Ice Age: Collision Course

Director: Mike Thurmeier, Galen T. Chu (2016) BBFC cert U

There seems to be no stopping this prehistoric animated franchise as it cheerily grinds on its way across the savannah of global cinema.

In yet another episode of extinction avoidance, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary return to voice Manny the woolly mammoth, Sid the sloth and Diego the sabre toothed tiger.

As ever Scrat the squirrel is the main reason to watch and time passes slowly whenever he’s off screen. The acorn obsessed animal ends up in outer space and accidentally causes an asteroid to threaten life on Earth.

Meanwhile down on the planet’s surface our squabbling trio of heroes are engaged in painful subplots to fill out the running time. Sid is allowed a romantic interest and Manny’s irritating daughter plans to get married.

Having begun in 2002 and now on a wearying fifth instalment, it may be better for all concerned if the one of the many threatened catastrophes occurred.


American Ultra

Director: Nima Nourizadeh (2015)

Slackers, spies and sleeper agents get their brains fried in this darkly comic stoner thriller.

Though it takes a while to find a groove, once the story sparks up and the thrills kick in, the entertainment escalates and acheives a riotous velocity.

Sweet-natured slackers Mike and Phoebe share a drug dependancy and matching tattoos. Unfortunately Mike has a tendency to keep making a hash of their romance.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart give the couple a sweetly combustible chemistry.

Unknown to himself, Mike’s a lethal sleeper agent, a guinea pig in the CIA’s Ultra programme designed to turn criminals into expert killing machines.

However the scheme is judged a failure and Topher Grace’s spy boss decides to shut down the programme by terminating the assets.

What the chief lacks in menace he makes up with obnoxious energy.

Connie Britton plays a rival spook who tries to give her one-time charge a fighting chance. She uses a safe word to unlock the training buried deep in Mike’s psyche.

She’s played by Victoria Lasseter on far better form than in the poor Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015).

When two agents arrive to kill his buzz and end his life, Mike freaks himself out with the lethal ferocity of his response.

Together with a surprisingly resourceful Phoebe, they face a desperate mission to survive, leaving burnt out buildings and dead bodies in their wake.

The sneaky soundtrack lulls with soft Hawaiian sounds before launching an ear-shattering assault to complement the bloody and bone crunching violence.

A truckful of assassins, drone strikes and a big box of fireworks all fan the flames of the smouldering fun.

Mike’s a stoned version of Jason Bourne and Eisenberg’s performance squeezes the concept for some decent laughs.

Matt Damon was 32 when he first played Robert Ludlum’s all action anti-hero, Eisenberg is 31.

Stewart is full of fierce defiance and equally good, despite being lumbered with the role of  girlfriend in peril. She slyly sports Franka Potente’s red hair from The Bourne Identity (2002).

As fun as Eisenberg is, it’s a shame he and Stewart didn’t swap roles. A hell bent Phoebe would have added to this year’s joyously bumper crop of kick ass cinematic heroines.

With an hawaiian-shirted hero on the run with a girl in a world of drugs, guns and comic books, American Ultra is clearly influenced by True Romance (1993).

Though it similarly includes a cloud of falling feathers it lacks Tony Scott’s visual lyricism and Quentin Tarantino’s dynamite dialogue.

Made on a reasonable budget of $30M, American Ultra is armed with a keen sense of the ridiculous, offers plenty of juiced up action, some laughs and a couple of recognisable faces.

So it’s surprising it hasn’t found more of an audience in the US where it’s only scored for $11M after ten days on release.

If the US poster ads are as terribly unrepresentative of the movie as the UK ones are, then I’d be tempted to place the blame of lack of interest at the publicists.

While it’s not an outstanding movie it is a worthwhile entertainment, hopefully one which will gain traction on other platforms and find the audience it deserves.


John Wick

Director: Chad Stahelski (2015)

An assassin goes on an entertaining one-man rampage of revenge in this bloody, brutal and bullet-ridden action thriller.

Filled with blistering action, fast cars and a cute puppy, it’s a slick return to form for Keanu Reeves.

Grieving the death of his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) disses a Russian gangster Iosef (Alfie Allen).

Not a bloke to be dissed by a fifty year-old in stubble, classic sports car and brown leather jacket, Iosef beats Wick up, trashes his apartment, kills his dog and steals his motor.

On any other fifty year old, Wick’s fashion choices could be the sign of a mid-life crisis and but this is Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, Johnny Utah and Neo – so he can dress how he likes and he’ll always be forgiven.

In flashback we see poor Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s late wife Helen. Despite being seven years younger than her screen husband, Reeves makes her look like a toyboy-chasing cougar. The illness that killed her could have been old-age.

Unfortunately for Iosef, Wick is a retired hitman who used to work for his dad, a beard-stroking villain called Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).

Wick has a killer rep, he once killed three men in a bar with a pencil and is famed for his focus, commitment and sheer will. Nyqvist delivers the word pencil with articulate relish.

To protect his spoiled son Viggo reluctantly puts a $2million dollar bounty on Wicks’ head. Meanwhile Wick is breaking out his arsenal of weapons and is in a bad mood. The muted blues and greys of his house are a stylish representation of his emotional state.

The film plays to Reeve’s strengths by giving him lots of screen-time, great suits to wear, fast cars to drive – and minimal dialogue. Plus he’s at the centre of plenty of crisply choreographed carnage set to a grinding rock soundtrack.

What’s best about John Wick is the script’s nicely created heightened sense of reality, it exists in a parallel universe of coded conversations, rigid rules of engagement, financial penalties and it’s own currency of gold coins the size of doubloons. We only ever see one cop and he apologises for doing his job.

Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe appear as as fellow hitmen Ms. Perkins and Marcus. Her Mrs Peel leather and eyeliner combo adds to the timeless quality of this alternate reality.

Ian McShane saunters through as Winston, a sleazily ambiguous owner of the Hotel Continental where a lot of the action takes place, John Leguizamo has a small role as Aurelio, a mobbed-up garage owner.

The moments of humour are underplayed for the greatest effect. Reeves delivers laconic asides with confidence and there’s a variation on the classic ‘pause in the fight and listen to elevator music’ gag.

Editor Elísabet Ronaldsdottir cuts the action with as many long edits as possible, giving them tremendous dynamism. Reeves may well have used a stuntman but you’d be hard pushed to say where during the hand to hand fighting.

Cinematographer Jonathan Sela captures the ultra-violence in deep wells of light and adds increasing levels of colour as the story progresses – but sadly there’s a lack of poetry in the glossy aesthetic and too little re-invention of action tropes.

We don’t need the traditional sweeping helicopter shots of the city and we’ve seen too many times the rain-soaked night-time fight on the docks. Plus this showdown would be stronger if we considered the two men to be equals – as in Michael Mann’s Heat – rather than a super-assassin putting the hurt on his elderly former boss.

However it’s great to see the likeable Reeves in a well-executed action thriller – he even gets to walk towards the camera with the room on fire behind him in classic action hero style.