“Don’t worry dad I’m coming to save you… Um… actually come get me I’m stuck!”

The description of this on my digital box sounded ridiculous. It seemed to indicate that this time Liam Neeson is taken captive and now with the roles reversed, his daughter has to save him. I had images in my mind of lots of kinetic acton and fast-cuts as his daughter kung-fu’ed her way through hundreds of henchmen. I had got it all wrong of course, although… ironically this would have been preferable to what actually happens.

The families of the gangsters Neeson killed in the first film want revenge (yes it already sounds stupid). They plan to capture Mills (Neeson) while he is working in Istanbul. Unfortunately for him but good for the bad guys : his wife and daughter have just arrived there to surprise him.

We know what is going to happen from the start of the film but the story seems to take an age before it gets to the point where the criminals try to take Neeson or his family. Then after this does happen, the film suffers from bad pacing and predictability which means that equivalent moments to the first film now seem less tense and exciting than they should. The sections where Liam Neeson’s daughter does play a role in helping to rescue him are actually some of the better and more tense moments. She does so as an ordinary person and as someone who is lacking his “particular skill set” and because of this you constantly worry about her ability and safety.

Taken was a film that didn’t need a sequel, it was refreshingly paired down, tense, dramatic, action-filled and did exactly what it set out to do. This sequel attempts to do the same but with a twist. Really though it’s exactly the same film but remade in a different location.. The end of Taken 2 is left open for a sequel – where the sons of these gangsters may now want revenge too. Meaning that Taken 3 could have an even dumber story than this one. Now that would be impressive. 4/10

Wreck-It Ralph is rarely laugh out loud funny but it’s often delightful and there are lots of clever videogame references and jokes to spot.

This is probably the best computer-animated film I’ve seen since The Incredibles and it’s certainly better than the over-rated Toy Story 3 and Up.

Ralph (John C. Reilly) or to give him his full title Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in an old arcade game (think of the ape from Donkey Kong). Only he’s tired of being the bad guy,. No one in his game likes him and when the game shuts off, he sleeps alone by a tree stump in an old town dump.

What’s clever about this film is that all the characters live lives outside their games. From the outside you only see the view through the screen, but really there is a lot more to their world than that. They are even able (via the electricity wires) to enter the other games in the arcade. Handy for Ralph since he attends ‘Bad-Guys Anonymous’ meetings run by one of the ghosts from Pacman, and which is also attended by such famous villains as Bowser, Zangief, and generic zombie.

Ralph soon sets off on a quest to become a hero, because with a hero’s medal around his neck, everyone will like him? Right? His quest takes him to the latest Hero’s Duty game (a great parody of Call of Duty and all those games that feature muscular bald space marine type heroes). It’s here where we meet one of the best characters, the very intense and aggressive Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). We are told the reason for this intensity is that she has the the most tragic back-stories ever: The one day she didn’t do a perimeter check, her wedding day, her husband- to-be was killed and eaten by aliens.

Then it’s on to Sugar Rush. A cynical karting game possibly inspired by the Candy Crush franchise (I can’t say for sure since I’ve never played it but it’s fair to say most karting games are cynical cash-ins). Here Ralph meets a little girl, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) who is also a glitch. This part of the film is both it’s greatest strength and weakness. Ralph forms a tempestuous but touching friendship with her (she is also an outsider within her game on account of her being a glitch). However a large part of the story is told here and the world of Sugar Rush is very bland, not just on the account of it being a saccharine-sweet karting game but also because it’s generally a very empty place when it’s not race day.

The message behind the film is a familiar but admirable one – that it’s ok to be yourself. After a bumpy and difficult journey getting there, both Ralph and Vanellope find this out for themselves. There’s another message to be learned too, this time for video game developers: what goes on outside the games in the arcade is a lot more magical and enchanting than than the generic action that we often see happening behind their screens. So something else to think about there too. Not perfect but a very good film. 7/10

This is very unfair : Russell Crowe faces off against a gladiator and a tiger. They need a T-Rex to even things up…

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this and I felt like watching it again. It feels a bit pointless reviewing it, because who hasn’t already seen this? Even beleaguered girlfriends were dragged to the cinema to watch it at the time.

I saw it first at the cinema and the impact it made back then was huge. A truly inspiring story of a disgraced Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) – although really he was the victim of the scheming of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the new Roman Emperor. Maximus is left for dead, sees his family killed, is sold into slavery and then becomes a gladiator. As part of a gladiatorial troupe he then returns to Rome where he may or may not get his revenge.

The film hasn’t dated much, although it occasionally feels a little over earnest in places and at times rushed – but then there is a lot to fit in. There are also many scenes to enjoy which have since become iconic. To give one example : early on in Maximus’ career as a gladiator he enters the arena alone and kills all of the opposition’s gladiators quickly and efficiently, throws down his sword and turns to the subdued crowd and shouts “What’s the matter? Are you not entertained?”. They want to see killing of course but they also want to see a show.

Crowe is superb as Maximus, and in many ways this was his breakthrough performance as a Hollywood leading man. He carries weight in his words and actions, and his emotions are as often expressed by what he does not say as by what he does.

Phoenix is also very impressive as the cowardly, often childlike, yet ruthlessly scheming Commodus. He desires his sister, kills his father and craves absolute power for himself. He is a true movie villain, weak and vulnerable but clever and dangerous.

Many years after it’s release – 13 years now – this is still a great film. At the time it felt almost like a spiritual sequel to the similarly iconic Sparticus. It has the classic moments, the epic sweep, huge action scenes, and the weight to rival that film. If you haven’t seen it for a while you should definitely watch it again. 8/10

Total Recall (2012) is not stepping on the toes of a classic because the original wasn’t a classic..

This is a remake of the original Arnie film from 1990. A film I have watched 3 times, not because I liked it but at the time it was one of the few Arnie films I didn’t like and I felt I should. This is also a similar reason to why I have seen Bladerunner 6 times, but anyway I’m getting off track..

Here Colin Farrell steps into the shoes of Douglas Quaid. However despite sharing a name with Schwarzenegger’s original character, you will soon find quite a few differences to the story. He still has a ‘perfect’ wife though – here it’s Kate Beckinsale – and he has a meaningless life. He is plagued by dreams where he feels he has a purpose and is doing something worthwhile, fighting someone or something, and there’s a women in his dreams (Jessica Biel) who he has feelings for.. but the dreams are never quite solid enough to grasp onto or discern a meaning from. He eventually finds himself going to ‘Recall’ a private company that promises to let people live out their dreams in their mind just as if they were real.

This film is clever and plays with your expectations constantly. If you have seen the original you will be surprised that things don’t always happen how you expect. I should say that the lady with 3 breasts is present though, and is considerably more beautiful that the original – in fact this time round you may actually wish for that extra hand. (sexist joke alert!)

In fact you’ll often think you’re smart and that you’re ahead of what’s going on – but the director is always one step ahead of you – Is this real? or is Quaid still unconscious at Recall? and events will make you vacillate between the two with such a frequency that you’ll barely care by the end of the film.

Ultimately despite the cleverness there is little meaning here, and once it gets going, the movie is just one long action scene. There’s no time for meaningful relationships to build between the characters and combined with the excessive number of twists in the plot (the director plays with your expectations a little too much), you never find yourself fully engaged.

Different, but no worse or better than the original. It is entertaining but it’s shallow too. 5/10

You get the feeling that they too will be glad when All Good Things comes to an end…

A film that is best described as a dark and depressing. Or more accurately – just depressing. David Marks (Ryan Gosling) is a complicated and moody young man. When he was young, he watched his mother commit suicide and he has never trusted or liked his father. Both of these problems are carried over into his adult life. Now his father wants him to go into the family business – a profitable but unlawful property business. However David’s dream has always been to run a health food shop.

It’s a slow and murky film, which you constantly think is building up to something revelatory and for this reason you stick with it but sadly nothing that interesting ever happens. The best and brightest thing about this movie is easily Kirsten Dunst’s light presence as David’s wife Kathleen. Although even this singular ray of light is snuffed out eventually. Encouraging though at this point that the film does get a little more interesting. The pace of the story quickens as David begins to live life as a woman and he befriends his neighbour Malvern (Philip Baker Hall).

I feel like I have watched this so you don’t have to. Any subtle examination of David’s psyche and relationships achieved by the film are totally negated by just how boring, slow and depressing it all is. Avoid and if you saw this it at the cinema then I pity you.

Dull and turgid. 3/10

While under interrogation, ‘The Suspect’ (Mekhi Phifer) seems overly concerned that the police camera stays on at all times. But why?

A black man walks into a bank, pulls a gun on the cashier and demands $3 million in cash. Half-an-hour later, a man matching his description is picked up by the local police walking towards the town. Not only does he look suspicious but he is covered in dirt as if he has just been digging. Is it the same man? It’s worth noting here that this is a small mid-western town with a African-American population of zero. The police take him into custody, but soon it becomes clear that there is much more going on here than just a robbery. In fact no-one is who they initially apppear to be, not the chief-suspect or the apparently racist police…

This is an interesting set-up and could have made an intriguing film if events had been handled well and with subtlety. Sadly however, this has TV-movie written all over it – the acting isn’t quite true to life and the core concept (which I won’t spoil for you by going into detail) becomes more and more preposterous as the story unfolds. Even worse the director assumes you’re an idiot and when there are twists in the plot he insists on showing you flashback sequences detailing exactly what happened. This removes any mystery from the proceedings and robs your brain of the chance to build up it’s own picture of events (usually a powerful way of involving the viewer).

Positives : there are some, The movie keeps you guessing and the central character, Mekhi Phifer who plays ‘The Suspect’ certainly has charisma and screen presence, but it’s wasted here. To sum up an idea that initally shows promise but is handled badly 4/10

“It’s Spock Jim, but a lot older than we know him”, Kirk (Chris Pine), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) all wonder why Leonard Nemoy is in this film.

I haven’t seen the the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film but here I am jumping in with the sequel. Initial impressions were much better than I was expecting though. Especially with regards to the new, or should I say younger versions of the now geriatric Enterprise crew. Zachary Quinto is superb as Spock and manages to capture perfectly the internal conflict between his calculating, logical nature and his need to understand the more emotional and impulsive actions of his colleagues. Chris Pine makes a good young enthusiastic Kirk, although on the negative side he does look a little too pretty (what’s with his alien-like blue eyes?) and fragile at times. I do like Simon Pegg normally but here his Scotty wasn’t working for me. (Why not actually use a Scottish actor?). Everyone else though is pretty good. I have to ask though, What the hell is Leonard Nemoy’s future Spock doing here?? It just seems like an excuse for a cameo, all it does is to reduce tension even further (we already know Kirk, Spock et al aren’t going to die because..  well – we’ve seen them in the original Star Trek. We don’t need a future version of Spock giving the younger version advice and  making things even safer for them). It just seems like a weak attempt to get some of the more staunch, traditional members of the fanbase onside. Get rid of him.

The bad guy in this film is Khan (who you will remember from Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan), a super verison of a human ably played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He wants revenge on Star Fleet for taking his crew – and he gets it – gunning down a room of high ranking Star Fleet generals. Kirk, hot-headed as he is jumps on the Enterprise (not entirely his ship at this point) and heads after Khan looking for revenge. But is he in too deep? It turns out that Khan is much more dangerous an enemy than he or his crew realise…

What Abrams does well is to inject some much needed excitement and action into the typically more staid, cold and clinical Star Trek universe. You always want to see what happens next, and tension is expertly built. However I would argue that there’s a little bit too much dumb action and not enough of the intelligence and cleverness of the original Star Trek to counter-balance it. At the end of the film you feel you have been entertained by but nothing more. A little more depth wouldn’t go amiss.
I have to say though, it was great to see Spock using his Vulcan Death Grip again. It brought back memories of when my father used to try it on my brother and me – thankfully I lived to tell the tale. As for my for my brother, well…

Abrams certainly gets that Star Trek needs excitement. This is a good, fun, entertaining action film, that’s just in need of something extra to make you think. Let’s hope he’s saving it for the next film.

6/10

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