*NEW* xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE REVIEW *NEW*

He should have stayed dead.

Left for dead, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) secretly returns to action for a new, tough assignment with his handler Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson).

Let’s be honest. You should know what to expect with Vin Diesel. I actually enjoyed the first xXx. It had the right balance of action, fun and stupidity perfectly crammed into 90 adrenaline-fuelled minutes.

But this latest offering was just ridiculous. And not in a good way.

The opening sequence didn’t give me high hopes. Had the writers even seen xXx? NOT even Samuel L Jackson could save the day. He delivered his usual shtick BUT he seemed to forget the character he was supposed to be playing.

I always remembered Augustus Gibbons as a real hardass. His “Have you ever watched lions in the zoo?” speech left goosebumps.

His fractious relationship with the deluded Cage was the movie’s unique selling point. BUT why did they turn him into this?

 

His scar mysteriously gone. Some stupid Harry Potter glasses and a cringe-inducing cameo with the Barcelona attacking midfielder Neymar Jr.

Really?

Neymar Jr looked genuinely confused as if he had stumbled on the set by mistake.

That was only the tip of the iceberg.

Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) did her best as Cage’s new handler Jane Marke BUT her pale complexion and stern demeanour did nothing to spark any life into this incredibly droll plot line.

Donnie Yen wasn’t in this enough. The force was not with him on this one. Thank God he delivered a scene stealing supporting turn in another sequel. He smiled and shrugged away as he threw one horribly CGI’d kick after another.

NOT even the enchanting Deepika Padukone could save the day. By 20 minutes, I was ready to switch off.

However, once the main man appeared. My grumbling subdued. Diesel did his thing. Leaping off 50 foot TV antennas and skateboarding off cars. Enjoying sun, sea and sex in a beautiful exotic location.

I have to admit this was the liveliest acting I’ve seen from the guy. Less gristle and mumble. It was just a shame that the banter and one liners just didn’t work.

Lapping up a rapper’s paradise with a ridiculous fluffy coat and dozens of ladies. James Bond on Red bull and adrenaline.

And they still managed to make that boring?

Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) was incredibly annoying as the uber keen computer nerd Becky Clearidge. Ogling over Cage and chatting utter nonsense. Dreadful.

I couldn’t believe how surprisingly slow and drawn out this film felt. It didn’t help that the rag tag team of kn*bheads that Cage recruited were irritating.

The silly credits popping up with each member’s special party trick and unofficial Guinness world record attempts for achieving something completely stupid did NOT help.

The Wolf from Game of Thrones?! Oh how the mighty have fallen? A retarded conspiracy nut obsessed with Lockerbie? Really? Ruby Rose played on her bisexual vibe again. Seriously? Is that all she has?

Kris Wu’s character was woeful. His only ability appeared to be hijacking DJ booths and delivering “bangers” as a distraction. Yikes.

Vin Diesel was having fun and not giving a damn. BUT it felt like he gave his best in the wrong movie with the wrong character. Unintentionally comical and cringe-inducing.

By the hour marker, I conceded and accepted the stupidity. Some of the action sequences were actually quite watchable.

Rolling grenades while taking vodka shots? No. Motorcycle chases through a jungle rave? Surprisingly entertaining. Even if Cage was smacking opponents around with wheelie kicks.

That was until the bikes were miraculously equipped with water sleds to continue the pursuit across the river.

If you’re smiling at those quips then this might be for you.

The plot line was weak. Some mumbo jumbo about a Pandora’s box that can pull satellites out of the sky. Didn’t make sense. Didn’t care by the end. Got even worse when numerous xXX operatives crashed the party.

And yes, XXX 2 fans (Are there any?), there is a gratuitous cameo from one ice cold operative (Okay, confession time, I actually didn’t mind xXx: State of the Union. Say whaaattt).

The closing act was bearable as Cage and co. raced across gridlocked traffic to save the world. The mad highway punch up was a riot. Dancing around CGI’d cars and jumping across trucks. My God.

The laughable banter got better. If anything, it would have worked better if it was just Yen and Diesel. Rose and Padukone had their fiery bad ass moment in the finale BUT it wasn’t enough.

I can’t say I enjoyed it BUT it got more watchable as you accepted what it was. A mindless actioner that offered little BUT stupid moments.

I think it’s safe to say that franchise will be like its protagonist. Lost in the wilderness. Hopefully.

2/5

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*NEW* KRAMPUS REVIEW *NEW*

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Ho-ho-horrible. Dark, demented, different.

I normally dread the Christmas period. The inevitable corny and schmaltzy monstrosities we call Christmas movies haunting every possible TV channel (Jingle All The Way being the exception. What?). BUT this latest offering brings a different kind of dread altogether!

A boy (Emjay Anthony) who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good horror and even more so during Christmas. The opening sold me straight away with the Black Friday carnage as the shoppers descend on the morbid mall. Fighting, scrapping, crying. The true meaning of Christmas.

It was great to see a small and underrated cast, containing some of my favourite comedy supporting actors, getting the chance to take the stage; Adam Scott (Step Brothers), David Koechner (Anchorman), Conchata Ferrell (Two and a Half Men) and Alison Tolman (Fargo).

The dysfunctional family was set up perfectly and it wasn’t long before it all kicked off and poor little Max made a wish that he would soon regret. The slow burning build up to Krampus’ inevitable appearance was a little tedious but once he made his introduction with his devilish critters in tow, I was hooked.

The CGI, make up and special effects were fantastic. The demented goat hybrid Krampus and his freakish little followers were something else. This certainly isn’t for the little ‘uns. A mangled teddy bear, a freaky angel of death, a robot with knives for hands, a grotesque jack in the box and a partridge in a . . . Okay, I’ll stop.

This felt like a “What if Gremlins went darker” scenario and boy, did it! It wasn’t afraid to bump people off. The tone was a little uneven. It was either too dark in one sequence, then too silly in another. However, there were still some creepy and hilarious moments. A particular highlight being Koechner’s confrontation with some killer gingerbread men.

The main plaudits have to go to Koechner as shotgun toting, pick up driving red neck Howard with his tomboy daughters in tow. Every one liner and reaction stole the show for me; ” I just had my ass handed to me by christmas cookies”. I just loved the fact he named his pick up truck Lucinda. “Give her a full tank of gas and we can be storming the beaches of Normandy by sunrise”.

It did feel like Krista Sadler’s Austrian grandmother was only brought into the mix to make the folklore element that bit more authentic. Most people in the audience kept wondering why she was speaking German in the first place. Especially when nobody else did.

The folklore was a fresh take and I was pleasantly surprised. Her creepy storytelling did allow for a brilliant animated sequence that teased elements of The Cabinet of Dr Kaligari as she explained the origins of St. Nicholas’ shadow.

At it’s best, it was tense, funny and oh so dark. BUT at it’s worst . . .

The pace had the tendency to dip and out which killed a good portion of the suspense. More could have been made out of the characters. Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Tolman were heavily underused in their roles. There was so much potential with their fractured relationship BUT it was never going to be that sort of film. And there definitely wasn’t enough of Ferrell’s drunken aunt.

They even missed out on a trick or two with the scares. Hardly a spoiler BUT I really expected something to happen with the creepy snowmen that surrounded the house. BUT alas . .  .

The ending was rushed and tragically predictable. A shame after things finally seemed to kick off for a frantic finale as Max must help his messed up family. BUT luckily there was still enough to make this a reasonably entertaining and dark little Christmas treat.

3/5

*NEW* MISS YOU ALREADY REVIEW *NEW*

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This cheesy little flick is one not to miss.

The friendship between two life-long girlfriends (Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore) is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

The incredibly cheesy opening sequence didn’t set high hopes for me as we skimmed through the early years of Jess and Milly’s friendship. I wasn’t sure if my inner cynic would be able to tolerate the fluffy melodrama. Especially after watching Milly’s ‘rockstar’ wedding. However, that all changed when Milly received her diagnosis.

It was a sobering punch as we watched the doctor break the news. This completely changed the tone of the film and made for an easygoing, heartfelt and well acted drama. Collette and Barrymore were a great pairing.

The subject matter was dealt with very well. We witness Milly undergoing chemotherapy and see the toll that it takes on her body. It was a slow burning transition as the pair are all smiles and giggles through the initial sessions.

The wig sequence was a funny but touching moment. Frances De La Tour was very good in her surprisingly small role as the make up artist. Collette actually shaved her hair off for the film. Although the film offered a fluffier and funnier side to the treatment, it also showed how testing such a disease can be.

It’s always harder when family are involved. Dominic Cooper was very good as Milly’s spouse, Kit. He had great chemistry with Collette and certainly delivered a mature turn. Their relationship is soon put to the test as Kit is unable to be intimate with Milly after the chemo. The situation with the children was handled delicately. The little cartoon that Milly shows her kids to explain the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of chemotherapy was very clever.

We can relate to Milly’s struggle to try and remain sexy as her hair is starting to fall out. Desperate to keep smiling as the injections become more painful. BUT you can also despise her selfishness as she expects everyone to put their lives on hold to indulge her every whim. One particular example being an overnight taxi trek from London to the Moors.

You also feel for Jess who is desperately trying to have a baby. When she finally gets the news she’s waiting for, she is soon afraid to rub in her happiness to her best friend whose world has turned upside down.

I couldn’t believe that Tyson Ritter, the lead singer of All American Rejects was in this?! He didn’t do too bad a job with the acting as the flirty bartender.

It was also strange to see Paddy Considine in a semi-serious role after all the intense indie flicks that he has featured in. He had good chemistry with Barrymore and managed to make some of the sillier moments between them that more watchable. Especially during Barrymore’s pregnancy. Talk about cheese. No spoilers, I promise.

Jacqueline Bisset’s performance (The Deep) as Milly’s mum was a mixed bag for me. She wasn’t really as funny or as engaging as the other characters. For all the hype and in-jokes, I expected her to make more of an impression. Shame.

It was all done with a light touch BUT that still doesn’t hide what a terrible disease cancer can be and no matter how many times you’ve seen the ending, it still hits home. The closing moments certainly made for a teary finale.

Well acted, well done.

3/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* TAMMY

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Oh my . . . what went wrong? Now I’m a big fan of Melissa McCarthy. She has proven time and time again to deliver the funny. Breaking through with the mega-hit Bridesmaids; McCarthy has excelled. Her projects may lack in story and plot but always deliver in laughs. The Heat was exceptionally good. Mike and Molly on the other hand, is another story.

Now along comes Tammy. I watched the heavily plugged restaurant robbery trailer scene and had my doubts. However, that scene still got a guilty giggle. McCarthy poking fun at her figure while pulling funny faces seemed a little lazy. If I had known, that would be the best bit in the film, I would have skipped this altogether.

What it’s all about? After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, Tammy hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

It doesn’t last long at the box office and unfortunately (this time) I can see why. BUT it’s not all bad. McCarthy carries the film as best she can. Her crazy dance moves, her snappy one liners are all there. However, her character is at times, very irritating. I actually found her voice grating on me. Shame.

Also I couldn’t help but feel that Tammy’s character was a rip off of Diana in The Identity Thief. Come to think of it, the entire film felt like a slight rip off of Identity Thief but a whole lot weaker and a lot less funny. And let’s be honest, The Identity Thief wasn’t perfect.

Susan Sarandon was fantastic and proved to be game for a laugh. Her alcoholic grandmother proved to be a great supporting character that worked really well with McCarthy. A perfect pairing.

If not for Sarandon, the little laughs that there were, would have been a whole lot less. However, their dream partnership didn’t really shine as much as you would hope. Their insults and banter drew the odd titter and at times, there were some genuine moments but you couldn’t help but want more.

Another problem for me was the pace and the change in tone. Tammy chugged along, at some points at a snail’s pace. Then out of nowhere after the film takes a more serious route, as if realising there isn’t enough gags to keep the questionable length going.

Understandably, McCarthy’s monstrous character must inevitably confront her inner demons and deal with her fractious relationship with her grandmother but it lacked the laughs and the drama to pull off the serious angle. It goes for sheer crazy with our dysfunctional Thelma and Louise performing ridiculous (but funny) robberies to mowing down deers and then deadpan serious and it just doesn’t work or gel properly.

The finale was surprisingly sobering and very unfunny which left me feeling . . . meh, really. All too corny and abrupt. It’s a shame especially with the cast that McCarthy had at her fingertips. They were left playing really flat and uninteresting supporting roles. Dan Ackroyd, Toni Collette and Sandra Oh played characters that any Tom, Dick or . . . Harriett could have played.

Alison Janney and Kathy Bates were the more memorable roles that managed to make an impression. It was great to see Gary “Office Space” Cole playing a sleazeball yet again but even he wasn’t that memorable or interesting. And that is the main problem with all the potential, bar a couple of funny moments, it’s all uninteresting, flat and unmemorable. I will take this as a blip but expecting better things to come from Miss McCarthy.

2 (just) out of 5

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS REVIEW

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Oh Hec . . . Well this is a mixed bag, isn’t it?

One thing that can be agreed is that Simon Pegg is brilliant and shows how much he has progressed from his Spaced days. Providing charisma and charm to an otherwise weak protagonist made all the difference.

The end result did leave me with a smile but the journey along the way seemed to stumble and stammer along, failing to decide on what tone to set. It teeters from feel good dramedy to hard hitting drama with the results mixed as none of them really gel or hit home as much as you’d expect or hope.

The slow burning opening does put you into a bit of a lull which is not a good start. Of course, the point is that we are supposed to see the source of Hector’s frustration as he plods on through his mundane life on auto pilot. But we get that connection in the first two minutes not twenty.

Pegg has great chemistry with the alluring Rosamund Pike but she is soon cast aside to Skype cameos as we follow Hector on his pursuit for happiness (No, different movie) after a mini-meltdown with one of his clients and Pegg’s many comedy counterparts Tracy Ann Oberman as the ill-titled Pathetic Jane.

The meltdown sequence allows Pegg to shine (with a catchphrase to remember). However, there only seems to be moments. A moment where Pegg can be funny. A moment where Pegg can act. It’s just not consistent enough.

A humourous incident in which Hector tests the versatility of the unbreakable cutlery on the first class flight was a good gag. A conversation with a cancer patient made for sobering viewing but was ignited by solid acting. We get to travel across the world(Well, China, Africa and America) to find the essence of happiness.

To be honest, the main message I got from the film was travel the world. Not just Africa. An elongated kidnapping sequence just didn’t seem to fit in the film at all and how Hector got out of it involving a pen from a drug kingpin was just stupid.

It helps that Pegg has a good supporting cast. It’s just a shame that anyone could have played their parts. Jean Reno played the arrogant and erratic drug king pin as well as you would expect but this didn’t seem like the sort of film to make satire. Satire that is not that subtle or clever.

Stellan Skarsgard was wasted as the affluent businessman who has it all. An encounter on the plane made for funny viewing as Hector irritates Skarsgard’s slumbering businessman. However, once they get into China, Skarsgard’s character is pushed aside.

At times, it was hard to feel sorry for Hector when he tends to act quite selfishly, especially when he has such a supporting and caring wife. I know, that’s life but as a film when you’re supposed to be rooting for the little guy, you end up wanting to slap him round the head and tell him to go home.

A lapse in judgement nearly leads to our “hero” sleeping with a hooker (played well by Ming Zhao). Why go out for burgers when you have steak at home? According to my brother who attended the screening with me.

Togo Igawa played the kind hearted monk well and to be honest, I wanted to see more of him. I know that this film was adapted from a book but this only spurred me to read the book to see if it is as bad as the film.

The weird cast asides and little convos with Hector’s inner child and childhood dog didn’t go anywhere and didn’t really fit. They felt forced into the film. Toni Collette played the old flame as well as she could bar one good scene in which they confront each other over their past.

Christopher Plummer makes a crazy cameo as the eccentric professor who can detect happiness in the brain. (Yeah, it really was as boring as you think). But Plummer manages to make any scientific mumbo jumbo sound believable with his dulcet tones.

It’s all hit and miss. Certainly watchable and Pegg has proven that he can act and act well. It will be great to see his next project with a better character, better story and a bit more room for him to apply his spiel.

The better moments seep through when Pegg is allowed to be . . . Pegg. It’s not bad but if you’re looking for a feel good travel movie then watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

It has good moments and an easy going message by the ending. That corny predictable ending.

2.5/5 for me.

Not bad not not great. Shame.

A LONG WAY DOWN REVIEW

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A little long at the tooth BUT a pleasant surprise. A well acted and cheesy little drama.

Four people meet on New Year’s Eve and form a surrogate family to help one another weather the difficulties of their lives.

If you can get past the rather dark premise (which is delicately dealt with), this makes for good viewing. Inadvertently contemplating suicide at the same place. Four strangers decide to make a pact. A pact NOT to kill themselves before Valentine’s Day. A strange, unexpected BUT entertaining journey.

It’s a little corny and the schmaltz does overdo it in places BUT a perfectly chosen cast does just enough to keep things watchable. The surrogate family angle was a nice touch. Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) was brilliant as the over anxious Maureen. Imogen Poots (Need for Speed) who, at first was a little irritating, soon grew on me as the utterly bonkers Jess.

Ex-007 Pierce Brosnan played the neurotic disgraced celebrity Martin Sharp with aplomb. Sometimes his cocky demeanour and endless rambling did gripe against me in places BUT it made a change for the super spy. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) didn’t do a bad job as the mystery American pizza boy JJ.

The gang worked well together and you could tell in certain scenes that they were genuinely having a laugh. There was great chemistry between Paul and Poots. No wondered they were picked up for Need For Speed. BUT the rest of the supporting cast weren’t really used to their full potential.

Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) seemed to play a somewhat wasted role as the stereotypical toff and overbearing politician father. There was definitely a missed opportunity with him and Poots as the trouble making daughter. Their relationship was ripe for expansion and development but it was only brought up as things dipped in pace.

At least his character wasn’t as wafer thin as Rosamund Pike’s (Gone Girl). Anyone could have played her as the annoying morning news presenter. Merely a passing cameo. A plot device to create a rift among the group that was dealt with far too quickly.

The structure worked well. Flicking back and forth between the past and present. Allowing us to delve further into why each character was up on that tower. It did feel a little drawn out in parts. Disappointing considering the film was only 96 minutes. And the flashbacks, at times, didn’t really expand that much.

An intriguing prospect with Jess’ back story led no where. While Maureen’s story was very emotional and handled perfectly. You really felt for her. I was surprised at the bad rap this film got. BUT I haven’t read the Nick Hornby novel so I can’t make comparisons.

I was surprised this was adapted by Jack Thorne. From someone who wrote This Is England ’88, I did expect something a little darker. You could argue that there were missed opportunities and angles that the film could have explored. It wasn’t the strongest film to deal with this subject matter BUT it was still a well acted and easy going drama.

Corny, predictable but watchable.

3/5