film would have been the perfect platform. Also pretty poor with the inflating ticket prices and decreasing cinema numbers. Do not invest.

The cast were perfectly chosen for the roles. And what a cast! Hempstead Wright has already made an impression with Game of Thrones but certainly delivers a solid voicing performance. But he was always going to fall second fiddle to the legend that is Sir Ben Kingsley. His prowess and talent just adds so much to the delightfully disgusting Archibald Snatcher. His name must surely be a nod to the infamous child villain, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Only a more demented version, with top hat in tow, of course.

Richard Ayoade (Moss from The IT Crowd), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) and Tracy Morgan (That’s right! 30 Rock) were brilliant as Snatcher’s numbskull henchmen who constantly try and justify with one another that they are really the good guys. Not enough of them in my opinion.

Elle Fanning (Maleficent) was fantastic as the stroppy but feisty Winnie who befriends Eggs. Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Maurice LaMarche (Futurama) were also voices that stood out in the gang of mindless elitist cheese fanatics.

The Boxtrolls is watchable and at times quite fun. The chase sequences and the encounters with the Boxtrolls were a sight to see. But for me, the story just didn’t seem to flow that well. It seemed a bit mechanical and all a bit predictable. Desperate twists and turns were pulled out of nowhere as the film meandered along.

Twists that were hardly revelatory or necessary for that matter. The whole spiel early on that the Boxtrolls were cannibalistic murderers was always going to be a bluff. Eggs and Fish (the Boxtroll who “adopted” him)’s relationship was nicely done and you could feel for the pair, even if half of the time you couldn’t understand what they were saying to one another. A running joke that happens every time Winnie demands a translation.

Eggs’ adjustment into the human world after ten years of “captivity” was an endearing and funny opportunity. His introduction to a high class social party brought the odd chuckle. But the tone seemed to be too uneven. Coraline was endearing but deliciously dark. Boxtrolls starts off dark. Goes full slapstick and cheesy. Then a little darker with a rushed and incredibly corny finale.

It felt like it wasn’t sure how far to push or how dark to be. An achilles heel for Snatcher was an unexpected twist that led to a deliciously macabre finale.

There’s enough for everyone. Silly boxtrolls for the kids (and adults) and macabre Dickensian visuals with a drop of class satire. Not bad by any means but will it stand against the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Caroline or even ParaNorman? Sadly, not for me.

3/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN

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Nothing to bark home about. (What? If you’re tutting at that, then this film is not for you. If you tutted but had a cheeky little grin, then this might be). Enough hi-jinks and 3D animation to keep the children wagging their tails but it’s hardly a rollicking family movie.

It’s not all bad and to be honest, it jumps straight into the action with Mr. Peabody (voiced brilliantly by Ty Burrell or Phil Dunphy from Modern Family BUT less annoying) making a brief introduction about his numerous achievements from birth, after being neglected for being unique (the usual spiel). His greatest challenge, however, was adopting seven year old Sherman.

We join the dynamic duo on a time travelling escapade, basking it up in the 18th Century French Revolution before its inevitable uprising. It zips along, the 3D is actually quite good with the swords and spears pointing out of the screen. The one liners are guilty pleasures, silly but funny pun gags.

One particular guilty chuckle was during a zany escape attempt from the guillotine that is as bonkers as the Sherlock fall. Mr Peabody delivers the punch line, “The best thing to do is be calm and keep your head”.

However, this is all thrown aside as Sherman attends his first day of school. And before you know it, he’s in a fight with a bully. Twist, the bully is a girl named Penny (voiced by Ariel Winters or interestingly Alex Dunphy from Modern Family). This leads to the gruesome child protection services officer Mrs Grunion (Mom’s Allison Janney), who bears some deep resentment towards dogs owning children. She threatens to take Sherman away.

In attempt to prevent the pair being torn apart (Aww. Yuck) Peabody invites Penny and her parents over for dinner. Penny and Sherman inevitably refuse to get along. That is until, against Peabody’s wishes, Sherman introduces her to the Way Back (time machine).

The pod looks exactly like the one from Free Birds. This film may not be great but it’s better than that turkey (What?). However, the jokes are few and far between. And the overall story is the same old guff. The time travel sequences end up visiting all the obvious famous figures, Shakespeare (check), Van Gogh (check), Da Vinci (check) – cue a highly predictable gag about the real reason behind Mona Lisa’s smile.

It seems like the movie ran out of gas by the hour mark and threw the lazy plot device of the time machine’s power being drained so they have to stop at random points of time. In all fairness, the 14th Century Florence skit with Stanley Tucci’s Da Vinci wasn’t too bad and his creepy child machine was very weird but funny. The ruse that Mona Lisa was all for tourist promotion wasn’t bad.

However, there is the usual cheesy father/son/dog/pup spats and brewing, if unnecessary, romance between Penny and Sherman. OTT slapstick and silly gags. However, after the hour, the film does find another gear and revs up to a mad timey wimey finale. The Troy sequence was hilarious with the testerone-pumped dimwits led by Agamemnon, voiced expertly by Patrick Warburton (Joe from Family Guy). The comparisons between their weird family upbringings was a surprise and one for the adults. “Don’t get me started on Oedipus. You do not want to go round there at Thanksgiving”.

The timey wimey stuff made it more interesting once they start breaking up the space time continuum and the past goes back to the present but it all got ridiculous with the inevitable cheesy, corny happy ending. Watchable, brilliant visuals, if predictable guff. Shame considering the talent; I mean come on, Mel Brooks, Dennis Haysbert, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann! Enough for the little ones but the bigger kids will be fidgeting . . . towards the exit door.

2.5/5 for me

THE GIVER REVIEW

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Hollywood gives us another post-apocalyptic teen franchise to sink our teeth into but does it make you want to?

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.

Jonas: “If I’m the receiver of memories. What does that make you?”

The Giver: “I guess I’m the giver”

Childish laughter aside (I can’t believe they actually put that in there), we are handed another sci-fi teen flick with a protagonist who battles against conformity disguised as peace by a conniving dictatorship.

It certainly zipped along and wasn’t a bad way to kill 90 minutes but as I was watching I found it incredibly tough not to make comparisons to Divergent and Ender’s Game and as it concluded, all I could think was Hollywood better quit while they’re ahead before they kill more franchises.

Director Phillip Noyce has a great cast at his disposal; a mixture of fresh talent with the experienced Oscar veterans . . . and Katie Holmes. It was a surprise to see Holmes. Released from the Cruise cage to do a spot of acting. In all fairness, she doesn’t do a bad job. Let’s be honest, her acting was never brilliant. Meryl Streep does her best to make the role of Chief Elder engaging but the character is so mechanical and one dimensional that not even the Oscar winning starlet can work her magic. A shame as Streep is remarkable. She is able to pull in some emotion with her encounters with the gruffly Giver (Jeff Bridges).

Brenton Thwaites is a likeable lead. He has certainly been making the right impressions. Just not in the right films. Oculus was a dud no matter how hard Thwaites tried. Maleficent was actually not bad but his character was a little hammy. Yes, he was Prince Charming. However, he finally gets given a character he can work with and delivers a memorable performance. One to watch. Once Jeff Bridges gets over sitting looking angry and staring out Thwaites in a chair for 15 minutes, he delivers the goods yet again.

Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) is also quite likeable and has some good chemistry with Thwaites. It’s a shame that there is always an inevitable romance brewing but if you finally fight conformity and stop taking a pill that suppresses emotion (Yep. I was thinking Equilibrium too), you would suddenly feel attraction, love, etc. Just a little corny for my liking.

Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) was surprisingly wooden and seemed to be sleep walking the role but for those you have seen the film, I think there may have been a point to that. Speaking of which, I did not expect a cameo from a particular pop star as Rosemary. Let’s just say she made a swift impression.

Ross Emery’s cinematography is to die for. His use of monochrome juxtaposed against the introduction of colour as Jonas (Thwaites) begins to experience feelings and visions was a nice touch. The panning out to view the remaining colonies was a feast for the eyes. The 1984 overtones around the film was one aspect that did keep me intrigued and the idea of censoring people’s memories and using precision of language to specify exactly what they mean is something that feels all too real. And with the way political correctness is going . . . (REDACTED)

What I hate is that they give us little tidbits in the hope that we will be interested in another installment. Wrong. I want the first installment to hit the ground running and get me wanting another. NOT think that was okay. Maybe the next one will be really good. Noyce certainly ticked the boxes on pace. 97 minutes certainly breezes by with enough content to keep you watching. But the content, despite being brilliantly shot, has been done to death and so much better. A mesh of Divergent meets Equilibrium. I mean even the process in which the kids are given positions was just a futuristic sorting hat scenario from Harry Potter.

The film seemed all too nicey nicey. Until . . . a twist. A predictable one in hindsight. But a twist that turned the cheesy overtones to something much darker and it did make for a thrilling finale. However, it all ended too quickly and flatly for my liking. Now, unfortunately I haven’t read the Lois Lowry bestseller but I have it on good authority from fans that the film remains true to the source material. In that case, I will not be rushing to get the book.

At it’s best, it’s well acted, zips along, has moments of clever satire and action. At it’s worst, it’s predictable, a mix of teen and sci-fi flicks with an inevitable foot note that reeks of “THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL”

My main gripe with films like these is that they are just being churned out with no real attempt to be different. Originality is tough these days but I think Hollywood should spend a little more time looking at the source material, making a stronger film instead of relying on the same old guff or ripping off classics in such a lazy way. This is why The Host, Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game all failed to earn another sequel. All best selling novels with die hard fans in their own rights. It’s always tough to impress fans but you can at least try NOT yammer on with corny dialogue, poor pace or stretching out a story to milk more movies. You need to impress us with the first. IF The Giver earns one, then they better come out guns blazing. A comment I use too often. (Even for Divergent).

3 (just) out of 5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* TWO FACES OF JANUARY

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Two stars for Two Faces, more like. A real shame. A beautifully shot and well acted reboot of a regurgitated plot line that has been done so many times before and so much better by its supposedly “dated” predecessors.

The film revolves around a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who try to flee to a 1960s Greece after one of them is caught up in the murder of a police officer. At its core, it’s a film noir. A genre that I am an avid fan of. The only problem is that just because it has the story of one, does not make it so. Or make it any good for that matter.

Two Faces opens with Rydal (Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis), a Greek speaking American tour guide that impresses and cons the rich tourists that come across his path. He only takes what he needs and we soon get an insight into the way he works. A slow burning but watchable opening as Rydal scouts the picturesque Acropolis waiting for his next target.

However, the next couple to be caught in his cross hair are the MacFarlands (No, not of the Family Guy variety but the powerhouse that is Viggo Mortensen and the lovely Kirsten Dunst).

Rydal soon becomes intrigued, obsessed, with Chester (Mortensen) and he weasels his way into the couple’s vacation. The opening does feel like you’re watching the actors on holiday (but in costume, obviously). With the beautiful Greek landscape caught by the talented cinematographer Marcel Zyskind, I was happy to let it carry on chugging along (Enviously wanting to go on holiday as each minute ticked on).

Mortensen’s presence and performance is the major highlight in this film. He has proven countless times before in Lord of the Rings, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence that he can deliver the goods. Even the little things; his looks and grimaces flesh out a character that should be stocky.

His paranoia and curiousity as to why Rydal is watching him creates a little suspenseful encounter. Rydal undercutting him with every sale between the market traders makes a good little running joke. BUT it’s all rather tame. Even the playful sexual tension brewing between Dunst and Isaac under Mortensen’s menacing, watchful eye feels like it won’t go anywhere.

David Warshofsky’s (Captain Phillips/The Mentalist) creepy detective soon bursts the bubble of bliss and drops the bombshell that (surprise, surprise) the MacFarlands are not who they seem. A predictable, if violent, altercation with Chester leads to them becoming fugitives on the run.

The first act of this piece was actually quite watchable and suspenseful. It’s just a shame that the film goes downhill after that. The flailing pace dips in and out, reprieved only by moments of frenzy from Mortensen and tense but predictable encounters with border patrols.

There are a couple of twists along the way, but if anything it could kills the little tension that was keeping this film going and to be frank, just disappoints. Dunst’s character was hardly memorable. Anyone could have played her. It seemed more a game of wits between Chester and Rydal, with Dunst’s Colette being a really poor bargaining chip.

I mean an exchange between her and Rydal left things a little cryptic; did they get together? Did they do . . . anything? But it all doesn’t surmount to anything. If not for Mortensen’s decline into depravity and his paranoia turning him into a volatile drunk, the film would have been a complete write off.

The films soon comes to an inevitable chase around the cobbled streets of a Turkish village which picks up a meandering movie and makes for a predictable but engaging finale.

My main issue is it had the cast, the look, but no heart or real story. Zyskind’s cinematography is impeccable. He’s even able to make the rubbly ruined Greek outback a sight to see. It seemed that director Hossein Amini had just painted the little drawings by numbers, hoping no one will notice. Looks good but something was missing.

I would invest in a “dated” classic noir. Because although the music and acting may be a little OTT, they are still better than poor affairs like these.

2/5 for me.

*THROWBACK REVIEW* A NEW YORK WINTER’S TALE

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An unexpected watch. Went in to the screen (not literally) expecting the usual luvvy duvvy guff (my terminology for romance stuff), but came out surprised. A well-acted love story that is as different as it is strange. Cudos for the concept but not so much for its execution. Great chemistry from a great cast shies away from the numerous plot holes. However, I would say give it a go. One that doesn’t deserve the backlash it received.

At its core without spoiling too much is the story of thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) who fights to keep a dying girl’s (the beautiful Jessica Brown-Findlay from Downton Abbey) hope alive in a battle against a devilish villain, the scarfaced Pearly Soames (a sinister Russell Crowe). However, what ensues is quite different, actually. Their love unwittingly becomes a game between hidden angels and demons. I kid you not. A supernatural love fantasy that spans a century . . . almost.

Not what I expected at all from the trailers. I was going in for a typical by the numbers old fashioned period piece. The opening hooked me from the get go. We follow an amnesiac Farrell in the present day New York attempting to piece together his identity and his past. It all flicks back and forth and has enough questions and intrigue to keep me quiet.

Once the story sets itself in 1916 and the supernatural elements kick in, it gets even crazier. It all settles down a little too comfortably when Farrell and Findlay first meet, with the pace slackening. The usual love at first sight guff. The chemistry between Findlay and Farrell is brilliant. They make such a likeable couple that can get away with some of the more cringey one liners.

Crowe plays the baddie role to perfection. But for even with his Bond villain scar face, you can’t help but feel his role is being wasted. Reduced to merely plotting, making deals with fallen angels and demanding approval from his superior, The Judge (ol’ Big Horns himself. That’s right. The Devil). Cue an unexpected cameo that brought a smile. I would love to tell you. But this a story all about how . . .

I don’t want to talk about the story too much as I do want people to see this.

Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography certainly made the film worth looking at. The performances are brilliant with a massive ensemble; William Hurt (Lost in Space/Damages), Jennifer Connolly (Labyrinth/Blood Diamond), Matt Bomer (White Collar/Glee) and Scott Grimes (ER/Band of Brothers) in a blink and you’ll miss it role.

Now I understand that the film was adapted from a Mark Helprin novel. Unfortunately I will admit that I haven’t read it. This film has certainly peaked my interest. But that is mainly because despite its attributes and every supernatural twist or turn, a bigger plot hole popped its ugly head. Without being too spoilerific, why was Farrell Irish when his parents were Polish immigrants? Can the guy really not do any other accent?

And what was the deal with the horse? Anyway, despite being pulled apart at the seams, it’s still a nice jacket to look at, even if it looks different to what you expected when you paid for it. An interesting concept for a debut from writer/director Akiva Goldsman. Considering this was the guy (yeah he’s a guy. I know, right? Thank God I did my research) who produced the Paranormal Activity franchise.

An easy-going supernatural love ride that may be a bit shoddy on the exposition but makes up for it with originality, special effects and good acting.

3 (just)/5

SEX TAPE REVIEW

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Like any sex tape really. Overhyped. Talked about by all your friends. And not as good or as dirty as you hope or think.

As soon as it started with the alluring Cameron Diaz effing and jeffing about sex. Cue a montage of her and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) in numerous sordid positions in numerous places, I feared the worst. It was OTT, stupid but most importantly not funny. I can do random, silly, crude humour. As long as it’s funny.

To be honest, it only really kicks off when the duo inevitably make the sex tape to spice up their flailing marital sex life. If you’re lucky not to have seen the trailers then some of the gags in which the pair try and outdo each sex act, it brings the odd chuckle. Diaz has proven she’s game for a laugh in the past; There’s Something About Mary, The Other Woman and boy she’s still got it at 42. Wowewewow. Anyway . . .

I could get over the fact the pair were trying to act like 20 year olds in the flashback montage because Diaz and Segel worked well together. The film only really gets going when the actual sex tape is shared across a number of iPads through a naff syncing app. A ridiculous premise in which Jay (Segel) gives away all his iPads as a charitable gesture. But that’s only because I’m tight and would have sold them for a quick buck but hey, there wouldn’t have been a movie otherwise.

Cue an anonymous text blackmailing our guilty couple and a mad hunt to seek all the iPads and deleting said tape leading to a watchable if mediocre comedy. The supporting cast were picked perfectly. Rob Lowe was fantastic and in scene stealing form. How he did all it dead pan? I will never know. His obsession with Disney characters being an unexpected but much needed gag, helped ignite this flat battery.

Incorporating himself into every Disney picture around his mansion was completely random but hilarious. The heavily advertised Alsatian fight sequence with Segel was still brilliant. And to be frank, I was laughing a lot more than I expected to and the pace soon zipped along as the madness ensued. Segel’s spiel (Didn’t mean to rhyme there) certainly improved things and made gags and one liners work when they really shouldn’t.

Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Ellie Kemper (21 Jump Street) were pretty good. Cordrry in particular, delivering some belters yet again.

Robby (Corddry): Who has sex for three hours?
Jay (Segel): We did!
Robby: That’s the length of the movie “Lincoln”. You did the full Lincoln.

A guilty laugh from me. An unexpected cameo from Jack Black was great. Black can do no wrong. Literally showing up  to spew some random porn site names. Should be dumb but funny. Desperation? Laughing at porn site names? Maybe.

Apart from the odd one liner here and the unexpected funny gag there, the rest of it does reek of desperation. Swearing, drug use and shagging thrown in to make up for the lack of . . . anything really. The kid actors were wasted (Not literally) and were highly unmemorable. Well it can’t be helped when the biggest kids in the film are the parents. Sebastian Hedges Thomas made the most memorable impression as the little sod (Trying to keep it clean) Clive.

The commentary and debate about couples losing their sex life as soon as they get married wasn’t a bad concept. We got a little tidbit of depth with our couple as Diaz and Segel juggle busy schedules, work and kids but it’s soon soiled by, “When shall we pencil in to fuck?”. Delightful. NOT.

It zips along and certainly kills 90-odd minutes. Not the worst film I’ve seen by the way critics are laying into this. I don’t know why snobby toffs would even bother seeing films like this. It was always going to be slated. Sometimes big dumb movies are a great release. Switch your brain off and relax. Unfortunately this one was killing my brain until the gags finally got going.

2/5 for me