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I originally intended this to be a video game review blog with added film and book reviews but thanks to my dedication to review every film I see in the cinema and buy on DVD it’s the film reviews that have taken over. I’d love to give full reviews to every film I see but the workload has been building up and I’ve taken the executive decision to start relying more on roundups like this. I’ll still be doing proper film reviews but only for titles I really want to dedicate the time to.

In Cinemas

The Muppets

Jason Segel, a person not known for his family friendly movies was the man trusted with bringing the wonderful Muppets back to our screens after a long hiatus. The fact that Kermit, Miss Piggy and co have been languishing in obscurity for the last several years is actually rather cannily used as a plot point for this new movie in which Segel stars as Gary whose felt-faced brother Walter is obsessed with the Muppets and campaigns for them to reform. Cue a rich tycoon’s plan to destroy the Muppets’ studios to drill for oil and we have a race against time for Kermit, Walter, Gary and Gary’s fiancée Mary (Amy Adams in full Enchanted mode) to track down the old gang. It’s a real delight to see these great characters back on the big screen and many of the fourth-wall breaking gags and general silliness really hits the spot but the story doesn’t have the high entertainment value of Muppet Treasure Island or The Muppet Christmas Carol. The delegation of screen time for the characters doesn’t quite achieve the right balance (there’s not nearly enough of Gonzo and Rizzo is missing altogether) and some of the songs are overwhelmingly saccharine but that doesn’t matter in this case as much as it otherwise might. After all is there anyone who doesn’t love the Muppets?

Carnage

Two sets of well-to-do New York parents meet to amicably discuss a violent incident involving their eleven-year-old sons but civility gradually descends into childish bickering in Roman Polanski’s often hilarious adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play Le Dieu de Carnage. The impressive ensemble cast (Kate Winslet, Jodi Foster, Christopher Waltz, John C. Reilly) have a ball with the script, revelling in the vitriol they get to spout at each other and the characters are all perfectly observed. The film’s downfall is its self-imposed limitations brought on by its genesis as a stage play. The single, cramped setting lends a not inappropriate sense of claustrophobia but the single continuous scene inevitably lacks any kind of variety. It’s a fine adap but it couldn’t be more obviously an adap if it tried.

On DVD

Fantastic Mr Fox

Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s best loved stories (and my personal favourite of his) really stands out from the crowd. The idiosyncratically crude animation brings to mind those annoying Compare the Market adverts and the direction and script are wry, whimsical and offbeat. The story of a cocky and anthropomorphic fox (voiced by George Clooney) busting one last heist against the three fattest, shortest and leanest farmers capitalism has ever imagined manages to be both hilarious and touching with rounded character tension and depth. The star-studded cast that includes Bill Murray and Michael Gambon deliver brilliantly confident performances, making the grown-up script sparkle. It’s a cult film and that’s mainly because the script is very mature, loaded with swearing cynically masked by the word ‘cuss’ and a consistently bonkers mood. That this film in which the hero talks about existentialism could be taken on its merits and regarded as an adult’s animation doesn’t really hold water given that it’s adapted from the writings of one of the most important kids’ writers in history and many critics have not wrongly marked it down for this. In the film’s defence I’m sure that the odd tone and general sense of fun will not be lost on young ‘uns and as such it will still find its audience. Purist’s complaints at the story’s Americanisation and relative lack of fidelity is predictable. Maybe someday people will figure out the definition of the word ‘adaptation’ and that’s coming from someone who loved the book. Whatever complaints might be levelled there’s no denying that Fantastic Mr Fox is innovative and memorable

Ponyo

I’m reviewing Disney’s important take on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid soon but first is the matter of this bolder reimagining, Hayao Miyazaki’s most recent directorial feature with Studio Ghibli. Set in a modern day version of Japan that seems unperturbed by giant sea gods Ponyo is the fishy daughter of a powerful oceanic sorcerer who escapes from his supervision to explore the human world where she meets five-year-old Sosuke with whom she forms a strong bond. It’s a more creative vision of the story that paints a vivid and slightly perilous impression of the ocean complete with tsunami made of giant fish. As bold as many of the more exciting scenes are the film is equally strong in quitter moments such as the scene in which the tots enjoy their dinner which is laced with beautifully observed cuteness. The film is primarily aimed at younger kids, but, like with My Neighbour Totoro before it, Ghibli have created a film that should maintain strong appeal for children and adults of every age. The strong English language voice cast includes the likes of Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, with the younger siblings of teen stars playing the nippers (Miley Cyrus’ sister, the Jonas brothers’ baby bro) but Tina Fey gets the best results as Sosuke’s hilariously tenacious mum. This is Ghibli very nearly at their best.

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