Archive for August, 2011

In a nutshell: Insipid sub-Twilight fantasy

Popcorn rating: 0/5

Little Red Riding Hood: it’s a creepy old fairytale, isn’t it? And I’m a sucker for a good old lycanthropy-as-a-metaphor-for-coming-of-age story, two of my favourites being Neil Jordan’s dreamlike Company of Wolves and the low-budget Canadian shocker Ginger Snaps, so I thought I’d give Red Riding Hood a go.

Unfortunately, Red Riding Hood, directed by Twilight’s Catherine Hardwicke, has about as much depth as, well, Twilight.

Red Riding Hood is set in a mediaeval European village in which everyone is spotlessly clean with porcelain-white teeth, speaks in a nasal Californian twang and is coiffed and made-up as if for an American Apparel advert. The cliché-ridden dialogue is a monstrous offence to the ears and probably the scariest thing in the film.

This theme-park MediaevalWorld™ is pestered by a werewolf – which occasionally sprints in and kills someone, but this being a film rated 12, it does so in an inexplicably tidy, gore-free fashion. So far, so yawn-inducing.

Then priest Gary Oldman turns up from nowhere, overacts in a silly accent and tells the villagers that the werewolf must be one of them. Everyone gangs up on the village idiot for no obvious reason, and then it’s left to the too-perfect-to-be-true Mary-Sue of a heroine, Valerie (yes, Valerie – that really is her name. Her friend’s called Roxanne. Like, totally mediaeval, right?) to save the day.

The rest of the plot is a pile of guff not worthy of relating, but suffice it to say that the message overall is that the most important thing in life is to have a brooding, sexy boyfriend, even if he’s a potentially dangerous killer and you have to leave your home and your family to hang around for him until he works through his issues. Oh, and there’s also a thinly-veiled true-love-waits metaphor about learning to control the beast within.

Red Riding Hood is badly acted, badly directed and badly written. It’s not fun, it’s not creepy, it’s not romantic, it’s not dark, it’s not anything except appalling on every level. The special effects are rotten, most of the sets wouldn’t be out of place in panto, and the whole package spreads a horrible misconception that dropping everything for a ‘misunderstood’ brooding pretty boy means you’re twuly in wuv. One day, perhaps we’ll stop peddling this poisonous drivel to teenage girls and give them something positive to watch. In the meantime, strike this DVD off your daughter’s LoveFilm list.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: Snoring your way through the Wild Wild West.

Popcorn rating: 2/5

Someone somewhere had an idea. ‘You know what’s great?’ perhaps they thought. ‘Cowboy movies. You know what else is great? Aliens. Man, how cool would it be to like, you know, put cowboys and aliens together in a movie and then, like maybe, throw in Indiana Jones and Bond and that guy outta Apocalypto and that sexy bird from Tron Legacy cos she looks kinda sexy, like a sexy alien cowgirl. Wow, yeah and everyone aged from 10 to 90 would just love it. High five.’

For some reason I thought it sounded like a good idea too. I was looking forward to the Jon Favreau directed Cowboys and Aliens like a five-year-old looks forward to Christmas. See, I love Westerns. Real Westerns, like the Shakespearean filth of Deadwood or the raw elegaic beauty of True Grit. I like aliens too. Hell, District 9 is one of my all time favourite movies.

Cowboys and Aliens, however, is none of the above. In fact, when I was leaving the cinema, I heard someone describe Cowboys and Aliens as “good, honest fun” and I can only presume they were talking about when the older lady close to the front row started choking on her popcorn.

The premise is surprisingly complex but as it is also somewhat pointless, we don’t need to go into it in detail here. Suffice it to say that the story centres round a small town somewhere in 1873 Arizona which is mysteriously attacked by people-stealing aliens. Mildly perturbed by the arrival of aliens from outer space, the townsfolk calmly band together into a posse to go hunt the “demons” and save their people, with the help of some injuns and 30 or so outlaws.

Guess who’s going to win? Go on, guess. I won’t ask you to care of course. To care would require a few ingredients, like good dialogue, some character development and a script which offers something different from the same old good V bad plot.

What Cowboys and Aliens does have is a bucketload of saccharine, one dimensional characters, a frankly ridiculous twist even for a film involving cowboys and aliens and, worst of all, a boring script.

Oh, it’s not all bad. There is the odd smattering of humour, which works well, there are a few good, scary jumps along the way too, and at least the aliens have the decency to look different from previous imaginings. That’s it though.

Don’t get me wrong. I like mindless fun as much as the next kid – Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Men in Black are all great examples of movies which mix laughs, action and storytelling successfully. Cowboys and Aliens doesn’t, and its a shame really, because it was a great idea. It really was. It just didn’t quite match up to the dream.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

Disclaimer – This may seem like a harsh review but, true to the ethos of Let Me Eat Popcorn, it is my honest opinion. I would, in the interests of fairness, like to point out that my 12-year-old nephew Malachy loved Cowboys and Aliens and even went as far as to describe it as “brilliant”. So there.

In a nutshell: Thought-provoking monkey business

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5 

Mention chimpanzees, and some bore will tell you they share 99 per cent of our DNA. So… does that mean they could learn to talk? Project Nim is a documentary about a chimp who, back in the 70s, was supposed to answer that question. Snatched with heartrending cruelty from his mother, Nim is borrowed by academic Herbert Terrace and raised by the hippy intellectual equivalent of the Brady Bunch before he’s whisked off to a mansion where ‘tutors’ in bell-bottoms attempt to teach him sign language.

Told through captivating archive footage, interviews with the humans concerned and some short dramatised sequences, Nim’s true story has all the dramatic highs and lows of fiction and a large cast of real-life heroes, villains and misguided idiots. Short, balding Terrace, who dined out on the publicity from his project for years, is particularly unappealing, although as it’s the 70s his Alan Partridge tennis shorts and limp moustache apparently make him irresistible to his nubile 18-year-old assistant.

Almost everyone interviewed professes to have loved Nim, which is actually the most frustrating thing about the film. Because for them, ‘loving’ Nim meant dressing him up like a doll, feeding him a diet of sugary junk and being inexplicably surprised when the cute infant chimp became an aggressive, testosterone-fuelled five-foot adult with the strength of six men. When Nim starts to bite chunks out of people like, you know, an actual chimpanzee, the project is abandoned and Nim is dumped at the grim primate breeding centre he came from. Oh, and the centre’s chief income comes from selling chimps for clinical trials.

Like all the best stories, Nim’s tale is never predictable – the only person who really understands him is actually a lanky stoner at the chimp farm, and the man who frees him and many other chimps from the vivisection lab is, incredibly, the doctor who runs the place. Similarly, an animal sanctuary isn’t quite what we’d hope, and when the adult Nim is reunited with his adoptive human mother – well, his reaction isn’t quite the expected one.

Project Nim is fascinating, startling and visually arresting throughout. Watch it after Rise of the Planet of the Apes for an alternate take on our complicated relationship with our closest primate cousins.

But wait! I hear you ask. What about the sign language? Does Nim really learn to talk? Well, as it turns out, nobody knows if he actually acquired language, or simply did tricks for bananas like a chimp in a PG Tips ad. But either way, when listless, lonely Nim gets a visit after many miserable years in solitary confinement from his only true human friend Bob, I don’t think it’s an accident that he signs ‘hug’ and ‘play’.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: On holiday with the lads

Popcorn rating: 3/5

The Inbetweeners was a surprise TV hit. For many, those awkward teenage years and the hierarchy of high school conjure up long lost memories of dread. But the honesty with which writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris portrayed four friends made it a success with the young and the young at heart alike.

The joy of the TV series was that all the scenarios, no matter how embarrssing, seemed somehow feasible, from the first fumbling encounters with girls to a disastrous trip to Thorpe Park.

The film takes geeky Will, besotted Simon, potty mouthed Jay and dopey Neil on the next logical step after finishing high school – a lads’ holiday.

Making the transition from the small screen to the cinema has often been tricky for British comedies. Fear not though as this is not another Kevin and Perry Go Large.

The Inbetweeners trip takes them to Malia in Crete where, inevitably, their misadventures lead them to meet four girls – as well as Simon’s love interest from the show Carli – and the plot rolls on from there.

It’s fair to say The Inbetweeners does lose something in its transition to Crete. The high school gags are long gone and many of the supporting characters are absent. Greg Davies’ brilliant portrayal as cynical teacher Mr Gilbert makes a fleeting appearance but you long for more. It’s also a lot more vulgar than the show and, although many fans will love that, you can’t help but cringe.

But in other moments, the film is on absolutely top form. Watch out for the scene when Will, Simon and Neil dance over to a group of girls in an empty bar.

Credit also goes to Beesley and Morris for deliberately sabotaging every moment of the film that was deemed overly sentimental.

Essentially the movie stays true to original series but, with a short run time, you do get the lingering sense this could have all been achieved as an extended final episode on the telly.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Apes start talking ‘bout a revolution

Popcorn rating: 4/5

We’ve all fond memories of the Charlton Heston original and maybe even a few of you male readers may have fond memories of Helena Bonham Carter’s she-ape in Tim Burton’s remake, but is a frightening prelude to our inevitable future as slaves to our simian overlords.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, who proved he’s no slouch with debut feature The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes has proved to be the Indian summer blockbuster and then some.

Starring Andy Serkis – the undisputed King Kong of performance capture – Rise… takes us into new territory for this franchise reboot. Setting the action on a firmly human-run Earth, James Franco’s boffin is frantically searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s, which – as any fan of cinema, science fiction or literature will know – is destined to bring about the end of our kind. Becoming an unwilling father to baby chimp Caesar, he is firmly pushed back to the background as we meet the most interesting and engaging performance-capture protagonist of all time.

Andy Serkis as Caesar is a revelation and with technology beginning to catch up with his acting ability – the death knell to the trade? – has made the most convincing argument for awards recognition of the performance capture medium yet. His chimpanzee displays a range of emotions that Keanu Reeves can only dream of and by the time the revolution kicks in, you’ll be betraying your species in who to cheer on.

It’s not all fancy tricks and sad-faced apes, there is great action too, Serkis’ Casear leading a tactical charge in the finale worthy of his name and visually the CGI is breath-taking. There are some sly nods to the originals – including a post-Draco Tom Felton gaining the honour of uttering that immortal line and subtle and clever hints to future instalments.

Smart, engaging and moving, a summer blockbuster with substance, this planet’s journey to simian society couldn’t have got off to a better start.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover

In a nutshell: A cliche, a classic, a travesty

Popcorn rating: 4/5

In the great tradition of police dramas, The Chicago Code starts with a car chase. Cameras pan across the iconic city as maverick detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) pursues the criminal Louis. The chase culminates with a gun being pointed in Wysocki’s face but ends peacefully when the detective offers Louis the chance to see his pregnant girlfriend one last time before his arrest. It is the kind of scene that, although cliched, instantly grips you.

Wysocki, a Polish American, is temperamental but brilliant at his job and the sort of ‘super cop’ that every police drama needs. Then again, what else would you expect from creator Shawn Ryan?

Ryan was the man behind The Shield, another cop show but from the perspective of a corrupt strike team in Los Angeles. The Shield also blessed us with one of TV’s most infamous anti heroes in Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis).

With The Chicago Code, Ryan gives the cop formula a lick of paint to make it more slick and high octane for the Fox network. It also takes a cue from The Wire by offering a glance at a cross section of the city and all those affected by crime and police work, from street level to the polished offices at city hall.

The core plot takes you to the top of the police and political food chains. Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), the city’s first female police superintendent, is determined to build a case against the charming but crooked Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo).

Viewers are also given an insight into the underworld with police officer Chris Collier (Billy Lush)working diligently undercover to substantiate the Irish mob’s connections to Gibbons.

Each character’s backstory is revealed through brief flashbacks and Scorsese-style voiceovers which gives the show a cinematic quality.

There’s many more characters that deserve a mention like Caleb Evers, Wysocki’s partner who is hungry to learn and the only detective seemingly able to tolerate Wysocki’s mood and whims. But it’s impossible to do the full cast justice as this is such a well crafted programme.

The fact that Fox cancelled The Chicago Code after just one series is still causing shockwaves among the angry fanbase. A Facebook group is out to save it but really there is little hope. Of course, Fox has to consider its bottom line but the corporation has proved time and again it does not look at the bigger picture.

Firefly was cancelled by Fox after just 14 episodes but creator Joss Whedon convinced Universal Pictures to bankroll the film sequel Serenity. Neither The Chicago Code nor Firefly received the instant mega ratings that Fox is looking for. But maybe their execs should consider the quality of production values and plot which offer the potential for growth with extended exposure.

Fox obviously don’t see the value of an intensely loyal fanbase either. It is sad that the joy of a great show has to end in the crushing disappointment of its premature demise but there we have it.

This writer will have to take some refuge in the fact that Ryan’s mate Kurt Sutter, the executive producer and one of the key writer’s of The Shield is doing a little better. Sutter’s excellent Sons of Anarchy, about a motorbike gang in California, has been cleared for a fourth series. Looks like TV’s criminals are winning in the cops and robbers stakes.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Star spangled hero packs a surprising punch

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Pumping a skinny teenager full of experimental muscle drugs and sending him to war dressed like the American flag. What could possibly go wrong? That’s the ludicrous plot you’re faced with in the latest Marvel Comics film – but somehow it works.

Captain America is rivaled only by Batman as one of the most enduring comic book heroes of our time.  Created in 1941, just two years after the Dark Knight, he was an icon of western values during the Second World War. – a hero to inspire American troops. But today, in a world where exaggerated patriotism is frowned upon, credit goes to director Joe Johnston for making him fit for the 21st century.

Keeping the story faithful to its origins, the film is set in the midst of wartime, with the 1940s lavishly recreated in a retro comic style. Amidst this technicolour war-tinged glory is fiesty Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), an American youth with the heart of a lion and the body of an underfed rabbit. All Steve wants to do is fight for his country but he fails to get into the army due to his medical conditions and stature.

Fortunately, his determination does not go unnoticed and he is picked as the guinea pig in a experimental supersolidier project. Just like magic, Rogers is transformed into the star spangled, muscled superhero who thinks nothing of walking into the warzone dressed like a target in red, white and blue with his iconic shield.  It’s camp, it’s cheesy but that’s somehow what makes it work.

On the other side of the good and evil plot we have the always magnificent, Hugo Weaving, this time being purposely overblown (and loving every minute) as the dastardly villain ‘Red Skull’. Let battle commence.

It’s hard not to be cynical about the latest raft of Marvel films when you remember they’re all part of the background build up for the grand finale – an Avengers film which will see all the superheroes (Cap, Thor, Ironman etc) teaming up. Don’t let that put you off. It may be a slice of a much bigger pie but Captain America still offers plenty of bang for your all-American buck.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan