Film Review: Ted 2

I really dug the first Ted movie (review here), liking the combination of the Disney premise, cute title character and the foul mouthed, crude and edgy humour that’s Seth MacFarlane’s trademark. I also liked that under the swearing and close-to-the-bone gags, it was quite a sweet flick about friendship and growing up, with John (Mark Wahlberg) having to take some responsibility and move forward in order to develop his relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis).
So, I was looking forward to checking out the sequel with MWG and some mates this week.

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Unfortunately for me, early on John and Lori’s relationship is shown to have died off screen. This seems a bit rushed and poor considering the first relied on you buying into the relationship and because Wahlberg and Kunis had good chemistry.
While John is now divorced Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is tying the knot with Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). But a year in and their marriage is struggling, Ted follows the questionable advice that a baby will save their relationship.
The problem, as a Toy bear come alive is that he can’t actually have kids. So they decide on a sperm donor, first choosing Flash Gordon star Sam J. Jones before going for NFL player Tom Brady, both attempts go awry as does a disastrous attempt by John to visit a sperm bank.
Going for adoption poses problems, as Ted is not technically a “person” in the eyes of the law and the his life unravels quickly. With John in support they decide to fight it and enlist the services of Samantha “Sam” Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to challenge the ruling.
When this fails the three decide to go to New York to meet a famous civil rights lawyer (Morgan Freeman) who’s interested in their case. Unbeknownst to them Ted’s obsessive fan Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) wants to use Ted’s new status to steal him and find out while he’s magic and try to make more Teds.
Can they evade Donny? Will the famous lawyer take their case? If he does can he win it? And is Sam the answer to John’s prolonged dry spell since his divorce?
First of all, this is the kind of movie where it all hinges on how you felt about the original. If Ted made you laugh, then you’ll most likely enjoy this, but it won’t win over folks who weren’t fussed on the first outing.
The humour is still a mix of the profane, stupid and shocking, with a few jokes that prompt shocked gasps before the laugh arrives. For me, it worked and I laughed pretty consistently throughout, even if some stuff doesn’t quite work (a running gag about Patrick Warburton’s angry, violent gay friend didn’t work at all for me).
Most of the jokes hit the mark however and the plot is simple but handled well. The strongest asset is the chemistry between John and Ted, their friendship feels natural and relaxed, and Wahlberg impresses again with his comedic chops.

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Seth MacFarlane’s voice work is on point and Ted continues to be an oddly likable character, and the contrast between his cuddly appearance and what comes out of his mouth continues to amuse.
The rest of the cast do their jobs well, and their are plenty of cameos along the way.
Replacing Mila Kunis as the female lead Amanda Seyfried is sweet and funny as their pop culture illiterate lawyer. Her interplay with the others works, but her character is a bit underwritten and the relationship with John is rushed. It also doesn’t feel as real or involving as the relationship in the first, and the casual away this is cast aside in the movie is a real sore spot for me.
But this aside it’s still a very successful comedy that had me chuckling throughout and has some genuinely shocking lines in. May be too rude and crude for some, but it worked for me.
Verdict: Not as good as the first, with a less involving plot, but MacFarlane, Wahlberg and Seyfried all do well. Not for all tastes but for those who like their comedy a bit more risqué this won’t disappoint. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what go do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Jurassic World

Despite it scaring the pants off me as a small child, the original Jurassic Park has become a personal favourite of mine, but I was left disappointed by the sequels, how would a fourth installment measure up? Excited and hopeful  after some cool trailers, MWG and I headed off to see it the first chance we got.

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Set over 20 years later the dinosaur theme park has been restarted and thrives on its island location. It’s all run by tense control freak Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who takes a rather cold, dispassionate view of the beasts under her care.
In order to keep the park interesting and the customers coming the park needs new beasties, and having exhausted their dinosaur finds they’ve decided to create their own using dinosaur using gene splicing. CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) visits the new creature, named the Indominus Rex and has reservations, because he’s clearly the only person to have seen a sci-fi movie ever.
He tells Claire to consult Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the velociraptor trainer who’s not happy with the fact shady military tech suit Hoskins (Vincent D’Onforio) is sniffing around his raptors, keen to use them as living drones.
Grady is not impressed with the gene splicing, or the way the Indominus has been raised in solitary confinement, and wants to know what, along with a T-Rex it’s been mixed with. This is classified.
The Indominus or I-Rex turns out to be smart and able to hide from thermal scans and busts loose, ditches its tracker and rampages across the island killing its way through anything it meets as, to quote Grady “it works out its place on the food chain”.
To make matters worse, Claire’s nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins respectively) are on the island and have wandered into the woods. While they try and stop the I-Rex, keep the customers safe she and Grady head off to track down the missing kids.

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Lost in the woods

Can they find and keep the kids safe? Can the I-Rex be stopped? What’s Hoskins planning? And why does nobody ask why the scientists would be this bloody stupid?
Here’s the thing, this is a solid, extremely entertaining blockbuster which ticks a lot of boxes. Sure, it can’t match the original but it leaves the other sequels in the dust.
The premise requires a leap of faith- it’s asking a lot for the audience to believe that despite the initial disaster that the park would reopen and go ahead, and even more of a stretch that the scientists would decide to breed a giant, intelligent dinosaur who can camouflage itself and hide from thermal scans. Seriously, a lot of films gave scientists making daft decisions that backfire but there’s usually an upshot. Here the risk outweighs any potential reward.
That being said, if you go with it, the movie rewards you.
The script fizzes along and it gets going pretty quickly and it doesn’t feel 2 hours long. There are some decent set pieces, even if one is a pretty blatant Aliens ripoff. The dinosaurs are impressive and there are more on the roster, not just the I-Rex. The raptors, villains of the first film are here changed to being Grady’s pack, joining him on the hunt for the I-Rex, although the film should be applauded for always having tension surround these beasts.

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Grady (Pratt) and the pack on the hunt

The finale is pretty impressive with a massive dinosaur battle royale, and its truly epic and gripping.
The film’s other trump card is the cast, which is pretty solid across the board. Pratt, continuing his rise, excels as the lead, with Grady being a tough, charismatic bloke who knows his animals and has a healthy suspicion for the corporate side of things.
Early on he voices concerns and warns others, and he’s proved right. Pratt’s easy charm makes him likeable and he handles the action sequences brilliantly. He has a few quips along the way, but Grady’s a more serious, jaded character than Star-Lord and it’s good to see Pratt build on his leading man potential.
Also on fine form is Bryce Dallas Howard, who captures Claire’s icy detachment perfectly and who does a great job of slowly revealing the person beneath, and the character develops nicely. She also has good chemistry with Pratt and it’s good to see her take charge and save the day a bit herself towards the end.

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Claire takes charge

The one weakness are the kids. Simpkins as the younger brother is rather annoying, and I found myself sympathising with his older brother, stuck babysitting him. Also the character feels uneven, giving the impression that things changed over different drafts. I found it hard to care about the kids, and their plotline seemed a bit obvious and under developed.
Luckily, the action moves along and everyone else does a good job, and the script has some clever, funny touches which slyly play on conventions.
All in all, a solid blockbuster and very good fun.
Verdict: Largely well done and hugely entertaining, its the strongest instalment of the sequels. The action is gripping and the performances strong, particularly Pratt and Howard. The kids are a bit weak, but on the whole a quality blockbuster. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The first Pitch Perfect was a massively entertaining comedy which included a career making turn from Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. The story of the all female a capella group was well written, funny and featured a great ensemble cast, I’d loved it (it made #4 of my films of 2013 list) and so had MWG, so we were pretty keen to check out the sequel as part of my birthday weekend.

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The movie picks up the story of the Bellas two years later. They’re now three time national champions and there’s an end of an era vibe with many of the team including captain Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy. They’re riding high until a disastrous performance for the President. The fall out leaves them banned from defending their title, auditioning new members and stripped of their national tour, which is given to world champions Das Sound Machine (DSM).

Das Sound Machine

Das Sound Machine

They decide to go to the world championships, despite being warned that no US team has ever won and gamble on winning in order to save the club. The only new Bella they can accept is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who’s the daughter of a former Bella and an awkward, nervous freshman who writes her own songs.

Beca’s focus is divided as she struggles to make an impact at her new internship at a record label and worries she isn’t talented enough to succeed. Meanwhile, the Bella’s problems are stressing out Chloe (Brittany Snow), who has deliberately failed graduating numerous times in order to stay in the club, and their attempts to outdo DSM cause more trouble, weakening the team unity and causing them to lose confidence.

Can the Bellas find their sound again? Will they be triumphant at the world championships? Will Emily ever feel like a true Bella and enjoy her time in the club? Does Beca have what it takes to succeed in the music industry?

The Bellas in action

The Bellas in action

I did enjoy this movie, and it does have several positives, but it falls far short of the original, which I feel maintains a more consistent gag-rate. The first movie also benefited from the relationship between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), which was sweet and part of what helped Beca realize that she needed to open up and embrace the Bellas.

Luckily the filmmakers avoid the traditional sequel pitfall of throwing needless relationship drama into the mix, and Jesse is relegated to a minor, supporting and supportive character. This is quite refreshing as it allows the focus to remain on the ladies and I always find it annoying when a movie gets you to buy into a couple only to then mess with them in the sequel just for some drama.

With the ladies centre stage the major story is the Bellas and the friendship it creates. The team are breaking up as they all plan to go their separate ways after college and we also get to see it from a fresh perspective, with new character Emily arriving as things appear to be disintegrating and struggling to find her place in the group.

The movie is entertaining enough to keep it going and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, but as is to be expected with a sequel it doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original. The music is still good, full of catchy, toe-tapping versions of familiar songs and the villains, DSM, are a delight. Caricatures of ruthless German efficiency they’re not necessarily evil, just the Bellas’ rivals and it’s quite entertaining watching their ice queen leader Komissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) runs ring around the confused and intimidated Beca.

Anna Kendrick is on fine form, yet again, as the Bellas’ leader who’s still pursuing her dream of being a music producer, but who begins to struggle and worry about whether she’ll succeed. It’s an understated performance which captures the fears many people experience as they near the end of their time at university.

The rest of the Bellas do their jobs well, especially newcomer Steinfeld, who’s sweet and charming as the nervous new girl. Her budding romance with nerdy Benji (Ben Platt), is also rather adorable.

Emily with Benji

Emily with Benji

It’s also nice to have director Elizabeth Banks in front of the camera again as one half of the hilarious commentating duo, partnered with John Michael Higgins’ terribly un-PC chauvinist. This partnership gets some good laughs throughout the film as well, especially as Banks’ character Gail calls him on some of his comments.

The true star of the show is still Rebel Wilson, who delivers several of the best lines and gives the impression of having made up lots of things on the fly. Fat Amy is a fabulous creation, all sass and confidence, and one of the film’s strength is her relationship with Bumper (Adam DeVine), as the two share fantastic chemistry and bounce off each other to great effect.

Fat Amy in action

Fat Amy in action

It’s a solid movie, and it will keep you entertained but it never quite matches the original and there are a few gags that feel played out by the end. It’s predictable as well, but so is the first and so it never causes to many problems knowing how it’s going to end. Fun, but suffers in comparison with its predecessor.

Verdict: It’s great fun and Wilson is on fine form again, but it falls short of the original and lacks some of the freshness and charm. Still, it will keep you entertained and chuckling, and the music is rather well done. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

So yesterday I wrote about 22 Jump Street, which included two of MWG’s crushes, but the universe balanced itself out as we went with some friends to see this movie, which features two of mine.

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Of all The Hunger Games movies this one was always going to be the most difficult to pull off. The third book is regarded by some as the weakest of the trilogy, which I don’t really understand because I really dug it, but I think it’s definitely the bleakest part of the series, and where Collins really starts to explore the effect of the violence on the characters and blur the lines between good and bad. There’s less action, and no central games to ground the story, and some will struggle with the fact that our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) spends much of it traumatized by the events of the second installment.

Rescued from the games and discovering that this was the plan all along Katniss finds herself living under the strict regime of District 13, a vast, militaristic underground base. Feeling betrayed by her friends and isolated, while also unaware of what has happened to her partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) after he was taken by the Capital. Her only comfort is the presence of her family and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) her friend and hunting partner.

Katniss is asked by District 13’s leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) to be the face of the revolution but Katniss isn’t able to deliver the propaganda speeches well enough.

Coin (Moore) and her PR man Plutarch Heavensby (Hoffman)

Coin (Moore) and her PR man Plutarch Heavensby (Hoffman)

Former mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) argues that Katniss won the audience over by her own actions, and that it was when nobody was telling her what to do that people were affected.

Katniss is sent to view her former home, District 12 which has been bombed and agrees to shoot propaganda, accompanied by Gale, senior officer Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and a film crew headed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer), who has fled the Capital with her crew to aid the rebellion.

Katniss’ work stokes the fire of rebellion in the other districts leading them to revolt, it also prompts the Capital to use Peeta in several interviews to call for peace and for Katniss to surrender. Throughout these interviews Peeta appears to become increasingly listless and gaunt, causing Katniss to worry even more and fear that her actions will lead President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to execute him.

Can Katniss overcome her demons and become the face of the revolution that everybody wants her to be? Can the outgunned resistance hope to succeed against the superior forces of the Capital? Can Peeta be rescued from the clutches of President Snow?

I dug this movie, although it does struggle with some of the challenges it sets itself. First of all is the beginning where Katniss is reeling from the end of the Quarter Quell, I personally think Lawrence does a good job conveying Katniss’ damaged psyche and the scars she carries from the violence of the games. It’s believable that a young person forced into a vicious game of death would struggle to adjust afterwards and her grief and fear for Peeta is believable.

But for some this may be hard going as it’s quite a while until we finally start to see the fire within Katniss and she starts to show the tough spirit which made her such an engaging character in the first place. It’s good that the movie doesn’t just jump to her being a tough hero again as it shows that stress and emotional problems can hit anyone, regardless of how “tough” they seem.

Towards the end there are glimmers of that anger and passion, the steeliness which Lawrence has put into the character since the first movie and she continues to be a captivating and engaging screen presence. Lawrence manages to at once capture the battle scarred young woman and the unsure girl at once, and I found myself completely empathizing with her once more.

Tough, but damaged: Lawrence as Katniss.

Tough, but damaged: Lawrence as Katniss.

The rest of the cast are superb as well. Liam Hemsworth is still lumbered with the underwritten Gale, but he does the best he can and captures the character’s heroism while hinting that he may be becoming increasingly cold and detached. In one scene he’s shown to be thinking rationally and unemotionally while Katniss is clearly troubled.

Josh Hutcherson does well as Peeta, appearing increasingly wasted and dead eyed in his interviews, occasional flashes of fear or emotion reaching the surface before being stifled. It’s clear instantly that some unspeakable horror has been done to him off camera and in a handful of brief scenes Hutcherson does a magnificent job of conveying this.

Woody Harrelson continues to steal scenes as the charismatic, disheveled former victor Haymitch, sarky and at odds with the strict life he’s found in District 13, but still managing to capture the sense that he does genuinely care for his charges and is invested in toppling Snow.

Charismatic: Harrelson as Haymitch

Charismatic: Harrelson as Haymitch

Speaking of Snow, Donald Sutherland continues to ooze menace as the despot, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is on fine form as the PR officer Plutarch, a sheen of confidence which falters under pressure.

The PR side of the war is a theme that runs throughout, with Katniss groomed for the cameras and the rebellion’s attempts to turn her into a rallying symbol for the fight. The machinations of propaganda are shown, with both sides playing the game and often trampling emotion for effect. This is best shown in the case of Katniss’ film crew, headed up by Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, who is an icy presence and who is constantly looking for the best shot, but sometimes woefully unaware of the emotional effect it is having on those she films.

Dormer (crush 2) as Katniss' director Cressida

Dormer (crush 2) as Katniss’ director Cressida

The film works because it captures the issues of uprising, freedom and propaganda with some fantastic scenes of the rebels in other districts. It also manages to add a sense of unease around the militaristic District 13 and their cold leader Coin, played by Moore, who may be a little to understated to really capture the rebel leader’s icy, suspicious manner, which was far easier to grasp on the page.

The action sequences are short, fast and brutal, and shot with real energy, it may not be wall-to-wall thrills, but going on the books, Part 2 will definitely be more action packed.

I’ve heard some fans complaining of the focus on the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle, and I understand that it’s been covered a bit excessively, but it’s still key to the plot, and why we’re engaged with the characters. The personal relationships are why we stick around, and to act as though it’s not important is to miss the point. We want Katniss and the rebellion to succeed because we care about the character and her life, and part of that is her love life.

To be fair it’s played well, and never takes away from the larger issues but the scenes where characters talk to Katniss about Peeta, and discussing her kiss with Gale hint strongly at where her loyalties lie, although Gale shows enough heroism and their friendship is so strong that there’s still a small element of doubt.

I’m going to finish by lavishing some praise on Elizabeth Banks, who is sensational as Effie, Katniss’ former escort to the games. In the first movie she was a over made-up and gaudy wigged grotesque, almost offensively chipper in her dealings with two characters off to kill and possibly die, but over the course of the subsequent films Banks has fleshed out the character.

Sure, she’s still around for a few gags and her distaste for the dour lifestyle in 13 is amusing, but Banks makes her human and oddly endearing. She may not be the brightest spark, but she’s shown to be compassionate and to genuinely care for her former charges, and Banks should be applauded for bringing the character to life in such a brilliant way. It happens in the books as well, but the screen version hit home more for me, and a large part of that is the performance, with Effie coming across as a dim, but ultimately sweet, refugee and one of the many lives effected by the uprising. Her confidence and smiling nature seems to be a mask which she doesn’t know how to fully discard, it’s also a hint that many innocents in the Capital will struggle with the new world the rebellion wants to establish.

Elizabeth Banks on fine form as Effie

Elizabeth Banks on fine form as Effie

Banks is one of the best elements, but it’s still a strong dystopian sci-fi movie with engaging, well rounded characters and I’m still eager for Part 2.

Verdict: Things take a turn for the dark, as the film explores how violence and death effects people. It’s also a good satire of the media and the role of propaganda in war. Lawrence continues to impress and the supporting cast, particularly Elizabeth Banks, do great work. Splitting the third book in half makes sense in some ways, but it does mean that this is the least action packed of the movies and Katniss is sidelined for much of the fighting. It won’t work for everyone, but for me it continues to impress. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: 22 Jump Street

I was looking forward to watching this movie, because the first one was pretty funny and I’d missed it in the cinema. Luckily MWG was a fan too and she picked this up the other day, although I suspect a crush on one of the leads may have had something to do with it. Unlike many women who find Channing Tatum hot, MWG has a thing for Jonah Hill (one of her five) and so we checked this out the other day.

22 jump street pos

What I dug about the first movie was the fact that early on they referenced the fact that it was based on an old TV by having a character openly state that they’d run out of ideas so were just doing what they’d done in the ’80s. Here they make lots of sequel jokes, with the same character (played by Nick Offerman) stating that they were to go back undercover this time as college students and do “exactly the same thing”, only with more budget this time. This postmodern touch is done rather well and referenced throughout as the characters have better offices and the set pieces get bigger.

While the joke is a little laboured after a while the movie totally works and a lot of that is down to the two leads, Tatum and Hill, who have amazing chemistry on screen as Jenko and Schmidt respectively. Hill is a fantastic comedy performer and makes the awkward, clumsy Schmidt a likable character but once again Tatum is impressive, showing some fine comedy chops as the dumber, more gung-ho half of the partnership.

Amazing chemistry- Hill and Tatum undercover as Schmidt and Jenko

Amazing chemistry- Hill and Tatum undercover as Schmidt and Jenko

Posing as uni students to track down a new drug on the market, this time it’s Jenko who excels, finding a place at a frat and as a football player and quickly establishing a bromance with quarterback and possible suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell).

Jenko fitting in well at uni, Schmidt not quite as much

Jenko fitting in well at uni, Schmidt not quite as much

This leaves Schmidt feeling sidelined and he struggles to fit in, apart from with art student Maya (Amber Stevens) who he hooks up with. Schmidt and Jenko clash and their friendship frays. They clash over how to pursue the case and also

Can they remain friends and crack the case? Has Jenko found somewhere better than the force? And should they really just try and do everything the same as before?

I loved this movie, it’s lovably daft and tongue in cheek, and contains several big laughs. I chuckled and giggled my way through the whole thing and while it’s extremely dumb in places, it remains a solid sequel and a well crafted action comedy.

As I mentioned the leads are sensational and play off each other to great effect. Hill gets some of the best lines, and some of it feels ad-libbed, but Tatum is also shown to be a strong comic performer and his bromance with Zook is well handled, being quite fun. They also manage to make both characters believable, likable and engage the audience in their partnership, and films, even comedies always work best when the audience buys into the characters and Hill and Tatum ensure this is the case here.

The action sequences are well done and manage to keep the balance between action and comedy just right. Not too vicious to sour the laughs, but not too silly to spoil the adrenaline rush. That being said the fight between Schmidt and a female villain is comedy gold.

The supporting cast do a good job too, Nick Offerman’s cameo gets a few laughs and sets out the movie’s tongue in cheek tone. Amber Stevens, who impressed me in the show Greek is a little underused, but still works well with Hill, and Jillian Bell as Maya’s sarky, bitter roommate gets some fantastic insults in.

Peter Stormare seems to have a ball in the kind of role he seems able to do in his sleep, but the strongest supporting player is Ice Cube as Dickson, the heroes’ boss. Playing up the “angry black captain” stereotype once more Ice Cube is hilarious as the foul-mouthed captain, yelling down those in his command and barking out insults. Cube gets some of the film’s biggest laughs and reminds you of how good he can be on his day.

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

The end credits are quite fun too, continuing the postmodern, mocking tone by including clips and posters for further Jump Street installments, which sees Jenko and Schmidt take on assignments in culinary school, scuba school and several other daft assignments. It goes on a little bit too long, but is worth it just for 29 Jump Street, which sees Hill replaced by Seth Rogen (another of MWG’s five) and I would probably actually pay to watch the spoof movie.

Shut up and take my money

Shut up and take my money

Verdict; Daft and fun, it’s not quite as good as the first but Hill and Tatum continue to work well together and there are plenty of laughs along the way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Put your toys away, Pixar!

I’m not a sequel snob.

Sure, I’ve been burned a few times by terrible follow ups (The Matrix Reloaded, A Good Day to Die Hard, Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, Jaws 2) but there are tons of sequels out there that have succeeded, either by building on the original and its characters (Lethal Weapon 2, Aliens, The Last Crusade) or in some cases even surpassing the original (Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn).

And there’s a wealth of sequels I’m looking forward to immensely, mainly comic book related (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Batman vs Superman and I still cling to the hope of Barb Wire 2).

I think studios have got a bit smarter and lots of sequels are actually not just rushed out cash-ins. I mean, that still happens, where they basically try to pull off the same trick over and over, with mixed results (The Final Destination series, the Fast and Furious franchise and the Shrek sequels) but for the most part sequels are a bit smarter than the old school ones where it was just the same deal but ramped up, or without the original stars.

But it seems that Disney and Pixar are about to make a massive mistake and launch a sequel which while I doubt will hit the lows of Jaws: The Revenge is still utterly unnecessary. Yes, I’m talking about Toy Story 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Toy Story films, in fact the entire trilogy is due to join my “My Favourite Films” series on this blog, and I think that’s why I’m so against the new instalment.

tsposters

Toy Story is one of a very small number of perfect movie trilogies, and the whole thing works as a complete series. The trilogy follows the characters of Woody and Buzz (voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen respectively) as they go from being rivals to best friends, but it also develops on Woody’s relationship with his owner Andy, who he’s obsessed with holding onto at first before finally accepting that he’s grown up and has to let go and find a new place.

The end of Toy Story 3 is a massive tearjerker for lots of people. For parents it’s them witnessing Andy grow up in the way their kids have and understanding that they are in Woody’s position, still loved but no longer as necessary. For kids, it’s Woody having to say goodbye to his partner.

But for people of my age group it hits the hardest, I was 10 when the first flick came out. When the second was released I saw it on the first day it opened with my friends, and so when I finally saw 3 I was totally hooked into the characters. I got teary eyed frequently in that movie, especially the ending when Andy hands Woody and co. over to Bonnie.

toy story 3 sad

Because it was the end of an era, and it showed that I’d grown up too. That it was time to put away childish things to a certain extent and move on, like Andy was. It was the perfect ending to a series that had grown with me, a movie that provided an ending that was truly bittersweet- sure Woody was finally separated from Andy, who he loved completely, but there was hope that they’d be happy with Bonnie and they’d all stay together.

I know there have been shorts since, I’ve seen one and it’s pretty good, but they don’t count. A whole other movie is a crazy idea, because there’s simply no need for it. The talent involved is impressive and if the original stars return I’m sure it won’t be a terrible movie, but the problem is it faces a seriously difficult challenge in providing an ending as well-crafted and perfect as they pulled off last time.

Sometimes, things are just best left alone.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Expendables 3

Common Hollywood theory states that sequels are an exercise in diminishing returns, possibly due to the plethora of witless and by-the-numbers follow ups in the horror and action movie genres during the 70s and 80s (for the best example of this rewatch Jaws and then suffer through the sequels, or the Halloween series, the last one I watched featured Busta Rhymes for crying out loud, and he wasn’t even the worst part of it). But sometimes this theory is rubbish and the superhero genre in particular has thrown up several sequels which match, or even surpass, the original.

Back in the day Sylvester Stallone was the face of the “bad sequels” idea, with his two most popular characters, Rocky and Rambo, having some shaky follow ups (Rambo III is pretty dire, even if it is in a fun way, and Rocky’s II and V are weak). But in the 21st century he’s become the king of the sequels, Rocky and Rambo both returned and in some style, Rocky Balboa may be the best in the series after the original and Rambo is far superior to III.

The Expendables series would seem to be primed for disappointing sequels, of stars taking the cheques and laziness seeping in, but somehow, they’ve actually got better too. The first one was quite good fun with Stallone leading a gang of action heroes into battle for some standard action heroics, and the sequel was lots of fun too, thanks in part to a better villain in Jean Claude Van Damme and giving Schwarzenegger and Willis more to do than just chat in a church.

In a way the third might be the best of the series so far, even if the action has been toned down to 12A levels. A large part of this is down to some new faces to the franchise, some familiar and some less so.

expendables 3 pos

The movie kicks off with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his squad (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture) staging a daring rescue on an armoured prison train to rescue a mysterious figure. The man they rescue turns out to be Doc (Wesley Snipes), an old friend of Ross’ and an original member of the Expendables. Doc is a slightly unhinged dude who joins the squad on their next mission to take down an arms dealer.

The mission hits a snag however when the dealer is revealed to be Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former friend of Ross’ and Expendables teammate.

Best villain yet- Gibson takes aim as Stoneback

Best villain yet- Gibson takes aim as Stonebanks

 

During the ensuing firefight Stonebanks deliberately targets one of the team to hurt Barney, leaving them critically injured. Barney’s new CIA handler, Drummer (Harrison Ford) is unhappy with the failed mission and reflecting on his injured friend and having to face Stonebanks again, Barney fires his team.

This does not go down well, especially with right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham). The four uninjured members struggle to come to terms with being out while Barney recruits Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to build a new, younger team (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell and Ronda Rousey). Another prospective member is rejected when Bonaparte realizes it’s actually an older mercenary, Galgo (Antonio Banderas), who’s former team cut him loose and is eager to return to fighting, the one thing he can do.

The team are skilled in modern tech and fighting and Ross leads them after Stonebanks, however, the mission fails and the new recruits are captured. Stonebanks calls out Barney to come and get them, and he returns to the US to tool up, reluctantly agreeing to take on the talkative, enthusiastic Galgo. His former teammates arrive and volunteer to stand with him, and the six man crew head back to Stonebanks’ Eastern European base.

The rescue team

The rescue team

Meanwhile, Barney’s former rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to go back them up, assisted by Yin (Jet Li), a former Expendable, and Drummer volunteers to come with them.

Can they save the younger crew or are they walking into a trap? Can Barney defeat a man who knows him so well?

I bet you can figure out the answer to those questions. But while this film may be predictable it still works as a hugely entertaining action film, and is probably the most fun of the three, and this is down to some of the new characters, particularly Antonio Banderas’ crazy Spanish soldier, who talks a mile a minute and manages to make the character entertainingly flamboyant but human underneath. His backstory is one you see coming, but there’s something wonderfully sweet about the way he acts around the others and he’s a breath of fresh air among the scowling action heroes.

Breath of fresh air- Banderas

Breath of fresh air- Banderas

Another good addition to the mix is Snipes, who is a charismatic on screen presence and has wonderful chemistry with Stallone and Statham. Statham and Snipes’ characters are rivals but there’s a bantering side to it all that I felt really worked.

Statham and Snipes work well as rivals

Statham and Snipes work well as rivals

It also helps that in Gibson the series has it’s best villain yet. Gibson’s trademark barely contained lunacy works masterfully here, he’s a more cynical, jaded and extreme version of Stallone’s character, less morally conflicted and with a nasty streak. He switches between demented swagger and icy, ruthless evil to great effect and he appears to have beefed up a bit meaning that the inevitable showdown with Stallone seems like an even match.

The young guns are good even if a tad underdeveloped, although it is nice to see a female join the ranks and MMA fighter Rousey does rather well, holding her own in the middle of all the testosterone and taking part in a fantastic fight scene. The only problem is it feels as though Lutz’s character was meant to build a relationship with Barney, but its never realized properly.

The young guns

The young guns

Ford is the weakest of the new additions, never really getting in the mix and Willis is written out in harsh style (“He’s no longer a problem”). Not given much to do Ford looks out of place and even among the older heroes seems past it, it doesn’t bode well for the new Star Wars flicks (assuming he survives past VII).

But it’s not all about the new faces, the major draw is still Stallone. I’ve always found him to be a likable on screen presence and here he’s near his action hero best, and the older he gets the more badass he looks. Stallone also manages to show some acting chops, with one scene after Stonebanks takes out his man standing out for me. It’s subtle, while flying the plane the camera closes in on his eyes there’s a shift from sadness to cold, steely resolve in his face.

Stallone plays Ross just right, we see the effect his chosen career weighs on him, his heroism and his fears, pushing his team away to save them and prepared to die in order to rescue the kids he’s got mixed up in a private vendetta with Stonebanks.

The other standout among the returning members is Statham, probably the cast member who’s career is strongest at the moment. He and Stallone share easy chemistry and their bantering, bickering interplay is one of the series’ strongest assets. Statham has less to do here, but its a typically solid, charismatic performance.

Crews, Couture and Lundgren continue to be underused, which is a shame, but in a cast this big inevitable, but all three do their jobs. Jet Li by this stage is just cameoing, and when he does show up barely does any kung fu fighting.

Arnie gets more screen time in this addition and seems to relish it, he and Sly work well together as friends/rivals and with his stubble and cigar chomping Arnie looks quite badass as he blasts his way through the final battle.

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Basically everyone does what they do, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It’s great fun, especially for action fans and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The action might be rather bloodless, but it doesn’t stop the movie from being an immensely entertaining action flick, and with fresh blood added I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Expendables, especially as there’s mention of the team containing up to twenty guys at one point (who’ll turn up in part four? Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Ice T, Ice Cube, Samuel L Jackson, Chow Yun Fat? Just please, no Busta Rhymes)

Verdict: A solid and entertaining action movie which benefits from some new blood (particularly Gibson, Banderas and Snipes) but some of the cast get lost in the swelling ranks. Sly and Arnie fans will love it and there’s enough banter and gags to keep it ticking over. Best so far? Maybe. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


10 Movies I’m Most Looking Forward To At The Moment

In no real order but these are the movies I’m looking forward to most at the moment, all release dates are the UK ones listed on IMDb.com

1. Django Unchained

I might have been let’s say “underwhelmed” by his last two directorial outings, but a new Quentin Tarantino movie is always going to be cause for excitement in this geek and the signs are good. A pretty impressive cast and a trailer which makes it look like a cool, fun flick that plays with the Western genre conventions and it seems to ooze cool and QT’s patented mix of dark humour, violence and badassery.

Has QT returned to his best?

Has QT returned to his best?

Release Date: 18th Jan

2. Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark is one of the best pieces of casting in years and just as the first film started the road towards the Avengers movie the building for Avengers 2 starts here, it looks as though they’re going to go a little darker and introducing the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) a powerful villain who should present a fun new challenge. Away from the explosions and fights I’m quite interested to see how they continue to develop the relationship between Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow)

RD: 26th April

3. World War Z

An adaptation of one of my favourite books of all time and featuring one of my favourite actors, Brad Pitt, this zombie flick looks genuinely impressive and epic in scope. They’ve clearly made changes from the awesome novel, but it still looks well worth a watch.

First glimpse of the cool, swarming zombies from World War Z

First glimpse of the cool, swarming zombies from World War Z

RD: 21st June

4. Man of Steel

Superman Returns was dire, but this looks like an improvement. Be interesting to see how Zack Snyder deals with having to rein in his trademark OTT, stylized visuals and the casting of Supes’ daddies seems quite inspired- Russell Crowe as Kryptonian papa Jor-El and Kevin Costner as nice guy Jonathan Kent, the man who would shape Kal-El into the protector of truth, justice and the American way.

RD: 14th June

5. This is the End

A fantastic cast of Hollywood funnymen (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson) play versions of themselves as they try and cope with the Apocalypse, looks like it might be quite a weird and fun movie, and the cast are consistently good value for money.

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RD: 28th June

6. The Wolverine

I may have been burned by the clawed mutant’s previous solo outing but Hugh Jackman is awesome as Logan, and the idea of him fighting ninjas in Japan sounds like an awesome premise. Here’s hoping they don’t blunt his claws so much this time.

RD: 26th July

7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The follow up to one of my favourite films from last year will see Jennifer Lawrence return as Katniss Everdeen as she takes on new challenges in the dystopian Pan-Em. Keen to see where the story goes, although I’ll probably read the books first.

RD: 22nd Nov

8. Warm Bodies

Nicholas Hoult plays a zombie in an undead future who starts to regain his humanity after falling for one of the uninfected. Saw the trailer last week and it made me laugh and seems like it might be a fun, oddly sweet zom-com.

warmbodies

RD: 8th Feb

9. GI Joe: Retalliation

The Rock and Bruce Willis, ’nuff said.

RD: 27th March

10. The World’s End

Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost round off their three Cornetto’s trilogy as a group of friends stage a pub crawl as the end of the world looms. The first two flicks from the Pegg-Wright team were belters so I’ve got high hopes for this one.

theworldsend

RD: 14th Aug

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Taken 2

The follow up to the hugely successful action thriller Taken arrives, and this time its even more personal.

In 2008, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) went on a roaring rampage of revenge across Paris to get his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) back from East European human traffickers. Along the way he killed, tortured and maimed his way through a parade of scumbags. But, even scumbags have families, and now the father of one of his victims and head of the Albanian mob, Murad (Rade Serbedzija) wants revenge and the mob are after him.

In Istanbul for work, Mills is joined by Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who’s current marriage is disintegrating. Kim is trying to play matchmaker and get her parents back together and so is still at the hotel when Bryan and Lenore are ambushed. They’re taken, but before surrendering Bryan manages to call Kim and help her evade capture.

He then uses a stashed mini-phone to work out their location and help Kim come to aid them. Kim races across town and the two are reunited, but Lenore is still in the hands of the criminals.

Can Bryan get Kim to safety with the entire mob on their tail? Can he find and rescue Lenore, and if so, will they get back together? Will Kim ever leave her house, let alone the United States ever again? And just how many people does he have to kill before the Albanian mob decides that they should just leave him be?

Here’s the thing, when I heard there was going to be a sequel to Taken I was kinda stoked, the first film was a fantastic, dark and brutal action movie with Neeson bringing softly spoken gravitas to the role of Bryan, the father with a dodgy past out for justice. The scene where he talks to the kidnappers over the phone is a phenomenal and rich with menace and restrained fury.

My one problem was that I feared we’d be in complete retread mode, like with Die Hard 2: Die Harder, but it chooses instead to be a direct follow up. The idea of the same gang coming after him is a nice touch, even if you do just find yourself thinking “Are these guys stupid or something?”

Don’t get me wrong, revenge works as a motive just fine, but if you’d seen how he tore through your boys the first time wouldn’t you be a bit wary? I love my family, but if someone had been this vicious in taking them down I’d bide my time and pick my moment, like when they were in a coma.

So its a case of revenge for revenge. It could have laid out an interesting narrative about the vicious circle of revenge which leaves everyone a loser, but the film doesn’t go there it just keeps things simple- Bryan went on a rampage to get revenge for an innocent, Murad’s son was a scumbag and had it coming. Which works for me, even if, in the words of Will Munny, “we all got it coming”.

The fact that Bryan himself is taken is a nice touch, and it means that we get to see Kim making a stand and showing some real grit as his backup on the outside. But aside from that its the same basic formula of Neeson laying the smack down on some swarthy foreigners, although this time there is one henchman at least who seems to know what he’s doing which means we get a much more balanced showdown near the end.

One of the major problems though is that while the first film was a 15, and nudging at the 18 certificate mark, this is a 12A, meaning that the action sequences feel rather toned down and it seems toothless when compared to the shocking brutality of the original. The decision has clearly been made to try and get a bigger audience at the cinema, but in a way it deprives the film of the hard edged tone which was a large part of why the firs film was so successful. That being said, if I was a parent I wouldn’t take an under-12 to see this as its still got a bit of down-and-dirty grit to it.

Being a Luc Besson production its extremely well executed and Olivier Megaton (great name) ensures that the action sequences are done really well, while also allowing brief character moments to ensure we remain engaged, in a similar way as he did on Transporter 3. and it all whistles along at quite a pace, clocking in at around 90 minutes, which is the perfect length for a movie as far as I’m concerned.

Neeson remains magnificent in the lead role, the softly spoken but hard hitting Bryan is a great hero, and its nice to see him engaging with the other characters more. The scenes with his ex-wife and daughter at the start of the film hint at a kind of softness that shows through his weary, reserved exterior. Neeson looks older but in a way it adds to the character, this is someone who has been around the block a few times, seen and done some terrible things and this has coloured his view of the world, making him suspicious and apprehensive.

Softly spoken but hard hitting- Neeson as Bryan

When the action gets underway this falls away and he reverts back to his cold blooded killer ways, and Neeson looks the part. He’s an actor with genuine presence and he moves through in a predatory way, striking quickly and efficiently at his enemies.

Famke Janssen feels underused as the ex-wife/love interest but does well enough with the little she’s given, and Serbedzija does sleazy menace rather well as the mobster, while also showing the hurt of losing his son at times (it was a little off putting that I spent most of the film trying to work out where I’d seen him before, it turns out he’s Boris the Blade from Guy Richie’s Snatch).

Maggie Grace, who impressed me earlier this year in another Besson movie, Lockout, is great again here. She brings a real vulnerability to Kim, and in the opening stages we see that while she’s attempting to live the normal life of a young lady she’s still haunted by the events of the first film. When things start going awry later on there’s a flash of fear and horror that crosses her face when she realizes what’s happening, and Grace gives a sense of the stomach churning terror that the character must experience when being forced to revisit her traumatic past.

Kim (Grace) on the run.

It makes the subsequent scenes believable as Kim shows grit and resilience clearly inherited from her father, and there’s a sense that her reasons for doing this are a reluctance to be a victim again. Also, while she is more proactive there’s no ridiculous transformation to instant badass, just someone who’s willing to do their best in trying to fight back.

This was never going to be a subtle, emotional movie but I did like the way we saw her trying to move past her kidnapping and on with her life, as well as Bryan’s attempts to change and reconnect with his family. They’re brief, fleeting moments before the action kicks in but it worked for me and ensured I was engaged with the characters.

Verdict: A well made, engaging action flick even if it falls far short of its predecessor. Neeson is at the top of his game again as the quiet man of violence, and Grace is engaging and sympathetic as his haunted daughter attempting to sort her life out. Just a shame the whole film has a feeling of being neutered and sanitized with the dark, gritty and brutal edge that made the first film being smoothed out completely. Still, probably a good night in on the sofa movie. 5/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Men in Black 3

Spider-man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, Scream 3.
Second sequels, or threequels don’t have a great track record (Rocky III being the exception of course), so I was a little nervous about seeing the third in the Men In Black series, especially as I wasn’t overly fussed on the second.

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However, these fears turned out to be unfounded as it was quite an enjoyable sci fi comedy, largely due to some good work from the cast and a rather clever time travel storyline.
Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) continue their defence of the Earth, and run into an alien assassin Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who has been imprisoned for 40 years after K stopped him and caused him to lose his arm.
J’s attempts to learn more about the case are hindered and causes friction between the partners.
Boris decides to leap back in time and help his younger self succeed and kill K, causing time to change, with J the only person who can remember the other timeline.
The new MIB boss O (Emma Thompson) fills him in that K failed and J travels back to 1969 to save K and make sure history goes the way it should. He teams up with the young K (Josh Brolin) and they rush to stop Boris.
First of all, I really liked the whole time travel thing, especially the genius casting of Brolin as K.

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He looks the part and captures TLJ’s trademark deadpan toughness, while also conveying a youthful enthusiasm and energy that has been lost over the years. I can’t think of any example of casting a younger version that works as well.
The youthful K also adds something fresh to the mix, and the interplay between Smith and Brolin really works and it gives Smith a chance to play the partnership’s leader.
Smith is as likable and charming as ever, and carries the film with ease.
Tommy Lee Jones appears at both ends of the film and is still funny doing his deadpan schtick. Although TLJ does look old in some of his scenes, it kind of works and you still get the sense of him being a guy who takes no shit.
There are some fairly standard time travel gags but there are some nice touches, particularly in the retro stylings and aliens.
Also there’s a fantastic alien character who can see all possible futures which is a fascinating idea.
The villain, Boris is a really cool villain, genuinely intimidating and designed in a really cool, if gross way. There’s a genuine ick factor to the effects.

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The rest of the cast does quite well, and there’s a nice turn from Emma Thompson, who gets one of the best bits in the film, and is awesome as ever.

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I saw one of those TV tie-in shows which featured quite a bit of Nicole Scherzinger, so it was a surprise that her role in the film is extremely brief.
Yes, it riffs on some of the same jokes and TLJ and Smith retread the same stuff they did in the first films, but they do it well, and there are some nice touches, along with Brolin’s good work to make it an enjoyable movie.
Verdict: Far from groundbreaking but a step up from the second movie. Everyone does a good job and the look, as ever is great. Brolin excels playing the young K and the gags and action keep it ticking over nicely. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO