Stallone, Statham, Li and the action heroes who should have settled nicely into retirement by now are back together for more guns, explosions and bank balance top ups in Expendables 2, an inevitable sequel to the moderate success of the first film. That had cameos from Arnie and Bruce Willis to build the hype which turned out to be little more than walk-on roles, so writer/director/star Stallone had to up the ante to come close to matching the clamour for action fans to get to cinemas. By handing the director’s chair to Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider helmer Simon West, bringing back Arnie and Willis in expanded roles then adding Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme to the mix seemed enough on paper to guarantee interest, but does it add up to a worthy film?
Whenever a film is set in California, all the characters are all ridiculously attractive, glowing, and healthy looking. The supporting cast, people they pass by on the beach or stand next to at a bar are all beautiful. Now, this begs the question, is California really full of such sun-drenched specimens of human perfection, or is it a con of some kind to get us all to visit? Well, in the world of Oliver Stone’s Savages, that is probably not something that concerns them too much, as they have a Mexican drug cartel to deal with.
It’s fair to say that there are already a lot of zombie films about. And this is no bad thing, for zombies are highly entertaining in all their slow walking, face falling off, flesh-hungry moaning glory. So now you have to do something a bit special with the genre, like Nazi zombies in Dead Snow or zombie sheep in Black Sheep. Well, now we have zombies running amok in the East end of London, traditional home of the cockney. And more cockneys trying to escape them, without letting zombies sink their Hampstead Heath into their Gregory Peck’s. If you know what I mean. This is Cockneys vs Zombies.
Spider-man is back on the big screen just five years since Sam Raimi concluded his trilogy of movies about the web-slinger, a fact you might assume would lead to a radical rethink in the way the character is portrayed. Sadly not. Andrew Garfield takes over from Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker while the aptly-named Marc Webb gets in the director’s chair to take us back to where it all began. Again. The 2002 origins story in Spider-man gets rewritten here with Emma Stone as high school love interest Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as one-armed genetic scientist Dr. Curt Connors, Martin Sheen at Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May. Kicking off with a short insight into how Parker came to be in the care with his aunt and uncle before his parents died, we’re quickly fast forwarding to our hero as an awkward student in need of some help with bullies and getting his words out around the ladies.
Hyped up and ready for action, The Raid was hailed as a game-changer of an action flick packed full of martial arts and gunplay like no other long before release. Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans and the Indonesian martial artist he discovered Iko Uwais had already won plaudits for Merantau Warrior so they needed to show their fans another installment just as mouth-watering. Thankfully they’ve nailed it thanks to another star turn from national Silat champion Uwais and a frenetic assault on a gangster’s tower block by a woefully under-prepared SWAT team. Much like a Die Hard if Bruce Willis was Bruce Lee or, more accurately, Uwais, The Raid is not just break-neck but also full of bullets through the head and devastating finishing moves. Yet for all the excitement for action junkies, the attempts to add family drama to proceedings makes for unnecessary plot development that won’t be appreciated by those frustrated by a slow down in the pace and will seem tacked on to those who want more of a story to their battles.
The Cabin in the Woods was made back in 2009, before star Chris Hemworth had become a comic book action hero in Thor, then shelved. Choosing to release the movie on both sides of the Atlantic now could be seen as a deliberate ploy to give Hemsworth a bump in popularity ahead of his reprisal of Thunder God Thor in blockbuster Avengers Assemble in the summer, but to even consider that would be to overlook the smart thinking behind The Cabin in the Woods. This self-aware movie is written by long-time collaborative duo Drew Goddard and Joss Wheadon, with the former taking on directing duties, who use a very obvious love for cult shocker The Evil Dead trilogy as the basis for a postmodern, Truman Show style horror.
The Muppets were last seen on the big screen in Muppets from Space – a commercial flop in 1999 that meant the popular puppets were downgraded to TV movies until now. A revival of Jim Henson’s creations was hardly demanded by eager fans and might have been seen as a mis-step by Disney with 3-D CGI animation all the rage for children’s movies. Could anyone make a Muppet film that re-created the original television show’s charm while also providing a spin on the characters that got people paying to see Kermit, Miss Piggy and the crew? Thankfully yes – How I Met You Mother’s Jason Segel co-writes and stars in this fresh, vibrant and remarkably poignant resurrection of the family favourites.
A love-letter to the bygone silent era, The Artist is a charming film that reflects on cinema’s formative years while also relighting the fires of interest in a style of filmmaking that was once considered consigned to the history books forever. To see it back on the big screen at a time when two of the longest-running Hollywood studios, Universal and Paramount, are celebrating 100 years in business, is almost poetic. It’s already picked up numerous awards and looks set for Oscar glory to add to the romanticism, but the gushing praise for The Artist is well-deserved.
All four Mission: Impossible movies have carried their director’s distinct style to varying degrees of success. De Palma kicked off the movie franchise effectively then John Woo went so OTT on action that the brooding intelligence of the first was lost. JJ Abrams offered a solid reboot of sorts which played up teamwork rather than one-man-army Cruise. Abrams drew on his experience working on television series, but it looked like the A-list actor would struggle to find a mass audience again when the box office take of his recent films went downhill. For this fourth edition Pixar director Brad Bird has made his first foray into live action cinema following hits with The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Ratatouille. To make a success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Bird would have to strike a balance of the insatiable Cruise star power and giving screen time to more than just his elaborate stunts. That might be considered an impossible mission itself, but he’s performed admirably to ensure all of Ethan’s team get a chance to shine.
Journalist and adventurer Tintin arrives on the big screen with a CGI-makeover that goes three dimensional. Sewing together three 1940s stories The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, this big budget re-imaging of Herve’s classic is a thrill ride of set pieces, yet lacking the classic Spielberg story weaving of his live action equivalent Indiana Jones.
Tim Burton’s update of The Planet of the Apes 10 years ago, dressing up A-list actors in hairy costumes and a preposterous ending put paid to a reboot to the much-loved franchise. Burton’s movie lacked the dark overtones the director was renowned for and had none of the camp charm of the original, leaving a soulless Hollywood blockbuster. But nothing is normally more soulless than a Hollywood prequel, usually full of by-the-numbers plotting and characterisation as it plods towards a pre-determined end with a few winks along the way. Incredibly, Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t one of them: helmer Rupert Wyatt brings us a well-acted, engaging origins story with genuine emotion behind all the CGI apes and creative action scenes.
Hollywood has often granted hotshot directors creative freedom after they’ve proved themselves a top talent. Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate in the 1980s almost brought down a studio under the weight of the director’s ambition and, more recently, Kurt Wimmer and Kerry Conran showed that putting too much faith in the hands of the director can result in poor returns. Zack Snyder’s efforts remaking Dawn of the Dead and then bringing graphic novels 300 and Watchmen to the big screen earned him free reign for his live action follow up Sucker Punch. An action/drama spectacular drenched in fantasy, Snyder’s computer game-esque sequences see a group of girls battling all manner of enemies to escape a brothel that is used as symbolism for a girl’s entrapment in a mental asylum. This premise gives Snyder plenty of opportunity to flex his creative muscle, but this original effort exposes his shortcomings as a writer.
“The late, great Ayton Senna” is how possibly the finest Formula One commentator Murray Walker used to describe the legendary driver on air before he retired, and possibly still does. This documentary follows Senna from his karting days through his conflicts with F1 rival Alain Prost to his untimely death at Italy’s Imola circuit in 1994. It’s an emotional journey that puts the hero of the piece on a pedestal as a Brazilian and sporting icon, but paints a one-dimensional view of the legend.
The Scream series was once the talk of horror fans. Writer Kevin Williamson and veteran slasher director Wes Craven teamed up to create the first real tongue-in-cheek dressing down of the genre with the original, yet also managed to craft their own inventive classic at the same time – a feat that would propel the series on for a better-than-expected sequel which continued the tradition of high school kids geeking out over horror film cliches while being involved in the same scenarios.
Kevin Macdonald, the British director who brought us the likes of Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland and State of Play suffers his first major misfire with his latest offering The Eagle; an adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth. A sword and sandals piece, The Eagle follows Marcus Flavia Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman legionary who seeks to restore honour to his besmirched family name by recovering the symbolic golden eagle, which his late father lost in battle, along with his whole legion (the ninth), during an infamously ill-fated attempt to conquer northern Briton.
It is incredibly rare that a director of sheer quality is able to hone his or her talents expertly enough to achieve the unimaginable and produce a masterpiece upon debut. Few have managed it but those who have are now among Hollywood’s studio elite as a result. Bryan Singer with The Usual Suspects, Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs, the Coen Brothers with Blood Simple and now the extremely exciting David Michôd with his astonishing feature debut Animal Kingdom.
Shakespeare’s plays have been told in many forms, in particular Romeo and Juliet which Baz Luhrmann brought to vivid life in 1996 with Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes embodying the titular characters for a generation of film fans. Then the tragedy was relocated to Verona to give it zest while retaining the original dialogue, for this very British production the twist on the famous tale is the warring Capulets and Montagues are gnomes living in rival gardens next door to each other. With producers including David Furnish and Elton John its got plenty of stars behind the animated adventure, however there’s very little life in it beyond the child-friendly introduction to the work of William Shakespeare.
No matter which way you look at it, despite the fact that it seems nigh on impossible, the Coen brothers appear to be getting progressively better – like a pair of maturing cheeses if you will.
Tom Hooper’s period biopic of King George VI’s abrupt appointment to the throne arrives on silver screens fully formed and totally deserving of all the recent plaudits it has received.
Sofia Coppola’s most popular and award-winning film, Lost in Translation, saw Bill Murray wander Tokyo as a deleaguered movie star looking for a sense of purpose. Murray’s charm hadn’t has such a deserved vehicle for his increasingly wry humour – combined with the sprightly Scarlett Johansson Coppola struck a chord with audiences. Everyone felt for Murray’s actor slipping into limbo as Johansson offered a sembelence of reality. With Somewhere she tries to repeat the trick, this time with Stephen Dorff the actor, though this time he’s a hugely bankable action star already besieged by ladies who needs to snap out of a party lifestyle that might not seem lonely at times, but at others it is soul destroying.
Todd Phillips became the king of frat comedy thanks to Old School back in 2003 and last year’s The Hangover was another example of how well he depicts adults getting themselves into sticky situations without reaching for the easy option of grossing out the audience. With Due Date he apes Planes, Trains and Automobiles by putting a father-to-be’s travel plans in the fate of an unlikely stranger who tests his nerves and patience to the limits in a bid to be home in time to see his first born into the world, but falls short of recreating a pairing as strong as Steve Martin and John Candy in the comedy classic. Its not the leading men who can’t fill their shoes that lets this movie down, rather it’s a weak script fighting for laughs.
Director David Fincher has a thing about male obsession – he’s obsessed with the condition of men becoming so engrossed in a pursuit that their lives become dedicated to and often destroyed by their obsession. Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac focused on male characters who were fixated on the dark recesses of the mind to the point they clouded their own. To group The Social Network with his past work might seem extreme – the setting up of Facebook, the world’s largest social networking website with 500 million users, would appear on the surface to be a simple tale of a few geeks getting together wanting to make friends. But never judge a book by it’s cover, they say, and it’s fitting that Facebook harbours more dark recesses than you might expect.
For those of us who have oft pondered, perhaps on a drastically lonely, rainy day, what the pros and cons of artificial insemination might be, Josh Gordon and Will Speck’s The Switch is a hilariously unconventional place to start. Confident, successful Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) has decided, in lieu of numerous failed relationships, that her desire to become a mother mustn’t rely on the unlikelihood of finding Mr Right. Thus, to reassure herself that her plan to find a sperm donor is the right choice, she confides in her neurotic ex-flame, best-pal convert, Wally (Jason Bateman).
Movie fans who believed that the torture-porn genre had nothing left to offer but another execrable Saw sequel should check out the refreshing new movie from writer and director Tom Six, The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Though far from perfect, it delivers more than one might expect for a movie that has been hyped for its shocking and graphic content.
Hollywood’s desperately unoriginal propensity for remaking or ‘revamping’ anything it can get its filthy rich hands on charges onwards and just about upwards with Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team. Carnahan’s back catalogue includes such mindless actionfests as Blood, Guts, Bullets And Octane and the two Smokin’ Aces films, so it comes as no surprise that his take on The A-Team is similarly testosterone-fuelled.