*NEW* TROLLS REVIEW *NEW*

I didn’t find my happy place watching this.

After the Bergens invade Troll Village, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the happiest Troll ever born, and the curmudgeonly Branch (Justin Timberlake) set off on a journey to rescue her friends.

Curmudgeonly? Word of the day. Had to grab a dictionary for that little doozy. That’s what you get for “borrowing” press releases. Anyway . . .

I had to laugh at the irony that the singer cast in the lead role voices a troll that won’t sing (Well until 70 minutes into the film).

This really is one for the little ‘uns. I couldn’t take the sugary sweet highly saturated animation with its ever-so-corny life messages. An insulin overdose for this diabetic.

It certainly didn’t win me over when a group of glitter-clad trolls were shooting glitter bombs out of each other’s backsides. Too much!

How does Russell Brand still get in movies? He’s like a foul stench that won’t go away. It was a toss up between him and James Corden for most annoying British comic to voice a troll. I could feel my hopes fading fast and that was only in the first 15 minutes!

I actually prayed for them to be eaten by a Bergen.

Director Walt Dohrn made more of an impression in his hilarious and tragically small cameo as the (appropriately titled) Cloud Guy. Give me five! Woah. GEAR SHIFT!

BUT that’s not to say that the film didn’t have its moments. I couldn’t think of anybody better than Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick to take on the role of Princess Poppy. Belting out some cracking medleys that meshed up Earth, Wind and Fire, Junior Senior and Simon and Garfunkel.

A crazy mix BUT it worked. Even my grumbling subdued for those sequences.

“The world isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows”

JT played the part of the miserable Branch brilliantly. The social outcast locked away in his Bergen proof bunker. Branded a laughing stock while the rest of the clan party, hug and sing (Shudders)

He worked well with Kendrick and the pair made an entertaining duo. Poppy’s mad energy and infectious enthusiasm battling Branch’s endless paranoia and pessimism.

I tried not to pick at the flimsy story line. Some guff about Bergens eating trolls as their source of happiness. A Bergen can never be happy if they have never tasted a troll. Really? They seemed pretty happy hunting them and cooking them.

Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) played the dastardly Chef with aplomb. Determined to hunt down all the trolls to save herself from exile.

Christophe Beck’s soundtrack choices were excellent. I didn’t expect to see the Bergens slumping around to Gorillaz’s Sunshine In A Bag.

Apart from JT’s (Oscar nominated) toe tapping Can’t Stop the Feeling, the original material left little to be desired. It didn’t help that Kendrick’s voice really grated against me while singing ‘Get Up Again’.

The silly little subplot involving King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his hand maiden Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) was entertaining enough and made up for the lacklustre journey.

I expected a bit more of an adventure. They got to the Bergen kingdom pretty quickly which made me think that they didn’t hide that well in the first place!

Deschanel was funny as the ditsy Bergen desperate to catch the king’s eye. Her attempts to woo him were comical. Her rendition of Lionel Richie’s Hello had me in stitches.

I didn’t even recognize The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar as the auto-tuning troll Guy Diamond. Maybe that was a good thing.

It was a movie of moments. There were some good ones and some bad ones. It was watchable enough and killed the time BUT memorable?

It had enough to entertain the little ‘uns BUT the bigger kids . . . Well. I’d recommend Sing instead.

BUT I’ll let you be the judges.

2.5/5

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*NEW* KILL YOUR FRIENDS REVIEW *NEW*

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Hoult delivers a killer performance. Shame. The rest of the film didn’t.

An A&R man (Nicholas Hoult) working at the height of the Britpop music craze goes to extremes in order to find his next hit.

He’s come a long way from About A Boy. Channeling his inner Patrick Bateman, Nicholas Hoult kills in this patchy BUT strangely watchable satire.

The demented opening sequence certainly set the tone. You knew what you were getting yourself into. Hoult’s cocky snake charmer had a hypnotic effect. He really carried the piece. Casually talking about how bad music has gotten while shooting up cocaine and urinating on a trampy looking James Corden.

You read that, right? Disgusted. Then this won’t be for you. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Stelfox is a monster. He has NO remorse and will NOT stop. Ambitious doesn’t even come close to describing how far the man will go to climb up the ladder.

The film gave an American Psycho meets 24 Hour Party People vibe. I’m NOT familiar with the John Niven novel BUT I will certainly be adding this to my reading list. Unfortunately book lovers, I can’t make comparisons. BUT when does a film ever top a book?

I did feel a little nostalgic as the film went back to the 90s indie scene. Junkie XL delivers another decent soundtrack. NOT quite Mad Max proportions BUT with Blur, Oasis and The Prodigy on the playlist, I was content.

The insults aimed at the music industry hit too close to home. Most notably with Moritz Bleibtrau’s (Run Lola Run) eccentric performance as the sex craved Eurotrash DJ Rudi. A derivative club anthem breaking the charts left, right and centre with some lazy bass and repetitive lyrics. Music really hasn’t changed.

Stelfox’s preaching about integrity and authentic music soon laughed off when he gets a nice pay check from signing the mad desk jockey. BUT at the same time, it did feel a tad dated with all the A & R scouting and sound house gigs. Not many sound houses going around my neck of the woods any more.

With Stelfox constantly breaking the fourth wall and narrating, it reminded me a little of Filth BUT the subject matter just wasn’t as controversial or satirical enough. His obsession to beat a rival A & R scout (Tom Riley – Da Vinci’s Demons) was ridiculous. Resorting to all sorts of desperate measures.

Hoult was a tour de force BUT after a while, there wasn’t much else going on. Once he snorted and swallowed some drugs here and effed and jeffed there, it soon got very repetitive. Despite being a great platform for an underrated British cast, they weren’t given the best characters. Craig Roberts (Submarine) might as well have been non-existent as Stelfox’s underling. Whether that was the intention is another matter. Edward Hogg’s (Bunny and the Bull) dimwitted detective was irritating. Every time he stumbled into a scene, I could feel my interest waning.

Corden was wasted in his role. He looked the part BUT was pushed into the background for the majority of the film. The only real laugh I got out of his character Waters was that despite Stelfox’s best efforts to destroy his reputation, the powers that be were still considering him due to experience.

Ed Skrein delivered a much more convincing turn than his performance in The Transporter Refueled as Rent. The self-made manager trying to find the next Spice Girls in a group of Jeremy Kyle rejects. Georgia King’s (Cockneys Vs. Zombies) didn’t do a bad job as Stelfox’s manipulative PA. It was a shame that her character only got interesting in the closing minutes when it was too little, too late.

The only problem with these sort of films was that there was only ever going to be two outcomes. And despite a ridiculously crazy and bizarre drug-induced finale, the end result was still a little too predictable and abrupt for my liking.

The pace may have lagged and the plot a little weak. BUT a stellar turn from Hoult makes this dark mess worth a watch.

3/5 (Just)

*NEW* THE LADY IN THE VAN REVIEW *NEW*

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An exceptional performance from a great Dame does enough to save this mixed bag of a mostly true story.

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman (Maggie Smith) living in her car that’s parked in his driveway.

After a strong opening with a small glimpse into the past of our mysterious lady in the van, things were put on the back burner and we were subjected to the endless monologues of Alan Bennett.

And that was the problem. There was too much Bennett. I was aware of the renowned playwright but wasn’t really used to his style. The History Boys, being one of the other film adaptations I’ve seen, wasn’t my cup of tea.

Now credit where it’s due. Jennings was very good as the dithering playwright. Once I got used to Bennett’s running commentary, I was able to enjoy it a little more as the film went on. The ‘caught between two minds’ gag (in which we see two Bennetts) was a clever little skit and helped differentiate what Bennett did in real life and what he imagined. His snappy one liners and some of his monologues were actually quite entertaining as he argued and bickered with the lady in the van and himself.

The introduction of the London Borough of Camden community didn’t really bring much to the mix. If anything, they were heavily underused. Especially with the talent at Bennett’s finger tips. Jim Broadbent played the shady retired cooper in his limited role perfectly. He brought some needed suspense and drama to the mix.

Roger Allam and Deborah Findley were probably the only other characters that made an impression as Bennett’s nosy neighbours. Desperate to fish out any little bit of gossip. Frances de la Tour was completely wasted in her role. Dominic Cooper’s cameo was nothing more than an ongoing gag taking the mick out of Bennett’s promiscuity and sexuality. I couldn’t believe how many British sitcom actors popped up in this. Even James Corden turned up as a market trader.

BUT they were always going to fall short to the lady in the van. The iconic actress that is Maggie Smith. Bearing “a vagabond nobility”, the make up team really made her look rough. Her acid tongue and mad rants were hilarious. The outbursts at the sound of music. The exchanges. The looks. Brilliant.

A monster in one second. Ungrateful and using. Hurt and alone the next. Neglected by the church and left to fend for herself. When we finally got to delve into her past, you soon developed empathy towards the cantankerous old bat.

However, the main issue I had with the piece was that there was too much focus on Bennett. As much as it was a semi-autobiographical account; it would help if his life story was interesting. That’s not to say that it didn’t have its moments. Bennett didn’t exactly paint himself in the best light. His reluctance to look after his mad ol’ Mam (A sterling turn from Gwen Taylor) but acceptance of Smith’s squatter on his driveway drew a shocking, but interesting, comparison.

BUT the drama around Bennett soon dragged what was a charming little affair. The ramblings about his plays and the late night meetings with his “friends” was only really funny when Smith’s lady interrogated him. “All these men coming over at all hours of the night. People will think you’re a Communist”.

When Smith disappeared so did my interest. It’s hard when telling a loosely based true story NOT to exaggerate or guess what Smith’s character would have done or said. However, it didn’t really build up to anything that I expected. Her treatment at the monastery was ripe for more drama and confrontation BUT never amounted to anything. Neither did her back story of why she was in the van in the first place.

It was certainly watchable BUT engaging? The closing moments proved why Smith is still one of the best actresses going. The Oscar buzz might be a little premature but it was still a superb performance. The OTT ending didn’t really fit in with the tone for me. I understood why Bennett did this elaborate overture but I still wasn’t a fan.

Funny, charming, easygoing when Smith was involved. Otherwise, it just wasn’t as fulfilling or as entertaining as I expected.

3/5 (Just!)

INTO THE WOODS REVIEW

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Into the scrap heap? There’s only one way to find out.

This mixed bag of a macabre musical will certainly split audiences but I actually didn’t mind it.

(Said the guy who reviewed the Annie remake a few weeks ago)

I’m not a big musical fan BUT I’ve dabbled in the odd one or two. The classics; The King and I, The Sound of Music (Man points dropping with each title), Moulin Rouge (What?) and now Into The Woods.

I didn’t realise that this was adapted from a successful Broadway musical. So unfortunately I won’t be able to make comparisons.

Rob Marshall, the man who brought us the excellent Chicago and . . .  Nine, takes on another musical. With mixed results.

So what’s it all about? A witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

The cast, bar one exception, were excellent. All perfectly chosen for their roles.

Meryl Streep proves once again why she is the best actress going, earning yet another Oscar nomination (and rightly so). I had forgotten what a great voice she had. I know! She was in Mamma Mia! But let’s be honest, that was a mess. Fun but a mess.

The sound of Pierce Brosnan’s “singing” voice will haunt my dreams forever. BUT that’s another story.

Anyway, Streep was superb and no uncontrollable arm waving this time.

She played The Witch with aplomb. Stealing every scene and singing some belters. Not enough of her.

Her closing song, “Last Midnight” was brilliantly done but her dramatic exit was a little unexpected and a bit abrupt. Which pretty sums up the last 20 minutes of the film.

After his turn in Horrible Bosses 2, I knew Chris Pine would be up for a laugh. His performance as Prince Charming was very good.

Especially during the “Agony” song. Pine and Billy Magnusson’s sing-off poked fun at the Disney prince archetype. Pine ripping his shirt off to show his muscles, Magnusson hitting the higher notes while trying to puff out his chest and flex. Hilarious.

Anna Kendrick was (to be expected) very good as Cinders. I knew she could sing after her performance in Pitch Perfect.

The opening prologue certainly got things going and introduced all the characters perfectly.

Daniel Huttlestone irritated the hell out of me in Les Miserables. A french peasant with a ridiculous cockney accent. You what? However he surprised me as Jack. Still a Cockney but it worked this time round.

Tracey Ullman (Where has she been?) was funny as Jack’s mother. Slapping him round the head in worry, hugging him the next.

Emily Blunt was fantastic (And what a voice!) as the Baker’s wife. James Corden was also brilliant. They had great chemistry and made a loveable couple.

The Baker couple were part of an original story line. It was clever how they reworked and incorporated some of the most popular fairy tales with their story line using the woods as the meeting point.

It didn’t cover too much of the same ground with the fairy tales we all love and know.

It merely showed each character returning to the woods after a pivotal moment in their story line i.e. Jack coming down the beanstalk with the gold egg, Cinderella running away from the prince, etc.

The Rapunzel story line didn’t really amount to anything. If not for Streep and Magnusson, it would have been completely unnecessary.

A revelation quite early on in the film involving her story line had so much potential but wasn’t never mentioned again or resolved. A missed opportunity. Mackeznie Mauzy certainly looked fantastic but didn’t really do much. I don’t think she even sang.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for Tangled, there would have been some serious plot holes for people not familiar with her story. (Man points gone!)

Johnny Depp had the easiest role going as the Wolf. He played it to perfection with his Bowie-esque voice.

But the song he sang. Hmmm . . . “Hey Little Girl” really made him sound quite lechy. If it wasn’t the fact that it was the Wolf singing about eating Little Red Riding Hood, it would have been a little unsettling.

Lilla Crawford had a fantastic little voice but I found her really irritating as Little Red. I mean I think Sondheim was deliberately portraying her as a little brat but she really did grate against me.

The film zipped along and kept things going but an hour and 30 minutes in, I wondered how much further this could go and with another 40-odd minutes, I could feel my attention wavering.

The songs were starting to go on a little bit and were not quite as gripping or as memorable. Don’t get me wrong, they were sang to perfection but hardly “The Hills Are Alive”.

What baffled and surprised me was how the film’s final act took such an unexpected turn. It flips everything up in the air with the stories veering away from their intended happy endings. The woods again being the brewing pot.

There were a few surprises to be had and I respected it’s attempt. It was actually a bit darker than I expected for Disney.

BUT it also left things a little too unresolved and ended abruptly with people disappearing with no explanation or a passing comment.

For all the bad press, I actually didn’t mind it. Not the best musical I’ve seen but a nice relief after the barrage of bilge I’ve had to endure this week.

3/5

BEGIN AGAIN REVIEW

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Better. We’re getting there. A nice film that delivers the feel good factor without laying on the cheese too much but not without its imperfections.

A somewhat slow burning opener turns into an easy going well acted and well sung summery movie with a different ending, if a little abrupt in my opinion. John Carney may not have surpassed Once but he hasn’t made a bad follow up. If Keira Knightley actually sang, then what a voice. Her voice with those Norah Jones-esque lyrics were sublime. She can’t stop doing the pouty face but a beaut all the same.

What’s it all about? A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive (Ruffalo) and a young singer-songwriter (Knightley) new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Knightley and Ruffalo are, to be expected, superb together. They have fantastic chemistry and work well off each other. Ruffalo is a very charismatic actor and has proven time and time again to be a reliable lead. He delivers the goods yet again. The time spent building up as to why these two characters are in their situations and meet at that point in their lives is a little long at the tooth but once we get the gist, it allows the film to flow a bit more and makes for good viewing.

The lyrics are well written, the songs are fantastic. A movie soundtrack that I would actually consider downloading. Carney catches the energy and buzz of New York City and uses it to his full potential. He even manages to have a cheeky pop at the music industry and the corporate labels. A nice commentary, if a little out of place in this feel good film. Hailee Steinfeld unfortunately seems to play the same estranged daughter role. I mean, if you have seen 3 Days to Kill, it is virtually the same character but replace the bike with an electric guitar.

Catherine Keener does her best but has such a mundane supporting role. Cee-Lo Green and Adam Levine, on the other hand, do a great job. I mean they have proven that they can act in other movies (Hotel Transylvania for Green) and TV shows (American Horror Story for Levine) but it helps in bringing their characters to life. Levine, in particular, as the sleazy rock star lothario that breaks Knightley’s heart. Mos Def, unfortunately for me, was very dull and I always feel like he can’t be arsed to be in the film. Sighing and rolling his eyes and mumbling with no conviction.

James Corden was hilarious as Knightley’s comical side kick. He provides the usual spiel but it still works and brings the odd laugh. What was interesting is that with the attraction and chemistry between the leads and with these sort of films, you expected the inevitable. Only this time, it didn’t happen. A surprise but I felt that with this sort of film, I would have accepted it. And it all zips along and you’re getting into it; only for it to end quite openly and rather abrupt for me. It just seemed to fizzle out.

However, it’s fun, entertaining, easy going. Worth a watch 3.5/5 for me.

Currently ranked #49 out of 196!