I’ve always been a little frustrated by DreamWorks. Their success with cash-guzzling franchises like Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda has made them the most prolific animation studio in the world but they haven’t been able to marry quantity with quality with any consistency. It’s difficult to know, when attending one of their new films, whether to expect a How to Train Your Dragon or a Shark Tale. There’s no denying their ability to keep kids entertained but few, if any, of their films will ever be remembered in the same way as most of Pixar’s emotionally satisfying, story-led back catalogue. Continue reading
I’m getting the feeling that reading books that served as inspiration for animated feature films might become a habit of mine. Just a few weeks ago I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Coraline which inspired my number one film of all time. Now it’s the turn of How to Train Your Dragon which was adapted by Dreamworks into possibly their best animated feature to date. Cressida Cowell’s original novel, the first in a pretty lengthy series, is only passably similar to the frankly superior movie it spawned. Continue reading
adventure, animation, Calhoun, comedy, Disney, fantasy, Fix-It Felix Jr, Hero's Duty, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, John C Reilly, Mortal Kombat, Rich Moore, Sarah Silverman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter, Sugar Rush, Vanellope von Schweets, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Wreck-it Ralph
My two favourite things together at last. Continue reading
Stories about writers struggling to find something to write about always give the impression that they were written by a writer who couldn’t think of anything else to write about. Usually this is a mistake but not in the case of Seven Psychopaths if indeed this was Martin McDonagh’s problem. Somehow I doubt it.
Colin Farrell plays the writer-director’s namesake Marty, a big name Hollywood pen who wants to write a movie about psychopaths that defies genre conventions. With a little help from his oddball friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) he finds himself in a series of bizarre situations with some real nutjobs including Woody Harrelson’s mob boss, a man desperate to retrieve his beloved kidnapped Shih Tzu. Continue reading
I’ve always identified the Madagascar series alongside the Ice Age films. The comparisons are very obvious but with the release of the third picture in Dreamworks’ franchise it seems that the successes of each series reflect one another. Both started out with a fun and quirky debut that led to a limp follow up and now, like Ice Age 3 which was better than its predecessor, the third Madagascar marks a clear improvement on the second. Not that this is necessarily the sign of a great movie. The Madagascar films have always felt like second tier fare next to Dreamworks’ best efforts and while Europe’s Most Wanted is an improvement it still can’t hold a candle to the likes of Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. Continue reading
Hotel Transylvania plays as the distinct underdog in the horror-themed trilogy of animated films following ParaNorman and Frankenweenie in recent weeks. Sony Pictures Animation, relative new kids on the block can’t boast the pedigree of Laika or Tim Burton but their small back catalogue does include the brilliant Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Can this effort, which is playing squarely at the commercial audience, emulate any of that film’s inspired insanity? Continue reading
This has been a golden year for stop-motion. First we had Aardman’s excellent The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! and more recently Laika’s fantastic ParaNorman. Now it’s time for act three and the latest effort from a cinema legend. Frankenweenie began life as a live-action short film Tim Burton made in his twenties whilst working as an animator for Disney. The story was too macabre for the company and his efforts lost him his job. One iconic career later and how things have changed as Burton and Disney reteam to remake his original story in stop-motion. Continue reading
animation, Anna Kendrick, Bernard Hill, Casey Affleck, Chris Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, comedy, fantasy, horror, Jeff Garlin, Jodelle Ferland, John Goodman, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Laika, Leslie Mann, Norman Babcock, ParaNorman, Sam Fell, Stop Motion, Tucker Albrizzi
Bawdy comedy is not something I’m usually a fan of, not because I’m easily offended by excessive swearing or taboo comic themes but because the vast majority of such material, as I have found it, comes across as really obnoxious and cheap fodder for brainless teenage boys. There are notable exceptions, among them Seth McFarlane’s various hugely successful animated Simpsons-aping shows of which Family Guy, which boasts genuine invention and intelligence behind its writing, is the foremost. Now the brain behind the cartoon behemoth is making a splash on the big screen with Ted, a film that is already proving a massive hit. Continue reading
With their bonkers characters, vibrant colours and wry jokes the books of Dr Seuss seem like the perfect fodder for animation and with live action turkeys like The Cat in the Hat standing next to CG gems like Horton Hears a Who! The counter-arguments are very quiet indeed. Dr Suess reportedly singled out The Lorax as his personal favourite and the adaptation from Illumination Entertainment, which I saw as part of a double bill with Ice Age 4,has been making megabucks stateside. In spite of this the film has met with some fairly negative feedback so I went into this one intrigued but not quite knowing what to expect. Continue reading
animation, Blue Sky Studios, comedy, Denis Leary, Diego, Ice Age, Ice Age 4 - Continental Drift, Jennifer Lopez, John Leguizamo, Manny, Mike Thurmeier, Nick Frost, Peter Dinklage, Queen Latifah, Ray Romano, Scrat, Sid, Steve Martino
There are two types of animated film, the artistic kind and the commercial kind although there is a fair amount of crossover between the two. The Ice Age franchise is a pretty clear example of the latter, a money-making behemoth and one of the most lucrative film franchises ever. It’s managed this despite never enjoying real critical acclaim. It’s a middle-of-the-road series of kids flick worth watching for the amusing banter between the central trio and Scrat the squirrel’s acorn-chasing misadventures but never likely to match the brilliance of the best of Pixar. It’s a big ask but can the fourth outing do more than just the same again? Continue reading
From the opening scene shooting through a cross-section of a family home that gives it a distinct dolls house aesthetic it’s clear to Wes Anderson fans that we’re in familiar territory with Moonrise Kingdom. Arriving fresh from its successful debut at Cannes the film features all of the whimsical director’s regular tropes including deadpan zingers, rigid horizontal shots and emotional detachment but this time features a sweet central romance that penetrates the wall of disconnection. Continue reading
Aardman, adventure, animation, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Blessed, comedy, David Tennant, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Jeff Newitt, Jeremy Piven, Lenny Henry, Martin Freeman, Peter Lord, Pirate Captain, Salma Hayek, Stop Motion, The Pirates!, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
It seems fitting that in a year that looks likely to prove a Renaissance for stop motion animation that one of the most prolific studios to practise the painstaking art should lead the charge. With Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie and Laika’s ParaNorman on the way Aardman are here with their first feature length stop motion effort since 2005’s Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Continue reading
2009 might very well have been the best ever year for animated films. Pixar produced the Oscar winner with the beautifully told and very emotional Up, Disney started to rediscover their old magic with The Princess and the Frog and elsewhere we were treated to Fantastic Mr Fox, Coraline and The Secret of Kells. One that went under the radar for a lot of people including me was a crazy little CG animated movie called Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Adapted from a 1978 book by Judi Barrett the story surrounds Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) a young scientist with a mad imagination for invention (spray-on shoes, monkey thought translator, ratbirds). His latest crackpot contraption is a machine that turns water into food which he accidentally launches into the stratosphere where it draws in cloud matter and produces gastronomic rain. With chirpy weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) reporting these extraordinary events to the world it starts to look like Flint’s invention could end up rejuvenating the failing economy of his island home town Swallow Falls with tourism but with meal requests flooding in from the townsfolk there’s a danger that he might lose control of the machine.
The amount of fun that’s had with the concept is an absolute joy from the superbly realised first dramatic food storm onwards. Expect nacho cheese hot springs, an open-air steakhouse where meat lands on people’s plates and in one standout scene a snow day of ice cream. But the bonkers doesn’t end with the only-possible-in-animation concept. Where some toons are nutty Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is absolutely out of its mind, the insane story enhanced by a bat-shit crazy script and colourful cast of cooks and the results are hilarious. Every joke is expertly prepared, timed and executed and if you’ve even a shred of humour you’ll be laughing out loud all the way through.
Much of it is achieved by the excellent voice cast who bring perky life to the characters, among them Mr T as an athletic cop and doting father. Anna Faris brings the right kind of cute to the smarter-than-she-seems weather reporter while Bill Hader makes Flint Lockwood into one of the great cartoon heroes, a genius whose overenthusiasm is his undoing, hiding a naiveté brought out in little moments. His struggle to win his dad’s approval is formulaic but played well but it’s his sheer breathless determination that makes him shine.
It’s a real surprise of a film, bursting with colour, loaded with visual gags and digs at movie clichés and full of completely crackers ideas, pun intended. One minute you’ll see a giant jelly castle, the next there’ll be a man wearing an oversized cooked chicken but it’s paced sensibly and never overwhelms offering little character-driven sub-plots to allow it some quieter moments of conflict. A good thing too because if the film was nothing but shots of foodstuff falling from the sky into eager children’s open mouths it might have got a bit much building up to the cataclysmic ending. So much effort and love has clearly gone into every aspect of the film’s creation that it deserves a lot more attention than it ever received.
Possibly the most brilliantly bonkers animated fun-fest of the last ten years but if subtlety’s your thing you might want to look elsewhere. Your loss.
Proving that you don’t need big stars, a famous license or a megabudget to craft a genuinely fresh and engaging blockbuster, Chronicle comes out of left field to become a surprise critical hit. The story involves three high-schoolers, philosophising Matt (Alex Russell), political Steve (Michael B Jordan) and cameraman Andrew (Dane DeHaan) who explore a conspicuous hole in the ground whilst at a rave finding inside what can only be described as a huge star-shaped mass of Kryptonite which gives all three telekinetic powers. Pretty soon their playing catch, building Lego towers and blowing up girls’ skirts, all with no hands, forming a unique if slightly fractious bond.
For a significant stretch of the running time the film plays for laughs getting great mileage from the practical jokes and stunts the trio pull in shopping centres and car parks. The three charismatic leads are wonderfully naturalistic, effortlessly convincing that this really is how three American teens would react to such superpowers, and it’s enormous fun (watch out for Steve’s priceless reaction when Andrew saves his life at one point). The pick of the bunch is clearly DeHaan as the socially awkward main character who has no trouble getting us on his side thanks to his deft characterisation and excellent handling of scenes depicting Andrew’s miserable home life (terminally ill mother, drunken bullying father).
The other selling point is the way it’s filmed, Andrew having just bought a camera to ‘film everything from here on out’. Although it shares many of the tropes of the found footage genre I didn’t read it that way. I think the context is perfect, if you and your mates get superpowers you’d film yourselves testing them out right? The camera becomes our window into their private world and is worked into the script like a fourth character. The story is even used to dispel one of the prohibitive quirks of the found footage genre, Andrew uses his powers to make the camera float meaning he can film himself. It’s also worth noting that the film is shot on more than one camera within the story and therefore can’t masquerade as found footage at all. Instead the camera works as a framing device to highlight camera culture in an the age of YouTube and video blogs, something the film openly references. It’s not enough for there to be kids with superpowers there needs to be a record of it even though they’re keeping it a secret, after all the title, when expressed as a verb instead of a noun means to record.
The concept really comes into its own in the thrilling and inventive climax which I won’t spoil except that suffice to say things go a bit awry as Andrew struggles to keep to Matt’s rules. The film has been called a live-action Akira and while it could never be as pulverising as that movie I heartily agree with this observation. In fact now that Chronicle exists that live-action New York set remake of the anime classic is not only a huge mistake of an idea but an entirely redundant one too.
In a year set to be dominated by huge superhero flicks Chronicle might just have stolen some of their thunder. Creative, entertaining and very well played, this is a must see.
Season’s Greetings to all you blog surfers and many thanks for taking the time over the festive period to peruse this humble little review source. That darned review congestion has hit me so hard that I’m deliberately avoiding watching new films such as Happy Feet 2 and Puss in Boots so they don’t get in the way of my still-in-progress Skyward Sword review which is on the way, I promise. Reviews for those three animated films I keep mentioning will now likely appear some time in the new year. One film I wasn’t going to wait to watch was this sequel to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 adaptation of the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.
The runaway success of the first film inevitably birthed a franchise that, for once, makes perfect sense, after all Sherlock Holmes was a franchise character that starred in numerous novels and short stories and gave rise to a great number of other adaptations down the years. The untraditional depiction of the character, visual style, focus on action and director’s trademark flourishes caused many of the more militant purists to cry foul but Sherlock Holmes was perfectly in keeping with the escapist spirit of the original writings and lays down the character vividly and more faithfully than many realise. RDJ’s Holmes is as flawed, difficult and erratic as Doyle’s, maintaining the character’s mastery of disguise and martial arts and his drug use and correctly never wearing a deer stalker. The real triumph of the first film was the brilliant chemistry between Downey and Jude Law as Watson and the well-balanced examination of their amusing bromance. Thankfully the sequel doesn’t go down the Pirates of the Caribbean route by removing the fun in favour of a grim mood and unnecessary and unwanted character complexity but sticks to the winning formula.
Sherlock Holmes is hot on the trail of Professor Moriarty, a criminal genius with an intellect to equal the great detective, whom he suspects to be behind a series of seemingly unrelated happenings in Europe such as bombings blamed on anarchists. Meanwhile Holmes’ partner Dr John Watson is preparing for his nuptials, an event that could jeopardise the regularity of their friendship. The trail takes Holmes to Europe which is fast approaching a state of war as tensions escalate between France and Germany. Holmes and Watson, relieved of his honeymoon enlist the help of a gypsy woman (Noomi Rapace) to track Moriarty down.
It’s a solid story with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting but it doesn’t feel like as much of a mystery this time around. A Game of Shadows is more of a boy’s own adventure featuring some Bond-like globetrotting, exciting action and bromantic character comedy. After a slow and moderately shaky build-up the film finds its pace with a thrilling and hilarious set piece set aboard a train – something every adventure story should have and it never looks back rattling from one memorable moment to another. Ritchie’s distinct and vibrant visual style lends the period setting the same steampunk edge that gave the first film its strong character and makes for some dazzling sequences. One such strikingly graded sequence that sees the heroes fleeing from heavy artillery fire through a European forest stands out as the highlight of the picture and one of the best action scenes of the year.
As before it’s the central relationship between the eccentric hero and his straight-man sidekick that proves the most consistent delight. Law’s Watson is great as he makes his way through early scenes in a state of perpetual incredulity at Holmes’ lifestyle and disregard for his upcoming marriage. Watson’s reaction to Holmes is a mixture of disgust and admiration and his loyalty is stirring. Holmes meanwhile is as aloof and guarded as ever, his unpredictability and focus subtly masking what is clearly a powerful need for his friend. And yes things do get a bit homoerotic particularly in one scene in which a topless Holmes invites Watson to lie down with him (to avoid a hail of bullets) but this aspect of the comedy is not strong or frequent enough to spoil things. It’s a good balance.
The supporting cast are largely strong, particularly Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty, channelling his father vocally and giving just enough balance to lend the film’s other critical relationship much needed weight. In Moriarty Holmes has met his match and his complex and ambitious plot delivers urgency to the narrative. Scenes in which the two meet are loaded with significance and the sense of mutual respect is satisfyingly intact. Noomi Rapace’s character is the weak link as she looks uncomfortable with her first English speaking role. It doesn’t help that her character has little real depth but she does just enough with very little not to end up a complete washout. Rachel McAdams returns briefly and has even less and her involvement in the story winds up rather anticlimactic particularly given her significance in the first film. Better is Paul Anderson as Colonel Sebastian Moran, a character from the original fiction and makes for the most well-developed and interesting henchman I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Then there’s Stephen Fry as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, doing sterling work with a role that turned out to be more important to the plot than I had expected. Though Fry doesn’t have the same chemistry with Downey as Law his own wit and presence are more than enough to justify his inclusion and one revealing scene of his will live long in the memory.
Some have criticised the Ritchie-directed franchise for valuing style over substance but I don’t see that. This sequel might not be tremendously deep but it is very rich not least because it draws on substantial and iconic source material. I’ve even heard the phrase ‘brainless’ aimed in the film’s direction which is truly puzzling given the nature of the script and the ideas it has fun with. Take the returning concept of Holmes mentally planning fist fights before they happen, an original, entertaining and clever idea if ever there was one and one that is kept fresh here by pitting Holmes against a villain that can do the same. The bottom line is that Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows is a pacey and consistently entertaining romp with a very strong identity, confidently made that never strays beyond the purity of what makes good escapism and that’s getting harder and harder to find, particularly in sequels.
Despite a running-time in excess of two hours this breezy, fun and consistent sequel rattles along at a brisk pace that never lets you get bored. Anchored by a great central chemistry and drawing upon a rich mythology of mystery fiction it’s a rock-solid sequel that might not be as rounded as its predecessor but is just as diverting.
I’ve been suffering from a spot of review congestion brought about by having lots of different things to write reviews for and not enough time to write. All I can do is keep plodding on and bash them out one by one. Reviews for Mattimeo and those three animated films I bought on DVD are coming and yes, so is that all important verdict on Skyward Sword but for now we’ll have to make do with one of the best films of the year.
I was still recovering from food poisoning when I saw this film, once again with my good buddy Ryan, and my relatively delicate state had an unforeseen effect of heightening the immersion since 50/50 is a film about illness, specifically cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a twenty-seven-year-old neat-freak with everything to live for, he’s got a good job working at a radio station with one-track minded buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen), a steady girlfriend and his own cool little pad but after seeing a doctor about back pains learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer from which there is a 50/50 survival rate, and, as you can imagine, his life changes.
That phrase I used there ‘as you can imagine’ is critical. One of the most powerful effects this film achieves is that it makes you imagine what it would be like coping with cancer in a way you might not choose to normally. In my case I think this effect was probably increased by my own weakened condition. I’m not going to compare food poisoning to cancer but I suffered some very unpleasant long-term digestive health problems as a result of a previous bout of gastroenteritis (yeah, breaking out the medical terms now) that required specialist treatment and I survived a very serious, life-threatening illness when I was a kid so I understand what it’s like to be really unwell and the reality that 50/50 offers is so strong it’s scary. The film really focuses hard on Adam, there’s barely a scene he’s not in and we follow his journey through chemotherapy and how his relationships are affected in plenty of detail before building up to the inevitable make or break moment. It’s a beautifully measured film, perfectly balanced to portray an accurate and painfully believable depiction of a killer disease without getting too depressing.
Hollywood tends to use cancer as the perfect platform on which to build a good weepie but this is actually a comedy full of bawdy lines, awkward social interaction and amusing observations. Kyle’s reaction to his buddy’s illness is to try and make the most of it and get both of them laid while Adam’s overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), already looking after her Alzheimer’s suffering husband begins mollycoddling her son even further. Then there’s Anna Kendrick’s therapist whose greenness at her job (Adam is only her third patient ever) makes for some amusingly awkward moments. It’s a funny film to be sure and Rogen gets most of the best lines but the comedy never once trivialises the seriousness of the disease or strays into inappropriateness. The middle part of the film contains plenty of scenes that give us a break from the bleakness of Adam’s situation and it’s a good thing too because as the ending approaches the film becomes almost unbearably emotional. I honestly can’t remember the last time I got this emotionally involved in a film and this is thanks largely to Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose immense likeability and wonderfully human performance make it effortless to get behind Adam, I found myself desperately hoping he doesn’t die.
There are a few faults, the biggest of which surrounds Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Rachael, Adam’s girlfriend who tries to do the right thing but blows it. Howard does about as good a job as you can reasonably expect playing a thankless role as a character who receives no sympathy from the script despite being in a horrible situation. True, what she does is far from heroic but considering how well-balanced the script is otherwise her character’s treatment feels rather unfair. Other than this there are a couple of moments that don’t feel natural, such as Adam’s mother’s initial reaction to the news of his cancer and the doctor who breaks the news to Adam doesn’t seem to give a toss. But these are all fairly minor quibbles in an otherwise overwhelmingly well-executed movie.
The supporting performances are all note-perfect, Anna Kendrick is sweet and very funny as Adam’s therapist Katherine, Anjelica Huston nails the concerned mother role but it’s Seth Rogen’s performance that is the most interesting, which brings me to how the script came to be written. Will Reiser was himself struck down by cancer in his twenties and Seth Rogen was his real-life best bud who stuck by him through it. The script is based on his experience and Rogen is effectively playing himself in the story which adds a huge amount of maturity to his performance. He’s still full of profanity and bawdiness but this time it’s accompanied by a sensitive humanity that is clearly described by what must have been a harrowing ordeal for him playing the role for real. One rather touching moment when Adam drops Kyle off drunk at his apartment and discovers something surprising illustrates how the character has been written to give the actor more to do than his usual spiel.
50/50 may not be the most outright hilarious film I’ve ever seen (and given the subject matter how could it?) but it is nonetheless the best comedy I’ve seen this year because it treats its theme with maturity and grace barring a couple of stumbles and I’ve long been of the opinion that poignancy is all the more powerful when delivered alongside lightness (Blackadder Goes Forth anyone?). Needless to say the film triumphs.
A thoughtful, funny boy’s weepie that will really get you thinking about how you would react to the same situation and deliver a karate chop to your heartstrings. One of the best films of the year.
This film from Bruce Robinson, director of possibly the definitive cult classic Withnail and I, working for the first time since 1992, was adapted from an early Hunter S Thompson novel that remained unpublished for years and plays out like a spiritual prequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, another Thompson adap that also starred Johnny Depp.
The Rum Diary’s plot mirrors a similar episode in Thompson’s own life as it follows Paul Kemp (Depp), a failed novelist with an inconvenient habit of drinking to absolute excess and his relocation to Puerto Rico to work on a local rag. He soon shacks up with an in-house photographer with a side line in cockfighting (Michael Risposi) and an absolute mess of a politics and religious affairs correspondent (Giovanni Ribisi). Together they indulge in light-hearted debauchery while their paper struggles and their editor (Richard Jenkins) tears his hair out (or has it torn out for him).
Meanwhile Kemp is courted by a high-flying property developer (Aaron Eckhart) who employs him to write favourable pieces about his latest business venture which gives Kemp plenty of time to get to know his flirty siren of a girlfriend (Amber Heard). It’s a mishmash of autobiographical drama, trippy comedy and gritty depiction of an island ‘paradise’.
And it’s a mishmash that isn’t entirely successful. True there’s plenty to enjoy from the characters’ often hilarious drug and booze-addled antics (particularly one incident that casts Depp as a human flamethrower) and the characters are mostly well-conceived and convincing but the plot strands mostly meander into insignificance and there’s little by way of Fear and Loathing style drug trips to enjoy. The most interesting thing about the film is probably its convincing and fascinating depiction of Puerto Rico in the late 1950s, a place of belligerent bar owners, crazed zombie women and endless tourist bowling alleys.
It’s an interesting indicator of the kind of weirdoes that Depp usually plays that this is one of his straightest performances. He’s clearly very comfortable with the Thompsonian dialogue (actually the director wrote the screenplay but managed to imitate the late author’s style successfully), but the character seems a little bland compared to his two buddies who are far more vividly played. The rest of the cast including Eckhart and Heard sell their parts of the plot well.
Neither triumph nor disaster with nothing to elevate it to the kind of cult classic status enjoyed by Withnail and I but far from unentertaining.
I’m not going to claim to be a connoisseur of all things Woody Allen, in fact I’m almost sure this is the first film of his I’ve ever seen (unless you count Antz for which he provided his voice). As I understand it Allen writes and directs pretty much the same film every year. His recent efforts have largely underwhelmed but this latest film is being hailed by critics as his lightest, most charming and best in years.
Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood script doctor with more literary aspirations holidaying with his fiancée and future in-laws in the French capital. Though his lady love Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her right leaning parents seem only interested in shopping Gil is enamoured by the city, daydreaming about living there and yearning for Paris in the twenties, the golden age as he sees it. With Inez disgruntled by his frustrations and paying more attention to her pedantic friend Paul (Michael Sheen) Gil takes a midnight stroll during which he is beckoned into a classical Peugeot and escorted to what seems like a brilliantly realised 1920s theme party. Then he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Midnight in Paris is a time travelling rom-com about nostalgia. It’s a theme that runs through the whole script. Gil’s novel in progress is about the proprietor of a nostalgia shop and the character’s own nostalgia defines him and his motivations and the film’s central examination of the idea is carried through to a satisfying if slightly predictable conclusion. The charm of Midnight in Paris lies in its breezy lightness of touch and the frequent introduction of famous artists and personalities of the past and the matter-of-fact manner of the appearance. Wilson’s reaction to being picked up by T S Elliot one night is priceless.
Inevitably there’s a fair amount of romance to the romantic comedy and Marion Cotillard provides the chief focus for romantic interest as Adriana one of the few characters Gil meets on his frequent travels who isn’t a household name. It’s nicely played throughout but (I’m assured) offers nothing we haven’t already seen in dozens of other Allen films.
If you’ve a mind to it’s possible to rip the film apart, it’s remarkably sentimental since it’s all about nostalgia, Inez’s republican parents, though entertainingly played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy are written as one-dimensional ogre stereotypes and it’s really hard to see why Gil and Inez are together in the first place. These criticisms aside the film’s charms are so strong that you’ll struggle to find a more engaging and witty romantic film this year. It’s well played throughout, Wilson channels Allen excellently a makes for the kind of likeable hero you always want to root for, Paris looks absolutely lovely and it’s a joy to tick off the personalities as they come up (look out for Adrian Brody as a potty Salvador Dali).
Rom-coms for the educated are a fairly rare breed but this is one of them. The gentle, beautifully presented humour and cinematography will spellbind.
Johnny English is never going to go down as one of the classic Rowan Atkinson characters to rub shoulders with Blackadder, the Schoolmaster or even Mr Bean. The first Johnny English was met by underwhelming reviews and then pretty much disappeared. Now eight years later comes a sequel no-one really expected but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Since the slightly incomprehensible events of the first film (which involved some guff about John Malkovich turning Britain into a prison by forcing the Queen’s abdication) M I 7 superspy Johnny has been disgraced and sacked after a botched security operation in Mozambique and is rediscovering himself in Tibet by dragging heavy rocks along the ground by his balls. He’s soon called back into action to investigate a conspiracy to assassinate the Chinese premier.
The plot is pretty forgetable and so, to be honest, are many of the jokes but while it lasts Johnny English Reborn is a fun, warm and inoffensive lark that kids should enjoy. Like the first film the script is fairly perfunctory and offers Rowan Atkinson little opportunity to flex his vocal and physical comedy muscles but the film’s lack of ambition is strangely endearing.
There’s a checklist that most James Bond sendups try to stick to fairly rigidly and Johnny ticks off a good few of them. Gillian Anderson and Atkinson’s Blackadder co-star Tim McInnenrny fulfil the equivalent roles of Q and M respectively. There are gadgets aplenty from a rocket propelled wheelchair to a missile launcher concealed in an umbrella. Many of the story beats mimic Bond films like GoldenEye and the set pieces draw on everything from Casino Royale to Where Eagles Dare.
Standout laughs include a helicopter hitching a lift on an ambulance, a faulty office chair and a fun scene in which Johnny has been drugged to obey all commands given to him, look out also for one of the subtlest and most inoffensive insertions of the F word ever.
Johnny English Reborn won’t set anyone’s world alight and many may find themselves yawning and yearning for Atkinson to be given some better material but for what it is the film has just enough charm and spirit to raise a few smiles.