Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

When it was announced that Michael Bay was involved in the latest big screen adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the wailing and gnashing of teeth of a fanbase comprised of thirty year olds, who should know better, could be heard from space. But was they’re primordial rage before they picked the kids up from school justified?

Well, not really.

Let’s us be honest, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is far from perfect, but it is an extremely entertaining – whisper it – kids film. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo don’t have the gritty realism some would expect or even demand from a reboot. After all, we’re in the age of grit aren’t we? A time where even Superman is not allowed to smile. However, whilst the heroes in a half-shell certainly kick arse, they are also a bit silly; getting into childish fights with each other and being scalded by Splinter. Even when the film threatens to veer off into dark territory, it pulls a joke from its sleeve that leaves a large grin on your face and reminds you of the days when blockbusters weren’t always just about appealing to the fanboys. It’s everything you remember from Saturday mornings.

To expect a film like this to be anything more is to fall into the trap of believing that the things we loved as children should grow up with us. And whilst a number of references are made during the course of the narrative that acknowledge the original cartoon, this is not a film that’s worried about the grown-ups in the room. It’s talking to the kids and successful at doing so. Yes, the plot is simplistic and at times the dialogue merely serves to signpost who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We were more concerned about Will Arnett leering over Megan Fox, which thankfully didn’t happen too often. But really shouldn’t be seen outside of Bay’s Transformers series.

Jonathan Liebesman has directed a great piece of bubblegum cinema that is a hell of a lot of fun. It crucifixion in the press seems misjudged and hopefully, when the boy’s make it onto DVD and bluray, it’ll get the proper recognition it deserves.

Go ninja, go ninja, go.

The Lego Movie (2014)

Let’s not pretend with each other. When it was first announced that there was going to be a movie based on those multicolored building blocks, we all thought it was going to turn out to turn out to be a 90 minute advert for their back catalogue. Whilst there’s no denying that The Lego Movie is sure to shift a unit or two at Toys R Us, parents can rest easy knowing that there’s more to it than that.

Emmett Brickowzki (Chris Pratt) is the happiest man in the happiest city ever. Diligently following the instructions given out by the President of the world, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), he’s a nondescript yellow face amongst a sea of yellow faces. When happenstance leads to Emmett meeting the sage like, Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and rebellious WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), he discovers that he may be the savior of all the known Lego universes.

Along his journey, Emmett interacts with various ‘master builders’, who – and again parents, you really shouldn’t let this worry you – all happen to be popular spinoffs of the Lego brand. Anyone who has played the Lego computer games – Star Wars, Batman, etc – will know the slight irreverence they have towards their licenses. And those ideals bleed into the movie itself, with Batman (Will Arnett) writing epic goth poetry about being Batman.

Wildly funny and imaginative, the biggest surprise of The Lego Movie is how layered it is. Starting with the checklist that is the Hero’s Journey, the film goes on to take on big business and during the third act manages to upturn the whole thing; turning the conclusion into an emotional finale that makes you reevaluate everything you’ve been watching.

The Lego Movie; A film so brilliant, so – ahem – awesome, we don’t actually want a sequel for fear it will dilute the overall effect. It’s that good.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Truth and heart aplenty are to be found in this enthralling, rich portrait of Louisiana by first time director Benh Zeitlin and like Harper Lee with To Kill a Mockingbird, he uses the eyes of an eight year old girl of some character to find and share them. Set in a fictional bayou community on the Isle de Charles Doucet, called “The Bathtub” by it’s residents, in the Gulf of Mexico, Beasts follows Hushpuppy’s (Quevenzhane Wallis) attempts to understand her place in the universe, her Father’s anger and the natural world surrounding her before and after a Katrina-style storm engulfs The Bathtub.

Previous attempts to bring the horror of Katrina’s still open wound on America to the big screen have either been documentaries like Spike Lee’s searing and leviathan When the Levees Broke, or just a kind of attempt to shoehorn Katrina’s devastation into the background as a metaphor for modern America, as in In the Electric Mist or Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant. Beasts takes a brave stance, taking Katrina as an inevitability due to mankind’s detrimental effect on the earth. As Hushpuppy says in voiceover at the start; “The universe depends on everything fitting together just right, if one part busts, the whole busts…”

Into Hushpuppy’s life and dreams come visions of Aurochs, great tusked boars freed from the ever melting ice and sent to pursue her. They bristle and roar, crash through buildings, their breath steaming as they continue relentlessly toward The Bathtub and Hushpuppy. The Aurochs can be seen as an easy metaphor for the crushing power of nature, a potent reminder that life is eternally extinguished throughout this world’s brutal millennia or simply the fancies of a brave little girl, sorry not to have witnessed their visceral power.

The Bathtub’s ramshackle collection of shanty town style houses, cabins on stilts and homemade boats lends Beasts an otherworldly edge, the camera drifting and jerking around, showing nature and the modern world colliding. the children run free, street festivals are thrown weekly and everyone seems happier than the people who live in the “dry” world (New Orleans). When FEMA agents forcibly evacuate the Bathtub after the storm the residents end up in an aid centre, observing misery and suffering in a crowded, fluorescent tube lit, white building. Hushpuppy’s father takes no time in organizing a “jailbreak” and they return to their washed out, semi-destroyed homes, happier to at least have control over their own destiny.

Directed, scored and loosely scripted by Zeitlin (he admits to changing the whole dynamic of his film when Quvenzhane Wallis’ fearsome acting skills and force of personality became apparent), Beasts is that ultra rare…..beast. A film that is unlike any other and through sheer force of will (and a joyous score) imprints itself in your memory, simultaneously showcasing mankind’s tenderness and will to survive and the incredible toll our planet is taking to keep us here.

In the end we have watched Hushpuppy come to terms with the more complex cycles of life and we leave her there, walking into the future with her head held high, her extended family around her and a steely glint in her eyes. The film seems to ask why can’t America do the same?

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Are people born evil? What causes the most horrific crimes? What are the effects on the perpetrator’s family? All these questions are, if not answered, then at least discussed in Lynne Ramsay’s (Morvern Caller) adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel. We Need To Talk About Kevin was a slow success in print form, selling over a million copies largely through word of mouth recommendations (the best kind of recommendations), Published in 2005, it’s journey to the screen has been rocky, passing through many hands before Lynne Ramsay took it and beat out a script with Rory Kinnear. Ramsay herself is no stranger to literary adaptations having spent years working on The Lovely Bones before the deal fell through and Peter Jackson arrived to pour sugar all over it.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly) meet in the way people usually meet, via alcohol, presumably fall in love, move into an apartment with ethnic masks on the wall, have a chlild (the eponymous Kevin) and move to a gigantic house in the suburbs. Throw in a big, red car and you practically have the American dream. Unfortunately, Eva finds she has no connection with Kevin and worse, Kevin may be harbouring dark thoughts of violence.

The Book is written in diary form by Kevin’s mother Eva, in adapting it Ramsay and Kinnear have decided on a sort of flashback, disjointed, episodic style. Eva, in a small house all alone, remembers her courtship with her husband, Kevin’s birth, the family’s move to the suburbs from Manhatten, the birth of Kevin’s younger sister and the events leading up to Kevin’s “incident”. This style allows Ramsay to maintain one crucial factor from the book. Eva’s perspective. Every scene contains Eva, every moment skewed through her brain. Her viewpoint is constantly emotionally compromised leaving her a shaky protagonist at best, a mother justifying her sons indiscretions by any means necessary at worst. Her perspective on Kevin is not a pretty one, viewing him as an intruder from day one, Eva struggle with nearly every aspect of motherhood. The scene where workmen drown out Kevin’s screams whilst Eva breathes a sigh of relief is horrifying and understandable all at the same time.

Pallid, cat-like and androgynous, Ezra Miller’s Kevin is a sneering, calculating, teenage nightmare, locking horns with his mother on a psychological battlefield where he seems to control the higher ground. When Kevin is caught masturbating, he doesn’t flinch, merely continues more vigorously. With jet black hair, full red lips set in milk white faces and angular, striking features Eva and Kevin are near physical reflections of each other. Ramsay spends lots of time on shots of the two opposite each other, staring into each other’s eyes as if looking into a mirror (but not – thanks Face Off). Eva spends her time desperately trying to connect with a son who seems to be wilfully attempting to wound her with his friendly attitude to his father or doing exactly the things Kevin does right back at him. Has Kevin been “born bad” or has his environment and his mother shaped him? Kevin seems like a malevolent force straight out of the womb, only sharing two sympathetic scenes with Eva, one of those far, far too late. Stuck in the middle is Franklin. Blind to Kevin’s inner demons, he often sides with him against Eva. Played with typical straightforwardness by Reilly, Franklin is not showy role, only a necessary one, aiding and abetting Kevin until the end.

Playing like a horror, shot like an art house feature and with a story straight out of the worst realities We Need To Talk About Kevin is a thriller that dissects family values and explores unconditional love. A benchmark film that commemorates crimes seemingly exclusive to the late nineties and early years of this century. An intelligent adaptation of a fiercely written novel that holds it’s cards close to it’s chest, incrementally revealing it’s plot, it’s surprises and nuances for maximum effect until a bittersweet ending brings the full truth of Kevin’s behaviour crashing home, leaving Eva (and by extension us) none the wiser for an explanation.

The Muppets (2011)

There was always a danger The Muppets was going to shatter our childhoods. Lord knows Frank Oz tried to sour everyone’s grapes before it was even released; constantly claiming to anyone that would listen that the film wasn’t within the spirit of Jim Henson’s vision. He cited the numerous film parody trailers that appeared on the Muppet YouTube account in the run up to the film’s release and Fozzie’s fart shoes. Whether Jim would agree is hard to say, what with his unfortunate passing back in 1990. However, EBFS fails to see how he could disapprove of Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller’s love letter to his most famous creations.

The story-line isn’t close to being complicated, but everyone on board knows it. So much so, the fourth wall is broken constantly as Muppets and humans alike openly discuss plot developments, and instigate montages when things appear to be taking too long. In between the meta-references, there are gags that everyone will get without mum and dad having to explain/ignore a penis reference (Shrek I’m looking at you). And yes, Oz, Fozzie’s fart shoes feel like a natural extension of the bad joke bear, so deal with it.

Like previous Muppet movies, the celebrity cameos are plentiful. Some do raise eye-brows (Sarah Silverman? Really?), but none are as bad the complete misfires of Kelly Osbourne and Quentin Tarantino in the Muppet’s Wizard of Oz. And what makes it better is that none of them overshadow Jason Segal and Amy Adams, the real stars of the flick, outside of Kermit et al obviously. Segal looks like he is in hog-heaven and EBFS is seething with jealousy. It’s bad enough he’s funny, musical and wrote a hit-comedy before he was 30, but now he’s acted alongside Gonzo the Great. Amy Adams is cute as a button and plays her part with gusto.

The songs by Bret Mckenzie are suitably catchy and cheerily ironic, without being cynical. A perfect highlight being ‘Are You a Man or a Muppet?’; a deliberately po-faced duet between Jason Segal and his muppet brother, Walter (Peter Linz).

In summary, The Muppets is as close to a perfect family film that you can get to. If you see it, and it fails to make you happy then you most certainly have lost your soul. And for that I’m truly sorry.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Whilst Australia waits patiently for the release of The Muppets, we can always fall back on Jim Henson’s back catalogue.

Unless you’re too full of tryptophan from the previous days feasting,  the plot to The Muppet Christmas Carol is well known. Ebeneezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) is visited by three spirits over the course of Christmas Eve, who help to bring back his festive joy.

As to be expected, aside from Caine, most of the main parts are played by the titular gang. So, we have Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife, The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens, Statler and Waldorf as the brothers Jacob and Robert Marley (Yeah, I know…), even Kermit’s nephew gets in on the action as Tiny Tim. The spirits are new creations, with the Henson team having resisted the temptation to have them played by others in the Muppet canon. A move that works well. It’s hard to think the resonance of Scrooge seeing his potential would have been as strong if the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had been played by original choice, Gonzo!

Despite the prefix, Muppet, in the title, this is a very straightforward telling of Dicken’s classic. It’s not in the same vein as, say, The Great Muppet Caper, where Fozzie et al would break the fourth wall and give plot points away before they happen Caine recites lines from the set text with barely a knowing glance to the camera. However, don’t think it’s all straight faces, this is the Muppets. Expect talking vegetables, ice skating penguins, and hardcore republican Sam the Eagle desperately pretending to be English.

All in all, it’s a wonderful 90 minutes and deserves to be on anybody’s list of Christmas viewing. But beware, as this is a straight-ish tale… Tiny Tim will die. If you thought you couldn’t be moved by a felt pig and frog, then think again.

Puss in Boots (2011)

The Shrek franchise is the true definition of diminishing returns. The original Shrek was a true family treat. Fart gags for the kids, knob jokes for the parents. Then the sequel came along and, whilst we learnt again that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. By the fourth one, Same Old Shrek, the wheels were firmly spinning in the dirt. Shrek gone through so many life lessons, I was amazed  the married man with three kids had got through life without being killed crossing the street or opening a door.

The pop-references overtook the plot to such an extent that it became less about what was going to happen and more about guessing which of the latest blockbusters was going to get referenced against a backdrop of Eels songs. The last one being a genuine display of drowning in  a pop-culture stew. A stew made of gristle. And poo. And possibly some dead kittens.

Thanks heavens for Puss in Boots. A film which reminds you that you don’t need to play Lady Gaga and reenact the glasses of water scene from Jurassic Park. Antonio Banderas is brilliant as the titular hero who joins forces with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakos) and sultry Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to retrieve magic beans from bandits, Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).

The film is a swift 90 minutes of genuine joy that doesn’t try to be overtly clever. If there are weak points, then it must be said that are probably one or two many action set pieces. I was too keen to move on to the next bit of dialogue. This a brilliant Christmas movie and hopefully, I mean this sincerely, it won’t lead to any sequels. None. No.

Dreamworks, don’t… Don’t cheapen the moment. Just embrace it. You’ve made a good film. Just savour it and go home. Please.

Super 8 (2011)

Can we call them SpielBrams now? The Infant Terrible who became the establishment teams up with the current golden touch to make a film that, lets face it, is ALL about Steven. Spielberg produces this slice of alien saturated Americana. JJ Abrams directs with Steven’s hand firmly up his back. Super 8 couldn’t be more Spielbergian if Jurassic Park was populated with sharks complaining about the holocaust. HaHa.

Small town America throws up a thousand images from the movies. From The Last Picture Show, past Blue Velvet, Paris Texas, American Graffiti and U-Turn, all the way up to No Country for Old Men, America outside it’s cities has been the setting place for every story imaginable. Jaws, Close Encounters and ET make Spielberg more familiar than  most with picket fences, friendly sheriffs and high school football.

We’re in Ohio, but it could be anywhere, where five friends are shooting a zombie film on super 8 during the school holidays. Out late at night without permission, they witness a (brilliantly realised) train crash. The train turns out to have been US Airforce and it was carrying something dangerous which has now escaped. Continuing with their film, the strange events that begin to plague the town eventually give way to hysteria and a showdown with something not of this world. Only the five friends and a lowly deputy Sheriff can save the day.

Written and directed by Abrams (he who remade Star Trek which EBFS universally loved) this is a homage to the films he grew up with, namely American Graffiti, The Goonies and Close Encounters, Jaws and ET. So it’s a good job Steven is looking over his shoulder to make sure he homages properly. Abrams does so well at aping his hero that it’s a genuine surprise when John Williams name isn’t in the credits. Jaws gets a nod with a sheriff protecting a small town, Indy’s falling off a cliff scene is recreated here perfectly and the alien theme takes care of ET and Close Encounters.

Fortunately, since Spielberg was so good at this kind of thing that sticking to his methods proves to be no bad thing. The story is (semi) plausible, the kids banter and bicker with an easy assurance that is a pleasure to see (It’s too late for Potter now) and everything looks perfect for it’s early eighties setting. The time period, whilst being “right” for this homage is also convenient in removing mobile phones and google and everything we take for granted that could’ve proved extremely handy in every situation here.

The set up is expertly handled, themes and characters introduced seamlessly. Inbetween the train crash and the big alien reveal is even better. Something is wrong but no-one knows what. Dog’s disappear, power flickers and there is a growing military presence on the streets. The tension here is palpable and it’s skillfully ramped up and up to breaking point. The army evacuate the town ready to raze it to the ground in their pursuit for the creature, fortunately thay miss the kids, the sheriff and the femme fatale (Elle Fanning) allowing them to wrap it up in an empty town. Once the Alien is revealed and it’s history explained the filmtakes a slight downturn towards the end but the goodwill accrued up to that point drags it over the line of a semi satisfying conclusion.

The credits contain the zombie film the kids were making (itself a homage) which is way better that Transformers 3.



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Previously on ‘Reviewing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows‘…

‘Deathly Hallows is a tome of a children’s novel.’

‘Where the Hell do you get off? You dick!’

‘Grumpy teenager of a film.’

‘The Nick Cave bit…’

‘The Boy Who Lived…’

‘This’ll be the best Christmas Walford has ever seen.’


Excuse the theatrics, but I’m just doing what Deathly Hallows Part 2 refuses to do. Give the casual viewer a catch-up on Part 1. Nope. David Yates makes sure we hit the ground running. And by running, I mean mumbling for 20 minutes in a beach side cottage, but my point stands.

My previous review gives the sensation that I’m not a Harry Potter fan. Trust me, I am. My problem with the films is that they are so uneven. I genuinely only count three as being actually any good. Part 2 is one of those. Following the threat of more walking, Part 2 really picks up the minute we get to Diagon Alley and, from that point, very rarely lets up.

There’s a sense of maturity to this film that has definitely been missing from the others. It’s hard to put my finger on what makes me think this, which is pretty useless for a film review I know. The direction is right, the mood is right and the jokes are right. It gives me that warm fuzzy feeling I get when I watch 80s movies from my childhood.

One could go on all day about how out three protagonists work so well together, but mention should be made of Alan Rickman. A ten minute series of flashbacks showing Snape’s part in Harry’s life enforces the reasons why Rickman was chosen for more than just looking like an elderly Trent Reznor.

The climatic battle at Hogwarts is bloody without being too dark; a good blend of one-liners prevent it from being too bogged down in its own emo-ness. It’s structured so that, whilst long, you don’t lose your bearings among the chaos.

So, with all the Potter love I’m spewing, you’re probably wondering if there is actually anything wrong with it. Well, yes. The attempt to throw in numerous cameos from the previous seven films does distract from the action on screen.

‘Oh no! He’s dead. I can’t believe it… Wait, is that Jim Broadbent? It is! Oh, and there’s Miriam Margoyles!’

A big special mention has to be made to the ending… I’ve mentioned my disdain for the epilogue from the book so my heart truly sank when they decided to include it in Part 2. It’s awful. It’s like watching pre-schoolers raiding mummy’s wardrobe so they can play dress up. CGI was not invented for this. Yes, it was put in there to appease the hardcore fans, but so were the multiple endings of ‘Return of the King’. That didn’t make any more fucking right.

Long story short, Part 2 finishes the series on a high and I’m sure that Warner Brothers are happy. Now, let’s remake all Chris Columbus’s contributions and we may be onto something…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)

Deathly Hallows is a tome of a children’s novel. Lots of walking, camping and exposition coming out of the wazoo. It’s also supremely dull for the first third and has one of the worse epilogues known to humanity.

In fact, no. The worst epilogue ever belongs to Stephen King’s Dark Tower serial.

No, Stephen, just because you warn us that the last chapter is not very good doesn’t make it okay. Seriously, it took you 20 years to write that… THAT! Where the hell do you get off? You dick.

I’m drifting…

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that with a book so weighty, how do you turn it into a summer friendly film? Well, you could go Peter Jackson’s route and trim off some of the Tom Bombadil sized fat and give us a 2 hours plus popcorn fest. However, if you’re Warner Brothers, what you actually do is split the book into two and release them over the course of six months, therefore financially raping the very fans they should be appeasing.

Does it work? Well, on the basis of Part 1, no it fucking doesn’t.

Part 1’s problem is that it’s the grumpy teenager of the film series. It really wants to be seen as a grown up. It walks around in dark clothes and tuts at obvious humour. It pouts, emotes and shuffles along at a snail pace. It thinks its amazing because it swears and finds symbolism in Nick Cave lyrics that others ‘wouldn’t understand’.

Ah, yes. The Nick Cave bit. With Ron having left the trio, Hermione and Harry sit in silence working out their next move. From Hermione’s radio we hear the beginning chords of the Bad Seeds’s fantastic ballad ‘O Children’. Harry stands up and, taking her hand, dances with Hermione in a scene whose underlying message is that one can find joy in the darkest moments. THAT is what it’s supposed to be.

THIS is how it came out:

What is that look on Harry’s face? The Boy Who Lived… reduced to looking like someone dancing whilst trying to hide a massive erection.

So, yeah. There is a lot wrong with this film. Direction be damned. For whilst it is impressive, its dragged down by incompetent acting and sheer bloody morbidness. Obviously, the old WB want to save the best till last and Part 2 is destined to bring us the final fight at Hogwarts, but having to wait close to three hours and six months to get there seems to be pushing it…

Time will tell.