REVIEWS of:

Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Prisoners, PhilomenaThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Saving Mr Banks, The Smurfs 2, The Call, Don Jon, Red 2, Girl Most Likely,

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR

"Blue Is The Warmest Colour" centres on the sexual awakening of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a high school student, and her love affair with Emma (Lea Seydoux), an older, self-assured art student. The three-hour film charts the women’s relationship over a decade, their coming-of-age, and how they deal with the loss of first love after their break-up. Most reviews of "Blue" will most likely focus on what appears to be the non simulated six-and-a-half minute gay sex scene between the two lead actresses.A lot has been written about this aspect of the film both positive and negative,since it won the Palme d'Or at this years Cannes Film Festival.

Whilst the sex scenes are without doubt some of the heaviest to be shown in a main stream film in recent times and certainly justifying its 18 certificate they are integral to the story. Do the scenes go too far? It's certainly an argument that can be made especially now that the young actresses who star in the film have came out and stated they will never work with the director Abdellatif Kechiche again because he forced them to engage in shocking acts of sex and violence. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux have told the media that the director made the pair spend 10 days, mostly naked, shooting the lesbian sex scenes. "Most people don't even dare to ask the things that he did and they're more respectful," Exarchopoulos said.

The actress also said Kechiche directed Seydoux to beat her during a tense fight scene. The director might have had some unorthodox methods if the actresses (and crew members) are to believed - however he's certainly coaxed powerful performances from both his leading ladies, and in particular from 19 year-old Exarchopoulos  who carries the film for most of its three-hour running time. Her performance is  both brave and fearless, she leaves all of her inhibitions behind and comes up with a performance that will tug at your heart strings. She perfectly captures the feelings of first love and loss with a spectacular maturity that’s both unforgettable and deeply moving. "Blue" is a film that will certainly divide the audience - some will love it, some will hate it. Whatever camp you find yourself in one-thing is certain, you'll be talking about "Blue" long after the titles have faded.


PRISONERS

In "Prisoners" Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover - a father who faces every parent's worst nightmare, when his six year old daughter is kidnapped. Heading the investigation into the kidnapping is the solitary Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose only lead is a run-down, outdated camper-van parked down the street at the time of the abduction. The van is driven by Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who, upon interrogation, is found to have the IQ of a 10-year-old, and completely incapable of conducting such a crime (but apparently capable of driving such a substantial vehicle).

The RV, meanwhile, contains not a shred of evidence, and after 48 hours Loki is forced to let Jones walk. While the detective pursues other leads, Keller remains convinced that Jones has information about Anna’s whereabouts. He’s so certain and stricken with desperation that he sees no other option than to accost Jones, chain him up and torture him until he cracks. There are excellent performances from a well-seasoned cast including Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Mario Bello and Melissa Leo.

But the lynchpins for the devastation wrought in the film are Hugh Jackman who is being heavily tipped for a possible Academy-award nomination for his role.  The main thread of the story is undeniably tense, however director Denis Villeneuze does add a number of unnecessary red herrings which do stretch the story line further that is necessary and at over two and a half hours in length it could have done with some sharper editing. Ultimately though this is Jackman's movie. Will his performance be good enough though for an award come Oscar night? I have my doubts.

 

THE SMURFS 2

Reviewing a children's movie is never easy, as it is, by its very nature, not aimed at the grown-up audience reviewing it. With that in mind I'll try not to be overly critical. 

The Smurfs 2 picks up the story one year after we last saw our little blue friends. Smurfette (voiced by Katie Perry) is now one year old and Gargamel (Hank Azaria) is now the resident magician at the Paris Opera House. Running out of Smurf essence, Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette and takes her to Paris. After that it's pretty much as before as various Smurfs, including Papa (voiced by Jonathan Winters, who recently sadly died aged 87). As well as being an actor, comedian and entertainer, Winters had been the voice of Grampa Smurf in the 80s TV series, and Papa Smurf in this film, and its predecessor in 2011) Grumpy, Vanity and Grouchy travel to Paris on a rescue mission. On their adventures they again meet up with the Winslow family (Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and new addition Brendan Gleeson.  The story rattles along at a fair old pace and will no doubt keep its target audience amused, although some scenes could be a little frightening for younger children of a nervous disposition. As in the first film, adults can keep themselves amused by listening out for expletives that have been replaced by the word Smurf.

You'll smurfing well know what I'm talking about after you've seen the film.If your kids liked the first film, then I've no doubt that they will enjoy this. My only word of caution would be to save your money and catch it in 2D as the 3D version adds nothing to the story.  

 

RED 2 

Super-spy Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his gang of Retired, Extremely, Dangerous CIA agents (hence the title if you didn't know), return for more gun-shooting mayhem in RED 2.

This time around Willis' team again include Helen Mirren and John Malkovich, but not Morgan Freeman (you'll understand why if you saw the first film) are out to track down a missing nuclear device that's been invented  by a mad scientist, (played by Anthony Hopkins). The thin plot can be a bit confusing at times, but frankly who cares, as the movie is just an excuse for our ageing and balding cast (not Helen Mirren who has a fine head of hair) to visit as many different cities around the world as possible, cause as much destruction as they can, with a collection of ever-larger guns that they use to shoot the bad guys who couldn't hit a barn door at 10 yards. Hopkins in particular is good and looks as if he is enjoying the role, as does Catherine Zeta Jones who plays a Russian spy and old flame of Willis.

RED 2 is a rare sequel in that it's actually better than the first one. You could get all politically correct and compare the film to the glorification of guns in America. However - just go along and enjoy the ride - it might just hit the spot, unlike the bad guys.

 SAVING MR BANKS

In any film that is made by The Walt Disney Company about Walt Disney himself, the facts about the great man should always be taken with a pinch of salt. The one major problem with "Saving Mr Banks" is that it comes across as a very one-sided story. Walt, played by Tom Hanks, is shown as a loveable man who sees everything through a child's eye and who is being hampered in his quest to bring 'Mary Poppins' to the screen by its selfish and insufferable author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). A woman who says no to absolutely everything ("I want no red in the film at all as I don't like the colour red and above all there is to be no animation.")

However, taken as it is, the film is undoubtably a wonderful piece of entertainment.The attention to detail is second to none and the performances of Hanks, who does tend to drift in and out of the film, and Thompson are excellent. The stand out scene in the film being where Travers is introduced to the song "Let's Go Fly A Kite". Travers, the author, was without question a woman who didn't have her troubles to seek in life. She was brought up in the Australian outback by an alcoholic no-use bank manager father (Travers Goff, played by Colin Farrell - Goff was her real name, she took her father's christian name when she became an author) and her mother, who was prone to bouts of severe depression. Her feelings towards her own father are what inspired her to write 'Mary Poppins' and the reason why she fights so hard to stop Disney turning her story into some sugar coated animated cartoon.

We learn that Poppins wasn’t there for the sake of the children but was there to save their father, Mr Banks, a fictionalised version of her own father. Thompson does full justice to Travers and it will take someone with a heart of stone not to feel for her as after she manages to push her way into the film's premier which she wasn't invited to, she  is then forced to watch her beloved book up on the screen in all it's animated and sugar-coated glory. Travers lived to a ripe old age and even in her final years during the 90s when a stage show of 'Mary Poppins' was being planned for the West End, she stipulated that only English-born writers (and specifically no Americans) and certainly no one from the film's production were to be directly involved with the creative process - such was her contempt for what good old Uncle Walt had done to her beloved Poppins. Finding Mr Banks" is probably Walt Disney's most adult-themed film to date and any parent taking their children expecting the usual Disney fare might find that their children lose interest after a while. For the rest of us if we can forgive Disney showing the events through mouse tinted glasses and if taken with a spoonful of sugar you might just find it Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!


PHILOMENA

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Tamara Drewe) brings the  touching and true story of Philomena Lee (Judy Dench in absolutely fantastic form) a retired nurse who sets out in search of her adult son who was sold into adoption by the Catholic Church over 50 years ago. She is assisted in her search by former BBC reporter and disgraced Labour spin doctor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who is also writer and producer).

The story begins in a Irish Abbey in the 1950s where after falling for a good-looking boy at the fair and becoming pregnant Philomena ("I didn't know I even had a clitoris, Martin") lands in an institute for "fallen woman" run by the nuns of the Sacred Heart. Forced to spend years in the sweat-shop Magdalene laundry in order to pay oher debt to the order. Here she is allowed to see her child for one hour a day until the child is eventually sold to a rich American couple for £1000. Fifty years go by until Sixsmith, a discouraged former BBC  journalist stumbles across Philomena and her previously hidden story.

Backed by a daily newspaper he takes her to Washington to look for traces of her son. The rest of the film describes the surprising details of their search both through humour and sadness. Coogan in a rich form of vane after "Alpha Papa" and "The Look Of Love" brings his own particular dry sense of humour and wit to his role and is great as Sixsmith but it's undoubtedly Dench that truly stands out, she shows Philomena as a woman who has been very wronged in the past but still only sees the good in people.

She gives a touching heart felt performance that will at the conclusion of the story melt the hardest heart and one that will surely feature at the top of the awards list when it comes time for the BAFTAs to be handed out. Dench and Coogan form an excellent partnership in a superb film, don't miss it.


THE CALL

In "The Call", Halle Berry, dressed in the worst wig that you've ever seen (well I hope it's a wig!) stars as a 911 operator working in a police control room known as 'The Hive'.

We start off with a scene that's a straight rip-off from the Liam Neeson film "Taken", the only problem being that Berry's character's not quite as clever as Neeson's, as when she receives an emergency call from a young girl who is hiding under a bed and the girl loses her mobile phone signal, what does Berry do - bearing in mind that the girl is hiding from a prowler who is intent on finding and killing her? She calls her back!

Six months later Berry,  who now blames herself for the murder of the girl, and so she should, has taken up a training post. Whilst escorting some wannabe call takers around the Hive she interrupts an operator taking a call from a female. The caller (Abigail Breslin) has just been abducted a by a sociopath (Michael Eklund) and is now in the trunk of his car. If you thought that the first part of the film was bonkers then this is even crazier as the whole of the LAPD can't find a car that's driving around with a missing tail light, with a girl's arm sticking out and trailing white paint. In fairness this is probably the best part of the film as there is some tension as Berry tries to track down Breslin, who for some unknown reason has been left with a mobile phone by her abductor.

However any redeeming qualities that the film had up until then vanish as the ending is just ludicrous. Berry leaves her desk, becomes some kind of ass-kicking super sleuth who takes it upon herself to find Breslin. The audience I watched it with was reduced to laughter at scenes that were meant to be tense. It's just utter nonsense.


GIRL MOST LIKELY 

In "Girl Most Likely", Kirsten Wiig (Bridesmaids) plays thirty-something Imogene - a failed New York play writer who, after having a nervous breakdown and being dumped by her boyfriend, is forced to return to the parental home and stay with her eccentric gambling-addicted mother (Annette Bening ) and her crab-obsessed  brother (Christopher Fitzgerald). To add insult to injury when she arrives, her mother has already rented her room out to a stranger (Glee's Darren Criss) who sings in a Back Street Boys cover band and she is living with a much younger boyfriend named — get this — 'George Bousche' (Matt Dillon), who claims he’s a samurai warrior in the CIA.

Bening and Dillon both play roles they could act in their sleep, though it's still moderately fun to watch them do so. Fitzgerald, as the anxiety-ridden near-hermit  is the most endearing member of the cast. The problem is that the movie doesn't know wether it's trying to be a comedy or a drama and as such just becomes a mess. If you've seen the trailer then you'll have seen the whole plot and all the punch lines.

The tacked-on finale, which includes cameo appearances from Julia Stiles, Andrea Martin and writer-director Whit Stillman ("Damsels in Distress"), who expresses his admiration for Imogene's work, is just bonkers. If you're going expecting a laugh out loud comedy like "Bridesmaids" then I'm afraid that you're going to be sadly disappointed.

THE HUNGER GAMES:
CATCHING FIRE

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" begins as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned home safely after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts.

Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) hatches his plot and prepares for Everdeen and Mellark to take part in the 75th Annual Hunger Games - The Quarter Quell - an all-star game comprised of former winners. Much like "The Hunger Games" Part One, "Catching Fire" feels like a film in two halves. We have Act 1 where the scene is being set for the games in Act 2.

If I was being cynical I could even go as far as to say that it feels like a remake. The first half is certainly the weaker part as we're introduced to the participants who are going to take part in the coming games. It seems to take forever for the action to start, however once it does we are back in familiar territory as our heroes battle for their life in a tropical paradise. In the first film, children were the contestants, now it's adults who are pitched against each other. This adds an extra edge as the film feels darker and more intense as the contestants, as well as battling each other, have to contest with baboons, tidal waves and deadly fog.

The big problem with adapting a series of books for the screen is that unless you're at the final book then it is by its very nature a continuing story. Catching Fire certainly feels like an episode and just as you are getting back into the story it ends abruptly on a cliff hanger. See you in a year's time for the next chapter.


DON JON

I would love to have sat in on the pitch that Joseph Gordon-Levitt made to studio executives for his new film "Don Jon", because it must have lasted all of two minutes. Boy addicted to porn meets a girl but can't have a real relationship because of his addiction. Girl then dumps boy, who then meets an older woman who shows him that you can have a loving relationship without porn.

Levitt who is both star and director is on record as saying that he was trying to make a comedy.Well if that was the case then I'm afraid that he failed. There are very few laughs to be found as we spend 90 (but it seems much longer) minutes in the company of the most annoying one dimensional selfish characters who preach on about how bad porn is and if you watch it you'll never have a relationship and you'll eventually go to hell.

Levitt plays Jon Martello, a pumped-up weightlifter who is known to his friends (all two of them) as Don Jon, because of his ability to attract and bed almost any woman that he wants. He then meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson,who speaks in the worst Brooklyn accent ever, and who spends her whole screen-time chewing gum) and whose perception of life has been formed by her own addiction to romantic movies (talk about male and female stereotypes). In Levitt's world all guys watch porn and females watch romantic movies). Barbara intends to mould Jon into what she perceives to be her ideal male.But Jon is so addicted to porn that the only way he can satisfy himself, even after having sex with the various woman that flirt in and out of his life. is to go to his computer screen for another fix of porn.

This results in various shots of scantily clad models and copious amounts of Kleenex tissues being thrown in a bin. Julianne Moore plays Esther the older woman who finally shows Jon the error of his ways and at least comes out of the whole mess with some dignity but is woefully under used. Tony Danza (of "Taxi" fame) does provide what few laughs the film has as Jon's boorish sexist father. Other than that "Don Jon" is a movie where every character is a stereotype  and none of them are at all likeable. If only cinema screens like Jon's computer had a power off button.