Click on the poster for the original trailer.
"I'm a producer because I don't play bass, baby!"

Dan (Mark Ruffalo)

Back in 2007, during the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, John Travolta read out the nominees for Best Original Song. When the envelope was opened and the winner announced, the biggest cheer filled the theater and around the viewing audiences. "Falling Slowly" from the micro-budget Irish film Once had beaten 3 nominations for a Disney film to the prize (usually a shoe-in for the Song gong) and there was an incredible reaction when songwriters/stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (even more touching when host Jon Stewart invited Irglová back on stage to complete her acceptance speech after the orchestra interrupted her). Once was a cinematic dream come true - a film shot for less that $150,000 with many non-actors and skeleton crew making it all the way to the most prestigious awards ceremony in the world AND coming away with one of them! So how does writer-director John Carney follow that success story? After the relative disappearance of his follow-up feature, Zonad, Carney has chosen to make another music film that sits in the same world as Once, but this time with a bigger budget and access to A-list stars and musicians. And while the film ultimately pales in comparison to Carney's breakthrough effort, Begin Again is still a bright and refreshing alternative to the summer's CGI-packed action-fests.
PictureKindred Spirits in Time Square.
In a half-empty Greenwich Village bar after a day to forget, washed-up A&R man Dan (Mark Ruffalo) catches an impromptu open-mic performance from Gretta (Keita Knightley). Recently single and on the verge of flying back to London, Gretta's song is lost on almost everyone in the bar. But Dan, through his whiskey-blurred haze, is captivated by the meaning and spirit that he finds lacking in the CDs his company has been sending him. So he approaches Gretta with a proposal of recording an album with her. And with no money to hire out a studio they will record in the great outdoors, using the side-streets, the subways and the sunlit rooftops of New York to provide their backing track.

Carney's concept is a cute one and he handles the storyline well, rarely allowing it to seep into overt saccharine and the story plays out in a gentle bonhomie that is all the more rare in film these days. Carney's use of natural light and handheld camerawork adds a distinct air of authenticity that worked so well in his previous film, and it works just as well here (it is a style of film making that I hope to use myself in my current project). In fact, it could be fair to criticize Carney for playing it a little too close to Once at times. This is most evident when the film deals with the potential love story between the leads. In Begin Again, Dan has an estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, cornering the market in the "Daughter with Absent Father" category after Three Days To Kill), Gretta has a successful ex-boyfriend (Maroon 5's Adam Levine). In Once, Glen Hansard's Guy had an ex-girlfriend in London while Markéta Irglová's Girl had a husband back in the Czech Republic. The main difference is that in Once Carney set the love story at the heart of the film - here the possible love affair is more on the sidelines. This does leave us suspecting that it was more an afterthought than an integral part of the story. Not that this matters too much, as Ruffalo and Knightley have enough genuine chemistry to make the possible flickers in the heart believable to the audience.

PictureMaking sweet music together...
It is in the strength of its ensemble where Begin Again truly stands out. Ruffalo plays the scruffy leading man better than anyone in Hollywood right now and Knightley is both vulnerable and charming as the jilted singer-songwriter. Yet the biggest surprise is with the music stars that step up to the acting plate. While Yasiin Bay/Mos Def (as Dan's former business partner) is no stranger to the big screen, who knew that Adam Levine had such natural acting ability? Levine exudes a nice balance of self-serving arrogance and genuine love for Gretta as his rock star cannot accept how he has sold out for success. And CeeLo Green steals every scene he's in with an hilarious cameo as Dan's hip-hop star act Troublegum. Elsewhere, special mention should also go to James Corden as Gretta's fellow Brit busking on the streets of Manhattan who reigns in his usual knack for shouting to provide a warm support role for Gretta when Levine un-ceremoniously dumps her.

If there are weaknesses, they lie in the film's structure (an over-reliance on flashback that could have been fixed creatively in the edit suite) and, it is sad to say, the music. Now don't misinterpret this - the songs themselves are superb (the songs include input from Carney himself as well as former Frames bandmate Hansard). And Knightley should be commended for bravely tackling them in her singing debut. It is a shame then that her voice is limited, both in range and in power. Her breathy tones are serviceable enough, but the emotional heft is lacking a little - especially when the raw intensity and feeling that Hansard & Irglová brought to Once still lingers in the memory. It is difficult to avoid the comparisons, and in that key area Begin Again does lose out by comparison... But only just.

Here is another uplifting film from John Carney - a comedy-musical-romance that continues where his breakthrough left off. Although not reaching the heights and emotional impact that his previous music fable attained, Begin Again is another joyful story of music's ability to bring disparate groups and broken families together. And in a summer crammed with big-budget studio pics, that is something to be treasured.
Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"He has ONE class in Human Sexuality and he thinks he's Harvey Milk!"

Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill)
Let's face it - Hollywood has run out of ideas. At least, this is the vocal opinion of the cinemagoers attending the local multiplexes, looking for their Friday night entertainment. And one of the key pieces of evidence used to support such an argument is the currently-overpopulated sub-genre known as the "TV-to-Big Screen adaptation. And yet 2012's 21 Jump Street was one of the most surprising and entertaining films of the year. Adapted from a late-80's TV show that only a few remember and even fewer adored, It contained the all of the gross-out comedy and random improv stylistics that modern American comedies must possess as pre-requisites, yet brought a modicum of intelligence and a healthy dose of subversion that meant a sequel would be both expected and well-received. And thanks to the original gang bringing their A-game to the plate, they have met all expectations and more with this riotous sequel.

PictureSweet ride, dude...
Following the success of the 21 Jump Street program, officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill)  and Jenko (Channing Tatum) find themselves enrolled into college to bust up another new drug ring. But soon their successful partnership is put under strain yet again as they find themselves drifting apart and must work even harder together to uncover the dealers and take them down. Yes, it is EXACTLY the same set up as the first time - something that the film makers acknowledge full on. Surely every sequel is pretty much a rehash of the first? And don't you remember that the TV show followed this format to a tee? You can almost see the cast winking directly down the camera to us in the audience. The smart approach to the matching plot strands mean that we can get straight to the jokes - and there are plenty of them to go around. Narrative be damned, just bring on the gags!Now let's be sure on this - this is no ground breaker. There is no vastly superior intellect trying to re-invent the wheel here - Most of the gags hit, some of them miss. But what we have is a group of stars and film makers who know exactly what their fans want and offer it up in spades.

PictureThe gang is back...
Returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are fast becoming Hollywood's go-to guys for modern big budget comedy. Having already served up the cracking Lego Movie back in February (still one of my favorites of the year), this dynamic duo would seem worthy successors of the "Zucker Abrahams Zucker" crown. Their lampooning of filmic conventions and propensity for mixing groan-inducing puns with visual slapstick may not be subtle, but is right on the zeitgeist. Stars Hill and Tatum keep that fantastic chemistry alive and even find new shades to the central relationship in spite of the similar plot devices at work. Set-pieces are both wild and wacky (the spring break finale is a particular explosive highlight) and the film's pacing never lets up. One of the most welcome changes this time around is a bigger role for Ice Cube as Schmidt and Jenko's boss, Captain Dickson. Cube grabs every scene he's in and chews it into submission in one of the supporting highlights of the year so far (special mention has to go to a really uncomfortable lunch at campus - Cube's wrath is unleashed with superlative comic precision). Perhaps the only negative is with the villains, who give it their best but just aren't as memorable as Rob Riggle's over-enthusiastic teacher and Dave Franco's high school jock from the first film (thankfully featured in a fabulous cameo scene in prison). No matter though, as 22 Jump Street is a great example of how a sequel can work as a companion piece to the original without ever feeling unwelcome. And as the end credits roll, the infinite possibilities of further adventures is there for all to see!

22 Jump Street brings back the successful pairing of stars Hill & Tatum and gives them an adventure just as wild and as entertaining as the first film. Directors Lord & Miller serve up a cacophony of glorious stupidity and charm, all wrapped up with action trimmings. If you want a fast, funny and entertaining night at the movies, you can't go wrong with Schmidt, Jenko and Dickson.
Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"Good or bad, when you work for the Agency it becomes your whole life."

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner)

Sometimes it is hard to be a Kevin Costner fan. In a career that spans over 3 decades, all I ever get thrown at me when I mention that I am a Costner-ite is The Postman and Waterworld means that Costner sucks big time. And it is up to me to remind everyone that this is the same guy from Silverado, No Way Out, Field of Dreams, Thirteen Days... Have no doubt about it - Oscar winner Kevin Costner is one of the best leading men Hollywood has ever had, from making humans out of sports stars (Bull Durham, Tin Cup), rivaling Wayne and Eastwood in the Western genre (Dances With Wolves, Open Range, TV's Hatfields and McCoys) and heroic leaders of men (The Untouchables, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).

Well, the haters have one more movie in their armour now... And sadly it is called 3 Days To Kill.
PictureAnother day at the office...
Director McG (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation) travels to Paris to bring audiences the latest in a long line of thrillers from French film legend Luc Besson. Many critics would say that Besson has had a bit of a fall from grace since his heady days of Nikita and Leon (The Professional). His output of recent, while patchy as a director himself, has seen screenwriting credits for some entertaining films such as The Transporter and Taken. Unfortunately 3 Days To Kill falls into the other category of Luc Besson productions, sitting rather uncomfortably alongside such disappointments as From Paris With Love and Columbiana. The plot, for what it's worth, sees Costner play Ethan Renner - a veteran CIA assassin diagnosed with cancer. Upon learning that he has only a few months to live, he returns to Paris and to the wife and daughter he has left behind for Company work. Unfortunately for Renner, The CIA don't want to let him go - dangling a wonderdrug under his nose to entice him back onto the grid. Yes, we have another variant on the Taken formula - a middle-aged killer looking to repair relations with his estranged family. But while Liam Neeson utilized ultra-violence to entertain and enthrall audiences, poor old Kev is lumbered with teaching his teenage daughter to ride a purple bike. For a action flick there really isn't a lot of action, and what little we get is rather plain and un-interesting (McG may not be a great director, but at least he could handle an action scene before).

Picture"Luc, let's have a talk about this script..."
The script from Besson and Adi Hasak is pretty lacking in character, intelligence and drive. A talented cast that includes Connie Nielsen and Hailee Steinfeld are wasted in 2-dimensional roles that are screaming to be fleshed out into something truly relevant to the plot. As Renner's CIA handler, Amber Heard seems to have wandered in from the local dominatrix club and sits around waving a syringe of super-cancer medicine under our hero's nose and modeling a wide range of wigs. And the villains are rather anonymous, leaving the audience with a distinct lack of threat. Plot threads are left either unrealized or abandoned all together and the whole film feels unsure of whether it wants to be a thriller, a comedy or a family drama. Some small comfort in the script can be taken from the lack of hateful bigoted bile that left Taken with a nasty aftertaste, but this is really scraping for compliments. So thank goodness, then, for Costner - the fact that the film is even sporadically entertaining is due to his grizzled charm and leading man gravitas. This is one of these rare examples where you can literally see a great star carrying a film through to the end. The overwhelming feeling when you leave the auditorium will be that our Kevin deserved so much better than this - whether you like him or not.

3 Days To Kill is the very definition of mediocre - technically proficient, professionally photographed but lacking of thrills, smarts or excitement. But thanks to Kevin Costner's tough man charisma, the film just about makes it over the finish line.

Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"Royalty. Nobility. Gentry... How quaint."

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie)

PictureThe malevolent stalker...
From the start I must be honest; the choice of the evening's cinematic entertainment was given to the other half. As she was at great pains to tell me, Disney's original take on Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale was her favorite of Walt's back catalogue and so she absolutely HAD to see Maleficent. Being the skeptical Alpha Male that I am (ahem!) I had my reservations, but it was her turn to choose and so I bit my tongue and joined her. What I didn't mention was that Clyde Geronimi's 1959 animation was a particular highlight in the House of Mouse's canon, in my humble opinion. The main draw for the film was the fabulous villain at the Centre - a dark and sinister creation that frightened my very young self and gave me a serious distrust of green women (don't get me started on the Wicked Witch of the West). The central idea to this new take on the fable is certainly intriguing - did we misjudge the vengeful sorceress who cursed young Aurora to prick her finger on a spindle? What we are presented with is a well designed family adventure, but the early promise of this conceit is never fully explored - leaving us with a tonally unbalanced and strangely uninvolving movie.

PictureSpindles, Spindles, Never Touch...
That is not to say that the cast are at fault... Far from it. Angelina Jolie works her charismatic magic as the titular witch, bringing more pathos and emotion on the screen than the script can provide for her. Elle Fanning is innocence personified as Aurora and the three good fairies, portrayed by Lesley Manville, Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton, make for a sporadically entertaining fantasy-style Three Stooges. And the production design is faultless - although given that first-time helmsman Robert Stromberg was an established Art Director, this should not be a surprise. No, the main problems with the film are with the basic fundamentals: the script, the script and the script. Linda Woolverton's characterization is all over the place, struggling to determine whether Maleficent is bad, good, misguided, embittered... Sharlto Copley's King Stefan is introduced as a potential love interest in a potential twisted take on the love story, but the great opportunities to do something great are missed time and again - leaving Copley to try (in vain) to create any sort of character. The heroic Prince Phillip is presented as an insipid drip (poor little Brenton Thwaites) and spare a thought for Sam Riley - left in a redundant henchman role that does him little favor. The result is an inoffensive family fantasy film that struggles to linger in the mind when the viewer leaves the auditorium. Such a pity as the beautiful, haunting strains of Lana Del Ray's take on "Once Upon A Dream" in the promotional trailers promised us so much more...

Beautiful to look at but tonally erratic, Maleficent is a passable family entertainment. Sticking with the original Disney take on Sleeping Beauty is the preferable option if you have the choice, but in fairness to the film makers there are much worse movies out there.
Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"On behalf of the fine people of New York and real rhinos everywhere, I ask you to put your mechanized paws in the air!"

Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield)

When Marc Webb's 2012 "reboot" of everyone's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man arrived on our big screens, it is fair to say that the reaction was mixed. While a global box-office haul of over $750million cemented Sony's decision to essentially re-start an already successful franchise, critics and fans alike were fairly evenly split into the for- and against-camps. While there is high praise for actor Andrew Garfield's superior portrayal of Ol' Webhead and the on-screen chemistry with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey, there were low marks scored for the rather nondescript main villain The Lizard (despite a valiant effort from Rhys Ifans) and some occasionally ropey FX. Yet Webb and his team bring to the table the next in the 'Amazing' franchise, free from the need to re-establish the hero's backstory and origins and have created, for the most part, a highly entertaining Saturday Afternoon popcorn blockbuster.
PictureSpidey vs. Sparkles...
As Peter Parker struggles to juggle the ordinary obligations of his everyday life and the extraordinary responsibilities in his guise as Spider-Man, a new and powerful foe arrives in the form of Electro (Jamie Foxx). With the arrival of his old school friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) and his relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) tested to the limits, our hero discovers that the disappearance of his parents and his very existence is inextricably linked to the powerful Oscorp corporation... Right from the word go, Webb (still a great name for the director of these movies!) throws his audience straight into the heart of the action. There is a significant step up in confidence since the first movie and it shows all across the screen. The FX budget has also increased substantially as Dan Mindel's camera swoops elegantly after Spidey, diving and swinging through the gleaming skyscrapers of Manhattan. And while the action tics are superior to the first outing, Webb and his writers remain focused on character - particularly the love story between Peter and Gwen. Garfield and Stone have such an easy, natural chemistry (it's no secret that the two are dating in real life) and invest the love story with credibility and charm. Garfield in particular is the perfect choice for the hero, ably wiping away all memories of Tobey Maguire's interpretation from the Raimi editions.

PictureI'm your no.1 fan...
Sadly, Some of the pitfalls that befell the previous film rear their head once again - primarily with the super-villains. Considering the hard work put into the protagonists, it is such a shame that there was little time to work on the characterization of Jamie Foxx's Electro. His Max Dillon is a caricature - a Spidey-obsessed techno geek who has a new jolt of life, thanks to some mutated electric eels and about 1.21 GIGAWATTS. Foxx's talents are limited to some emoting alongside the usual evil-plotting, with little time to really make much of an impact. Similarly, Dane DeHaan doesn't have the luxury of a couple of movies to establish his Harry Osborne like James Franco had. So the hurried explanation that he has been away at boarding school, topped with some happy-go-lucky bonding and skimming on the Hudson with Peter is about all we get for one of the key relationships in the Spider-Man back story. This is before we even get to the blink-and-miss-it performance from Paul Giamatti as The Rhino. And while the action sequences are a distinct improvement, there isn't a real stand-out sequence that distinguishes this from the swell of comic-book action hits we have had in recent years. For Spider-Man, the subway fight between Spidey and Doc Ock from the Maguire days remains the watermark. Still, there are worse ways to spend a trip to the flicks at the moment and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is another entertaining adventure for everyone's favorite wall-crawler.

Despite some narrative sloppiness and indifferent villains, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a vast improvement on the first film. And the film's key strength lies in the relationship between the two protagonists. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here...
Click on the poster for the official trailer...
"The price of freedom is high... And it's a price I'm willing to pay."

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)

Another week, another comic book movie adaptation... Ever since the key success of Bryan Singer's take on Marvel's superhero team X-Men, audiences have been flocking in droves to see the big screen escapades of their childhood heroes. Gone, it would seem, are the days when comic book movies were treated as Z-grade movie trash - a method of holding onto some tenuous property rights and a handy way to keep tax men from knocking on the door. Yet after more than 10 years of superhumans, alien boy scouts and psychotic vigilantes (yes, I'm looking at you, Batman!), perhaps narrative comic book fatigue has set in. Story-wise, these action blockbusters tend to follow a very similar pattern. So it is with a certain level of surprise that the Russo brothers' entry into the Marvel universe boldly makes a stab at new pastures - and for the most part, it succeeds.
PictureGod Bless America!!!
After the events of the Avengers movie, Captain America (Chris Evans) continues to try and find his way in a modern USA. Despite throwing himself into his work (literally from great heights at times), it becomes clear that the morals and codes of honor that he strives to represent are being eaten away from inside by a parasite within the very organization that he is working for. Not knowing who he can trust, Cap must stay true to his beliefs and fight the very system that he is trying to uphold. And this conflict becomes even more personal when he comes face-to-face with a deadly new assassin, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)... Anthony and Joe Russo seemed to be another left-field choice of directors for this type of movie - previous work on TV show Community, as well as the rather meekly received Welcome To Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree does not scream out blockbuster potential. Yet it is arguable that they have created one of the most fascinating Marvel movies yet... Some could even say, one of the best. Cap is a divisive character in the Marvel canon - boring, bland and too straight-laced are all terms used to describe him. Yet for me he has always been one of the best heroes Stan Lee created. Patriotic, forthright, noble and honest, he is the very best that we as a species can be - not just physically, but ethically and spiritually too. For me, he felt like the type of superhero that could be attainable above all else (Iron Man and Batman may be human, but they are also mega-billionaire geniuses - at least Cap was from the streets!). And the film makers don't just stick him in another mindless action escapade here - placing him in what is essentially a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller is a masterstroke from both the writers and directors.

PictureHe ain't heavy...
Evans steps manfully back into Cap's boots and shows true lantern-jawed goodness in the lead role. It could be so easy for an actor to make him a cornball, cheese-induced goody-goody, but Evans provides enough layers of self-doubt and inner conflict to keep us interested. The usual roster of Marvel players are present and correct, with Sam Jackson's Nick Fury (isn't it about time he had his own movie by now?) and Cobie Smolders' Agent Hill back in the fray. Scarlett Johansson returns as the lithe Black Widow (never a bad thing for the fanboys!) and new sidekick Falcon (a great performance from Anthony Mackie) add to the hero line-up. And there is another fine list in the Rogues Gallery this time around with Frank Grillo's mercenary and Robert Redford's slippery politician on excellent, greasy form. And let us not forget the eponymous villain himself.

Now to anyone who A) reads the comics, B) has seen the first Cap movie or C) likes to read about movies online, the big plot twist regarding the Winter Soldier is not that surprising. Even saying that Sebastian Stan plays the deadly assassin can be seen as a plot spoiler. What is surprising however is just how little he actually features in the film's plot. Amongst all the conspiracy plotting and the requisite epic battles one expects from a Marvel movie, we get a couple of nifty dust-ups between our hero and villain... And that's about it. True, Stan does what he can with the role, but sadly not enough time is spent developing this interesting character - which works against a lot of the good work that has come before. This is a shame, but it is not the only flaw. A couple of painful exposition-driven scenes could have been written a little better, and the action sequences still tend to dominate the great character work done. But then again we mustn't forget that this is a big budget comic book movie and despite a few chinks in its armor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly one of the best action films in the Marvel Universe so far.

Pitched perfectly to compete with the adventures of Iron Man and Thor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Parallax View, Serpico and Three Days of the Condor. A bold and exciting conspiracy actioner with strong performances from the cast and a daring effort to go beyond the norm for superhero movies. Next time though, let's have a little more from the main supervillain please...
Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"I need to know I am not just driving in one direction..."

Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy)

When the evening cinemagoers check the schedules at their local picture houses, it may be fair to say that, on description, Steven Knight's second directorial effort Locke will not get everyone's pulses racing. A small British film set within the confines of one car as the protagonist drives from Birmingham to London taking phone calls for 90 minutes? Who would choose to see this, when in the next auditorium is the epileptic-inducing whiz-bang adventures of an annoying tween bitten by a radioactive bluebottle and taking gargantuan super-villains to task in an unrecognizable American city (i.e. New York)? Now before you ask, yes I do enjoy the comic book exploits that have flooded our screens in recent years. But for those looking for something more original and involving than another CG-enhanced smack down, Locke could be just the ticket - an intimate, character-driven drama with one of the best central performances of the year at its heart.
PictureMad Ivan: Fury Road?
Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a highly regarded construction manager and dedicated family man, about to take part in the biggest project of his career. But when a phone call threatens to shatter his carefully constructed life completely, Locke steps into his high tech BMW and makes a bold decision to drive from the West Midlands to the capital to try and fix everything before it is too late. A film that puts a single character on screen must have a truly dynamic presence at its core, and Tom Hardy smashes this out of the park in a masterclass in acting. Conveying the inner torture to this man's dilemma without ever resorting to histrionics, Hardy brilliantly pushes our own opinions on his predicament to one side and commands the viewer to understand his views and efforts. He is never alone, however - the phone is alight with various characters in Ivan's life, and each call threatening to destroy everything he has worked so hard to construct. Credit is due to the array of supporting actors who are able to convey so much through their voices alone, but this is clearly Hardy's show and he controls every ounce of the audience's attention.

PictureFrom Brum With Love...
After his underwhelming debut in the director chair, the Jason Statham-led Hummingbird, Knight has taken a massive step forward with Locke. It could have been easy to make his protagonist a spy or assassin, racing down the M1 from an unseen enemy or rival killer. Knight takes an altogether more left-field approach - taking an ordinary man at a pivotal moment in his life and playing it out on screen. The drama is drawn not from action, but from inaction - if our hero had acted sooner, could he have prevented the potential fallout that he is now faced with? The screen is filled by the confines of Locke's BMW, the street lights and car headlamps reflecting across the windscreen and adding a neo-noir sheen to the cinematography. It is a scenario that every motorist can relate to and the audience will find the problems presented on screen all too real and achievable. Hardy's Welsh accent and the slightly ambiguous ending may divide some viewers, while others may argue that the low key drama could work just as effectively on TV and not in the cinema. But for me it was one of the best films of the year so far, with Hardy's performance demanding the biggest screen you can find. And spare a thought for your fellow motorist seemingly screaming at himself in his car the next time you are stuck on the motorway - perhaps his entire world is about to fall apart…

One of the finest British films of recent years, Locke is a powerful and affecting drama about one man's downfall and his efforts to save everything he has built. Tightly scripted, economically shot and centered on a career-best performance from Tom Hardy, Steven Knight's second feature is a little British gem that should be embraced by everyone who desires an alternative to comic book adaptations and found-footage horror movies.

Click on the poster for the official trailer...
"It will be a few months. You can't know where I am. And I can't be seen anywhere near you."

Rama (Iko Uwais)

One of the sleeper hits of 2012, Indonesian martial arts action film The Raid proved that there is a strong desire for innovative bone-crunching violence. Welsh director Gareth Evans and his star/co-choreographer Iko Uwais brought the visceral Minangkabau tiger style of Pencak Silat to the unsuspecting eyes of Western audiences, providing a much-needed shot in the arm to the genre through the use of knees, elbows, even strip light bulbs to blood-spurting effect. Now the much-anticipated follow-up film has arrived, with advanced word suggesting that the hard-hitting sequences in the first film are mere child's play compared to the sequel… And so it would prove emphatically.

PictureSTOP... Hammer Time!
Taking place only a few hours after the events of the previous movie, The Raid 2 finds our baby-faced hero Rama (Uwais) forced to go undercover in the city's toughest prison, determined to get close to the son of a criminal mastermind who is already incarcerated. Raman's mission to discover the levels of corruption within his own police force are compacted by the thirst for a personal revenge that will take him deep within the belly of the Indonesian underworld. It is clear from the off that Evans has grown in confidence since The Raid, presenting his audience with a sequel of truly epic proportions in both cast and in scope. It could have been easy to simply drop his hero in a similar situation to the gangland tower block in the first film and simply repeat the process. But Evans has chosen to advance his original's characters and offer up a whole rogues gallery of gangsters and assassins that all have differing motives and underhand tactics. After the claustrophobic environs of the previous movie, here we have lackey executions in the cane fields, rain-drenched prison yard fisticuffs and even a non-stop 40 minute restaurant-set finale where our hero must fight his way through the goons, level bosses and final round masterminds that one usually finds in a computer game.

PictureHomage to Under Siege? ... I doubt it.
Evans makes every single second of this 150-minute punch-fest grander in every department. The production design and camerawork brings back memories of last year's Only God Forgives, without coldly distancing the audience as Winding Refn's film endeavored to. Some of the acting work is excellent - Uwais continues to be one of the most interesting modern action heroes, while Yayan Ruhian must be singled out in a heart-breaking performance as a vagabond hit man with personal motives to his actions. The violence is even more graphic as tachyon hammers rip throats out in bloodthirsty detail and baseball bats are smashed so hard into faces that they are left firmly wedged in the victims' skulls. And the action is even more bold as Uwais and fellow fight co-ordinator Ruhian exceed their previous work. A prison toilet fight between Rama and an entire prison wing of crims, a five-way free-for-all in the confines of an SUV and especially a kitchen-based epic battle between our hero and a karambit-wielding henchman are among the finest action set-pieces in recent times.

There are some drawbacks to be had by opening out the sequel. While the original was lean and slick in every aspect, the expansion of this world allows Evans to occasionally over-indulge in his (admittedly beautiful) cinematography and set design - leaving some scenes a little bloated and baggy. The undercover cop storyline is nothing we haven't seen before in hundreds of other movies, and with so many characters fighting (literally) for attention on screen we occasionally lose sight of our hero amongst the thrall. These are only minor quibbles however, as The Raid 2 remains one of the most exciting action films in the last ten years. And no director in current times has made you feel every tendon slicing over broken glass, every arm snapped backwards or every gunshot decimating a villain's skull quite the way that Evans does - my wife's response to the on-screen carnage… "My heart hurts! It's been pummeled into submission!"

If you look for subtlety and nuance in your films, forget it - The Raid 2 is a skull-crushing, throat-slitting, face-exploding blood-fest. Epic in style and scale, bloodier than a day trip to an abattoir and edited to within a inch of its life, Gareth Evans' martial arts gangster flick is a true boys-own violent wet dream - a high watermark in modern hardcore action cinema.
"He's coming... Cover your butts!"

Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman)

Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made 2014's first big must-see film with their latest effort The Lego Movie. Now I know that this is quite a big statement to make, but have no doubt about it - the creators of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs have surpassed themselves with one of the wittiest, most enjoyable films in recent years. Not only have they blown away any fears of a mere 100 minute commercial for Denmark's most famous export since Hans Christian Andersen, but they skillfully aim their rapier-like satire at modern consumerism to keep adults laughing out loud while keeping the kids thrilled with the slick action sequences worthy of nothing less than the big screen.

The story is one of devilish simplicity - all-round average guy Emmett stumbles accidentally into a deadly war between the oppressive ruler of LEGOLAND President Business and a rebel alliance championing freedom of creativity. As our bumbling hero struggles to adjust to the fact that his perfectly ordered way of life is nothing more than a tyrant's evil efforts to control the world, he must rise above the norm to prove he is worthy of the mantle of The Special. The voice cast are all exceptional, with Chris Pratt keeping Emmett's everyman construction worker a hero to root for. He is ably supported by a cast that includes wise sage Morgan Freeman (who else?), kick-ass love interest Elizabeth Banks and vigilante love rival Batman Will Arnett (who delightfully makes the Dark Knight a bit of a douche). Special mention must go to Liam Neeson's hilarious take on the henchman with Bad Cop/Good Cop, while Will Ferrell does some his better work to date with the villainous Business.

Lord and Miller's crew of animators and film makers have crafted a wonderful concoction that will delight fans of the Danish building blocks as well as win over movie goers who want a fantastic trip to the flicks. The action zips along at a breakneck pace, with stylish nods to comic book movies and The Matrix, but never at a cost to the satire which remains front and center. And the animation is a match made in Cloud Cuckoo Land between some charmingly retro stop-motion and slick, modern computer graphics. However, there is a slight downside. The jokes come so think and fast, not to mention from every angle possible, that occasionally the film veers a little off course through over-indulgence. The ending also sinks a little too much into dangerous levels of sugary treacle by venturing a little too far into a marketing endorsement. Thankfully these are very minor quibbles, and Lord and Miller have assembled a fabulous comedy adventure that is suitable for kids of all ages. The Oscars might have only just passed us by, but surely it isn't too soon to place a bet on the Best Animated Feature for next year, is it?

Funny, irreverent and thrilling - The Lego Movie is one of the most enjoyable trips to the cinema in recent times. Buoyed by an excellent cast, a punchy script and some first-class animation, this action-packed comedy adventure is one for the whole family. Built to last with style and panache, the Danish company can sleep soundly in the knowledge that their brand will embraced by a whole new batch of Super Builders.
"We'd like to get off now..."

Dr. Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott)

When the midnight train from London to Tunbridge Wells misses its Tonbridge stop, overworked A&E doctor Lewis Shaler, his son Max and a disparate group of commuters realize that an unhinged passenger has commandeered the drivers cab and is Hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything in its path. Omid Nooshin's debut feature is a modest budget gem - the type of genre movie that this country can produce, but is rarely given the chance to see light on the big screen. Transplanting the classic runaway train scenario to the quiet Kentish countryside is a doozy and Nooshin, along with his co-writer Andrew Love, keep the thrills coming thick and fast without ever losing focus on the characters.

The film takes its time in developing its protagonists, allowing us as an audience to connect with them. Casting is key here, and the film makers have picked their actors well. Dougray Scott is particularly effective - he is certainly no stranger to action roles, but he successfully conveys the everyday working man caught in an impossible situation. His chemistry with potential love interest Kara Tointon and interaction with fellow passengers Iddo Goldberg (a real stand-out) and David Schofield is given weight thanks to the care and attention the writers give them at the start. So when the proverbial hits the fan, the characters bicker, argue and unite in (mostly) logical progression. The action is tight and efficient, with some solid effects work defying the low-budget constraints. And most refreshing of all is the lack of explanation for the faceless antagonist's motives. So many movies today feel the need to explain why a movie villain is doing what he is doing. Last Passenger keeps the audience fully invested with our heroes - who cares why this psycho wants to kill himself? Let's just get our guys off the train!

Slick direction and gripping storytelling makes Last Passenger a British action thriller to be proud of, with fully developed heroes and a mysterious, faceless adversary adding a breath of fresh air to the low budget genre movie.