Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) shows an unimpressed P.L.Travers (Emma Thompson) around Disney Land.

This is based on the true story of how the book of Mary Poppins came to be adapted into a live-action film by Walt Disney. I know what you’re thinking… at best this will be charming but also no doubt twee and formulaic. Surprising though, it’s actually very good.

It’s funny watching Mary Poppins’ author – prim and proper Pamela J. Travers (Emma Thompson) – frequently admonish well-meaning Americans for daring to call her by her first name, and repel all approaches towards her that border on anything more friendly than ‘distant’. When one of the song-writers she is working with at Disney mentions “The Great” Dick Van Dyke (you’ll remember he played the ‘cockney’ chimney sweep in Mary Poppins)  Her response is “Olivier is great, Guinness is great, Dick Van Dyke is NOT!”. You also get to watch as those famously catchy songs are composed : Let’s Fly a Kite, A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed The Birds etc.

Adding an extra layer of depth and emotion is well-told backstory showing Traver’s troubled childhood in Australia with her much-loved but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). Travers’ character of Mary Poppins was based on a brisk and well-mannered Aunt who came to the family’s rescue when her father was seriously ill. In real life things didn’t work out very well so she made sure they did in her fantasy version…

Tom Hanks makes a good Walt Disney, often smoking (Walt Disney died from lung cancer), but warm and generous and also very business savvy. He desperately needs Pamela to sign the release papers for Mary Poppins but it turns out to be a lot harder than he ever imagined.

Funny, touching, charming and only a little twee 7/10

Point 1 on the blackboard is Opposing Forces. For some reason that’s all Mr Dunne (Ryan Gosling) seems to teach, even going so far as to arm-wrestle one of his pupils.

This tells the story of crack-addict teacher Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), whose life is gradually disintegrating. His job is the one thing that keeps him on an even-keel, but it’s looking increasingly like he may lose that soon. One of his pupils, 13-year-old Trey (Shareeka Epps) finds out about his crack addiction and becomes curious about him and they form a kind of friendship. Trey’s life isn’t easy either – her brother is in jail and her mother works as a police officer all day and most evenings, leaving her alone. Crack dealer (Anthony Mackie) is the only person looking out for her, which isn’t exactly ideal…

I haven’t got a lot to say about this really. The film is a life and relationship study that’s not overly dramatic. There’s lots of lingering shots of Dunne looking rough and holding his head in his hands. Similarly there’s lots of shots of Trey riding her bike by herself observing what’s going on around her. Describing it like this, it doesn’t sound great but it works well and the story rings true and is absorbing.

A good film, impressively filmed and well acted. The subject matter is a bit depressing. You wouldn’t say it’s exactly enjoyable but it is interesting and gritty and has no problem depicting people as they really are – flawed.

7/10

Salt in Russian-spy persona. Working for the CIA she’s blonde and more fragile looking. All part of her plan?

Salt or to give her her full name – Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA agent/spy with a distinguished service record – including a year spent being tortured in a North Korean jail after being caught spying for the US. Back home in the States many months later it’s a normal day in the office and she’s looking forward to going home early for a romantic meal with her husband. It’s at this point however that a defecting Russian spy walks into the CIA building, gives himself up and claims that there is a sleeper Russian spy working within the CIA who will soon assassinate the visiting Russian President. The name of the spy – Evelyn Salt. Is she being framed as seems most likely? or is she really a Russian spy? and why assassinate the Russian president?

Lots of questions then and it’s a hard film to talk about without giving the answers away, but I will do my best. Although the director tries hard to make it seem otherwise – it’s actually always clear which side Salt is *really* on. The director doesn’t really have the guts to properly deceive the viewer which is a shame – so he does it in a lame half-hearted way. However even so there is still some doubt as to Salt’s exact role and motivations which does keeps you interested.

Perhaps more worrying for Salt’s CIA bosses than her allegiances, the Russian spy speaks of many others like her – all ready to be activated and all currently buried deep within US society and institutions. In a way this film has more resonance now than it did on release – back then it seemed that Russia was integrating nicely into the world. However it’s still a slightly dated Cold-War paranoia scenario and isn’t particularly realistic either.

This is tense film – there’s action scene piled on action scene after Salt’s apparent initial ‘outing’. One clever aspect of the film are the different ways Salt is portrayed depending on whether she is being shown as a CIA agent or Russian spy. For the CIA she looks a little fragile, and more feminine and the action scenes featuring her are closer to real life. As a (possible) Russian spy : she is closer to Jolie’s Lara Croft persona, powerful, kickass, and akin to an invulnerable super heroine. What’s interesting though is that even though Salt may be a Russian spy – you still route for her.

A ridiculous and often predictable story but it’s still fun, watchable and above all entertaining. 6/10

The question you want to ask everytime there’s a threat to humanity: “Why don’t the other Avengers just help out?” is half-answered here as Captain America (Chris Evans) teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Captain America. He has an (almost) indestructible shield but it’s not very large. So how does he cope with a group of soldiers with machine-guns spraying bullets in his direction? Not a problem –  they will handily aim directly at the target-like design on his shield (never at his exposed legs). Helpfully his assailants will often shoot bullets at his shield long enough for him to angle it and deflect the bullets back at them.

There are a few moments like that in this movie that you need to suspend your disbelief for – maybe too many. This sequel though is definitely an improvement over the OK yet rather bland 2010 original, Captain America : The First Avenger in which weakling asthmatic army recruit Chris Evans was transformed into towering musclebound super-soldier Captain America by an experimental serum. Just like his character Evans has now grown into the role. There’s less nostalgia-tinged 1950s matinee idol about Captain America this time around although he still has enough of those old-fashioned qualities to make him honourable and admirable.

The story begins well, with the concealed threat of Hydra gradually revealed. This is followed by a great set piece in which Captain America has to fend off an attack from ten Hydra agents in a cramped elevator. Forced onto the run he teams up with fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). But can she be trusted? In fact can anyone be trusted?

The subtitle of the film: ‘The Winter Soldier’ refers to a mysterious masked assassin (name) who has never failed and whose actions have shaped much of history. Soon his target becomes Captain America himself.

This is an entertaining and tense film, with Evans, Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson (as S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury) all on good form. My main issue was one of predictability. Having seen most, if not all of the previous Marvel super hero films *SPOILERS ALERT*, I instinctively knew that when Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) boasted about his three huge brand new hovering armoured fortresses – they would end up being used against S.H.I.E.L.D. I also immediately knew  when one of the main characters died – despite appearances to the contrary – that they weren’t actually dead. It was just too obvious that they wouldn’t kill off this particular character.

Overall this could have done with being more believable (within it’s universe) and also would have been better if it had diverted from the now well established Marvel-movie formula a little more. Otherwise this is a pretty good super-hero film. There’s a slightly unspectacular and unsaitsfying finale but this is redeemed by a touching ending. A solid 7/10.

Slimane’s step-daughter Rym (Hafsia Herzi) entertains the guests at the opening of his new cous cous restaurant.

In one way this film is amazing. It transports you into someone else’s life – in this case SIimane (Habib Boufares) a 60-year-old Tunisian immigrant in France. It does such a good job that you actually feel these are real people that you are around – not just actors. You’ll experience moments of drama, high emotion, boredom, voyeurism and even everyday moments where you just feel part of the family. Some of this is due to the way the film is shot – with the camera often pointing directly at people’s faces capturing every emotion and expression and in general just moving about all over the place. It might be imitating a sudden head movement to watch a new character enter the room or just focussing on the expression on the face of an onlooker – exactly as your eyes would in real life.

Slimane who has recently been laid-off from his job at the shipyard decides to open a cous cous restaurant with his ex-wife as cook (she makes damn good cous cous – you are left in little doubt about this at an earlier family meal which can only be described as food porn). However Slimane’s new lover (Hatika Karaoui) is understandably not pleased at this sleight to her cooking skills and also by his apparent lack of loyalty and this inevitably this leads to tension and arguments. But if only this was all Slimane had to worry about…

Another boon about the film is the way that Slimane – although in no doubt the central character – is left out of many scenes as the director takes what might otherwise be background characters and brings them to the foreground. Out of the films I have seen recently this is the one that most mirrors real life in that all the characters are fully rounded and not just depicted as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters. These are for the most part good kind people but they are still gossipy, sly, temperamental, disloyal or sulky depending on circumstance.

Negatives  – it’s just like real life so it’s not overly dramatic and at almost 3 hours long it does naturally drag in a couple of places. There’s also a scene at the end where Slimane keeps doing something stupid (I’m avoiding spoilers by not being specific) in a situation where a normal person would have said “f*ck it!” and given up almost immediately. This is the one place where the story isn’t realistic and it’s a blot on an otherwise very believable story.

Great acting, great camerawork and a great film 8/10

The latest government anti-smoking campaign perhaps went a bit too far…

The synopsis of this film’s plot sounds make it sound like an update of The Wicker Man, but in fact it’s not at all – beyond the basic premise: A pastor and his family move to a new town. The community initially seems welcoming and friendly but in fact they have sinister plans in store for him and his family…

Good Points :  The uneasy terror you feel when the family realise that everyone in the town is against them – you empathise, after all what can you really do to protect yourself then? I also liked that the director didn’t feel the need to explain everything, and often leaves you to make your own mind up as to what’s really happening.

Bad Points : Beyond the uneasy fear mentioned above, it’s not really frightening. There’s a ‘creature’ of sorts (I’ll avoid going into details to not spoil things) that is so slow moving that if you have half a brain, actually poses no danger at all. The acting is generally terrible. The central couple (the pastor’s daughter and her boyfriend) are so wooden they are often in more danger of being made into furniture.

With a decent cast, script and story, this could have been genuinely scary but instead the result is a below average horror film

Don’t watch. 3/10

“Woah… I’m really sorry for what I am doing to your girlfriend tomorrow.” Jasper (George Finn), Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary) study tomorrow’s photo.

Imagine if you could tell yourself yesterday what to do today after you had lived through today. Yes it’s already confusing but be prepared to have your brain turned in more knots by this time-manipulation thriller.

Three housemates discover a camera that takes pictures of the future. The twist is they are usually in the pictures so they can use this to their advantage by sending messages back to the present. As long as they remember the next day to send the messages and take the photo. At first things work out well – Jasper (George Finn) is able to make a ton of money by betting on dog races, and Finn (Matt O’Leary) an artist who previously had creative block, now sees paintings his future-self has painted and is able to copy them. However soon their future-selves start sending worrying and disturbing messages and Finn’s paintings start to look less like art and more like warnings…

This is a pretty good film, with believable acting, it’s never boring and builds tension at a good pace. It’s full of twists and turns and you’ll often think you’ll know what’s going on but you won’t.

There are negative points: some of the time-logic seems a bit flawed at times and can be confusing unless you give yourself time to think. There are a few MacGuffins in there too that enable the plot to work – e.g. the camera is bolted to the ground and only ever points at the housemates’ apartment, and an early plot point means the housemates feel they have no choice but to match exactly what their future selves are doing in the photos. A device that is used to create much of the tension and conflict.

None of this really matters however because the films works so well. Even so it still all feels a bit small-time – more like it was made by a bunch of students with limited resources rather than a proper film company. It also cops out when it comes to nudity and sex whereas it has no problems going to extremes with the violence. Again conforming  to that  weird puritanical “sex is somehow worse than seeing someone’s brains bashed out” doctrine that continues to haunt a lot of American films.

An interesting and (comparably) realistic take on the time travel genre. Both dramatic and tense.  7/10

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