The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The good news is that now that all the singing and the farting around is done in Hobbiton and the story has kicked in good and proper, the majority of this second in Peter Jackson’s portrayal of a slim Tolkien story overblown to epic proportions is mostly action with a minimum of plot. It’s still got various story beats it has to hit of course and is very much a middle chapter, but this has a momentum which was really missing from An Unexpected Journey.

In this second Hobbit film you can start to see the stuff that was added in to pad out the two films into a trilogy with characters who do not appear in the books introduced and a weird elf/dwarf romance along with a more angsty and badass Legolas, strangely enough it doesn’t feel out-of-place. Once they actually get to the mountain with the dragon in it, it feels like something of an anti-climax after the awesome river and barrel chase and Smaug himself doesn’t feel like the quantum leap in effects work he might have done ten years ago.

Still if you are still on board at this point then you are no doubt in it for the long haul and you will likely be more than pleased.

Available on Netflix


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

The first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a witty and fresh kids flick from a few years back which kick started the careers of Phil Lord and Chris Miller who would go on to bring us the 21 Jump Street films as well as of course The Lego Movie.

This second film finds Lord and Miller absent and the film only suffers slightly as a result. If you loved the first film (and many did) then this is a welcome return to characters you will already be in love with and some really funny gags however this time it feels more like a typical animation aimed at kids with an at times manic pace and lots of colourful mayhem which may test adults patience. Still a cut above most kids fare though.

Available on Now TV


Saving Mr Banks (2013)

After Captain Phillips, another Tom Hanks performance that seems to have gone unheralded is this one where he plays Walt Disney himself in a touching and informative tale of the making of Mary Poppins. Now as good as Hanks is here, the film really belongs to Emma Thompson as Poppins author PL Travers who constantly fusses over how her creation is going to be portrayed by a company with a talking mouse at its core.

As we learn in tender and well-played flashbacks, the Mary Poppins story comes from a very sad and heart-breaking place and who could blame Travers for not wanting that tragic root given a magical Disney sheen. Saving Mr Banks is a great film about a film that actually changed the game in a lot of ways, just try to keep the thoughts that this is about Disney made by Disney out of your head until afterwards.

Available on Now TV

The Butler

The Butler (2013)

Speaking of awards also-rans, Lee Daniel’s follow up to his rather misjudged foray into deep-fried noir The Paperboy is now available to stream. It’s telling of how loaded and political awards season is because back in October it seemed unlikely anything was going to beat this to a record sweep at the academy and then in reality not so much.

The Butler was always going to be a bigger hit in the US than anywhere else because it’s like Forrest Gump with politics as seen through the eyes of Forest Whittaker who plays the titular butler to a few presidents during some key years in the white house and witnesses major changes in the world. It even comes with a Oprah Winfrey acting performance just in case you had any doubts. It may be trying too hard to hit a few buttons but when it does land its effective and reasonably touching stuff.

Available on Now TV


Machete Kills (2013)

Okay so the bad news is that Machete Kills is in every way a far worse film than the first which was average at best. It’s a shame that Robert Rodriguez’s talent has so deserted him at this point in his life because this is even worse than that blackberry commercial featuring his twin nieces from last year.

Even more frustrating is the fact that the first forty-five minutes here are the best that the franchise has produced so far but then there is an astounding nosedive as they head into outer space nonsense and bring along Mel Gibson who they don’t know how to use. I know it’s supposed to be an homage to a bygone era but you are left looking at this catastrophe and just asking…really?

Available on Netflix

Jessica Biel in Total Recall

Total Recall (2012)

I’m firmly in the camp where I do not understand the hate that comes through for director Len Wiseman (see also Zack Snyder). I mean – yes, he is a visuals man primarily and commands huge budgets but really when compared to the alternative which is Michael Bay, Brett Ratner and occasionally Jonathan Liebesman then he looks like frigging Orson Welles in terms of telling a story.

The Total Recall remake was perhaps damned from the start, not because the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is some remarkable cinema or anything but more for the fact that it is fondly remembered and evocative of an era that people grew up on. When originally conceived as a film with David Cronenberg in the director chair, Total Recall was much more of a sci-fi spy thriller and with this new version they go in this direction with a Jason Bourne influence and a visually stunning if physically baffling future world.

The first time I watched this I actually really enjoyed it and if you can put your preconceptions aside then you might do as well.

Available on Amazon Prime

That's My Boy

That’s My Boy (2012)

Adam Sandler’s appeal has long since faded if he ever had any at all. I was at the right age to love the hell out of Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer and tolerated Billy Madison and The Waterboy. It soon became clear though that Sandler was never going to vary up his box office formula despite blips like Click and Punch Drunk Love where he actually put in the effort.

So I have skipped most of the films he has made in recent times until I got the review copy of this. I have to say that perhaps because I didn’t expect much or perhaps it was Friday and I was just in the zone, but…I really enjoyed That’s My Boy. Yes it’s crass, it’s puerile and lowest common denominator entertainment but this time Sandler wasn’t aiming for the PG-13 Grown Up’s crowd and the result was a film that felt like he was off the leash for the first time in a while and I laughed a lot.

So yeah….

Available on Amazon Prime

The Bourne Legacy 1

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Admirable though the attempt may be, this fourth entry in the Bourne franchise focussing on a fellow member of the program played by Jeremy Renner, mostly falls flat. The plot seems like it wants to be edgy and non-linear but it instead ties itself up in knots and good writer though he may be, director Tony Gilroy is no Paul Greengrass, so the film lacks the heart stopping urgency of Supremacy and Ultimatum.

Every six months or so, talk resurfaces about Matt Damon coming back along with Paul Greengrass to combine these two characters. Based on the relative tedium of this fourth film, this seems to be the only thing that could possibly save it.

Available on Amazon Prime

 The Descent 2

The Descent part two (2009)

So back in 2005 when UK audiences were the first to get to see Neil Marshall’s masterpiece of sheer terror, it had a fairly bleak ending which looked as though it was going to be happy before fooling us all and ending in the darkest place imaginable. This was trimmed for the United States audiences and they got the relatively happy ending. More importantly in both versions, a key character clearly dies.

So this sequel picks up from the happy ending and finds a previously mortally wounded character alive and well during a typical sequel riff on Aliens. Apart from the fact that if you were one of those who truly loved the first movie you will be scratching your head through most of this, why can’t people come up with something less re-tread and more reinvention for their sequels?

Director Jon Harris actually does a solid job in the midst of this mockery but he is ill-served by something that just has ‘cash-in’ stamped on it in big letters. May work as a drunken late night watch like Hatchet 3 but I doubt it.

Available on Amazon Prime

Observe and Report

Observe and Report (2009)

Although it hasn’t happened yet, I think it is only a matter of time before a whole new generation of film fans hold Jody Hill’s Observe and Report up on a pedestal as the finest example of black comedy we were lucky enough to get and misunderstand completely on release. Apart from HBO’s Eastbound and Down, Hill hasn’t had much success with his darker than black brand of comedy on the big screen.

The Foot Fist Way wasn’t the breakthrough expected and follow-up Observe and Report sees Seth Rogen play a bi-polar mall security guard with ideas above his station that begins a feud with a local detective when a flasher terrorises his mall. It’s a simple story that could have gone the Paul Blart route but Hill instead piles on outrageous scene and situations that get more and more extreme until the film becomes like some kind of power fantasy for the minimum wage lunatic in all of us.

Hilarious and dangerous in equal measure, Observe and Report is perhaps the most independent vision released by a major studio with a major comedy star in decades. I keep waiting for Hill to come back to film with another off kilter gem but sadly he seems content to remain with Danny McBride at HBO for their forthcoming high school comedy show.

Available on Amazon Prime



Bates Motel – Season One (2013)

You could point to the awesomeness of TV’s Hannibal as the reason why we have a TV show based around young Norman Bates and his relationship with his mother but the real reason we have both shows is because of the success of Dexter in its first five seasons.

Bates Motel doesn’t go as far as Hannibal with the enormous balls that show has and suffers for it, seeming content to be an unevenly paced meander like Dexter’s first season. I have only seen the first couple of episodes so far and will dig in for more but at the moment I feel less than compelled should something else distract me. Still some people seem to love it and it hasn’t been cancelled yet so must be doing something right.

Available on Netflix


Veep – Season One (2012)

I was quite late in catching up with Armando Ianucci’s The Thick of It but once I did I couldn’t get enough. Working in Westminster for four years, the inept, smart mouthed government personnel that Ianucci’s wonderful writing gave us seemed scarily believable. It was inevitable that Ianucci would head to the states at some point and what we get here is the best of the both worlds.

Veep revolves around Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ vice president and her staff and has the same smart dialogue and epic put downs from The Thick of It but also has the familiarity of any US sitcom with more broad humour and situations amongst the political manoeuvring. The gelling of the two doesn’t always work but in the first season of Veep you get the feeling that Ianucci is just warming up and the best is yet to come. Highly recommended just to hear one of the best writers in the business working in a new environment and not being diluted.

Available on Now TV


Available this week on demand for a fee:

The Raid 2

The Raid 2 (2013)

As of time of writing Gareth Evans’ epic follow-up to his first Malaysian action fest is tied with Guardians of the Galaxy as my favourite film of 2014. As I get older I seem to just want pure entertainment more than ever before and these two films have delivered in spades.

The Raid 2 is so damn good that it makes the first one seem even better because it leads to this. Remember the first time you watched Hard Boiled or Kill Bill? That was how I felt through the whole of The Raid 2. Just when you think it can’t possibly get any cooler there is one of the best car chases of all time, then two assassins with a hammer and baseball bats turn up and then and then and then…you get the idea.

Not only that but this story is firmly correct and present in compelling detail compared to the relatively shallow first. Take away all the stabbings, shootings and broken limbs and you would still have an epic tale of crime, corruption and honour and that’s the key thing in the success of this film. Gareth Evans, please never change what you do or how you do it.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/blinkbox


Divergent (2014)

After being dropped by the dumbasses behind the current Spider-Man franchise, I think few would argue that it has been Shailene Woodley’s year. Before the surprise success of The Fault in Our Stars, Woodley appeared in this derivative looking young adult franchise starter and even this turned out to be a big hit despite an ad campaign that had everyone not familiar with the books (including me) scratching their heads and wondering why they remade 2002 Christian Bale starrer Equilibrium.

Neil Burger previously directed the pretty good The Illusionist and Limitless so whether the film is over long or competent or both is open to debate but it seems to have gone over well and is now available for the rest of us to catch up with.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/blinkbox


Calvary (2014)

Every week I seem to be writing about a British film that didn’t get the distributor support it deserved despite critical love. John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to The Guard, Calvary is this week’s film in that slot.

This time around word is the black comedy is still there but takes a back seat to something a lot more bleak and contemplative as a priest is threatened during a confession and deals with the darkness in his small Irish town. Probably brilliant and bold and probably, sadly going to be completely forgotten come BAFTA time.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/blinkbox

knights of badassdom pic 2

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

Around four years ago, Knights of Badassdom was one of the films I was looking forward to most out of everything that was coming out. Joe Lynch had directed superior straight to DVD sequel Wrong Turn 2, knew his horror stuff and was putting together a film set in the world of Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) which met with Sam Raimi/Army of Darkness type gore and carnage. The cast had Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Summer Glau and Peter Dinklage just before Game of Thrones hit.

Lynch came to Frightfest with a show reel and had the whole crowd eagerly anticipating the film which it seemed we would be talking about for years to come. Then behind the scenes there were some financial issues and bankruptcies and the film was taken away from Lynch and re-edited and finally limps out this week in a neutered form. Joe Lynch has clearly stated this is not the film he set out to make but regardless the resulting train wreck is available on VOD this week. We live in hope that through one means or another, some day we will get to see his original cut.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/blinkbox