Eddie The Eagle

Director: Dexter Fletcher (2016)

This slushy sports biopic of an amateur ski jumper chasing his Olympic dream fails to fly.

The sentimental tone is light but the humour lands as heavily as its hero, but with far less frequency and grace.

A gurning Taron Egerton captures the spirit of of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards in all his gormless glory.

He’s a teetotal, socially awkward, bespectacled sporter of alarming knit wear. The possessor of a chin the late Jimmy Hill would be proud of.

After Eddie suffered a childhood illness, doctors told him he shouldn’t play sport.

So with an Alp sized chip on his shoulder, this otherwise very ordinary bloke is driven to become an Olympian to prove them wrong.

He’s not fussy about at which sport he fails at so plumbs for the ski-jump.

With no other British competitor in the field it gives him the best chance of qualifying for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

In a less than olympic effort from the IOC, also on the same bill were the Jamaican bobsled team who inspired the film Cool Runnings (1993).

It was watching that film which inspired producer Matthew Vaughn to tackle this project. Egerton also starred and more successfully in Vaughn’s sexist spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015).

The obstacles littering Eddie’s way are a lack of finance, ability and parental support.

Plus he must face down mockery from fellow competitors and institutional bullying from Tim McInnerny’s snooty British Olympocrat.

The story turns into an odd couple comedy when he teams up with a fictional coach called Bronson Peary.

Aussie charmer Hugh Jackman plays disgraced former ski star turned cynical alcoholic.

Eddie’s no chicken and lacks a fear of heights. Headless on the slopes, he’s too dim to be wary of the potential lethal nature of the sport.

Adding to this lack of heroism is the knowledge he can’t win, so there’s nothing at stake and no drama.

Actor turned director Dexter Fletcher made the feel good musical Sunshine On Leith (2014) but can’t make this material lift off.

He does a great job of conveying the awe inducing spectacle of the slopes but it’s downhill in all other aspects.

When even the presence of reliable old stager Jim Broadbent can’t raise a smile, your film really is in trouble.

Christopher Walken wanders in very late in the games as ski guru Warren Sharp and looks as comfortable in his surroundings as Eddie does on the slopes.

Dialogue stresses Eddie’s reservations about appearing in the media spotlight. This is at odds with the real life footage shown at the film’s end of Eddie taking a very public bow at the closing ceremony.

And Edwards hasn’t been slow to exploit the media invented nickname of ‘Eddie the Eagle’. His real name is Michael.

Which in presenting this under achieving and over eager self publicist as a plucky underdog, this film duly takes.

 

 

Victoria

Director: Sebastian Schipper (2016)

A schnapps swigging clubber is swept up by criminals in this suffocating German thriller.

Laia Costa gives a virtuosa performance as the vivacious Victoria. Her engaging elfin spirit is the damaged flip side of Audrey Tautou’s ingenue in Amelie (2001).

There’s shades of epics such as Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde (1967) Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) in the story of likeable people doing bad deeds.

Breathtaking artistic and technical ambition surpasses the dexterity of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s faux single shot Oscar winner Birdman (2014).

Deliriously filmed in a single extended shot, the dizzying camerawork of Sturla Brandth Grovlen sweeps us around the clubs, cafes and corner shops of Berlin in real time.

As the characters dance, run and drive beside us, it creates an emotional connection and makes us complicit in their crimes.

The lighting, performances and dialogue are washed in naturalism, offering the impression of organic relationships and behaviour. Masterful use of music and sound mixing are key to the increasingly fraught and menacing atmosphere.

A chance meeting with four dubious local charmers leads Victoria to an impromptu after hours rooftop birthday party. Conversation is conducted in broken English as they steal, fight, smoke, drink and flirt.

Victoria’s evening becomes something wild when a phone call leads to her involvement in an armed raid.

With drugs, guns, blackmail and bloodshed at every turn, the young girl needs all her wits to survive as poor choices lead to increasingly desperate options and jaw clenching tension.

Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Max Mauff and Burak Yigit offer strong support but it’s Costa who steals our heart and the film.

 

Black Mountain Poets

Director: Jamie Adams (2016)

This rambling comedy has the Welsh mountains echoing to the sound of offbeat poetry – but not much laughter.

Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells bicker sweetly  as neurotic sisters who go on the run after failing to steal a JCB. One is aggressively rampant and the other uptight and longing for children.

They steal the identities and car of a pair of poets and hide out at a remote retreat where oddball poets are gathering for a weekend of inspiration.

Tom Cullen’s hunky Richard proves dexterous with his tent pole, leading to some midnight tent hopping.

There’s a large cash prize for the best beat poem and to stand a chance of winning the girls must discover their muse before the police arrive.

It’s edited, photographed and performed with the same improvised rhythm of the freestyle poetry readings.

Nicely turned moments of reflection are overwhelmed by an over reliance on attempts at humorous embarrassment and oneupmanship.

The game cast perform outdoors where the freezing wet weather puts a dampener on the the scripts attempt at a lyrical finale.

 

 

 

Zootropolis

Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush (2016)

Spring an Easter surprise on your kids with this arresting animated tale of a crime busting bunny.

It’s a joyously bright eyed and bushy tailed adventure with a Disney heroine quite like no other.

Gone are the doll figured fairytale Princesss of old and replaced with a smart, sharp and agile doe who’s easily the equal to any buck. Or any other creature.

A small town rabbit with big time dreams, Judy Hopps goes against her cautious parents advice and enrols at Police academy before heading off to the soaring skyscrapers of Zootropolis.

It’s where animals of every stripe and hue live in mostly civilised harmony with none of that anti social eating of each other.

When Hopps’ reluctant chief gives her forty eight hours to crack the case of a missing Otter, it leads to the discovery of a plot to unleash the animal nature of every predator in the city.

She teams up with Nick Wilde, a streetwise Fox who opens her eyes to the challenges of living and working in the big city.

Far from being the dumb cute bunny she’s patronised as, Hopps is brave, hard working, and determined to be the best.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are inspired casting and bring sparky humour, chemistry and the slightest hint of romance.

Idris Elba plays Chief Bogo, the buffalo chief of Police and offers a brilliantly concise and funny critique of Disney’s irritating mega smash Frozen.

J.K. Simmons plays the Lionheart the Mayor and singer Shakira is Gazelle, a famous beauty and singer of forgettable songs.

Being filled with charming invention make the laboured riffs on The Godfather and TV’s Breaking Bad all the more disappointing.

The script twists time and scale to comic effect and there’s a blue flower nod to the work of Philip K. Dick, which may well be a first for a mouse house movie.

Of course underpinning all the fun is a typical Disney message of universal tolerance and understanding, but don’t let that stop you having a thumper of a good time.

My Big Fat Wedding Two

Director: Kirk Jones (2016)

After the collapse of their economy and the migrant crisis, it’s mystifying what the Greeks have done to have this sorry sentimental soap opera sequel inflicted upon them.

Alongside the original cast, Nia Vardalos returns as Toula, a middle aged martyr to her large, bickering Greek family who all live in the same Chicago street.

Her teenage daughter wants to move to New York, her marriage is sexless and caring for her parents takes up all her time and energy.

The only funny moment in the 2002 movie occurred when screen husband to be John Corbett fell off his chair.

Sadly no such comic gold is mined here. There’s some confusion concerning a marriage certificate, lots of discussion of what it means to be Greek and an immediately resolved gay subplot pops out of nowhere.

Watching this is like being forced to attend a wedding of people you don’t like and are reduced to wondering about the footie scores and what time the bar opens.

Disorder

Director: Alice Winocour (2016)

Frequently cast for his solid, dependable and brooding demeanour, Matthias Schoenaerts is an impressive piece of timber.

He plays Vincent, a short tempered self medicating soldier on psychiatric leave, moonlighting as security for the spouse of wealthy Lebanese executive.

Diane Kruger looks the part of trophy wife Jessie but is no more successful at breathing life into her character.

Her husband is abroad on business and following some vague political shenanigans, Vincent, Jessie and her young son are besieged in a deserted mansion.

An impressive soundtrack strives to generate paranoia and tension but a lack of chemistry, humour, romance or anything else fails to make us care what happens when the violence belatedly begins.

Batman Vs Superman

Director: Zack Snyder (2016)

Long, loud and laden with apocalyptic doom, this superhero scrap sees the two big beasts of DC comics collide for the first time on the silver screen.

Though the story is a timely nod to the galvanising effect a symbolic sacrifice can have on the behaviour of humanity, this is a suitably dour sequel to Snyder’s equally ponderous Man of Steel (2013).

More concerned with exploring humanity’s relationship with god than having fun fighting crime, it’s full of visions of hell, ghostly conversations and lashings of occasionally shoddy CGI mayhem.

Rare moments of weak humour seem included by studio diktat and every utterance is underlined by Hans Zimmer’s typically thunderous score.

Added to the huge amount of explosions and gunfire, it is for many stretches a numbing rather than uplifting or exciting experience.

At the beginning for those who may have forgotten already, there is a mercifully quick revision of Batman’s origin story. Then we plough right into the end of Man Of Steel where Superman’s titanic battle with General Zod is witnessed by an aghast Bruce Wayne.

Bulked up Brit Henry Cavill returns as Superman and a beefy Ben Affleck stars for the first time as Batman. Both are well cast though I suspect Cavill is operating at the top of his game while Affleck is operating well within his.

Affleck has himself appeared in the Superman costume in the role of ill-fated TV star George Reeves in the excellent Hollywoodland (2006). He was also Marvel comics Daredevil (2003) in a version every bit as poor as the Netflix TV series is excellent.

The super serious Man of Steel and The Caped Crusader are pitched against each other through the nefarious plans of Lex Luthor.

Jesse Eisenberg twitches and simpers as the skinny evil scientist. He sports a suit and trainers combo topped off with straggly shoulder length hair.

Contributing little, dressed to the nines and wandering around backstage like a lost contender for hottest businesswoman of the year, Gal Gadot is eventually unveiled as Wonder Woman to the accompaniment of a personal guitar riff. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be laughing, but it’s the only time I did.

Amy Adams is repeatedly rescued as Superman’s squeeze Lois Lane and Diane Lane returns as Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive human mother.

 Sharing scant screen time with his employer, Jeremy Irons makes little impression as Alfred, butler and mechanic to Batman’s alter ego, the billionaire Bruce Wayne.

There is  a strong sense of design with chains and fire being recurring motifs, suitable for a film which mines the god-confronting myth of Prometheus for inspiration. The Bat-suit is nicely scarred and demonic and Wayne manor has a full complement of bat gadgets, bat memorabilia and of course a Batmobile.

Director Zac Snyder is also responsible for the ponderous and slavish adaption of the superhero satire Watchmen (2009).

Based on Alan Moore’s seminal work, it was one of two groundbreaking graphic novels of the ’80’s which contributed to making comic books acceptable cultural fodder for adults.

The other was Frank Miller’s Bat-tale The Dark Knight Returns, and Snyder lifts some ideas, images and dialogue directly from the page.

Those graphic novels use the presence of super powerful godlike beings on Earth to explore the media manipulation of disaster for political and military gain. This forms a central thrust to Batman Vs Superman.

Snyder has an impressive and sure footed visual sense but it’s superseded by self important one note storytelling. With even the smallest scene over wrought to the nth degree, emotional power seeps away from those scenes from where it’s most needed.

Outflanked by the billion dollar success of the Marvel Connected Universe featuring Captain America, Iron Man etc, Warner Bros. have taken what was conceived as a straight up Man of Steel (2013) sequel and quickly expanded it to include first Batman and then Wonder Woman.

The Dawn of Justice tagline refers to the forthcoming follow up The Justice League movie, the first part of which is slated for 2017. Characters are hinted at here and intended as competition to Marvel’s Avengers ensemble and Fox studio’s X-Men franchise.

Given the almost pointless inclusion of Wonder Woman here, there is little to whet the appetite for what will be an even more crowded super powered excursion.