*NEW* SING REVIEW *NEW*

Easy going toe-tapping fun.

In a city of humanoid animals, a crafty koala’s (Matthew McConaughey) attempt to save his theatre with a singing competition becomes grander than he anticipates even as its finalists’ find that their lives will never be the same.

I don’t know why the family put this on (considering our youngest is now 23) but I’m glad they did. A much needed tonic after all the hard hitting super serious Oscar flicks.

The cast were fantastic. I actually didn’t believe that all of them sang. I skimmed through the credits to double check (and for the awesome soundtrack listings).

Of course, a killer soundtrack is crucial in a singing competition and Joby Talbot selected some great choices. I did NOT expect to hear a chimp singing Elton John’s I’m Still Standing.

Or open the show with Kanye West’s Flashing Lights. Seriously, I wanted to revisit the albums on my iPod right there and then BUT I digress.

Matthew McConaughey nailed it as the bumbling Buster Moon. Desperate to save the theatre that his father bought him and spurned his love for the arts. Swindling and squeezing every penny he could.

Until that wonderful light bulb moment. A singing competition. With a cash prize. However, one silly typo from his scatty secretary Judith and that strapped for cash prize changed from $1,000 to $100,000!

Cue one mad little movie.

It was silly BUT entertaining fun that left me smiling. Funny, charming and one for the whole family.

You could argue that all the characters were loosely strung together around the American Idol style competition. BUT you could relate to them all in one way or the other.

Reese Witherspoon was brilliant as Rosita, the frustrated pig housewife desperate to break free from her hum drum routine. I knew she could belt out the tracks. Let’s not forget she won an Oscar for Walk The Line.

Any excuse for Seth MacFarlane to belt out the Sinatra tracks and he’s there. Always slipping a croon-sesh into Family Guy whenever he can. He marvelled as Mike the mouse. The mini street hustler out to earn a quick buck.

My future wife (I hear she’s divorced now) Scarlett Johansson nailed it as Ash, the punky porcupine desperate to sing her own songs instead of the generic tripe that everyone keeps forcing her to play or her moronic boyfriend’s metallic nonsense.

Her reaction when Buster suggested she sang Carly Rae Jepsen was great!

I couldn’t believe Eddie the Eagle could sing. Taron Egerton continues to surprise. He was brilliant as Johnny. The kid chimp desperate to break away from the life of crime to become a singer.

Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead) was on top form as Johnny’s mobster monkey dad (appropriately titled) Big Daddy. Completely oblivious to his son’s desires and determined for one last score.

I wasn’t familiar with Tori Kelly. Only that she had a duet with Michael Buble once. BUT she had one hell of a voice and played the part of Meena, the stage shy elephant perfectly.

I know, an elephant with stage fright. The mind boggles.

The animation was excellent and there were genuine moments where I laughed out loud. All I’ll say is car wash. That and a nervous buffalo with flatulence.

The supporting cast were on fine form featuring the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Saunders, John C. Reilly, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and Rhea Perlman. The list goes on.

It’s corny, cheesy BUT easygoing. A lot better than the disappointingly droll Trolls.

It did the job and killed the time.

3/5

*NEW* A WALK IN THE WOODS REVIEW *NEW*

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A walk to remember? Jog on.

A watchable if incredibly tame affair sees two ageing screen icons having fun. Shame, it didn’t live up to much.

After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) returns to the US, where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends (Nick Nolte).

From the opening, I knew Redford would be a perfect Bryson. Quick witted and bored. We watch the frustrated travel writer meander along. Uninterested with life and New Hampshire. His awkward socializing at a funeral said it all.

A passing comment from a morning show host about never travelling in his own back yard and it isn’t long before Bryson yearns for another adventure. And what a trek. The 2,200 mile Appalachian trail.

Emma Thompson was delightful as Bryson’s long suffering spouse. She worked well with Redford. I was disappointed to see so little of her. I would have been happy to watch more of the pair. Deliberating leaving articles about bear attacks, murder mysteries and poisonous everything around the house in a hope of unsettling the stubborn fool.

However, a deal is made. Bryson must travel with someone. Cue the grisly bear that is Nick Nolte. A gruff overweight husk of a pensioner. An old friend that Bryson desperately tried to keep off his list.

Redford and Nolte made a likeable pair. They worked well together and shared some good banter. As soon as the pair began, they struggled up the first hill. Teens and kid scouts skipping past them without a care in the world.

The film had an air of Grumpy Old Men with a Wild vibe. It was easygoing and light hearted enough as the pair bicker, grunt and groan. Nolte hasn’t aged well at all. I couldn’t tell how much was put on for the film. BUT he was still a slick charmer with his smart ass commentary.

John Bailey’s cinematography certainly captured some picturesque shots of the trail through the different seasons. It almost made me want to pick up a bag pack and go.

Despite seeing two screen icons slumming it and having a laugh, it was all a little tame and predictable. You knew that their bickering would unearth deeper resentments. The fact the pair hadn’t talked for nearly 40 years was a clue alone. You knew that inevitable heart to heart moment would soon be on the cards.

It wasn’t all bad. There were fun moments to be had with Nolte being chased by a redneck for chatting up his wife. The pair screaming and waving their arms around like nutters to scare off some bears.

Kristen Schaal (The Flight of the Conchords) was funny and oh so irritating in her camping cameo as the hiker from hell. Her constant put downs and know it all attitude soon sets these two old codgers running for the hills.

I was impressed with the supporting cast. It was a shame that Schaal was the only one to make a lasting impression. Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) was completely wasted in his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as the tent guide. His deadpan style wasn’t used to its full potential. A quick sarcy one liner about a rain cover wasn’t enough.

And the wafer thin subplot, if you can call it that, with Mary Steenburgen’s character was a waste of time. The flirty exchanges with Bryson and Steenburgen’s motel proprietress were tame. You just knew that he would never be tempted and it surmounted to nothing. Shame.

There wasn’t a lot going on after an easygoing opener. It tended to drag and soon fizzled out by the closing moments after the pair had their epiphanies. It didn’t help that it ended so corny and predictably.

There was enough charm to make this a watchable and lighthearted romp BUT memorable? Not for me, I’m afraid.

2.5/5

*NEW* ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL REVIEW *NEW*

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A challenging dramedy in more ways than one. A promising cast reprieve a surprisingly patchy affair.

High schooler Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl (RJ Cryler), finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate (Olivia Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

I’m not going to lie. I was left wanting and a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s highly watchable BUT the tone and pace was all over the place.

From the strange opening sequence, I was scratching my head. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the Jesse Andrews novel. This film has certainly made me want to seek it out. Just to see if I was missing out on something.

The strange animation reminded me of a Wes Anderson pic. Never a bad thing. We watch as an animated Greg chomps spaghetti while the “hot girl from Pussy Riot” serenades him by playing the harp. In a nutshell, we were being introduced to the quirky inner workings of Greg’s mind. The social outcast. The narrator of the story.

Very strange. BUT intriguing. We watch this crafty chameleon who does his best to blend in with all the social groups; the drama people, the goths, etc. Just enough to keep everyone at bay. I could relate to Greg in more ways than one. Hiding in a film fortress with his “work colleague” Earl.

Thomas Mann was very good as Greg and delivered the role with enough wit, charm and charisma. It made for easygoing viewing as we delved into Greg’s set up. Unable to call Earl a friend with the fear he might reject the label.

Once Cryler was given the opportunity to shine, he delivered. It took a while for Earl to make a mark. Reduced to muttering the word “titties” BUT once the film got going, they made a great duo.

You may remember Olivia Cooke from the hit show, Bates Motel. She was fantastic as Rachel. She delivered a sterling performance and worked well with Mann. The pair had great chemistry.

I loved the classic film references. The nods to François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard ticked all the boxes for the cinephile in me. The funny play on titles was a nice touch. A Sockwork Orange being a particular highlight.

The film video segments reminded me very much of Be Kind Rewind. A surreal mish mesh of Gondry meets Anderson. Low budget indie madness. BUT unfortunately like it’s counterpart, it seemed to suffer from the same flaws.

The tone was very testing. Charming and funny in one instant with Greg’s verbal diarrhea inevitably putting him into more awkward situations and then dreadfully slow and dark the next. Most notably when Rachel’s condition deteriorates.

There’s no easy way to capture an illness and the effects. It was a testing cross examination as we see Rachel’s smile and health fade. Greg doing everything he can to try and keep things quirky and light.

The hour marker certainly took the easygoing pace down a notch as tempers flared and decisions were made. It was acted well and made for engaging drama in parts. BUT the pace hampered an intriguing piece.

What didn’t help was the fact that the little films took the attention away from the actual story between the three friends. I understand that the film making was Greg’s way of coping with life BUT it went on too long. And the final film the pair made for Rachel was a load of rubbish in my opinion.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon didn’t make full use of the fantastic supporting cast. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) didn’t do a bad job as the chilled history teacher. An incident involving the lads and some soup led to some funny moments.

Molly Shannon’s cougar making advances at the two young men was a mixed bag for me. I found the whole thing strangely uncomfortable. Supplying them with booze and flirting with Greg. Weird.

I wish there was more of Bobb’e J. Thompson as Earl’s brother, Derrick. And cudos to Karriem Sami who managed to make a memorable impression in 30 seconds as the limo driver. That’s all I’m saying on that one. Oh and the Hugh Jackman scene. Brilliant.

Connie Britton was wasted in her role as Greg’s Mom. I know that the parents were never to be the focal point of this piece. BUT with such talented actors portraying good characters, it would have been nice to seen more of them. She set Greg’s story in motion and then only reappeared in the final scenes.

Nick Offerman’s trippy tenured father was very hit and miss for me. Offering a cat to console Greg as he attempts to break bad news . . . Yes. Waffling on about obscure grub. NOT so much.

The closing moments made for tough viewing. Even for the cynic in me. It struck a lump in my throat as Greg struggles with school, life and the possibility of losing a friend he never expected to have.

I felt the final third got increasingly serious and killed the buzz that had helped zipped the film along. And the ending was quite abrupt for me. It just ended.

BUT luckily, good characters, great acting and good moments still make this one to watch. BUT the strange style and uneven pacing hampered something that could have been so much more.

3/5

DANNY COLLINS REVIEW

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Brilliant!

An ageing rock star (Al Pacino) decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon.

There is nothing more enjoyable than when you see a film with no expectations and end up being rewarded with great acting and good writing.

Al Pacino proves at 75 that he’s still got it. I was a little anxious after his recent endeavours. Understandably, he’s no spring chicken but Pacino looked like he was sleepwalking through his latest roles. In 88 Minutes, he was a mess. A zombie. A shell of the once great screen icon.

However, this time round? How glad I am to eat my own words. The man was on fine form. Funny, charismatic and lively. A resurgent performance.

This is very loosely, and I emphasize loosely, based on a true story about a musician who discovered a letter written to him by John Lennon 40 years ago. The rest, of course, is fictionalized.

We join Danny Collins as he drinks and drudges his way through the repetitive retread of his best hits. Hits he wrote 40 years ago. Pacino’s singing wasn’t bad. A little wispy but very much in the vein of Cat Stevens. I wasn’t expecting too much with his singing, to be honest.

His stage presence, on the other hand, was another story. Embracing his inner Barry Manilow. The velvet jackets, the flamboyant get up. Having a laugh and not giving two monkeys. A perfect showman. I’m not sure if the song ‘Baby Doll’ was made up for the film but it was quite catchy.

After receiving the letter, Collins (in typical movie fashion) soon re-evaluates his life and looks backs at all his regrets. Realizing that he might not be living the dream after all. Desperate to make amends and repair burned bridges, it’s not going to be an easy task for the ageing rocker.

Annette Bening was very good as the hotel manager Mary Sinclair. Forced to put up with the deluded musician and his many advances. The “patter” between the pair was top notch. They had great chemistry and you could tell they were having fun. There were moments where you couldn’t tell whether they were improvising or not.

It was good to see Jennifer Garner in a role. There wasn’t enough of her, to be honest. Giselle Eisenberg was adorable as Collins’ ADHD daughter. She played it really well and got the balance right. She didn’t irritate and stole the scene at every chance.

Bobby Cannavale proved yet again why he is such a versatile actor. The range that the man can do. To go from Gyp Rosetti in Boardwalk Empire to the Annie remake (Okay, the less we say about that. The better. But I never expected to see the gangster singing and dancing). He was brilliant as Collins’ estranged son, Tom. He worked well with Pacino and they really made the scorned father/son dynamic work.

It was also great to see Christopher Plummer play Collin’s best friend and manager. Not enough of him, either.

I was engrossed and impressed. An easygoing, entertaining affair. BUT even though the main cast were flawless, some of the supporting characters were a little weak.

Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) was wasted in his role (No, seriously. Was he drunk?). The opening interview scene was needed to establish the reason for Lennon’s letter but Offerman didn’t really get to shine or deliver a laugh. Shame. The scene was a little unnecessary. The tape recording of the interview would have sufficed.

Melissa Benoist (Supergirl/Whiplash) and Josh Peck (Drake and Josh) were a little disappointing. Their ongoing hotel staff romance felt forced. It was obviously an ongoing joke to break up the family stuff and Collins and Sinclair’s brewing romance but it didn’t really work and wasn’t that interesting.

The film may have been corny and a little predictable BUT there was enough charm and charisma from ol’ Scarface to breeze through it and the closing moments were tense, dramatic and uplifting.

The soundtrack was very good. And of course, it would be. You can’t have a story made around a loose John Lennon connection without using any of his repertoire. Writer/director Dan Fogelman made full use of the nine songs they were able to obtain from Lennon’s back catalogue. He incorporated every song to match a crucial moment in the film. A perfect example during a tense and awkward first meeting between Tom and Danny, the song ‘Beautiful Boy’ was playing in the background.

Why are films like this not getting enough publicity? It baffles me. The premise may seem like nothing more than a TV movie but there was enough talent and substance to make this stand out from the rest.

I highly recommend. Easygoing, funny, charming. A pleasant surprise.

3.5/5 (With room to change to a 4)