Sunday, August 31, 2014


MILLION DOLLAR ARM is a straight forward no-nonsense sports under-dog story imbued with all the earnest good intentions and feel-good loveliness that a Disney movie entails. It's based on the true story of baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel who were discovered by sports agent J.B. Bernstein after winning a reality show competition and went on to become the first Indians to play major-league baseball.

The conventional character development arc lands on Jon Hamm as the sleazy hard-up lothario and agent JB.  He initiates the completion as a means to revive his career and has no interest in his putative stars other than the commissions and new clients they can win him.  Naturally, India is a transformative experience - particularly a visit to the boys rural village.  It's a cliche that I find as insulting now as I did when I watched THE DARJEELING LIMITED.  But not content with one movie cliche, the film introduces another, when JB falls for his kind-hearted no-nonsense tenant - a doctor played by the ever-authentic Lake Bell.  She brings the most out of a two-dimensional character and softens both JB's heart and ours.

The obvious things happen. There are high pressure try-outs that are fumbled and second chances at redemption.  The mean nasty businessman has a heart of gold and all things can be cured by the love of a good woman and a visit to a third world country. 

All of which is highly disappointing given the quality of the cast - not least  the Indian actor Pitobash - and the director Craig Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) and writer Tom McCarthy (UP). If Disney had been willing to make the film a little grittier, and JB a little less likeable, they could have done something really memorable. 

MILLION DOLLAR ARM has a running time of 124 minutes and is rated PG.  The movie was released earlier this year in India, Canada, the USA, Cambodia, Pakistan, Argentina, Greece, Chile, Turkey, Mexico and Peru.  It opens this weekend in the UK and Ireland.  It opens in September in Italy, Panama, Colombia, Germany, Denmark, South Africa and Brazil. It opens in October in Japan, Spain and Norway, in Hungary on December 1st and in Sweden on March 11th 2015. 


LUCY is a very odd film. It's not exactly bad. It's not exactly good. There's a lot going on and you can't fault its ambition. It's just that it's a movie by Luc Besson which means that whenever there might be elegant moderation, there's a willingness to go too far.  And while it's all shot in a stylish and slick manner, it almost feels too stylised, as if there's nothing underneath.  The weird thing is that the movie borrows some of the themes of 2001 and seems to take them in earnest. Why does it feel absurd when our protagonist goes back in time to meet our ape ancestors and yet not absurd when Kubrick has apes fighting over a bone?  I guess there's just something too slippery about this film - too trying to be Tarantino with Kill-Bill revenge action - for us to take it seriously.

Anyways, back to the story. Scarlett Johanssen plays Lucy - a naive and carefree girl working in Taiwan. She's conned by her dope-running boyfriend into delivering a package to Choi Min-Sik's Korean gangster and in a serious of improbable but stylish scenes ends up as a drug mule with a weird MacGuffin-y embryo-fuelling enzyme in her belly.  The upshot is that she is getting really really brainy really really fast - to the point where we get giant roman numerals throughout the film telling us how far she's reached her maximum brain usage.  And when she gets to 100% she's going to die. Or turn into a massively powerful organic supercomputer that then falls in love with Joaquin Phoenix, or something.  

The first third of the film plays like a kind of abduction-revenge horror with a kind of Tarantino attitude to highly stylised action.  We then get into thriller territory as Lucy leaves Taiwan to track down the other drug mules in Europe, with the help of a credulous French cop. The final third of the movie starts out amazing, transforming into a genuinely quite profound sci-fi flick but then descends into 2001 pastiche.  

Overall, this is a film that is less than the sum of its many parts but I really did enjoy the parts I liked. I wonder just what it might have been with the same cast but a less flashy director.

LUCY has a running time of 89 minutes and is rated R.  The movie is on global release.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


THE INBETWEENERS was that rare thing - a hugely commercially and critically successful TV adaptation.  And with its commercial success comes the inevitable sequel.  But against all odds, THE INBETWEENERS 2 is as funny, if not funnier, than the original! And as usual, there's a lot of wry social commentary amid the poo jokes.

As the movie opens, our four protagonists have left high school and have finished their first year at college, or working. The motor-mouth ultimate Lad, Jay (James Buckley) has gone to Australia to chase after his ex, although of course, in one of the funniest movie openings ever, he plays it like he doesn't care about her at all and is having an amazing time shagging lots of girls. Nice guy Will (Simon Bird) decides to go visit him to escape his massively annoying but scary girlfriend who he ends up accidentally getting engaged to her over Skype. Will is joined by the nice but dim Neil (Blake Harrison) and neurotic Will (Simon Bird) who ditches his mates for the posh Gap year students he meets Down Under.

The plot sees the boys travel around Oz, dealing with the usual bullies, popular kids and manipulative girls. The writers, Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, poke a lot of fun at the absurdity of identikit posh kids travelling around Asia-Pac to supposedly find themselves on exactly the same route as everyone else. We also get some nice gags at the expense of Aussie cliches, like the ultra macho men. But what I really love is that this seemingly random holiday does have a purpose, and as usual it's to allow the boys to grow and learn. And although there is always an emotional pay-off it's never incredible. So, to avoid spoiling the ending, let's just say the writers don't let a need for Hollywood style schmaltz ruin a darkly, bitingly funny movie.

I don't know what else to say but that you should see this movie. It's hilarious. Both physically funny, scatalogically funny, and with biting social satire. I hope they make a third.

THE INBETWEENERS 2 has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated 15 for very strong nudity, sex references, and very strong language. The movie is on release in the UK and Ireland. It goes on release in Malta on August 20th, in Australia on August 21st, in New Zealand on August 28th, in Germany and Austria on October 30th, in Estonia on November 14th and in Russia on December 4th.

Sunday, August 03, 2014


It is probably unhealthy that so much of our animated children's movie come from Pixar. It leads us to certain expectations of what makes a great film. We want cuddly cuteness our kids can relate to, enough wit for the adults, a positive learning message and something that tugs a little on the heartstrings. These movies are produced to such a high quality and are so good on a number of metrics that any independent features have a tough job to impress us. Which doesn't mean they can't. But THE NUT JOB isn't that movie.  

This is a Canadian, South Korean production which shows in the irritating Psy-loaded end-credit.  The handsome CGI animation doesn't push the boundaries of how one depicts animals and I found the orchestral score over-insistent.   But the problem is really an over-complicated story - too many factions of animals, an over-complicated motivation for a heist. There are park squirrels and city animals and a shortage of nuts for winter and then something about breaking into a nut shop next to a bank and substituting the contents of the vault..... I'm actually getting bored now trying to relate it back to you.  But even this could have been overcome had it not been for the lack of any real charisma or wit from the voice cast. We all know Will Arnett is funny, so why isn't he funny as the rebellious purple squirrel hero, Surly? In fact, if anyone steals the show it's Brendan Fraser as the grey squirrel Grayson, who has an over-inflated opinion of his own heroism. Meanwhile, Katherine Heigl is utterly forgettable as the love interest, Annie the red squirrel. 

Overall, there's nothing to spark the imagination or move the heart in this film. It's well enough drawn but I doubt anyone would watch it a second time.  One for the kids on DVD and that's being generous.

THE NUT JOB has a running time of 85 minutes and is rated PG. The movie is on global release.