Oddball and the Penguins

Director: Stuart McDonald (2016)

Furry friends fight financial felons in this feel good family flick.

Oddball is a chaos causing canine pressed into service to protect a colony of penguins threatened by wild foxes.

If the population falls into single figures, developers are poised to turn the island sanctuary into a tourist attraction.

With its honest eccentrics, broad humour and a strongly pro conservation, anti-authority agenda, it’s a reflection of what Australians see as the best of themselves.

Cheery, cute and charming through out, not liking this film would be like kicking a puppy. Or a penguin.

 

 

 

A Bigger Splash

Director: Luca Guadagnino (2016)

Dive into the shallow end of the celebrity gene pool in this sun kissed erotic thriller.

Intelligently written and beautifully photographed, it features the normally ultra serious Ralph Fiennes on liberated form as a hyper active hedonist music producer called Harry.

He arrives unexpectedly at the Italian villa of his ex love Marianne, a recuperating rock star.

Tilda Swinton gives a rasping performance as the singer protecting her voice, a symbol of the film’s grand themes of the inability to communicate with honesty and freedom.

Matthias Schoenaerts is in typically morose mode as her new partner Paul, their shared idyll threatened by Harry and his lithe daughter Penelope, played by Fifty Shades star Dakota Johnson.

It’s almost an anthropological examination of human behaviour, a shame the subjects aren’t more deserving of our study.

At first entertaining, the preening narcissism of the characters is wearying during the slow build up to an act of violence. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

 

 

 

Zoolander No. 2

Director: Ben Stiller (2016)

Fifteen years is an eternity in fashion and the threadbare joke has worn desperately thin in this comedy sequel.

From self imposed exile, Ben Stiller’s idiotic catwalk model Derek Zoolander is called to Rome to investigate the murder of pop stars such as Justin Bieber.

Penelope Cruz parades in her skimpies as the fashion police and Will Ferrell offers manic energy as an incarcerated super villain.

Aping the glossy action thriller style of Mission Impossible, the plot develops into a Da Vinci Code type hunt for the fabled fountain of youth.

With a long line of cameos by models and designers, it’s as incestuous and self adoring as the industry it pretends to be mocking.

 

 

 

 

Deadpool

This unpleasant spandex spin-off is a desperate lunge to sex-up superheroes.

It energetically thrusts a minor member of the X-Men franchise centre stage, but can only muster some limp entertainment.

A weak and formulaic origin movie, the non-linear narrative and meta-commentary on the genre can’t disguise myriad failings, not least the unappealing lead.

Ryan Reynolds is perfectly cast as Wade Wilson, a proudly irritating special forces agent turned mercenary.

The script has to fall back on inflicting terminal cancer to create sympathy for him.

A sadistic scientist called Ajax deliberately disfigured Wade while attempting to turn him into a super-powered slave.

Last seen replacing Jason Statham in dull reboot The Transporter Refuelled (2015) reboot, rapper turned actor Ed Skrein over acts as the dull villain.

Believed to be dead, Wade adopts the identity of the gun toting masked man called Deadpool.

Despite two members of the X-men team attempting to recruit him, Deadpool insists he is not a hero.

His signature move is to pirouette into action, a deliberately camp affectation in keeping with the supposedly transgressive character.

Convinced of it’s own outrageous hilarity, Deadpool replaces the intense boredom of the recent Superman film with a juvenile tone, flippant sexism and some light bondage.

Then it adds child abuse jokes and frequent threats of rape.

Slow motion action scenes are mostly powered by mediocre CGI, blood splatting violence and explosions.

Deadpool is hunting Ajax for revenge, and to discover the secret to having his leading man looks restored.

Without them he feels unworthy of his fiancee, the beautiful hooker Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin.

This presupposes Wade recognises he possesses no other feature such as charm, wit or intelligence to which Vanessa might be attracted. Perhaps the character is written with more self awareness than Reynolds allows him.

Baccarin and Reynolds make an attractive pair and the few moments of quality are in their initial sparky banter.

Described as the first pansexual superhero, Deadpool is actually monogamously heterosexual.

Sadly all that’s required of the talented Baccarin in the role is to look fabulous in fishnets, talk dirty and be kidnapped.

This is in keeping with the pervasive sexism. All female characters are either ugly and therefore suitable subjects for mockery, or they’re gorgeous strippers and prostitutes.

Deadpool rooms with a blind old black woman whose sexual unattractiveness is a butt of much humour, none of which is funny.

Grossly pandering to the worst impulses of it’s target audience demographic of twelve year boys, the BBFC should be congratulated for putting Deadpool out of their reach.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) which off a £56 million budget globally grossed £282 million. The lesson learned is there is a lot of money to be made in arse jokes.

Among the slight attempts at deconstructing the gene, there is a weak joke regarding The Matrix (1999) and at one point Reynolds’ riffs on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

Marvel comics supremo Stan Lee cameos as a DJ in a strip club.

Most of the film consists of two fights, one on a freeway flyover and the other on a crashed Helicarrier from an Avengers movie.

There are some laughs along the way to the lacklustre climax, a word guaranteed to have Deadpool sniggering.

Oscars 2016

Best supporting actor nominees
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Best supporting actress nominees
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best actor nominees
Bryan Cranston
, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Best actress nominees
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best director nominees
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Best film nominees
Spotlight
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room

Goosebumps

Director: Rob Letterman (2016)

Magical mayhem materialises when book bound monsters come to life in this entertaining horror comedy.

It runs away at a decent pace, has fine performances from an attractive cast, isn’t short of laughs and tries hard to make you jump out of your seat.

The spooky fun is based on the massively popular Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine.

And as Stine says, it’s full of twists, turns, insights and some personal growth for the hero.

He appears as a character in the film and is played by Jack Black in one of his stronger performances.

Black abandons his frequently smug demeanour for a more acerbic and angry persona, and he’s all the more entertaining for it.

In a quiet suburb the reclusive Stine home-schools his teenage daughter Hannah, claiming it’s for her own protection.

A tentative romance begins when handsome high school student Zach Cooper moves in next door. Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush share a sweet chemistry as they sneak out at night to an abandoned fair ground.

But Zach inadvertently unlocks one of Stine’s books, releasing an evil ventriloquist’s dummy, called Slappy, also voiced by Black.

The marvellously malevolent Slappy frees a multitude of fantastical fiends from Stine’s shelf of manuscripts and burns the volumes, preventing the creatures from being caged again.

The leaves the town at the mercy of aliens, zombies, killer clowns and in a spirited homage to the sci-fi monster movies of the 1950’s, a giant praying mantis.

Steven McQueen’s drive-in classic The Blob (1958) is also a key reference.

The film’s best scene is the emergence of the garden gnomes. It combines the comic violence of the job interview from The Full Monty (1997) and the creeping horror of the doll attack from Barbarella (1968).

Amanda Lund briefly steals the film as an overly enthusiastic police trainee and I wish we’d seen more of her.

The suitably scary score by Danny Elfman works hard to gloss over the less than groundbreaking special effects, which themselves are used to pad out at least a couple of scenes.

It’s probably too scary for very young kids. But everyone else, even big kids like me, are guaranteed the goosebumps of a good time.

Dad’s Army

Director: Oliver Parker (2016)

Don’t panic! Fans of the veteran TV series can stand at ease and enjoy this big screen adaption of the second world war sitcom.

It generally succeeds in it’s mild ambitions of providing charming entertainment and gentle laughs.

The director describes it as a celebration of the long running show and in respectful fashion the semi-skimmed sauce of the picture postcard humour is never crude or cruel.

Set in early 1944, the Daily Telegraph reading Nazi high rank send a spy codenamed Cobra, into Blighty.

Meanwhile the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring and the diffident Sergeant Wilson, are thoroughly unprepared.

Toby Jones and Bill Nighy step into the boots of beloved actors Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier to breathe new life into the roles.

The top rank cast are hummed into action by the familiar theme tune alongside Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon as Lance Corporal Jones and Private Godfrey.

Privates Pike, Walker and Frazer are also present and correct.

Catherine Zeta-Jones appears as glamorous journalist Rose Winters, who wants to write a story about the platoon.

Rose captivates the men which upsets their wives, resulting a fresh outbreak of hostilities in the battle of the sexes.

Action is always just out of reach for the men, who’s sense of masculinity has already been blitzed by being unable to fight overseas with the real troops.

But as chaos predictably ensues, the opportunity arises to earn their spurs in combat.

This is as much a celebration of British nature as anything else. So there’s snobbery, curtain twitching gossips and men acting like schoolboys.

But there’s also loyalty, bravery, friendship, good humoured amateurism and a determination to does one’s bit for the greater good.

Dad’s Army is such a peculiarly British institution it would be unpatriotic not to salute as it marches on.

 

Point Break

Director: Ericson Core (2016)

This shallow remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surfing cop classic arrives dead in the water, lacking any sense of danger or fun. Or any sense at all.

The wild thrill ride of Bigelow’s action movie has been refashioned as a stumblingly  hyperactive extreme sports eco thriller.

Luke Bracey’s dons Keanu Reeves’ old wetsuit as an extreme sports ‘poly-athlete’ turned trainee FBI agent Johnny Utah. But he lacks the charm, looks and talent of his predecessor.

Edgar Ramírez replaces Patrick Swayze as the enigmatic Bodhi, the nirvana chasing leader of the criminal gang Utah has to bring to justice.

Following the plot of the superior first film, Utah goes undercover to infiltrate Bodhi’s crew of bank robbing, wealth distributing whale huggers.

Showcasing their tatts and abs at every opportunity, they surf, climb and batglide their way around the globe.

It’s as if they haven’t considered a consequence of dropping bundles of banknotes in impoverished rural areas will cause localised hyperinflation and make the residents poorer.

Or put another way, I was so uninvolved with the story I found myself applying economic theory to their actions, rather than cheering an act of audaciously performed philanthropy.

Utah’s backstory relies on a stunt borrowed from Taxi (1998), the not much remembered, Luc Bresson produced, action comedy. One fears this does not bode well for what’s to follow, but sadly said boding is far from adequate.

Director Ericson Core began his career as a cinematographer and it shows. Wearing both hats here he conjures some wonderful images, especially down in the fresh surf and up on the snow.

But as a storyteller he’s woeful, offering ciphers instead of characters who spout appalling dialogue.

The aesthetic is teenage cool, lots of posing in front of burning cars and graffiti’d underground gang hangouts.

Utah carries a Zippo because it’s a cool thing to do. He doesn’t go so far as to carry any cigarettes. Because smoking isn’t cool. Unless you’re offered a toke on a joint, which is edgy and therefore cool and allows for a cool pose.

Ray Winstone growls and tries to make himself useful as overseas FBI agent Angelo Pappas, but he has nothing to contribute to the plot.

Teresa Palmer’s position as bikini clad babe Samsara Dietz is to be leered over by the camera and prove Utah’s heterosexuality. And cook dinner for the chaps.

As a replacement for Lori Petty’s fierce and sculptured surfer from the original, Palmer is hopelessly out of her depth.

Delroy Lindo is Utah’s FBI controller who’s passion is for extreme exposition.

Employing three different editors suggests a reason why the movie feels so piecemeal, it’s a collection of set pieces strung together not a coherent story.

Plus edited in the irritated manner of a music video sells the stunts short. Much longer edits would sell us a frisson of much needed veracity, creating a threat the guys may at some point be hurt.

But as the stunts become bigger and higher, the stakes become lower. We’re not invested in the story and the physics defying leaps possess the dramatic depth of a video game.

There’s an absence of humour and no sense of the film is aware of it’s own preposterous nature.

Flagged up twice is the film’s one interesting idea, that the FBI are acting as the security wing of multinational corporations, inverting the good guy/bad guy dynamic and making Utah the villain.

But it’s not explored in any way and brushed aside in favour of yet more lightweight action.

The stunt team and camera operators deserve plaudits but for everyone else it’s a wipeout.

Trumbo

Director: Jay Roach (2016)

Romping through the career of a Hollywood screenwriter, this entertaining biopic suffers from a self-gratifying script filled with too much lightweight sentiment.

Enjoying a privileged lifestyle as one of Hollywood’s elite in 1947, Dalton Trumbo was one of many writers and actors illegally blacklisted for refusing to testify against communists to the US government.

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston stars as the irascible scribe who types in the bathtub with a cigarette holder and glass of whiskey in hand.

Trumbo’s a less than loveable eccentric who patronises the masses who watch his movies and fund his comfortable lifestyle.

A honey throated spinner of yarns who invokes the constitution to serve his own ends, Trumbo reminds us of another historic US public figure given a recent cinematic makeover.

There’s a clear parallel between Cranston’s performance and Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar winning turn as the ill-fated US President in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2013).

The script even includes a similar moment wherein a colleague refuses to listen to any more of Trumbo’s stories, lest he be converted to his cause.

We fail to sympathise for the champagne communist when he suffers the indignity of downsizing from his country manor to a large house with a pool.

Being aggressively covered in fizzy pop isn’t nice and holidays are interrupted. But a brief and uneventful stint in prison aside, nothing too worrying happens to him.

As an illustration of the rarefied social circles Trumbo moves in, a friend can afford to sell the drawing room Van Gogh to pay for their lawyer’s fees.

Meanwhile Trumbo’s career goes from strength to Oscar-winning strength. Under various pseudonyms he works with Hollywood directors and stars of huge stature.

The timeline covers some forty years giving the handsome film a breathless feel despite it’s stately pace.

Part of the problem is a desire to cram in many era-famous faces. As the story lacks drama, this is possibly to compensate for a suspected deficiency of audience interest.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson is one of several examples of casting capable peformers as famous cinema actors. They’re not as charismatic or talented and physically aren’t great matches.

David James Elliot essays John Wayne as an unconvincingly magnanimous presence.

At least Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas is given a gift of a line which is guaranteed to bring the house down with laughter.

Helen Mirren is terrific as the waspish society columnist Hedda Hopper. But by making her the villain of the piece, the male dominated hierarchies of cinema and politics are let off the hook for their behaviour.

Hopper suffers a poorly articulated rationale for for the intensity of her attacks on communism and there’s no hint her anti-union publisher is any way pulling her editorial strings for their own ends.

Diane Lane plays Trumbo’s wife Cleo with nothing to do except add glamorous scolding and sympathy.

Elle Fanning as their daughter Nikola fairs little better, being ushered down a civil rights movement cul-de-sac.

John Goodman plays to his strengths as a down market producer offering a broad comic performance which recalls his turn in ben Affleck’s Argo (2012).

Never convicted of any criminal charge, Trumbo presents himself as a fearless defender of the first amendment and the script bequeaths him a suspiciously retro-fitted sermon on the importance of the constitution.

There are great lines in the film but one suspects they’re lifted from the scripts or diaries belonging to one of the many scriptwriters portrayed on screen.