A Good Day To Die Hard Review

The Plot:

John McClane sets out to Russia in search of his apparently wayward son Jack. But their family reunion is spoiled when McClane also finds his usual trouble of bombs, bullets and bad guys. With nobody else seemingly around to stop the mayhem, it’s time for the ultimate father and son team to take care of things…

The Good:

Fans of the Die Hard franchise will no doubt be pleased to see that John McClane is still having trouble dying after roughly 25 years of saving the world from machine gun toting bad guys. Though the action genre has evolved dramatically in that time, its spirit of macho heroics remains vastly popular. Whatever people’s reactions to this latest adventure, at the very least it is a reminder of a very special franchise.

Relative newcomer Jai Courtney handles the daunting prospect of playing John McClane’s son quite well. Between this film and a recent villainous turn in Jack Reacher, he’s demonstrated a convincing physical presence that should see him quickly graduate to leading man roles. In truth at times it feels like he may have already done that in this film, as he often feels more like our capable hero than Bruce Willis does.

The Bad:

Bruce Willis is 57 years old and he looks it, more worryingly, for the first time on screen he really feels… old. His lumbering body is seemingly indestructible, but fails to convince throughout the relentless physical action. It’s difficult to accept McClane could run fast enough to catch the bad guys, let alone survive a never ending series of car crashes and explosions. Standing alongside Jai Courtney’s impressively chiseled physique is a depressing reminder of reality.

Detective John McClane was once an undisputed action hero icon, but sadly the underdog charms this character once possessed have been mercilessly eroded by decades of being an invincible superhero. His well-deserved and satisfying wisecracks have been tragically replaced with meaningless bravado and obnoxious smugness.

Die Hard 4.0 was heavily criticised for abandoning the core principle of the Die Hard franchise, that McClane was essentially just a normal guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure he was a tough guy, but he wasn’t superhuman. This film represented a chance to abandon the cartoonish CGI action and take things back to believable basics. Sadly the latest Die Hard film instead continues to plunge the franchise further into disappointing absurdity.

Action blockbusters often have to defend themselves against allegations that they bear no relation to the real world. Indeed much of the joy of the genre is only possible by wilfully ignoring the laws of physics and common sense in favour of escapist entertainment. However that magic trick is only possible if the film is fun enough to distract audiences from the mounting factual inaccuracies and inexplicable plot holes.

The film’s plot feels thin and uninspired, as a promising beginning sadly evaporates into generics. The gaps between the film’s lengthy action sequences are also cluttered with poor dialogue and ill-advised father-son bonding. It’s ultimately hard to know whether many of the groans and giggles the film provokes are intentional or not.

Ugly Truth:

A Good Day To Die Hard may please those craving the comfort of loud noises and uncomplicated explosions this Valentine’s Day. However fans looking for some testosterone fueled nostalgia may be better off re-watching their DVD collection of old school 80’s and 90’s action classics. A bombardment of implausible special effects and a misguided determination to be ‘bigger’ doesn’t compare well to the memorable charms and high standards of the original Die Hard.

Video Interview below with star Jai Courtney and the filmmakers on the red carpet at the film’s London premiere:

 

Wreck It Ralph Review

The Plot

A computer game bad guy who feels unappreciated by his fellow characters goes on an adventure throughout the arcade in the search for a way to prove that for once he can be the hero. Along the way he inadvertently causes havoc in other games and makes his first real friend.

The Good

Wreck It Ralph is essentially Toy Story for computer game characters, further exploring the secret lives of much beloved childhood playthings. The inclusion of familiar real characters from long running game series like Super Mario Bros, Streetfighter and Sonic the Hedgehog gives the film a welcome authenticity. Seasoned gamers will also enjoy the plentiful excuses for 8 bit nostalgia.

The new characters and gameworlds created specifically for the movie all feel convincing and are impressively well crafted. Much of the adventure takes place in ‘Sugar Rush’ a candy coated racing game which is deliciously colourful and adorably sweet. The film manages to integrate retro graphics and glossy CGI in effective ways, delivering both enjoyable visuals and energetic action sequences.

Wreck It Ralph also has at least one secret weapon; with Glee star Jane Lynch providing the voice of a battle hardened space warrior from a monstrous shoot ‘em up game. Much like her Glee character Sue Sylvester, she provides the film with a steady stream of trash talk that’s sure to raise a smile. John C. Reilly is also a good fit for the film’s titular ‘hero’ Ralph, having perfected his routine as an underappreciated lumbering sidekick in films like Talladega Nights, Chicago and Boogie Nights.

The Bad

Walt Disney acquired a great deal of technical expertise in CGI animation when they consumed animation rivals Pixar. However while Wreck It Ralph may look like a Pixar movie, it still lacks some of the emotional core and elusive magic of a true Pixar film.

The film never quite captures the heart-breaking sentimentality of the first ten minutes of UP or the last ten minutes of Toy Story 3. Younger audiences likely won’t tell the difference, but grown up’s certainly will. Wreck It Ralph doesn’t quite have the multi-layered genius of Pixar’s finest work but is more on a par with the Cars franchise; with both relying on bright colours and children’s innate interests to deliver a fairly generic message that ‘it’s okay to be yourself’.

Comedienne turned actress Sarah Silverman divides opinions intensely; her cringe-worthy comedy charms are loved by some but loathed by others. Pouring much of her own personality into pint size pixelated character Vanellope Von Schweetz will either amuse or simply irritate audiences. Young kids are perhaps likely to be more tolerant of her shrill nasal voice and liberal use of words like stinky and booger.

The Ugly Truth

Wreck It Ralph is an easily watchable animated adventure that will particularly delight younger children and anyone with particularly fond memories of arcade gaming. Although a lack of clever subtext and Sarah Silverman’s noisy presence may mean that grownups find it a little less enchanting than a Pixar instant classic.

Wreck It Ralph Cast Video Interviews Below:

Here Comes The Boom Review

The Plot:

In order to save his schools underfunded music programme and his friend’s job; a delinquent biology teacher must become a trained Mixed Martial Arts fighter in his spare time, battling all the way to the Ultimate Fighting Championships to raise the desperately needed cash. He’s also hoping that along the way he’ll win the love of the unimpressed school nurse.

The Good:

Here Comes The Boom aims itself clearly at audiences that finds Kevin James’ trademark brand of buffoonery hilarious and it should safely hit that target. James deploys his usual arsenal of well-practiced hangdog expressions and obvious best intentions.  Quickly shaking off some initial grumpy apathy his character Scott Voss soon becomes exactly that kind of good natured bumbling underdog he plays so well.

James even manages a bit of unlikely romantic chemistry with Salma Hayek’s disapproving school nurse, though mostly thanks to her obvious charms. Salma Hayek proves once again that she really excels at playing Salma Hayek.

Henry Winkler meanwhile playing a mild mannered music teacher provides a good comedy sparring partner for Scott’s overly enthusiastic fighting coach Niko, played by the imposing Bas Rutten. Their happy enthusiasm is what keeps the film from being as unforgivably awful as so many other ‘knockabout’ comedy efforts that are overly reliant on the joy of watching a portly fellow attempting to do sports.

The Bad:

Here Comes the Boom is watchable but admittedly predictable. If you were to guess the plot and how the film ends right now, you’d be right. The film’s laughs do also often come as expected courtesy of Kevin James getting hit in the face rather hard by a foot or a fist.

King of Queens star Kevin James doesn’t have a reputation for subtlety and it should be obvious even from the title that Here Comes The Boom will be no different from his previous efforts. The film’s literally heavy handed slapstick comedy and lack of surprises might leave some audiences a little unamused and uninspired.

At least the film mostly avoids descending into puerile toilet humour. For example, projectile vomiting is only used as a punch line once. Whether they make you chuckle or groan at least James’ pratfalls lack the sort of mean spirited nastiness of so many current comedy offerings, it is all safe feel-good antics.

The Ugly Truth:

Here Comes The Boom is as subtle as a slap in the face, but thankfully less awful. Kevin James might fail to land too many knockout comedy blows, but an innately likeable supporting cast keeps the film from hitting the mat in the first round. Fans of James’ past efforts can be reassured the new film sticks close to that template and those who are immune to his ‘charms’ can take solace in the fact that at least this time he does get repeatedly beaten up. So whatever your persuasion it’s moderately satisfying.

Video Interview below with Kevin James:

I Give It A Year Review

The Plot:

After a whirlwind romance an obviously mismatched couple get married, only to discover that their first year of wedded bliss brings more trouble and temptations than they could possibly have imagined.

The Good:

Working Title has an outstanding pedigree in almost single handily inventing the genre of British romantic comedy. They’ve previously been proudly responsible for globally adored classics like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually. With their latest effort they have delivered something a little less cliché and slightly more risqué than usual, but still reliably enjoyable.

As expected, the film boasts a well assembled ensemble cast of seasoned comedy performers. Bridesmaids star and Australian beauty Rose Byrne slips convincingly into a polished English accent, emulating Rene Zellweger’s laudable efforts in Bridget Jones Diary. Meanwhile Mentalist star Simon Baker is a convincingly charming American hunk and Rafe Spall is a suitably buffoonish Englishman.
Anna Faris plays well against type as a dowdy aid worker and Minnie Driver has fun as a mean spirited cougar with very vocal husband hatred.

Stephen Merchant is finally emerging out of the shadows as Ricky Gervais unappreciated sidekick/writing partner to secure his own deserved comedy star status. A scene stealing performance in this film as an atrocious best man and a reliably tactless best friend should go even further in winning him a growing army of fans. Characters whose sole function seems to be providing a constant stream of inappropriate crudeness are typically obnoxious, but Merchants ungainly likeability serves him very well in avoiding that fate.

Dan Mazer’s script rarely falters too badly and combining these collective comedic talents with easy set pieces like embarrassing wedding dances, disastrous dating and the world’s worst marriage counsellor yields some highly amusing results.

The Bad:

The film trades cynical laughs for the usual mushy romantics. It certainly provides an easy array of crude humour, but may leave audiences seeking the uniquely intense hit of romantic sentimentality that films like Love Actually provide a little disappointed.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a boy and girl finally overcoming an insurmountable array of obstacles and fumbling misunderstandings to get together in a satisfyingly saccharine finale. I Give It A Year has plenty of belly laughs, but it lacks that kind of heart.  It’s simply difficult to emotional invest in the characters romantic plights. The film pokes fun at ‘love’ a little too often and aggressively to allow much room for genuine emotions.

The only other negative is that the individual characters lack the quirky memorable charm of some of Working Titles best efforts. In particular, Rafe Spall as one half of our leading couple is a little too drunkenly idiotic at times. It’s difficult to care about the happiness of a moronic slob and easy to wonder why he’s being inflicted on some of the other characters. It obviously would be easier to root for a polite mumbling underdog typically played by Hugh Grant.

The Ugly Truth:

I Give It A Year delivers a steady stream of laugh out loud moments that is easy to watch and generally satisfying, despite lacking some of the usual gushing romance of standard British rom-coms. To an extent it almost feels like a parody of the genre and Working Title’s previous classics bit it is still enjoyable in its own right.

I Give It A Year London Premiere interviews below:

Hitchcock Review

The Plot

The sensational true story of how iconic director Alfred Hitchcock made his undisputed masterpiece Psycho. Hitchcock is an intimate biopic exploring the infamous obsessions and eccentricities o the so called master of suspense. The film also delves deeply into Hitchcock’s profound relationship with his wife and constant creative collaborator Alma Reville.

The Good

Anthony Hopkins tackles an incredibly difficult task, in trying to deliver a performance that captures such a familiar figure without resorting to a simple caricature. His convincing work is especially impressive given the obvious burden of the fat suit and extensive makeup he’s wearing. Skilled acting actually does as much as his fabricated physical appearance to transform Hopkins into Hitchcock.

Helen Mirren is likewise on typically accomplished form as Hitchcock’s long suffering and supportive wife Alma. She does a particularly excellent job of capturing the frustrations of living in the shadow of Hitchcock’s demanding ego and celebrated public image.

Fans of the silver screen and Hitchcock’s genius will also enjoy seeing other familiar names and faces brought to life, for example by modern day screen sirens Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel. The film delves beyond the simple details of Hitchcock’s private life to provide a dramatic documentation of the troublesome production of a movie masterpiece.

The Bad

Alfred Hitchcock had such a unique physical and vocal presence that it’s hard for anyone to truly do justice to that vivid memory.  Anthony Hopkins certainly succeeds in capturing Hitchcock’s mannerisms and instantly recognisable voice, but in truth the extensive makeup required to physically transform him into the rotund director is distracting at times. Sadly there’s a certain rubbery quality to his face that even an accomplished actor can’t disguise.

The film also has wider issues. Watching Hitchcock fight with reluctant studio heads, dismissive critics and self-doubt as he battles to make the definitive slasher film; is less entertaining and dramatic when we all know full well the film did indeed get released and proved to be one of the greatest successes of his enviable career.

The film tries to add some depth and darkness by exploring Hitchcock’s private and very public obsession with murder. However having Hitchcock imagine friendly chats with dead serial killers feels heavy handed and overly melodramatic. Similarly showing Hitchcock’s lurid fantasies of violence seems gratuitous and ineffective. We know full well Hitchcock isn’t about to go on a killing spree, dispatching his wife and leading ladies.

The Ugly Truth

Hitchcock does a fine job of portraying one of cinemas most enduring icons at a landmark moment in filmmaking history. It should also certainly satisfy nostalgic fans looking for a peak into the making of a classic film.