Tag Archives: adventure

Moana

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“Don’t you want to be the hero?”

As much as it may force me to sacrifice one of my man cards (I’m a massive, tattooed, bearded, former cage fighter; I can spare a couple), I can’t help but love Disney animated films. I adored Zootropolis earlier in the year. Not because it tries to cure all forms of xenophobia with a cute bunny, but because it was a fun film to watch. To spend a couple of hours every other week for a couple of months watching it in the cinema with my three year old was an awesome way to spend my Saturday mornings.

It’s also the only film this year who’s cinema trips comes close to the number of times I saw Deadpool.

So now the House of Mouse have squeezed in a second feature for the year, screwing up my favourite animations list for the upcoming Failed Critics awards and, possibly, thrown a wrench in the works for certain other upcoming rewards.

Moana is the strong headed teenage daughter of a tribal chief on a Polynesian island. Having discovered “The Heart of Te Fiti” as a toddler on the beach, Moana finds herself as the one person, chosen by the ocean itself, whose destiny is to travel across the seas to find a long missing demigod, Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Foregoing the responsibilities of being a future chief, the young girl follows what she believes is her destiny and heads out to the open ocean to find the shapeshifting god that can save her tribe’s island from dying.

But her travels aren’t easy, and even once she’s found the banished god amongst men, the journey to return the Heart to its rightful place is wrought with danger and the unlikely pair must learn to work together so Moana can save her people and Maui can be the hero he wants to be.

First things first. I went to see this film having read more than one review that said the Maui’s musical number “You’re Welcome” is a song to rival “Friend Like Me” from 1993’s Aladdin. I’ll be honest, this put my back up a little bit and I rolled into the screening already on the defensive. Between being my favourite animated movie ever, and having a real personal and emotional connection with almost all of Robin Williams’ comedy works, I was ready to tear this film apart.

But I can’t. It’s just amazing.

No, the song doesn’t compare with Williams’ musical numbers. But Johnson’s Maui (not Maui’s Johnson – that’s the Brazzers XXX parody you’re looking for) is easily the best sidekick SINCE the Genie.

Another strong female character for Disney, Moana is immensely fun to watch and cheer for. She’s not infallible and she’s not the smartest kid on the block, but to watch her grow up in front of us is awesome. She grows from simply being a hotheaded kid to someone who doesn’t just get done what she needs to get done, but learns about herself, her path and her destiny along the way. Guided by not much more than her gut and her determination, to see this youngster succeed is an absolute pleasure.

Like the Genie before him, Maui – and his tattoos – steal the show. This cocky, arrogant, cheeky demigod is simply The Rock’s personality transplanted to the magical hero. Maui is what drives the story forward. Painted like a bad guy by Moana’s tribe, when we finally meet him and his story is revealed, we get to see the big man – this God on Earth – as a humbled hero looking to prove himself not just to the world, but to himself as well. You can only get so far on confidence alone and we see Maui grow almost as much as we see Moana. I mean, there’s almost certainly some dry-humping do-gooder out there complaining that the representation of the demigod plays to overweight Samoan stereotypes, but screw those guys. He looks cool!

Maui’s history is told through his tattoos, a gorgeous traditional Polynesian design that the hero talks to. Marked by the gods every time he does something to earn one, his ink is a storyboard of his life that includes more than one depiction of the man himself. It’s this silhouette that Maui talks to, argues with, and he brings a huge amount of laughs with his relationship with his tattooed self. The pokes, prods and insults that our hero suffers at the hands of his tattoos are an absolute show stealer.

The bottom line, Moana isn’t a film with as strong and serious an undercurrent as Zootropolis. But it is a story with a point. It’s a story about a strong woman proving she’s strong. It’s a story about a strong headed woman pushing back against a culture that tries to stifle her. More than anything else, it’s a fun, feel good family adventure with laughs aplenty for kids and adults alike.

It’s an exhilarating 100 minutes that I’m genuinely looking forward to sharing with the wife and kid once it hits general release. I dare you to give me a better measure of a movie than one you’re excited to share with the family.

Moana is released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 2nd December.

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Warcraft: The Beginning

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“A new warrior for the horde.”

May 2006, nerds across the world jizz in their pants as they hear that Blizzard have finally decided to sell the rights to undoubtedly their most profitable product, Warcraft.

Years and years of development hell and being on the brink of cancellation has haunted film and game fans to the point we’d all given up on ever seeing it hit the light of day.

Then, in 2013, cult director Duncan Jones (the man behind Moon and Source Code) announced he’d be taking on directorial duties and even I got a little bit excited for the seemingly imminent release of the fan favourite adaptation.

May 2016, I’m finally sitting in one of the UK’s earliest general release shows for the third video game adaptation is half as many months with those same fans, wearing the same spunk encrusted pants from ten years ago, having barely mustered up the will to turn their computers off and the energy to leave the house. I’m sat with these sad fools, hoping that the film I’m about to watch isn’t a massive bag of wank.

Disclaimer: I am a former Warcraft player. I gave up right around the point that Blizzard stopped supporting Warcraft III and instead focussed on their subscription based RPG. So while I may have once had some knowledge of the lore of this series, I have gone in as a film-fan – and not a fan of the series.

With their world dying and their race on the brink of extinction, the fearsome Orcs utilise the powerful magic of their sorcerer leader, Gul’dan, to open a portal to another world. Powered by dark magic that needs life to fuel it, the portal can only be opened long enough to allow the Orc’s best warriors through to the peaceful land of Azeroth. There, they will build a settlement and create another portal to bring the rest of their race through. As the Orc army start to cut a path through the lands they’ve invaded and collect prisoners to power their new portal, word gets to the leaders of Azeroth of the invasion.

With news of the invasion comes panic. As the rulers and commanders of the land mobilise against this unknown enemy, King Wrynn (along with his friend and advisor Lothar) plan to tackle the Orcs head on and try to purge them from their world before too much damage can be done.

Plans go sideways on both sides of the battle and as the plans of all parties are revealed, both the humans and Orc clan chief Durotan – along with a few of his smarter clansmen – realise that the best (and indeed only) way that this war ends well for anyone is to work together to try and find a solution to their troubles.

Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin….

Warcraft isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be going in. That’s not to say it’s good; it’s pretty crap. But it has a few almost redeeming features that almost make it worth going to see. But unfortunately the bad points certainly heavily outweigh the good.

The film seems completely unfocused in its attempts to tell a story. The problem with having more than half a dozen “main” characters, all with their own story to tell and fighting for screen time means that no one really gets to have a decent crack at making me care about them. There’s no time to get invested in anyone’s predicament and no time to get to know anyone before your smash-cut to the next guy that wants to try for your attention.

And when you’ve got such a rich lore and such a well put together world as your source material, to not give it a chance to be on the big screen for us all to see is a real shame. Warcraft spends far too many of its opening minutes flicking between a whole butt-load of different locations, seemingly just to give the filmmakers an excuse to flash a bunch of in-game place names to prove that the guys making the film know what they’re talking about. “Please guys. Believe us. We have read a Warcraft wiki and the back of the game box. We can prove it.”

Almost as much of a travesty is just how much talent is wasted by this film. I’ve been a fan of Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel for a long time; but as Lothar he just seems like a cheap version of the Ragnar character that I love so much. And even when the big, significant character arc pieces happen, I simply don’t care because I haven’t been given the appropriate amount of time with characters to care. The same can be said for Dominic Cooper’s King, a man that somehow looks like a teenager dressing up like a Shadow of Mordor character for Comic-Con and has about the same amount of range.

Yes, I’m bringing up Lord of the Rings. Tell me this wasn’t greenlit after LOTR was a success, I dare you.

With Toby Kebbell unrecognisable on voice duty for Durotan; Ben Foster as super-duper human wizard/guardian Medivh; and Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu bringing up the rear as barely recognisable, wasted voice casting, Warcraft has a shit load to answer for.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, some of it is rather good. Front and centre of this piece is of course the CGI and how it’s used. Durotan and his Orcs look absolutely amazing, the attention to detail in the character design is flawless and everyone looks like an individual. Closely tied to that are the couple of immense battle scenes that look superb. Filmed from an awesome angle that makes it look like any of the massive in-game battles players could have seen in the decades of playing Warcraft and taking control of game after game after game.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that it’s like that bit in the Doom movie where the camera went first-person. But not utter shit.

Finally, and I am very aware that I’m harping on about the CGI, but it’s definitely worth talking about, is the couple of one-on-one fights in the film. Whether Orc vs. Orc, or Orc vs. Human, the fighting looks great. I won’t go far as to say that you forget that you’re looking at a computer generated monster, but it certainly looks good enough to immerse you in the moment, and that’s all that really matters.

Duncan Jones shows some real flashes of genius with Warcraft: The Beginning. But sadly it’s just not enough to quite break the curse of bad game-to-film adaptations. I’m very aware that this is likely to be one of those “for the fans” kind of films, and considering the veritable smorgasbord of complete fuckwits in the screening with me last night, I’m glad I’m not one of those fans – seriously.

I would love to review the collection of wet, lumpy farts I was sharing the screening with. I could get an essay out of tearing them apart! But when your film costs this much, you need to put more effort into not alienating general filmgoers and not just delivering fan service to those hordes of people that refuse to leave their damn computer desks.

Like I said before, Warcraft isn’t as bad as it could have been. Some poor character choices, worse story-telling decisions, and the part where it blatantly tees up a sequel (with an opening shot it refused to revisit and an ending that isn’t anything close to an ending) left me with a shitty taste in my mouth.

And the worst of this film’s crimes? Crimes against the film and against its legacy?

You want to guess?

It tries so hard not to be Lord of the Rings that it completely forgot to be Warcraft.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

My love affair with Star Wars began in 1997 when they were re-released in to cinemas for the 20th anniversary of A New Hope hitting the silver screen. I was 10 or 11 and had not seen them on television before – or at least not to my recollection.

Sure, I’d seen other big action films before. I had certainly seen Jaws and Jurassic Park – and I am sure that I had seen Apollo 13 too. All great, but nothing blew me away quite like Star Wars.

When ‘A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ hit the screen, followed by the fanfare, opening crawl and shots of spaceships in battle, I was overawed and in love straight away.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no geek or nerd, and you won’t find me at Comic-Con or bidding on eBay for the mint condition collectable of ‘second alien from the right in the Mos Eisley Cantina’. But if there are two things I’m obsessed with, then it’s football and Star Wars. That’s in spite of the prequels trying to dampen my love for them.

So, when Disney bought the rights from George Lucas and announced a new trilogy plus spinoffs, bidding to build a Star Wars version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my excitement was tempered by trepidation. Would this be another Gungan filled Phantom Menace, or a return to form?

I’m happy to say it was the latter; a fun film that just felt like Star Wars. There were no trade disputes or convoluted issues in the senate hall. It was fun, it was exciting, it was intriguing, it was emotional, it was laugh out loud funny and it was dark.

Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO and The Millennium Falcon all return to the franchise along with a number of background and secondary characters, giving call backs to the original trilogy (not much, if anything, from the prequels found its way to this to this corner of the galaxy) making certain that you are in Star Wars territory.

In fact, Han and Chewie are their usual, roguish, all-action selves. You can’t help but love the pair and feel a twinge of joy and nostalgia most of the time that they are on the screen.

However, it’s the new cast members that steal the show. This was John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s big screen debut – arguably Adam Driver’s as well – and they perform admirably. Certainly adapting to and growing into their roles, as the reluctant heroes Finn and Rey, and the villainous Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is dark. Really dark. Darker than the darkside dark; conflicted and irrational. You get this real sense of menace from him. Although Snokes (his ‘boss’) lacked that and one of the downsides was his CGI appearance – not to give too much away, as I’m sure there’s more to come.

The Tarkin, to Ren’s Vader, was played by Domhall Gleeson. A small role performed well – again, hopefully there’s more to come in subsequent films.

It was as though Ridley and Boyega had to come out of this on top. One minor gripe from me: Their thick British and American accents respectively did grate a little bit.

Other than that though, they were both excellent. Especially when you consider it was two relative unknowns taking over the reins in cinema’s biggest franchise. I’ve no doubt big things await the pair.

Finally, Oscar Isaac was great in the limited role he was given as an X-Wing pilot and modern-day Han Solo, Poe Dameron. Charming, funny and adventurous; it will be good to see an expanded role for the Resistance’s best pilot in future films.

The action was as you would expect: Fast paced and fun, with jokes aplenty (more than any of the originals). Whereas the comedy in the prequels fell flat, this hit all of the right notes. And, of course, John Williams scores the film perfectly.

JJ Abrams has proven that he was the right choice for director. He rebooted Star Trek well enough for the big screen – although Into Darkness had its problems – and was trusted with this. He put the right team around him and successfully pulled it off.

I’m sure the film has its faults. Maybe once I calm down I’ll notice them? Still, it was a joy to watch and left me with a smile on my face, but still wanting more.

It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is better than any of the prequels by some way and I think it is as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better.

Victor Frankenstein

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“People only remember the monster. Never the man”

Did you know that Igor isn’t part of Frankenstein’s story? Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t. Introduced back in the ’30s, the Igor we know started life as a character in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. He wasn’t a lab assistant (good old Frank never had an assistant!) he was a semi-crippled blacksmith – I think. It’s been a while – who brought the monster back to life. Bastardised in the annals of Hollywood history, Igor now is as main a character in Frankenstein’s story as his monster and nowhere is that more apparent than in Victor Frankenstein, the latest retelling of this classic story for an ever more dulled down audience.

Told from the point of view of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), and going so far as to give the hunchback a backstory as a circus freak, he is rescued from a life of cruel beatings by a charismatic stranger who sees potential in the young man playing doctor when he’s not taking a whooping. That stranger is none other than Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and boy does he have a job for our young hunchback. Draining out Igor’s hump (an abscess apparently), straps him into a primitive lifting belt to straighten him up and such, a man is born. Now we have the hunchback and the mad scientist, we just need the monster. Here, friends, is where the fun begins.

Good ol’ Vic Frank spends his days toiling away in his basement, sewing together bits of animals together that Igor has, for want of a better word, fixed. Having taken the dead bits from inside and outside a host of different species, Frankenstein sets about creating life from death and proving that it doesn’t take God to create a man. All the while trying to avoid the prying of London’s police force who are on the hunt for the man acquiring body parts by nefarious means. Hiding from a near obsessive Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), Frankenstein’s quest for life turns into a bit of a cat-and-mouse game for his freedom and his experiments.

It took less than ten minutes for Victor Frankenstein to show its influences and aspirations and believe it or not, the damn film is trying exceptionally hard to be Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes. Now, I’m quite a fan of Robert Downey Jr’s detective, but even I know they’re not particularly good films and any film trying to draw inspiration from others should be aiming a damn sight higher than some junk-food-for-the-brain silliness that craps all over its source material. Even the daft, over-stylised fighting has been transplanted into this shoddy mess of a film. To say the writers worked hard would be giving too much credit, but you can tell what they wanted was to mimic the buddy cop style relationship between Holmes and Watson with Igor and Victor but the relationship, not for a lack of trying on the parts of our stars, just falls flat and lifeless.

Direction falls somewhere between the gothic by numbers of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the modern gothic of Underworld. Having almost no imagination, it’s a struggle to find a single original idea and where it references something from its source material, instead of treating it with even a hint of respect, it shits all over it. Vic’s creature was always simply his “monster”, or his “creature” and in the book, it simply doesn’t have a name. So when Dr. Frank names the monster “Prometheus” it doesn’t only crap all over Mary Shelley’s story, but it takes a hot early morning piss all over the actual Prometheus – the Greek god that breathed life into man at the behest of Zeus – while little bits like that won’t bother many, those kind of things really grind on my nerves and it was just another reason for me to never, ever recommend this film to anyone.

A few interesting effects, Victor’s first creation is a particular high point; gross, spectacular and just a little twisted and a couple of sometimes unintentionally funny lines aren’t enough to make this film worth your time. Almost everything about it is bland, and I can’t abide that. The leads are completely wasted in this movie that commits the worst of sins; it’s completely forgettable! I walked out of the screening having huffed an almighty “meh”, and by the time I got home, I was struggling to remember anything about it. I could forgive a film being crap, I can’t forgive a film being so vanilla that I struggle to think of a memorable moment in the whole thing.

SPECTRE

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Sam Mendes is back in the hand-stitched, luxurious leather driving seat of the 007 series as the next instalment of British espionage kills and thrills reaches the US shores this weekend.

by Owen Hughes @ohughes86

Celebrating fifty years of James Bond, Eon’s twenty third film in the series, Skyfall, was released back in October 2012 and became an enormous runaway success. Accolade after accolade was poured over it – and rightly so, as it was a thoroughly entertaining action film. Our readers and listeners certainly thought very highly of it, voting it above the likes of Amour, The Intouchables, Argo and The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012’s Failed Critics Awards.

It might be fair to say then that the weight of expectation on SPECTRE couldn’t have been higher. Skyfall ably dealt with the notion that James Bond, the suave British super spy, just wasn’t suited to the modern world. That he was too old. Too outdated. Much like Casino Royale did in 2006, it found a way to make him relevant again.

Surely then, SPECTRE wasn’t going to go over the same old ground, right?

Well, not exactly.

Facing a new Orwellian threat that takes Bond across Europe to track down a secret organisation, whilst also under pressure back home with MI6 under scrutiny for its actions, it crosses almost every box on the 007 checklist. Trains, snow, Bond-girls and Aston Martins; if you’re planning on playing a drinking game with SPECTRE, you will be inebriated within half an hour, having your stomach pumped before you’re even half way through the enormous 148 minute run time, and dead before the film has finished.

But it’s not just regular tropes of the series that make a re-appearance. Again, the idea that the secret agent is an outdated practice is continued from the previous movie. Whilst Skyfall focussed primarily on James Bond being too old, this time around it’s expanded to examine the methods employed by MI6 as a whole.

Although SPECTRE is mostly entertaining, one of its biggest problems is that by asking you to consider a world where we have surveillance drones, billions of mobile devices and CCTV cameras on every corner, why do we persist with a man in a tuxedo sneaking into a party to seduce the crime-bosses wife for tidbits of information. The ultimate conclusion is of course a combination of “the old ways are the best” and “nobody does it better”, but unless the audience are well read on their 1984’s and Brave New World’s, what exactly is the problem with information gathering in the way that’s proposed? Why is it so menacing? Is your freedom more valuable than your safety? Whatever your opinion, SPECTRE never fully addresses the issues with this “newer” method beyond showing you that the guy collecting the information is evil.

Speaking of the bad-guy, Christoph Waltz plays the latest Bond villain with relish. His softly spoken, quietly sinister performance is easily the best in this modern era against Daniel Craig’s all action hero. I’m a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen and Javier Bardem (let’s just pretend Quantum of Solace doesn’t exist, as SPECTRE seems to do as well) and they both bring something different to the series, but Oberhauser is perhaps the most nuanced opposite to James Bond thus far. It’s the age-old battle of brains and exploding-gadget-and-fast-cars-braun.

Craig may be getting sick of playing the role, with this possibly being his last appearance as Bond, but he once again seems entirely comfortable at being the rugged interpretation of Ian Flemming’s character. One who doesn’t mind getting his shoes scuffed and suit ruffled in the pursuit of his nemesis. Just watch him during the absolutely incredible opening scene set in Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. He has the swagger, the charisma and perfect timing to please fans of the series, no matter who your favourite version of the character is. Prefer the goofy Roger Moore take? Craig is more then able to match the comic timing Moore offers. Enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s confidence and cheekyness? Bingo. It’s all there in that opening 15 minutes.

The support cast are all decent enough too. Léa Seydoux as Madeleine – the closest the film gets to having the staple Bond-girl – does a good job at modernising the role. She’s not a floozie there only to fall under the charms of 007 and provide the audience with a bit of eye candy. One scene in particular on a train journey draws us back into the narrative of old-versus-new as she shows she doesn’t need Bond to show her how to use a gun. It’s a subtle development of a role that in the past has been reduced to little more than a damsel in distress that needs the big rugged man to come and save her.

Ralph Fiennes adds his own take on M, whose relationship to Bond has a lot more animosity and begrudging respect than when Judi Dench was in the role previously. Q (Ben Wishaw) is also given a lot more exposure this time around. His quirkiness will either annoy you or feel like a welcome break in the pace of relentless, non-stop action scenes and (£24m worth of) exploding vehicles. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), C (Andrew Scott), Hinx (Dave Bautista) and Lucia (Monica Belluci) are reduced to minor supporting roles which seems a shame, but they all do well with what they’re given.

Overall, for such a long film, it doesn’t ever feel boring or stretched. It suffers from a Skyfall hangover as it will constantly be compared to its predecessor, and in that regard, it is the lesser film. The way it retrofits itself onto the rest of the rebooted franchise is contrived at best and just nonsensical at worst, but it doesn’t detract too much from its own plot. Effectively, it hinges on the relationship between Craig, Seydoux and Waltz (whose appearance really could have come sooner on in the movie) which is well developed across the course of the film, but is not quite enough to elevate it to the delirious heights of Mendes’ last feature.

So no, I don’t expect the Bond revival to die with SPECTRE. Bond (James Bond) is bigger than one film, but as to where I see the film heading next? I honestly have no idea – but I am excited to find out.

You can listen to Owen, Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank review SPECTRE as well as induct James Bond into our Corridor of Praise on the podcast released back in October.

A Walk in the Woods

a walk in the woods“I spent half my life chasing pussy and drinking. And I wasted the other half.”

On paper, a film about two pensioners going on a hike is, without a shadow of a doubt, a film that would never hit my radar. Not that I would actively avoid watching a movie like A Walk in the Woods, but I would much prefer to only use the edge of my cinema seat for a good thriller or come out with my ears bleeding from that insane volume and a ton of explosions. That being said, with not an awful lot to do on a Friday after work and a screening at my local with just enough time to grab a Starbucks beforehand, this evening I watched a film about two guys chatting and walking.

Robert Redford is Bill Bryson, an author whose time has been spent writing books on his travels around the world, but for the last few years, he’s been spending, or wasting, his time at home watching his books gather dust and feeling old. After an annoying, abrasive TV interview and yet another funeral, Bryson goes for a walk and finds himself inspired to walk the 1,100 mile Appalachian trail that stretches between Georgia and Maine. After his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) reads up on the risks of the walk and the things that can go wrong, she insists he finds a partner to do the walk with; a real issue for a man whose friends are all the same pension drawing age that he is, or dead, and don’t want to die in the forest! Enter Nick Nolte’s Stephen Katz, a friend from Bill’s past who volunteers to walk the trail with the author.

Katz is one of those friends everyone’s dad has; he’s got seedy stories about your old man’s past and a few tales that no-one wants to hear. And we all had that friend didn’t we? For me, it’s the guy whose name causes my wife’s eyes to roll because she knows I won’t come home in one piece! Stephen Katz is the perfect bodiless of all those friends and now he’s following Bill Bryson around in the woods. The pair make their way to the start of the walk in Georgia and after a night in a nice hotel, they head off uphill and begin the adventure that will see them spending a few months together in the woods. The old friends go up against Mother Nature as they try their hardest to walk the thousand mile trail through wind, rain and snow; coming up against bears and weirdos as the bonding experience takes them to their limits.

There’s not much to say about A Walk in the Woods if I’m honest. It’s a comedy adventure films that is perfectly suited to a good Sunday matinee. There’s little drama, a slight hint of peril and a whole lot of walking. I mean, if it wasn’t for Nick Nolte’s constant swearing, it’d be a family film about two mates going for a walk. Like Homeward Bound, but with real people. The pair have great chemistry and there’s a real sense that they like each other throughout the whole film, these two guys that have grown apart and gone on to lead completely different lives have come back together after so many years and can still spend that much time in each other’s company without killing themselves. Even when the inevitable arguments happen, it’s over in a flash and they are back to laughing and joking.

And man! The laughing! Robert Redford is great as the sensible and determined Bill Bryson, but Nick Nolte is absolutely the star of the show. Every single thing that comes out of his mouth is pure gold; from the smut to the insults, his character is a comedy genius and I genuinely laughed myself stupid throughout the whole thing. Every story Stephen Katz has, and every time he shuts down Bryson’s know-it-all attitude is a beautiful moment and you can’t not love Nolte for the performance he puts on. Once you add the brilliantly funny cameos from people like Nick Offerman and Kristin Schaal, the film really shines as a comedy and I happily sat and giggled my way through the whole thing.

A Walk in the Woods is a buddy cop comedy, but the cops are retired and bored and looking for something to do. It’s got no explosions, no guns, no kidnappings, no murders and no nudity; but what it does have is charm, wit and a brisk feeling 100 minute run time. It’s a breath of fresh air with all the loud explody films we get to experience. You can chill out for a couple of hours, watch old men make awkward sex jokes and come out good and relaxed. And while I know I haven’t helped my image of being an old man in a thirty-something year old’s body at all, the film did inspire me. No, I don’t want to walk the damn Appalachian trail, it’s not that life affirming a film, I just want to grow up to be Nick Nolte.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Not quite the triumphant fanfare that the epic fantasy adventure series deserved to bow out on, but still an impressive conclusion to an entertaining series.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

hobbitDuring the week, you may have read an article that I published on here expressing my excitement at the release of Peter Jackson’s final jaunt through Middle Earth. After I recently watched all three of the extended edition DVD’s of The Lord of the Rings and rewatched the two Hobbit films, the most unexpected thing happened. I found out that despite previously believing these fantasy adventure films to be little more than Hobbity-tosh, they were actually rather marvellous. Full of character, personality and thrills, I could not wait to complete the set by taking myself off to the cinema and spending 144 minutes with Bilbo & Friends one final time.

In fact, I’ve actually been holding out voting on our end of year awards just yet in case The Battle of the Five Armies made my top 10, as both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug had done in 2012 and 2013 respectively. (Yes, that is a plug for our Failed Critics Awards 2014! Finish reading this and then scroll back up the page and click this link to vote for your choices!)

So, where does this third and final Hobbit film begin? It picks up directly from where the previous film left off without pausing for breath or to stroke its long and lusciously thick beard. As we saw in the closing scenes of the second movie in the series, Smaug the dragon has taken flight and is on his way to burn Lake-town to cinders to inflict revenge on the company of dwarves out to steal back their home. Perhaps an even bigger threat to our heroes is the impending arrival of an army of orcs marching towards the Lonely Mountain ready for all out war.

Maybe I made a rod for my own back by over hyping the film to myself beforehand, but I genuinely was looking forward to this. However, as disappointing as it is for me to say, it was something of a let down. Whereas the previous two movies feel like lots of mini-adventures all taking place within one movie, the final part is.. well.. it’s just the third act to the second film. From the arrival of the dwarves at Bag End and Bilbo’s confrontation with Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, to the barrel riding escape plan and awakening of the dragon in The Desolation of Smaug, there’s always one more perilous quest awaiting Gandalf’s party of homeless dwarves and burglars. In that regard, this is lacking somewhat, which is no surprise when you consider the original plan was for JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit to be adapted into two movies rather than three. The main issue is that isn’t very well concealed. This may be the shortest movie of all six films, but that’s because it’s essentially just one long battle sequence with a bit of story at the beginning and a bit more at the end.

Don’t get me wrong, the battle is well shot. There’s the epic scale that is to be expected and director Peter Jackson doesn’t deny the viewer some absolutely fantastic and imaginative set pieces. It’s not like Jackson doesn’t have experience in how to shoot them by now. However, it just wasn’t satisfying like The Return of the King was. Calling it a battle sounds quite grand but it was more of a brawl with thousands of unidentifiable generic soldiers.

My biggest gripe lies with the lack of humour. It’s not completely without comedy; indeed, I chuckled and sniggered during some amusing scenes. However,  the dwarves simply weren’t fun characters to be around any more. A (100% CGI) Billy Connolly pops up to deliver one or two funny lines, but generally they are more concerned with the darkness enveloping their rightful king, Thorin Oakenshield, played brilliantly by Richard Armitage. In fact, the performances across the board were of a high standard again. Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Lee Pace and of course Sir Ian McKellen were all positive aspects, as was Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. The only problem with Martin Freeman is that he really should’ve had more screen time. All of the best lines and most interesting plot lines come from the little hobbit. Unless of course you count Legolas declaring that “these bats are bred for one purpose; for war” to be the best line in a so-bad-it’s-good way.

Finally, on the subject of characters and their respective actors, I really think Luke Evans as Bard is one of the best human characters from any of the Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit films so far. An honourable character whose sentiment is not over-egged, with a performance that does not seem to be discussed as much as it should. He carries the story on his own during some of the lesser moments and does so admirably.

Overall, it’s still an occasionally exciting and impressive film, but undeniably lacklustre. The first two films made me laugh and had their own identity as fun, fantasy adventure films. Oddly The Battle of the Fives Armies only managed to make me laugh on a handful of occasions and as such, regardless of the fact the run time flies by (unlike An Unexpected Journey), unfortunately it just feels like Lord of the Rings-lite as opposed to the conclusion to an original and new Hobbit trilogy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in cinemas right now and will be featured as the main review on our next episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, a Christmas special.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Too much Megan Fox, a lot of obvious jokes, but surprisingly better than expected. And no, they aren’t aliens, that would be stupid.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

tmnt 2Back in 2012 when this film was announced, it’s fair to say it was met mostly with dread and trepidation. “Why is Michael Bay stomping all over my childhood” was never far from my Twitter feed. The rumour that “he’s making them into aliens?!” caused many a nerd to spontaneously combust. “First Transformers, and now this! What’s next? Ghostbusters?!Well, as a matter of fact…

I digress. The point is, a lot of people (including myself) were disappointed with how the Transformers franchise turned out. If you were also born at any point during the mid-late 1980’s you were probably raised on a diet of LSD-inspired cartoons full of vibrant colours, moral messages and cheesier-than-hell dialogue too. Whether you ran around your garden pointing 99p plastic swords in the air shouting “I HAVE THE POWER!” at the top of your voice, or sobbed uncontrollably when your latest Transformer toy inevitably broke within a week of purchasing it, at some point you will have come across four green bandanna-wearing crime-fighting mutated turtles (that are also teenagers) and their Japanese martial-arts master and mentor, a man-sized sewer-dwelling rat. Affection was fought for and won on a weekly basis as they thwarted yet another dastardly plan from the Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan.

But is it fair to accuse Michael Bay of ruining your precious childhood memories? Were the shows and films actually ever any good in the first place? It’s hard to ignore the argument that it is most likely nostalgia clouding your judgement as to just how good these shows were and that maybe, just maybe, Bay is attempting to improve on them; as opposed to purposefully opening his bowels all over your 7 year old self for no better reason than because he can.

When the reboot of TMNT was first confirmed, this question came before me and I had to check for myself. I revisited the original three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, as well as a few others (How It All Began, which I used to own on VHS, and the 2007 animated movie) and found, to my surprise, the first two films at least were surprisingly still enjoyable for what they are. The special effects were decent, particularly the costume designs, and the tone of the movie was a lot darker than I had expected it to be. The series got progressively worse as it wore on; word of warning, the cartoon series does not hold up as well as you’d hope. But then, that’s not really that surprising, is it.

As for this reboot / remake / whatever you want to call it, it’s not without its problems, but it’s unfair to disqualify it simply for being based on something that – and let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment – was never that good in the first place.

The first thing I should point out now before carrying on with this review, because a lot of people seem to be making this mistake (understandably so), is that it isn’t actually directed by Michael Bay. He only produced it. If you have a problem with the way this movie is directed, you need to lay the blame at the feet of Jonathan Liebesman, the man responsible for Darkness Falls, Battle: Loss Angeles, and the surprisingly not-as-terrible-as-the-previous-one Wrath of the Titans. Not that it actually makes a difference who directed it because for all intents and purposes, it looks almost exactly like a Michael Bay film. The only give away that it’s not is the fact that it’s only an hour and 40 minutes long rather than two hours and 40 minutes long, and it just doesn’t look as good as some of his stuff does.

The point of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they were first devised as a comic-book was to lampoon the (then) current trend for all things ninja. In the 80’s, people like Sho Kosugi and martial arts action films were everywhere you turned. Eventually, a Playmates toy line and cartoon series later, they themselves became far more popular and famous than the pop culture references they initially parodied. Today, this doesn’t really leave the series as anything culturally relevant or necessary any more, but it’s still nice to know that generation after generation can get to experience them in one way or another, albeit in the shape of the comics getting popular again, or a new cartoon series that is supposedly quite entertaining, or as it happens, more movie adaptations.

As I said earlier, this isn’t a film without its own problems. They don’t lie with the fact that the movie exists at all, as non-relevant as it may be, but with lots of other areas. To coin a 90’s phrase, the action scenes are WHACK. Not because they’re boring or bland, but because you cannot see what one steroid-enhanced muscle-bound mask-wearing Shrek-like mutant is doing with the other steroid-enhanced muscle-bound mask-wearing Shrek-like mutant. The camera appears to constantly be at waist height pointing upwards, whilst simultaneously spinning around the action that we’re meant to be interested in, and wobbling all over the place. Making out what is happening on screen during big CGI fight sequences has been a failing of Bay’s in the past. He looked to have improved on it somewhat during Transformers: Age of Extinction, but it appears Liebesman didn’t see that particular movie. Instead, it has all the trappings of the first Transformers movie.

I’d wager that most people going to see this film are doing so to spend time watching the four heroes in a half shell get up to some pizza-related hijinks, kick some foot-clan arse and have an epic showdown with Shredder. Therefore, it seems an awfully bizarre decision to spend quite so much time on the films human characters, the yellow-jacketed news-anchor April O’Neil and her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (played by Megan Fox and Will Arnett respectively). There’s simply too much time spent waiting for April to meet the avenging vigilante turtles, and then not enough time spent in their company. They should have been the focus of the film. It’s their story that we wanted to watch. You know, the guys whose name is in the title. It’s not  called April O’Neil & The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It detracted from what should have been a film primarily cartoony in nature.

However, what I will say in its favour is that some of the humour, not all of it, but some of it, is quite amusing. The time we do spend with the turtles does raise the odd chuckle. A lot of the gags are crude or obvious, and pop-culture references always seem to be cheap and easy to raise laughs, but it is definitely a comedy adventure film with goofy humour and slapstick in it that’s done moderately well.

Michelangelo probably steals the show in many respects, whilst Raphael comes across as cool as he ever does. Arguments could be made for the fact that his friction with the appointed leader Leonardo seems forced and underdeveloped, but allowances can be made in these circumstances. It is aimed at kids, after all. There’s no need to expand on every single suggested character trait. Donatello is mainly left to be the “get us out of this situation with your book-smarts” character, but none of the four are offensive interpretations of the gang. Whenever they are on screen, the film zips by. None of the performances here are particularly note-worthy. Will Arnett, Megan Fox, William Fitchner, they’re not here because they’re great actors, but they all play their parts well enough for me to not complain.

So, that brings me back to my original question. Has Michael Bay’s plan to improve on the most common interpretation of the TMNT, that late eighties cartoon, ultimately been successful? Well, it’s hard to beat nostalgia. For a lot of people, the quality of the original cartoon bears little consequence in how much enjoyment you can gain from reminiscing about the good old days. Context aside, approaching this as if there had never been any other TMNT interpretations before, it’s passable. It’s short, it’s occasionally fun as often as it is frustrating, and it certainly hasn’t pissed all over this blokes inner child.

You can hear Owen, Callum and Steve chat about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the upcoming podcast due out in the next few days.