Sing

Director: Garth Jennings (2017) BBFC cert: PG

This giddy animated musical comedy is stuffed with silly sparkling fun and will make you grin until the top of your head falls off.

Produced by the inspired creators of the Minions Movie and The Secret Life of Pets, it’s a gloriously mad musical mashup of TV’s The X Factor and Gene Wilder comedy The Producers.

Buster is a cuddly Koala whose theatre is going to be closed by the bank unless he has a hit show. He advertises a singing competition but a typo means the winnings are far more than he can afford.

As creatures of every stripe and hue perform a dizzying number of pop, rock and soul tunes, the story squeezes in bank robberies and car chases among the first night nerves and pushy showbiz parents.

The animals are stuffed with Judy Garland’s ‘lets do the show right here’ spirit and just about keep Buster’s show on the road. Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Hudson are among those providing the pipes.

@ChrisHunneysett

Captain America: Civil War

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo (2016)

Hard on the heels of the showdown between Batman and Superman in Dawn of Justice  (2016) comes another super-powered spandex smack down.

This time it’s Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. facing off as Captain America and Iron Man.

Although nominally the third stand alone Captain America film, it plays like a third Avengers movie and deals with the fall out of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).

But Civil War lacks writer/director Joss Whedon’s ability to build a strong narrative and offer a spotlight for each major character.

Although the Russo’s bring a harder edge to the action, they haven’t Whedon’s grasp of group dynamics or comedy. They seem unable or unwilling to nurture interesting female characters, which is Whedon’s absolute stock in trade.

Here the blunt banter and sparse stabs of humour seem forced rather than growing organically out of character.

Many jokes seem parachuted in by executives and there are more than a few about gags about ageing. They lend the movie the stale air of a spandex version of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise.

The ferocious and superbly choreographed opening action scenes are at the very top end of Civil War‘s 12A certificate.

But the story is cluttered with too many minor characters. New ones are introduced to flag up their own stand alone solo movie and there’s a much herald appearance of a rebooted favourite.

Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle return respectively as sidekicks War Machine and The Falcon. The Hulk and Thor are noticeably absent.

Young Brit Tom Holland steals the film with his wide eyed chatterbox take on Peter Parker.

It’s a shame his Spider-Man CGI alter-ego is so poorly rendered, all the more puzzling as the generally the film looks fantastic in its IMAX 3D version.

A great deal of time is set up the Black Panther (2018) movie. Marvel seem so eager to involve and so self pleased at promoting a black character they haven’t looked too closely at how he’s presented.

Removed of the cowl and claws of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman is fine in the undemanding role as the urbane and irony free African prince T’Challa.

However he’s prone to beginning sentences with ‘in my culture..’. Maybe people do speak like this but it reminded me of Ron Ely era Tarzan. His dialogue and demeanour seem freshly minted from the preconceptions of the white New Yorkers who created him back in 1966.

William Hurt and Martin Freeman are introduced as part of the Black Panther thread.

While Jeremy Renner gives the most lacklustre performance of his career as Hawkeye, Paul Bettany does some lovely work as the Vision.

The script can’t work out what to do with him or his ill defined powers, so opts for ignoring him whenever it can. Notably during the fighting.

Dragged down into the melee and still without a film to call their own, the only two female heroes are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.

At heart Civil War wants to be a hard hitting action thriller. The tone is suitably subdued as the script deals with politically compromised ideals, murdered parents and revenge.

Then it remembers the audience and bursts into blasts of candy coloured action.

Remorseful at collateral deaths of civilians during an Avengers mission, the once independent Iron Man is ready to accept UN oversight of The Avengers team.

Bizarrely for a soldier, Captain America doesn’t agree with operating under a hierarchal command system.

A UN conclave are about to sign an accord to will curtail superhero activity when they suffer a terrorist attack.

Number one suspect is Captain America’s friend turned terrorist agent Bucky Barnes. AKA The Winter Soldier.

Despite being played by the physically impressive Sebastian Stan, he remains an irritatingly anonymous figure.

Captain America is convinced Bucky is innocent and sets off to find him before the CIA do.

This puts him at odds with Iron Man, leaving the rest of The Avengers team to decide with whom they stand.

As allegiances shift and romance blooms across the barricades, loyalties are stretched and snapped.

Meanwhile there’s a sinister plot involving Daniel Bruhl’s shady scientist and a super enhanced elite death squad.

Easily the best part of Civil War is the promised punch up between the host of heroes.

It’s an imaginatively conceived and entertaining executed bout which leaves the heroes damaged and divided.

Unfortunately it happens about half way through the running time, so the rest of the film feels very anti-climactic.

And after two and a half hours of spandex clad action, I was beginning to chafe.

 

The Jungle Book

Director: Jon Favreau (2016)

I’m the world’s foremost fan of Disney’s 1967 animated classic, so I had my claws out ready to savage this glossy remake.

But I was disarmed from my first footstep into this spectacular jungle, a terrifically realised mix of live action and state of the art CGI.

The astonishingly lifelike landscape are computer generated by the team who made sci-fi epic Avatar (2009). The animals are from The Lord Of The Rings (2001) WETA Workshop.

Next year’s Visual FX Oscar must surely be in the bag.

This warm hearted, fleet footed, big budget beast is a hybrid spliced from Rudyard Kipling’s novels, Uncle Walt’s original film and his company’s latter day smash The Lion King (1994).

It’s an exciting, funny and touching adventure, though perhaps too scary for the very little ones. Likeable characters are killed, though we never see the blood.

A confident and charming Neel Sethi plays resourceful man cub Mowgli, the only actor on screen.

Mowgli bravely chooses to leave his home and save his family from Shere Khan the tiger.

Idris Elba is tremendous as the clever and vicious villain. He’s blind in one eye and myopic in his pursuit of his prey.

Mowgli sets off to the man village accompanied by Bagheera the panther and Baloo the Bear.

Respectively played by Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray, the pair are enjoyably wise, brave and comic.

En route they encounter angry elephants, seductive snakes, stinging bees and aggressive monkeys.

As a representative of a now endangered species, from a 21st century perspective Shere Kahn almost qualifies as the good guy.

He’s a prophet of doom whose violent fate proves the accuracy of his apocalyptic predictions concerning the dangers to the jungle from the unfettered technology of man.

The script can’t bring itself to embrace the scar faced usurper despite being more far-seeing and independent minded to the allegiance pledging wolf pack. To a British ear the wolves behaviour is eerily fascistic.

Apocalypse is hinted at again in the Brando-esque introduction of the enormous King Louie, not an Orang utan but an outsized outspan Gigantopithecus. He commands an army from the ruins of a long dead civilisation.

Christopher Walken is an inspired and deranged casting choice and delivers a performance to match.

Scarlett Johansson and Lupita Nyong’o have small roles with the former’s husk put to effective use.

When Mowgli learns of the death of a loved one, he decides to return and confront his mortal enemy.

The soundtrack includes the fabulous songs The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be like You.

So follow the jungle drums down to the cinema for a swinging good time.

 

 

 

 

 

Hail, Caesar!

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen (2016)

The knives are out for golden age Hollywood in this sly satire from the mercurial talent of the Coen brothers.

In typical fashion they combine the writer/director/producer roles. After the run of more serious fare of Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) True Grit (2010) and A Serious Man (2009) they’re back in the enjoyably goofy form of their early career.

The off screen sensibilities of tinseltown are merrily mocked as singing cowboys, dancing sailors and whip happy Romans collide in a series of films within a film ranging from film noir and musicals to costume drama.

In his fourth film for the Coens, George Clooney plays kidnapped star Baird Whitlock.

Capitol Pictures sends a ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix to find the dim actor so their prestige big budget biblical epic can be completed.

For Brolin it’s his third Coens’ feature after the two westerns No Country For Old Men (2007) and True Grit (2010).

Perfectly cast in the role of Mannix, Josh Brolin carries the film on his broad, pin striped suited shoulders, stomping about town and wrestling with his conscience over a career decision he’s being pressured to make.

Mannix has no specific job title but does possess a large office, an attentive PA and a direct line to Mr. Skank, the never seen mogul of Capitol Pictures. Directors and actors queue in Mannix’s office to petition for his services.

Mannix is that most pejorative Hollywood term, a suit.

They are the most maligned creatures in Hollywood, commonly regarded as mammon obsessed philistines and monstrous butchers of creative endeavour.

It’s an extraordinarily daring in joke to present Mannix as a squared jawed and gimlet eyed hero in the style of Raymond Chandler’s fictional private detective Phillip Marlowe, and it’s played always with a straight face.

For the devout and humble family man Mannix, film making is a religious vocation, a secret cigarette is his only vice.

Brolin has played a spin on the character before in the overblown and undercooked Gangster Squad (2013). The Coens have riffed on Marlowe before in the joyous The Big Lebowski (1998).

There’s an attache case of cash, mistaken identities, romance, religious discussion and foul mouthed bathing beauties. The fishy tale even features a fabulous water sequence in the style of Esther Williams featuring Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid.

With a gang of disaffected revolutionary screenwriters powering the plot, it’s a mashed up antidote to the po faced sanctimony of Trumbo (2016).

Clooney is entertaining when aping the heavy acting style of classic Hollywood hero such as Charlton Heston, but lacks the light comic touch of his co-stars.

Michael Gambon raises a droll smile as the narrator, Jonah Hill makes a fleeting appearance and Channing Tatum performs a tremendous song and dance routine.

However everyone is outdone by Ralph Fiennes who in a late screwball career move is fast becoming the funniest man in film.

The many films within a film are rendered through brilliant technical skill, captured in customary consummate grace by perennial Oscar bridesmaid, Brit Roger Deakins.

Shot with loving panache, Deakins’ 12th collaboration with the Coens is suitably visually pristine and rich. His lens steps smoothly from genre to genre with immaculate grace and accuracy.

In this arch and sometimes affectionate comedy, the sharp stabs of humour are all the more effective for  being delivered at close range from under a cloak of friendship.

Et tu Brute indeed.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon (2015)

Bigger, darker, funnier and more explosive than ever; the world’s greatest superhero team return in the most spectacular action movie of the summer.

The Avengers take off on a do or die mission to save the world – but before confronting an army of killer robots, they must put aside their differences and overcome their crippling worst fears.

With ferocious fight scenes, dynamic design and sleekly organic CGI, it’s all underpinned by a busy, witty and coherent script.

The wise-cracking, squabbling team of Captain AmericaIron ManThorThe Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow are played with enormously energetic enthusiasm by regulars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris HemsworthMark RuffaloJeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Following on from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers are hunting down Hydra, the terrorist organisation responsible the destruction of law-enforcement spy agency SHIELD.

Meanwhile in his civilian identity as billionaire inventor Tony Stark, Iron Man activates a dormant peace-keeping programme designed to keep the Earth safe form alien invaders.

However the villainous giant robot Ultron (James Spader) takes control and uses it to threaten the extinction of mankind. He is hugely powerful, beautiful, shiny, intelligent and funny – in all ways a threat to Iron Man and his monstrous ego.

Ultron is aided by super-powered twins who want Iron Man dead; Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. He can move lightning-fast while she uses mystical powers to produce visions of fear to paralyse her enemies.

They’re played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, showcasing their talents on a far better forum than in last year’s terrible Godzilla.

Meanwhile as well as voicing Iron Man’s computer butler JARVIS, Paul Bettany plays a mysterious newcomer called The Vision.

As if this weren’t a surfeit of super-powers, screen-time is also found for a host of supporting characters including SHIELD agents Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Peggy Carter (Samuel L. JacksonCobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell) superheroes War Machine and Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie) and Asgardian warrior Heimdall (Idris Elba).

There’s no appearance by fan’s favourite Tom Hiddlestone as Loki and the absence of Pepper Potts and Jane Foster (Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman) is mentioned in passing.

Breathless and brilliantly executed action sequences move through Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Though it’s more fierce than Avengers Assemble, the steel-bodied violence is always laced with a tough coating of humour.

The final battle includes an extended composition of astonishing choreography, bearing all the grace and technical excellence we’re used to seeing from British effects house Framestore. They also provide the FX for an amazing freeway chase scene in downtown Seoul.

Visually and thematically Ultron references Moloch, the internet demon from Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The writer also recycles an old Buffy line and puts it in the mouth of Nick Fury.

In his typically intelligent script, Whedon accomplishes the astounding juggling act of tying the large roster of characters to their various plot points, develop them emotionally and maintain their relative positions within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

He’s also at impressively at ease including a joke about playwright Eugene O’Neill while bouncing around ideas of sacrifice and duty.

There are also ongoing discussions of evolution, the ethics of eugenics, the accountability of the military and the importance of defending freedoms without sacrificing them.

These are underpinned by visual allusions to the Second World War and references to two British Prime Minsters.

Meanwhile US President’s Teddy Roosevelt‘s maxim about a big stick is invoked and is neatly reflected in some merry horseplay involving Thor’s hammer Molinjor.

More great nuggets of humour are mined from Thor’s mythical self-regard but the focus is moved sideways away from the trio of heroes (Iron Man, Captain America and Thor) who all have their own individual franchise outside of the Avengers.

This allows for the development of the lesser characters of Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Despite having starred in two poor films of his own in 2003 and 2008, it was in the Avengers Assemble (2012) where The Hulk became the breakout star, rampaging through the last half hour like, well, an enormous green rage monster.

This time Whedon puts him at the centre of the action from the beginning, squaring off against soldiers, robots and even Iron Man.

More importantly, alter ego scientist Bruce Banner is afforded a full character arc, one influenced by the fairytale of the beauty and the beast.

With his sharp intelligence wrapped up in magnificent brawn and powered by passion, the Hulk is very much the symbol of the Avengers – a super-powered combination offering the best hope Age Of Ultron will be the smash it deserves to be.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (2014)

Loyalty, friendship and the freedom of world are tested to destruction as Captain America returns in this action packed and hugely exciting Marvel comic-book sequel.

Dynamic duo Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson power this breakneck thrill ride which will be followed in 2016 by Captain America: Civil War.

Blue-eyed, lantern-jawed Steve Rogers (Evans), aka Captain America, punches his way through a series of brilliant action sequences, including a rescue of hostages on the high seas and a marvellous mayhem-filled fight on a freeway.

Samuel L. Jackson returns as S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury and introduces superhero The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Robert Redford is his smooth-talking superior Alexander Pierce, bringing a knowing cinematic echo of his earlier roles in 1970’s conspiracy thrillers Three Days of the Condor (1975) and All the President’s Men (1976).

Rogers, who struggles to cope in the modern world, is framed for the shooting of Fury and goes on the run with Natasha Romanoff, aka super-assassin Black Widow (Johansson).

Facing terrible adversity, he’s armed only with his indestructible shield and she a pair of perfectly calibrated pistols – yet still they find time to flirt while evading squadrons of fighter jets, convoys of trucks and legions of Swat teams packing the latest in futuristic military weapons.

People are brutally stabbed, shot, punched, kicked and thrown off buildings as they’re also pursued by the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a relentless super-villain with a robotic arm and secret past.

Helped by Falcon, the duo must stop the sinister Hydra group, which infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ long ago, from imposing a new and deadly world order.

Considering the patriotic conservatism of the central character, Captain America is a far richer experience than could have been hoped for and excluding the Avengers, my favourite franchise in the canon.

Now all the Marvel Cinematic Universe is missing is a Black Widow standalone movie.

Lucy

Director: Luc Besson (2014)

Chemically enhanced Scarlett Johansson goes into overdrive in this bonkers but brilliant bloody thriller.

The time-travelling, superhuman heroine tackles Chinese Triad gangs, French cops and dinosaurs in this knowingly daft sci-fi film.

Lucy (Johansson) is studying in Taiwan when she’s kidnapped by gangster Mr Jang (Min-sik Choi). He surgically inserts a bag of a wonder drug, CPH4, into her stomach so he can illicitly transport it to Europe.

But a henchman beats her up, the bag rips and Lucy absorbs a potentially fatal dose. Instead of killing her, the CPH4 unleashes her full brain power. Normally humans use only 10% but hers is rocketing.

Luckily Morgan Freeman (Professor Norman) is on hand to do what Freeman always does in such situations: spout sciency-sounding stuff to explain what’s going on.

Accelerated evolution gives Lucy access to secrets of the universe but also threatens to destroy her. As she develops super-agility, mind control and telekinesis, she’s becomes a deadly shot and goes on the rampage.

Director Luc Besson can’t see a corridor without having an actor sashay along it waving firearms – and he needs no excuse to follow Johansson’s famous curves.

With her cool detachment and deadpan delivery, the more powerful Lucy becomes the sexier she is. She joins forces with police to trace the other drugs mules.

When Jang’s heavily armed mob arrive in Paris for shoot-outs and a great car chase, Lucy begins to travel in time and space and it’s not just her mind that’s blown.

★★★★☆