In a nutshell: This time it’s war

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

What do you get when you put a gang of vigilante superheroes in the same room? A fight.But what if those same costumed defenders have to unite to face a massive threat to the planet they have vowed to protect? Then, my dears, it’s war.

That’s the basic premise of The Avengers (I flat out refuse to say that other title, you know, the really shit one) which strings together the characters we know and love from the recent Marvel Comics’ films and ups the ante.

The film sees Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (CHris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans)  as well as the lesser known Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) unite to battle Loki (Tom HIddleston) and his intergalactic army.The ensemble cast squabble, flex their muscles, practice their best quips and come to blows before realising the stakes are much higher than their own egos.

Yes it’s cheesy but director and writer Joss Whedon has his tongue firmly in his cheek.With The Avengers, he has been entrusted with the biggest budget production of his career and it has paid off. Whedon adds flair to the scenes of carnage and destruction but it is his trademark humour – which made his TV work like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly such fan favourites – that gives the story the charm it needs.

In interviews, Whedon said he wanted to make a war movie and he has certainly succeeded, but you also get the sense there isn’t enough room to do all the characters justice. As expected, Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man steals the show while the excellent Samuel L. Jackson is a little underused as Nick Fury, the leader struggling to keep this rag tag group together.

Overall, The Avengers is a triumph but could have benefited from a stronger villain. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the adopted brother and enemy of Thor, is more whiney than scary.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: By jingo, it’s Battleship!

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

I remember the Battleship board game from when I was a kid. I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t a fan. I certainly wasn’t a player. If anything, Battleship seemed to be an interminably dull game, one that people who liked grey cardigans and thick, dusty books on military strategy might play. Not the type of people I wanted to be consorting with, you understand. And, because I presumed the game itself so be yawnsome, I also presumed it had a series of complex and lengthy rules, like chess. In other words, dull, dull, dull.

Battle ship the movie, on the other hand, sounded right up my street. Dull? As if! Complex and intelligent? As if! Who you kidding cardigan boy? I take your stuffy old game and I give you Rihanna in fatigues and tattoos, I give you big explosions and even bigger specials effects, I give you scary aliens in massive, f*ck off spaceships. I give you Battleship, reimagined.

In many ways, I was right. About the movie that is. The game? Well, let’s just say, I’m still not a fan. On any medium.

So, what’s the movie about? Well, in brief, a naval fleet at Pearl Harbour must battle alien invaders, thwarting their presumably evil intentions and saving the world. That’s it really but, because this is “Hollywood”, selected (and beautiful) humans must also find inner strength and learn some moral lessons, before becoming heroes.

Director Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom) serves up a slice of typical Blockbuster-On-Sea. There are plenty of eye sizzling explosions and big action sequences to keep any eight–year-old happy and they do work, they really do. Our trusty group are likable enough, slacker turned navy man Taylor Kitsch has a certain sweetness, Rihanna and her pal Ordy (Jesse Plemons)  are peppy, while everyone else plays their own version of strong, military type. Oh, and we get to see the aliens in the flesh too, which is good, though they are strangely human, and their motives remain unclear, especially given how reluctant they are to kill people one-on-one yet wreak devastation on a grand scale.

On the downside, and as with so many blockbusters, the actual story is almost laughably bad, from stereotypes (I already mentioned the slacker turned hero but we also have the nerds, the stoical old navy men, the mean daddy/commander, the beautiful girl….I could go on) to cheesy twists, dreadful dialogue, unbelievable coincidences and, yes, some really wooden acting. It’s all in there as we lurch from scene to scene, waiting for the next big bang.

But, to be honest, even with all the cheesiness and the ardent US jingoism which abounds, Battleship still kinda works. It’s stupid yeah but it’s big, it’s flashy and it’s a lot of fun. A guilty pleasure that’s best seen on the big screen.

Reviewer: CurlyShirley

In a nutshell: Mental, fun and very, very funny.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

There’s something lovely about sharing a laugh with someone – siblings sharing a chuckle over a parent’s well-known habits, children’s bubbling mirth at something wonderfully silly, friends’ raucous, dirty giggling on a night out. 21 Jump Street is the kind of movie best served up in a group, preferably with beer and nachos, because when films comes this funny, you’ll want to share the laughter with friends.

Written by the formerly chubby and always lovable Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street takes a rather beloved, albeit worn-out movie premise (adults coping with modern day high school,  and somehow manages to make it fresh and, delightfully, both madcap and tongue- in-cheek all at the same time.

The adults in question are new cops, former school nerd Schmidt (Hill) and former school jock Jenko (Channing Tatum). Assigned to 21 Jump Street, a specialist division, the fresh faced duo are tasked with infiltrating a local high school by posing as students and uncovering the dealers and suppliers of a new, lethal, designer drug.

As I said, not exactly a new idea in movie land, but somehow 21 Jump Street manages to pull it off, giving us a smart and affectionate satire of all those 80s teen movies. Central to its likability is the Hill-Channing partnership which, simply, works. Two actors I would never have thought of together and yet they fit perfectly, with Channing bringing plenty of muscle and an unexpected tenderness to Jenko while Hill is shorter, smarter and enjoying being in the cool gang for once in his (well, Schmidt’s) life.

The chuckles come thick and fast, from slapstick to the odd in-joke for those who remember all those teen movies from before they were “classics”; though at times Hill and Bacall do rely a touch too heavily on foul language to tickle the old funny bone. There’s a fair bit of action shoehorned in too, as well as a nice play on kids’ mentality today (it’s cool to care) and, of course, a little harmless romance. There’s even a very angry police chief or two and, hey, who doesn’t love a shouty police chief?

I’m too young to remember the original 21 Jump Street series on which this is loosely based (cameo alert!), but I’ve heard it was a rather earnest affair. Fortunately this time round, it’s the funny that wins the day, even if there is a little moral at the heart of it all.

Reviewer: CurlyShirley

In a nutshell: Big and beautiful but ultimately empty.

Popcorn rating: 1.5/5

Considering how rubbish the 2010 film Clash of the Titans was, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that a sequel had been made, namely this year’s Wrath of the Titans. Then again, when you consider Clash made somewhere in the region of half a billion dollars, it’s not that much of a surprise. Someone, somewhere, must have liked it. And if they didn’t, they paid to see it anyway.

Set around a decade after the end of Clash, Wrath of the Titans sees Perseus (Sam Worthington) eschewing a charmed life as a demi-god and right hand man to his dad, the great god  Zeus (Liam Neeson), for the simplicity of life as a fisherman and single dad to his young son, Helius (John Bell). Mum seems to have died somewhere in the intervening period. Probably of shame at being involved in the first, one can only assume.

Anywho, to cut a long story short – nice gods Zeus and Posiedon (Danny Huston) are in trouble because not enough people are worshipping them, which means the walls of  Tartarus are on the verge of breaking and unleashing very nasty monsters into the world.  Totally exploiting the whole situation and a bit jealous and angry and stuff, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his sidekick Ares (Édgar Ramírez) do a bit of betraying which ends up with Zeus captured and being cruelly leached of his power to awaken Kronos, the badass daddy of the gods. He appears to have a few “issues” and is made of fire and what I think is coal, which is never a good look. Thus it is up to Perseus, Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and the “comic element”, ie new demi god on the scene,  Agenor (Toby Kebbell, doing his best with the material on hand),  to do the necessary and save mankind. Or whatever. Who cares? Because it’s complete garbage.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Greek mythology itself is a wonderful melting pot of fabulous tales, unforgettable heroes, powerful gods and terrifying monsters. As a potential source of movie magic, ancient Greece is surely ripe for the picking. Unfortunately, Clash of the Titans chooses big action and and eye-popping special effects over the art of clever story-telling, intriguing characterisation and believable dialogue. It’s a bit like a beautiful mannequin – pleasing to the eye sure, but ultimately, everyone’s disappointed. Take my advice, don’t bother.

Reviewer: CurlyShirley

In nutshell: Battle Royale. Without the blood.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Joining the growing racks of dystopian films comes The Hunger Games, an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ excellent novel of the same name. Set in the totalitarian future nation of Panem, The Hunger Games are, well, just that, games. And not ones your mum would let you play either…

The premise is this. Panem’s powerless 12 districts are ruled by the wealthy Capitol, a place where the lucky and the fashionable live charmed lives. So long as they abide by the rules. Under Capitol law, and to forever punish the people of the districts for an historic and failed rebellion, each year a boy and a girl from each district are chosen to take part in the televised Hunger Games, a fight to the death.

The film’s heroine du jour is 16-year-old Katniss (the excellent Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers to take the place of her little sister in the games and finds herself pitted against allies she may ultimately have to kill, as well as enemies stronger, although not always smarter, than she is.

It’s an interesting, if not unique, premise. The same goes for many of The Hunger Games other ideas in fact. From 1984 to The Truman Show to The Fifth Element to Battle Royale, there is nothing new here. Of course, that’s not to say The Hunger Games isn’t entertaining in its own right, because it is – after all everything from rom-coms to crime thrillers are often a reworking of the same old, winning formula.

The Hunger Games stays close to its source material – not always an easy job with no voiceover to provide the clarity of the novel’s first person narration. On screen, information is revealed in gentle touchs, a nightmare, a fragmented memory, a TV insert, which explains just enough to keep you up-to-date.

It also looks good. The Capitol’s wealth is suitably dazzling and the fashion, snigger inducing (of particular note is lead Gamekeeper Seneca’s beard), while the down-at-heel districts are pitiful in their earthy poverty, their silent heartbreak. The general lack of CGI is also refreshing, making this world and its people seem all too possible.

On the downside, it is difficult to get into peoples’ heads – the tributes and their loved ones seem strangely subdued when their names are called, there is little discussion of the class system, little portrayal of how the tributes feel as they prepare to kill and be killed, in the name of entertainment. In fact, the other tributes barely get any screen time, presented merely as puppets to be killed off, with the result that their deaths lack impact. This may have helped garner that all important 12A rating but it’s when The Hunger Games is at its darkest, that it’s at its best – the Cornucopia “bloodbath”, a plate of berries, a young girl shaking as the seconds count down.

The Hunger Games has been compared to Battle Royale and, it is easy to see why, with both movies pitting teenagers against one another. There is one major difference. For while The Hunger Games is a good film, well acted and certainly well worth seeing, it is forgettable. Battle Royale is not.

Reviewer: CurlyShirley

In a nutshell: East London meets Wild West

Popcorn rating: 4/5

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And you’ll certainly be left with that lasting impression after watching Wild Bill.

British actor Dexter Fletcher’s first stint in the director’s chair sees Charlie Creed-Miles play the aforenamed anti-hero. Bill Hayward is out on patrol after eight years in prison for a list of convictions as long as a shopping list.

Bill comes home to find the same hoodlums running the estate and his sons Dean, 15, and Jimmy, 11, fending for themselves after their mum ran off to Spain. At first his natural instincts kick in and Bill wants to make a similar escape to Scotland, but surprising his sons and even himself, he soon finds himself well equipped to be a dad and even commits to a low paid job over the perks of crime. However, it isn’t long before his old gang and Social Services at his neck and chaos commences…

Sure, Bill wants to change, or at least escape from his old life, but there are insurmountable obstacles in between him and that fresh start. Fear not though; this is no misery saga. Fletcher weaves his magic with storytelling, somehow managing to merge comedy with a gritty drama that evolves throughout its runtime.

Although Wild Bill is set in troubled neighbourhood in east London some tense scenes are deliberately filmed in a Western style adding to the story’s unique charm. Also look out for an extended cameo by Andy Serkis, who is currently busy working on The Hobbit.

Ultimately, Wild Bill reminds you that hope can be found in depths of despair and although you can’t expect the happiest of endings that leaves you feeling good.

Reviewer: David Morgan

In a nutshell: The fine art of police brutality

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Dave Brown has a god complex. The Los Angeles veteran police officer charges his patrol car towards gangs just for the joy of watching them scatter, beats suspects on a whim and walks in and out of his family’s lives.

It is unclear whether Brown (Woody Harrelson) has been corrupted by his badge or has deliberately sought out a career to give himself ultimate control. But in Rampart, an extremely intimate portrait of a man on the edge, you see his fall from grace in the midst of the 1990s crusade to root out corrupt cops in LA.

In a superb performance by Harrelson, Brown is the ‘last of the renegade cops’ who uses his knowledge of police work and the legal system to weave himself out of trouble time and again. When he is caught on camera viciously beating a suspect who crashes into his car – or ‘doing the people’s dirty work’ as he sees it – his carefully constructed world begins to crumble.

Brown soon finds himself in the centre of a huge scandal and in the crosshair of those looking for revenge. And as he goes deeper down the rabbit hole, he discovers that nothing is what it seems.

Israeli director Oren Moverman has put together an incredibly well crafted and realistic film and that is what makes it so painful and heartbreaking. Moverman pulls no punches as you see Brown gradually alienate everyone around him, even his daughters, as the witch hunt intensifies for his badge.

Rampart makes for difficult but ultimately rewarding viewing and is boosted by a top cast which includes Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi.

Reviewer: David Morgan