11 February 2015

Review: SHAUN THE SHEEP

The memorable quotes page for this one isn't exactly going to be chocka. In much the same style as the animated series from which it is adapted, Shaun the Sheep Movie revives the classic storytelling mode of silent comedy, now spread over a feature length running time. The result is another gem from the world's most British movie studio, Aardman.

There are no world-saving stakes here- the story is deliberately, beautifully simple. Shaun and his flock are fed up of the daily grind and buy themselves a day off by incapacitating the Farmer and accidentally leaving him lost, with amnesia, in the Big City. Together with the Farmer's right hand dog Bitzer, they set off to rescue their master, resorting to various hilarious means of disguise to avoid the clutches of the determined animal containment operative, Trumper.

30 January 2015

Review: BIG HERO 6

There's no Marvel banner ahead of Disney's latest animated action-adventure, but it's a Marvel movie in all but name. As source material, Big Hero 6 is about as unusual a choice for adaptation as last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy, but it marks the beginning of the House of Mouse adapting from the extensive back-catalogue of their most lucrative acquisition.

They've also thrown out much of the story from the comics, which were a tongue-in-cheek 1990s reboot that pulled in several characters created by Marvel to capitalise on the Western popularity of Japanese culture in the 1970s and focused on a new story with the young characters. Hiro Hamada is a child prodigy who is persuaded to stop squandering his skills on illegal robot fights and enrol with the university's robotics department. But a family tragedy throws him off course, leading him to use his talents to investigate a mysterious and powerful thief with the help of four of his fellow students and an inflatable robot health assistant named Baymax.

29 January 2015

Review: KINGSMAN

Daniel Craig is back as 007 this November in SPECTRE, but the James Bond series has long since dispensed with its often-spoofed staples, like far-fetched plots for world domination and innuendo. Very loosely adapting Mark Millar's comic series The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn has seized upon both of these, with gusto, in Kingsman, which is comfortably the battiest Bond movie since Moonraker.

Centring around a covert organisation made up of nine gentleman spies, Kingsman opens with one of their number, Lancelot, being assassinated as part of a cover-up by communications billionaire Richmond Valentine. Each of the Kingsmen are asked to put forward a prospective replacement and Harry Hart, aka Galahad, chooses teenage tearaway Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, the son of another former agent. If he can survive the rigorous entry procedure and overcome the agency's snobbery about his working class upbringing, only gentlemanly conduct will help Eggsy face up to the unique threat posed by Valentine.

27 January 2015

Review: EX MACHINA

Alex Garland hasn't been getting nearly enough credit for consistently turning out terrific screenplays for British science-fiction cinema, with the revisionist horror of 28 Days Later, the survivalist parable of Sunshine, the heart-wrenching dystopia of Never Let Me Go and the comic book action of Dredd, Those were all amongst the best films of their respective years, and now Garland's directorial debut Ex Machina fits right in next to them.

Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb, a coder for the world's top search engine, Bluebook. As the winner of a Wonka-esque lottery of the company's employees, he is invited to spend a week at the remote compound of reclusive boss-man Nathan, a paranoid, hard-drinking tech genius played by Oscar Isaac. The purpose of his visit becomes clear when he meets Ava, an artificially intelligent cyborg who happens to look like Alicia Vikander. Nathan wants Caleb to undertake the Turing test with Ava, but between the three of them, she may not be the only one whose humanity is being evaluated.

25 January 2015

Review: WHIPLASH

At the time of writing, I've now seen all of this year's Best Picture Oscars contenders, thanks to advance screenings and a less staggered UK release schedule. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel are both great; American Sniper is kind of toxic; The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are both standard prestige fare, while Boyhood and Selma (review coming soon) rose above them by not going down the traditional road to worthiness.

But to my mind at least, we have a winner, and it's Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. Re-developed for feature length after Chazelle took a scene from his script and made it into a short film favourite at Sundance last year, the film follows jazz drummer Andrew Neiman, who has the ambition and perhaps even the talent to be one of the greats. He's eager to impress band-leader Terence Fletcher, but Fletcher's tactics of pushing his musicians beyond what's expected of them soon drive Andrew to a physical and emotional breaking point.