Super Looper

I was nervous walking in to see Looper at the weekend, and not only because the cinema was surrounded by rugby fans. Science fiction is my favourite genre at the movies and the last time my hopes were built up they were dashed – I’m looking at you, Prometheus. Looper has not been helped by the posters draped across the sides of buses, ridiculously proclaiming that the film is the ‘The Matrix of the Decade’. But, feeling boosted by a succession of good reviews and buoyed up by the thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are its stars and not even deterred by Emily Blunt (having largely recovered from my anti-Bluntitis), I was ready to be generous.

It’s worth pointing out that I am a huge Star Trek fan and as such I am well trained in the technique of adjusting my brain to deal with the distortion of temporal anomalies. This involves the acceptance of plotting anomalies. Time travel invariably ties both the traveller and the cinema-goer in knots – after a while it makes sense to stop puzzling over whether something could have happened like that if that other thing had not happened like this and if someone had not gone back in time to do the thing he shouldn’t do in order for us to be like we are now and not in the past but maybe in the future. It’s a miracle our heads don’t burst.

This anomaly acceptance is crucial for an appreciation of Looper. It has a fantastic premise behind it. Looper is set in the 2040s, a time when the divide between rich and poor is immense and the rich protect themselves from the poor (and other rich) with blunderbusses. Fashions look back to the 20th century and little fuel remains to power failing, decrepit cars. This is a man’s world where women entertain in bars and both sexes dull the monotony with narcotics dripped into their bodies via their eyes. Life and death are cheap.

Time travel has not been invented but thirty years from then it will be and in the 2070s the ruling thugs send their victims back thirty years in time, blindfolded, wrapped in silver bars, to be shot dead by a team of assassins, Loopers. The silver is their payment. But time travel is a secret in the future and there comes a time when even the Loopers must be silenced. When that happens, the payment is in gold.

Looper is a film divided in two and while the first half seduces with the glamorous trappings of science fiction – clever cinematography, villains in black, beautiful club girls, shocking violence, drug dreams, surprises – the second half astonishes thanks to the introduction of Sara (Emily Blunt), and the difficult relationship, so imbued with the deepest emotion and dread, between Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Add Sara’s son Cid – played remarkably by Pierce Gagnon – and you have the secret of the success of Looper. It combines intriguing world building, a great premise, a large amount of mystery and enormous quantities of something that goes deeper. Watching Joe learn about himself is a moving process despite being wrapped up in SF glitter.

The cast is excellent. Bruce Willis reminded me here of his portrayal of James Cole in Twelve Monkeys. Willis makes science fiction characters complex and he shares the screen here with another actor who clearly shares the same talent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Looper is a film that deserves the buzz. It shifts and bends in unexpected ways. It has one scene in particular that I may never forget. In fact, the whole film will stay in the mind long after I’ve given up trying to figure it out.

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The Queen of Versailles

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in order to be in possession of a filthy amount of loot, one must first display an astonishing lack of taste. How else could one aspire to build one’s very own replica of Versailles – or Verseise, as I think you’ll find it’s pronounced – within sight of the Magic Kingdom fireworks in Florida?

This is the dream, told in documentary The Queen of Versailles, of 43-year-old former beauty queen Jackie, wife of David Siegel, the 74-year-old billionaire king of time share. While David sits and growls, sometimes on a throne but more often bare-chested in his cluttered, dirty den, Jackie has turned cheerfulness into a career. She manages to combine it with giving birth to eight children, adopting another, stroking dogs, having her assets pumped or bronzed and designing her palace. What she doesn’t spend her time doing is looking after the children or dogs, preferring to leave that to her fleet of nannies. Of course, we all know what happened to the original occupants of Versailles – or maybe Jackie doesn’t. When the time share bubble bursts, the unfinished property is put up for sale (not that anyone can afford to buy it) and huge numbers of Siegel’s employees are laid off.

But there’s something about the super rich. They can lose their businesses and fortunes but somehow they still act rich. It’s the people who work for them and lose their jobs who have the hard time of it.

The Queen of Versailles had quite an impact on me. Skilfully filmed by Lauren Greenfield, with no commentary or judgement made upon its subjects, the documentary makes it difficult for us to dislike Jackie, despite all her excesses. It is, however, very easy to dislike her grumpy old husband. But Jackie is all smiles and she appears to care genuinely for the people around her. Clearly once intelligent, she had set herself a goal and achieved it and when it starts to go wrong she continues to smile and you sense that she will survive.

But, for me, the lasting memories of the film weren’t the vacuous and funny bits of nonsense that came out of Jackie’s mouth and made me laugh. It was the faces and stories of the people controlled by the Sieglers, especially one of the nannies. This woman hadn’t seen her own children in years, not since they were small and not as adults. Instead she sent them her pay. She found a refuge from the huge, chaotic, messy, dog-dirted house in a small wendy house in the grounds, barely big enough to fit a single bed. Then there’s the chauffeur who’d given so many years to the family and at the end of the day had very little to show for it. Finally, all those time share employees, all out of work.

Jackie is a kind person within her own world and she had given money to help out an old school friend in trouble but it hadn’t saved her house. There’s a big difference between a woman in difficulties losing her home and Queen Jackie losing her Versailles.

While I thought The Queen of Versailles was an excellent documentary, the latest in a string of superb documentaries I’ve seen at the theatre over the last couple of years, it moved me to tears and rage. This is not a criticism of the film, it’s a testament to the quality of its making. It made me furious at the excesses of greedy society and at the human cost of this selfishness. A lack of taste has rarely seemed so ugly to me.

I walked out of the cinema with just one thought marching through my head: ‘Vive la revolution!’

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Dredd is back!

When I think Dredd I think curled down upper lip, bristly enormous chin and shoulders broad enough to bear upon them the entire burden of justice. While I did see Sly in the role back in another decade, it’s fair to say that my entire memories of the film have been wiped clean, as if by some dastardly piercing memory cleanser. I therefore see myself as a bit of a blank canvas when it comes to the latest embodiment of Dredd courtesy of director Pete Travis and actor Karl Urban. My first impression of the film was astonishment that Urban manages to out-chin Stallone in the title role, then followed by fleeting disappointment that not once through this film does Karl Urban remove his mask. Which is a shame because Karl Urban is one of my favourites and however much I appreciate his chin I rather like looking at the other bits that go with it.

It’s probably worth – although blindingly obvious – pointing out that I know nothing about the Judge Dredd traditions. I do understand that to some this is comic scripture etched on tablets. I was merely after some decent science fiction. What I got was a science-fictioned Die Hard – a towerblock (set in MegaCity One, a futuristic cubed and tall city) in which Dredd and Anderson, a Rookie Judge (Olivia Thirlby), have to fight for both justice and their lives. Crimes having being done, the tower block is sealed shut by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), sealing within not only her foot soldiers but also everyone dependent on SLO-MO, a drug that defies conceptions of time and place. Death here is no longer instant, a bullet or a fall may feel like they last minutes. Horror is drawn out and extended, relief through oblivion is slow to come.

The plot is simple and straightforward and fundamentally is little more than good versus evil. What makes Dredd stand out is not its story but its style. Everything from the armour wrapped round Dredd’s body, matched with his resolute voice of authority to the towering slums of the block and the slaughter of its inhabitants, are portrayed with ice coolness and red spray. And then there’s the beat of the soundtrack. It pounds a path through the fortress for Dredd and Anderson. The humanity comes from Anderson, a young woman who refuses to wear her helmet because without it she can sense the emotions of those around her. She is vulnerable but she is tougher than Dredd.

Certain scenes stand out, many of them involving Ma-Ma. Here is a female monster, a dragon in her lair who has bewitched and tortured her minions into submission. Dredd is a worthy foe. He, too, seems less than human. Her scars are matched by his helmet but while she is more demon, he is more robot. Anderson is the bridge between the two.

The 3D is superb – it enhances the moments of slow motion perfectly. It helps transport us into this other world, slowed by drugs and speeded up by violence.

I enjoyed Dredd very much but I was still left slightly disappointed. This was a film I wanted to love but I couldn’t because its story was too predictable and inevitable. I realise that if you’re a fan of Judge Dredd then you will spot and understand more of the in-jokes and themes. You’ll have more of an idea of what Travis is trying to achieve. If, like me, you’re in the dark then you may well remain in the dark. It’s probably best to take what you can from it and enjoy its cool and dangerous groove.

Do, though, take a look at my good friend Conojito’s review of Dredd because he has an inkling of the secrets that lie below.

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The Imposter

If Truth and Fiction were in a head to head competition to discover which would win the title of Most Strange, I’m sure most of us would agree that Truth would win the medal. How else could I have bumped into my next door neighbour in a tiny bar in a remote village in the bush of Tanzania? Further supporting the theory is The Imposter, a documentary by Bart Layton doing rather well in selected theatres.

In 1994, in Texas, a 13-year-old blond, blue-eyed boy (Nicholas Barclay) disappears off the streets on his way home. Three years pass and then, out of the blue, a young man turns up in Spain, apparently traumatised, who claims to be the missing teenager. The fact that this person is clearly far older than 16, has brown eyes, has dyed blond hair, has dark beard growth and speaks with a foreign accent, does nothing to stop this family from taking them into their home and hearts. Of course he would be changed, they tell the FBI. Of course he would remember very little. The story this young man tells horrifies the FBI – organised, endless sexual abuse at the hands of an international circle involving the American armed forces. It’s too horrendous to be true. It’s too horrendous to be made up.

The Imposter tells the story through sit-down interviews with The Imposter himself, and with family members – especially the sister, the brother-in-law and the mother. These are interspersed with re-enactments of key moments, such as the discovery, the reunion, the first bus trip to school and so on. There are also home videos and more imaginative interpretations of certain scenes. The latter are rare but extremely well done and lighten the mood.

The tale develops from the reunion to the discovery of the truth, throwing up all sorts of possibilities that make the jaw drop, none of which are proven or disproved. This fits well with the film’s atmosphere of incredulity.

When the truth, such as it is, and it is a very odd kind of truth, emerges it is astounding and makes you want to start the film all over again.

I was slightly uncomfortable watching the interviews with the family, at their manipulation by the filmmaker, but then who could blame them for what they thought? If it were true. And that wondering, bemusement, disbelief, confidence that we would recognise our loved one, is the whole point of The Imposter.

While I enjoyed the film, I was not as blown away by it as I had expected to be after reading reviews. I grew up watching a tradition of fine documentary-making, thanks to the BBC and Channel 4, week in and week out. The enthusiastic reception for The Imposter is a reminder of what I once took for granted and is now a rarity to be treasured. The upside of films such as this, following on from Senna, TT3D, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Jig etc, is the truth that audiences are clearly willing to pay to see good documentaries on the big screen.

The tragedy of The Imposter, though, is Nicholas.

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Total Recall – oopsadaisy

There is a big bit of me that breaks out in a painful rash at the ‘reboot’ of much beloved films. Admittedly, I’m doing all right so far because they haven’t taken on Fifth Element. But, this month, I have been dealing with the reality of Total Recall redone. I might not have bothered with the Len Wiseman reworking at all if it hadn’t been for a certain weakness for a certain Colin Farrell.

I should point out that this review will contain spoilers for the original and the reboot because it’s impossible to rave about one without lamenting the other.

The fundamental problem with the reboot is that they’ve tried to do something different from the hugely loved and respected original, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven. Total Recall as we know and love it tells the future tale of Douglas Quaid who, bored by his life, seeks to fill it with exotic but fake memories from Rekall, Unfortunately, during the procedure it becomes clear that Doug has hidden memories of his own which, on coming into contact with these false memories, causes a cataclysmic event in Doug’s mind – Quaid is confronted with his real but deeply hidden identity as a powerful freedom fighter. All hell breaks loose. Nothing in his life is real but everything in it wants to kill him.

The original film sees the newly enlightened Quaid pursued by the single-minded assassin who once pretended to be his wife (Sharon Stone). His original rediscovered mission, he learns, is to save the mutants of Mars from the oppression of earth which would see them choke to death, deprived of air. In this reboot, the wife (Kate Beckinsale) still wants to kill him but now it’s a question of controlling living space in the United Federation of Britain by destroying the poor of its colony in Australia. No small step by man is taken. Travel between the two states is done by means of The Fall – a great lift that falls through the centre of the earth and shifts in gravity half way through its descent/climb.

It’s unfortunate to compare the new Total Recall with the original but it is inevitable. By seeking to do something different from the 1990 film, the makers have instead produced a broken copy which throughout throws into the spotlight the numerous ways in which the original excelled. Instead of Mars, we are now focused on the colony of Australia. Instead of mutants, we have… oppressed citizens. Instead of brilliantly horrifying and charismatic rebel leader Kuato we have blink and you miss him Matthias (Bill Nighy). Instead of believable fake wife Sharon Stone we have robotic zombie Kate Beckinsale. Don’t expect any humour either.

There is a Minority Report feel to the reboot. This isn’t surprising really considering that the stories behind Total Recall and Minority Report were by the same author, Philip K Dick. Farrell was, of course, in Minority Report but here the similarity is in the escape for Quaid, the deceit of the pursuers and the glamour of the technology.

The reboot does succeed on certain levels. Both Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel – Quaid’s resistance rescuer – are strong and enthusiastic. The special effects are as wonderful as you’d expect, especially the scenes of the Colony’s densely squeezed living areas. This is a film that knows well how good it looks. There are very few and far between nods to the original, such as the three-breasted street walker, but this has nothing to do with mutants, just adventurous cosmetic surgery.

Throughout I found myself pondering how wonderful it would have been if the original Total Recall had featured Farrell and Biel instead of Schwarzenegger and Rachel Ticotin. Instead of an unnecessary and serious reworking let’s have the original reborn.

Above all, though, way beyond anything else, let’s have a fight for Mars, not a fight for an Australian colony! Science Fiction is about enabling the imagination and mind to soar, not tethering both to ropes bound to earth. All I want to do now is watch the original.

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The Hunter

With apologies for the length of time between posts – this is entirely the fault of Team GB and my Olympic addiction (now receiving treatment) – I’m glad to report that normal service is now resumed.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to get me into the theatres it’s a film with big, dramatic scenery. Large cinema screens provide a superb window onto the landscapes of countries I have always longed to visit or, conversely, know next to nothing about. Sometimes the scenery can be a film’s only blessing (last year’s Wuthering Heights adaptation springs to mind) or it can provide the doorway into something else entirely (Brokeback Mountain for instance).

The Hunter, therefore, has my name written all over it. The star of the film may be Willem Dafoe but his ruggedness is challenged by that of his co-star, the perilously treacherous, sharp and cold Tasmanian landscape. It fills the widescreen as if the screen had been invented for it and while the film is quiet with human speech, it is full of the sounds of these massive woodlands and rocky hills, continually watered and frosted and baked.

The plot of The Hunter is simple – mercenary Martin (Defoe) is hired by a biotech company to seek out and kill a Tasmanian Tiger. Easier said than done when the animal is believed extinct and only exists in rumoured sightings. Martin follows the trail to the house of Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) and her two children Sass and Bike. Lucy’s husband is missing, having vanished into the trees on what we believe will probably be the same quest. Lucy herself is almost comatosed with tranquillisers and grief while her resourceful children run wild. One man keeps them in his eye, Jack Mundy (Sam Neill).

Martin is an isolated, quiet man. His contact with the world is through his keenly polished and efficient gun. He is fastidiously clean and strangely it is this trait of his that begins to chip at the barriers between himself and this withdrawn and wild family. He cleans the house, he even cleans Lucy, and through this he helps to bring her back to life, while her children alter something in him. It is actually rather beautiful to watch.

Scenes with the family go hand in hand with Martin’s quiet time in the wooded mountains, chasing trails and shadowy sightings, avoiding hostile loggers and leaving steel toothed traps.

The Hunter is a slow film because essentially it is the story of one man’s return to a life he had no idea he was missing. But it is much subtler than I make it sound. Events happen around him over which he learns he has little control and he is forced on the run in the dangerous and cold open but, for once, he doesn’t want to run away from other people, he wants to run towards them. It is extremely moving.

The cost, though, is high. The mystery of the Tasmanian Tiger parallels Martin’s search for life and his clutching of it when it is at its most ephemeral.

The cinematography, music and acting are superb and they will carry you along. However, there is no doubt that the story itself is a painful one and at the end of it I was in quite a state. But then this is one of the things I ask of a memorable film: entertain me, amaze me but also test me. The film also proved without doubt that Willem Dafoe is a charismatic actor of the first order who can wrap a film around him.

The Hunter hasn’t had a wide release and so I would urge you to seek it out on DVD. I’d also encourage you to have a strong single malt by your hand to accompany it.

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The Dark Knight Rises

I’ve been largely Batman-proof since Chris O’Donnell stuck a knife through the heart of the franchise back in 1997, courtesy of Robin. But now, 15 years on, The Dark Knight Rises and all is forgiven. The Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy is done (probably) and, although I had my doubts about how the last in the series could overcome the awful absence of Heath Ledger, I needn’t have worried. I watched The Dark Knight Rises in Oxford’s atmospheric Phoenix Picturehouse, amid a crowd literally buzzing and humming with anticipation and excitement. It’s not often a whole audience applauds and cheers at the end of a movie, but this is what happened on Friday night. I was reduced to gasping ‘brilliant’ repeatedly while gulping like a goldfish.

In the cold light of day, my impression of The Dark Knight Rises hasn’t changed a jot and I can’t think of a movie I’ve enjoyed more this year, or for longer. I’m no Batman expert like many who watch it and I have superhero issues – you’re unlikely to catch me watching a Spider-Man or Superman film and I’ve reached Avengers saturation point – nevertheless during the course of these three films Nolan and Christian Bale have done a fine service to the Batman. With a cast as good and watchable as you can get, they’ve given enormous depth to the mythology, developed its strands and themes, added poignancy and great feeling to its back history. The Batman has become a hero worth cheering for, whether you’re unfortunate enough to live in Gotham or whether you’re in a cinema in Oxford.

There are no spoilers here for The Dark Knight Rises, by the way. There are plenty, though, for its predecessor The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the death of Harvey Dent at the hands of the Batman in The Dark Knight. The Batman has gone while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) limps around his mansion, a damaged and depressed man. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), meanwhile, tries to hold together an impotent police force, unable to reveal the truth about Dent, Gotham’s new saint and saviour. His days as Commissioner are numbered. Gotham, though, and the Batman can be saved, thanks to the emergence of a new force for evil, the first since the demise of the Joker and Two-Face and filling the hole left in their wake. His name is Bane.

Bane is a giant, masked man, his voice and actions preposterous and violent. He is a demon. His purpose is to gather to him Bruce Wayne’s gadgets. His mission, though, is to kill the Batman, the other dark knight. Feeding on legend from Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises seals off Gotham from the rest of the world and the countdown begins to its demise. There are devises that reminded me of The Dark Knight but here the scale is so much bigger. It’s almost as if the world will end if the Batman and Baine cannot fight til the death to save it.

I’ve heard comments about how Bane (Tom Hardy), the masked monster, is hard to understand thanks to his mumbling. I’m pleased to say that I had no trouble at all understanding every word (I’m slightly deaf so I was concerned). I’m especially glad of that because I was mesmerised by Bane’s language and phrasing.

Bane and the Bat are not the only masked creatures in this film. There is also Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway who is superb in this role – a cat mix of innocence, charm, cruelty and sex. Among the police force, trying to keep it going as a force, is the charismatic and energetic Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Another member of Nolan’s Inception class is the beautiful Marion Cotillard as the love interest Miranda. However, Miranda is no successor to Rachel, taken from Wayne in The Dark Knight. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce and the Batman are very much on their own. Not even Alfred (Michael Caine) or Wayne’s CEO Fox (Morgan Freeman) can get close enough.

The darkness is like wading through mud under a moon eclipsed by night. Nevertheless, there are some moments of unexpected humour. There are some great one-liners. There are also moments that make the audience gasp in exquisite shock as they understand the wider significance of an event or a name. There are lots of in-jokes. I doubt I got half of them but that didn’t matter. There are also some other familiar faces.

This film may be 165 minutes or so but not once did I look at my watch – above all else, it belts along.

In The Dark Knight Rises, it is clear that events have reached a turning point for Wayne and the Batman. It can’t last. It’s just a matter of how it ends. And I was not disappointed.

I recommend you take a look at Excuses and Half-Truths for a review (with spoilers) by someone who knows what they’re talking about.

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

What with one thing and another – most of which I hold this lousy British summer personally accountable for – I was in a mood for only one thing this afternoon and that was watching a movie about the end of the world. Admittedly, the prospect of Keira Knightley did make me stop and pause for a moment but, in the end, my mood wasn’t to be dissuaded and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World it was.

As Seeking a Friend begins, the end of the world is a mere three weeks or so away, if that. An asteroid is on a collision cause for earth and there is no way out. Nowhere, nothing, no-one can survive the impact. Linda, the wife of our hero who is appropriately or not named Dodge, immediately runs as fast as she can away from her husband and her life. Likewise, everyone else turns up the dial and lives fast, grabbing every moment they can to love, die, riot, drink, dress excessively, cry, eat and not work. Not Dodge, though. Alone, he decides to find the love of his life. When Dodge (Steve Carell) finds his last days tangled up with a girl in his apartment, the lost and English Penny (Keira Knightley), they set out on the quest together. Its aim is to not face the end alone.

Seeking a Friend is a mix. I was a little unsure what to expect and that doubt wasn’t resolved by the first half hour or so. Is this a comedy? Is the asteroid really going to hit or will it swerve off at the last minute cartoon-style? But as the minutes passed, what a pleasure it was to discover a film that had me laughing throughout the first half and crying through the second. Comedy that shocks is never a bad thing and here, as the apocalypse approaches, how else could it be but ridiculous, exquisitely painful and tragic. As one character tells us, she’s only just hanging on. Hysteria is the opposite side of the coin to despair.

Dodge is a rock in the river. He too is only just clinging on but he does. Likewise, Penny, so much younger and immersed in the guilt that women are so familiar with, is discovering herself at the very time when she has to say goodbye to it all. So while we laugh with Dodge and Penny (another symbolic hopeful name, surely) at the absolute ridiculousness of this terrible bad luck, at the people they meet, at their outlandish behaviour, it’s only a matter of time. The clock ticks.

We don’t hear too much about the asteroid or what is going on around the world. We see everything through the people that Dodge and Penny meet and the one person who stays on the news channel as long as he can, rightly called the anchor. As the days go by and realisation hits and self-knowledge is reached, the tragedy and strength of humanity, its ability to hope against hope, hits you like a comet.

Seeking a Friend isn’t perfect. The fact that I didn’t now for a while if it were pure comedy or not produced an unevenness. But once I, and the film, realised where we were heading on this quest, then I put to one side all complaints. At that point, I gave in completely and I cried and laughed helplessly and, unexpectedly, I did feel fear too.

All credit to Keira Knightley. She and Farell hit a surprisingly naturalistic and charming tone and the pathos hits its mark. The film is helped no end by a great supportive cast including the wonderful Martin Sheen and William Peterson.

Personally, I found Seeking a Friend a cathartic experience. The humour becomes part of a deeper emotion until, finally, you want to know so much more about these characters and their lives. But, of course, that is the tragedy.

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The Five Year Engagement – at least three years too long

Visiting the cinema today was a challenge – rainy tempests drove much of the local population to spend time with Spider-Man and Katy Perry. Avoiding the crowds, I was one of three to see The Five Year Engagement and, considering that the other two were a snogging couple, I may have been the only one actually to watch the film. I was drawn to the movie because of a) I don’t like spiders and b) Emily Blunt. The latter is just as well because Emily appears in 7 out of 10 movies made in recent times.

After a blip, I was won over back to Emily by the surprisingly enjoyable Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. I had such hopes for The Five Year Engagement, especially as it matched Emily with one of her Gulliver’s Travels co-stars Jason Segal. The screenwriter of Gulliver’s Travels, Jason Stoller, must have thought the same thing because he is the director of The Five Year Engagement. Unfortunately, while his stars did all that was asked of them, Stoller let them down by his inability to say cut.

The clue to the story is in the film’s title, successful San Francisco chef Tom (Segal) meets the girl of his dreams Violet (Blunt) at a New Year’s Eve party. The fact that he’s wearing a pink bunny suit and she’s dressed as Princess Diana puts neither off and within a year they’re engaged, much to the vicarious enjoyment of Tom’s cooking chum Alex (Chris Pratt) and Violet’s slightly unhinged sister Suzie (Alison Brie), their parents and rapidly depleting sets of grandparents. Plans to marry are postponed when Violet steps up a rung of the ladder of academia with a post as a social psychologist at Michigan University with the rather odd Professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans). Needless to say, Michigan is a bit of a culture shock for Tom whose only company is the decidedly odd local male population which combines growing strange facial hair with knitting and shooting stuffed deer. The delays go on and on and before they knew it – but long after we realise it – five years have come and gone and still no wedding.

There are some very funny moments and situations in The Five Year Engagement but a big problem is that the film is 2 hours and 10 minutes – far too long for this script. While both Violent and Tom are extremely likeable and charmingly played, their characters stray into the realms of farce and cheese which, while all right in themselves, only serve to take a cricket bat to the more subtle attempts at winning our love. The marketing stresses the connection to Bridesmaids via the producer, but that ‘zaniness’ which was on the edge in parts of Bridesmaids, crosses the line here.

The Five Year Engagement is full of what I would (prudishly, I grant you) call ‘unnecessary moments’. Some of the visual gags are too crude and irrelevant and while there are characters who are given the chance to be interesting to us – I was intrigued by Professor Childs – others are less than caricatures. But even Childs, well acted by the ubiquitous Rhys Ifans, isn’t allowed to flower. I’m not sure that psychology (let alone Michigan) come out of it too well either.

Nevertheless there are some high points, not least the wonderful ending, and it was hard not to fall for Alex and Suzie. There were other moments I prayed to end.

Emily Blunt has perfected this role – the intelligent, quirky yet beautiful and articulate British girl who can fit into any environment. Rhys Ifans has similar chameleon powers. The makers of The Five Year Engagement should be grateful for their stars’ appeal because if it weren’t for Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans and, to a lesser extent Jason Segals, there would be little reason to invest the 2 hours and 10 minutes. As it is, I still feel that they owe me.

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Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

With Kung Fu Panda 2 among my very favourite films of 2011, my love for animations knows no bounds. I don’t even let my reasonable fear of stampeding pre-teens put me off. One of my favourite series of recent years is Ice Age, the first of which appeared a full decade ago in 2002. During that time we’ve come to love Manny andd Ellie (the mammoth match made in heaven), Sid the sloth with less than ideal personal hygiene, whose hollow brain is more than made up for by his big fat heart, and Scrat, the squirrel who is even more trouble than those who pinch your birdseed. This weekend, Fox has screened previews of Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, ahead of its proper proper release on 13 July. I snapped up a ticket and so found a brief reprieve from the 2012 Summer of Sport.

The story is as complicated as one would expect from Ice Age 4 and, as usual, it pays to put to one side one’s understanding of palaeontology and geology. It’s still the Ice Age but, thanks to Scart, the continents have split with great violence and as they shift Manny is put adrift on an iceberg, torn away from Ellie (Queen Latifah voices) and their daughter (Keke Palmer), riding on the crest of a tidal wave. Ellie and teen mammoth Peaches with the other survivors must head for a land bridge to escape being squashed by the rapidly approaching continent cliff.

For much of the time we follow Manny (Ray Romano), who is marooned alongside Sid (John Leguizamo), Sid’s toothless, fruit sucking granny (Wanda Sykes) and Diego the sabretooth (Denis Leary). There’s not much they can do then when their berg is spotted by the greedy and nasty Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), a Pirate Primate with a mean streak that doesn’t stop with his enemies. Meanwhile, a long way away, Ellie and Peaches haven’t just got to survive the potential end of the world, they also have to cope with Peaches’ growing pains and burgeoning hormones. Cleaning up the mess is Louis (Josh Gad), some kind of mole creature who has more common sense and loyalty than animals fifty times his size.

The jokes come thick and fast, the visual gags come even thicker, and, while many of them are at the expense of Sid, the less than focused sloth, the fun spreads in Ice Age 4 thanks to Captain Gutt’s crew. Quite apart from Shira (Jennifer Lopez), a snow tiger that didn’t half remind me of Angelina Jolie’s Tigress in Kung Fu Panda, there is a mean looking rabbit and even meaner kangeroo and a delightfully ugly and unpleasant elephant seal Flynn (Nick Frost). They can even sing… Possibly they shouldn’t but they can. Another charm though is Granny. She might suck fruit but there’s more going on in that withered furry wreck of a body than meets the eye.

This is where we find most of the humour and the fun. The parallel story of Peaches and her Mean Girls story of winning the boy while winning over the girls in class is a little too familiar and predictable to please too much. I also spent far too much time wondering why the mammoths’ ears were so small.

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is a truly beautiful animation. I saw it in 3D and it only served to enhance the stunningly realistic environments. The water, whether as a pool or as a great ocean rocked by tidal waves, is perfectly realised. Our heroes and villains, likewise, have barely a digital hair, feather or scale out of place.

Scrat’s adventures continue to astound with their earth shattering consequences. If ever a creature is doomed for extinction it’s this one. But, hopefully, not yet.

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