Fun for all and all for fun as the Musketeers return
The Three Musketeers 3D
SO much for fortune favouring the brave. The historical backdrop against which Hollywood's latest take on The Three Musketeers is played out, points to a world where fortune very much favours the knave. At least during the initial scenes.
As described in an opening voiceover, Europe is a "powder keg", while France, assailed on all sides, is under the reign of a feeble king, Louis XIII. He is but a pawn in a power grab being hatched by Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) and his partner in treason, M'lady (Milla Jovovich).
The call goes out for the Three Musketeers, but alas, all is not as it could be with France's most faithful. A couple of setbacks have left Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) submerged in self-pity and lacking in motivation. Cue swoons all round with the appearance of the dashing d'Artagnan (Logan Lermon) who proves that chivalry isn't dead. The four join forces for a swashbuckling storyline involving missing diamonds, double agents and double entendres.
Top-notch casting and impressive special effects create a film that will keep fans of good-quality blockbuster entertainment enthused. Collectively, these musketeers generate an engaging and likable screen presence while the hunktastic Lermon anchors proceedings brilliantly. Director Paul WS Anderson's tongue-in-cheek tone also sustains strong engagement levels for the duration. A case of all for fun and fun for all, then? Certainement.
Opens on Wednesday
While a large chunk of a generation holds Footloose dear to their hearts, a large chunk of ensuing generations will never have heard of the 1984 version featuring Kevin Bacon. A gang of relative newcomers have come together to change that, remaking the story of how, following the death of his mother, Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) leaves Boston for small-town southern US to live with his Uncle Wes (Ray McKinnon).
Three years earlier five teenagers died in a crash. Rev Moore's (Dennis Quaid) son was the driver and out of guilt and grief he instigated laws prohibiting loud music and teenage dancing. While his wife (Andie McDowell) has doubts, their daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) is expressing hers in hot pants and bad boyfriends. McCormack is assumed to be bad and he does indeed lead a rebellion against the anti-dance laws.
Wormald doesn't really offer any hint of danger, but he is appealing, and this counts for more in what is a largely successful new version. Director Craig Brewer treats the original with love and respect, often remaking scene by scene, including much of the original soundtrack. Hough is great onscreen and Miles Teller as Willard offers the best of overall good support.
Bar some incongruous violence and a weak subplot, Footloose works second time round for the same reasons it worked first time: it's a good blend of plot, dance and music, it's essentially nice, and although pitched at a new generation, this remake should cause little offence to diehard fans of the original. Though beware, if Footloose has its way, linedancing will be making a comeback.
Opens on Friday
IN the grey bleakness of Leeds' most impoverished suburbia, Joseph (Peter Mullen) is lost, angry and tilting at windmills. After yet another explosion of rage he stumbles into a charity shop, hiding like a child. Rather than fear him shop owner Hannah (Olivia Colman) offers him kindness and prayers. The next day both parts of Joseph return, the part who wants to thank her, and the part who can't help being cruel, taunting her middle-class, do-gooding religious beliefs. But circumstances force Joseph's and Hannah's stories to intertwine.
Paddy Considine's full-length directorial debut is based on characters from his short film Dog Altogether. It's a violent world in every possible sense where women and children especially are vulnerable. However, the violence is so ingrained that it is not only more terrifying but it manages to show, without offering excuses, that the perpetrators are the weakest of all.
The largely acoustic score and grey-tone visuals mostly leave the emotion to the actors, all of whom deliver superbly. Happy endings aren't art, redemption or anything uplifting is considered a sell-out, but Considine rises above that in his own way, though redemption is in the eye of the beholder. A brutal film, it's well delivered and worth watching, but really one for fans of gritty realism.
Opens on Friday
Midnight in Paris
ONE of the many contradictions about Woody Allen is that he seems more interested in depicting the natives of Barcelona, Paris and Rome than any American, other than neurotic New Yorkers. He's branched out somewhat in Midnight in Paris as his protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson), is a neurotic Californian, but he is still surrounded by the familiar collection of horrible Americans: fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) and her friend Paul (Michael Sheen).
In Paris for a pre-wedding trip, Gil wishes he had been in Paris in the Twenties. Instead he is taking a hiatus from screenwriting to try a novel.
Following another hijacked evening he wanders hotelwards alone, ending up transported to Twenties Paris where he meets, among others, Zelda and Scott Fitgerald (Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston), Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).
He spends his days with his horrible people and his evenings 90 years earlier with Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
I confess to a certain ennui at the prospect of one-act Wilson. But I was very pleasantly surprised. There's a lesson about an age being as golden as you make it but it's a sweet lesson, funny and engaging. Easy on the eye and nervous system, Midnight in Paris is the work of a mellower Woody.
Johnny English Reborn
THE world neither needed nor asked for a second Johnny English film, but that's what we're regretfully getting eight years after the original spy send-up was met by less than appreciative audiences.
Rowan Atkinson returns in the lead role as the bungling British agent. We find him receiving hardcore spiritual and physical tutoring at a Tibetan monastery, before he's summoned back into the MI7 fold by the threat of a cabal of international terrorists.
Back in UK-land, he's under the thumb of new agency chief Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), who tasks him with foiling a suspected assassination attempt on a Chinese premier. The Bond pastiche is unsubtle; the gadgets, the in-house flirtation device (why, Rosamund Pike, why?) and the omnipresent tux are all smeared about the screen.
Fertile ground for parody, you assume, but nearly every attempt to strike up laughter has been seen somewhere else. The take-one-to-the-groin gag is used ad-nauseum, while the mistaken-identity fiasco involving an elderly female assassin is a simple re-write of a funnier Naked Gun joke.
For someone integral to great UK comedies, Atkinson is tediously unimaginative here, rehashing all the same mugging expressions and limp-wristed dithering that made his more effective comic creations so memorable. Anderson and Pike (a former Bond girl) seem out of their element and not entirely convinced themselves by Atkinson's and Hamish McColl's uninspired script.
Having lived twice, it's now high time Johnny English was let die.
Cinema has pelted our planet with asteroids, climatic disasters and killer viruses. Now, the celluloid apocalypse is delivered via a soul-chilling contagious symptom that has mankind losing each of the five senses one by one. We were in for it sooner or later.
Set in Glasgow, chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) and lab-worker Susan (Eva Green) embark on an intense love affair just as science is being baffled by a mysterious syndrome that sees individuals experiencing a bout of unprovoked sadness, followed by the loss of olfactory sensitivity. At this stage, no one is that ruffled, but it quickly transpires the other senses are also dropping from humanity alongside bizarre behavioural symptoms.
On paper, it looks too silly a premise to hold water but director David Mackenzie centres in on Michael and Susan, both work-driven and emotionally unfulfilled, and concentrates on the completion they find in each other as the very fundaments of human awareness erode all about them (told by way of intermittent narrated montages).
Helped by a throbbing chemistry between the leads, Perfect Sense is beautiful on an emotional level while the depictions of man's gradual breakdown make for coldly terrifying science-fiction. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens is central to the overall effect, his mesmeric framing and foreground-background interplay creating a fervent ambience. Kim Fupz Aakeson's screenplay, meanwhile, is full of nice touches -- Michael's restaurant having to adapt to a clientele who can no longer taste, a street-theatre performance depicting the lost odours of life -- that nudge the situation closer towards reality. By the time the lights come up, don't be surprised to find yourself sparing a thought or two for the gifts -- and people -- you take for granted in life.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Tony Kaye's superb neo-Nazi drama American History X contained a knuckle-whitening scene that treated us to a character's teeth rubbing off a pavement. If you need reminding, the sound was akin to nails being dragged down a blackboard. The opening minutes of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a creature-based horror co-written by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hell Boy), make the viewer squirm by awakening a similar dread of amateur dentistry. It sets a grisly tone, only for the law of diminishing returns to kick in and turn this remake of a 1973 B-movie into something untidy and procedural.
The creatures in question are tooth-craving gremlins that dwell beneath a Gothic-period mansion. The building is being done-up by unwitting new owners Alex (Guy Pearce) and Kim (Katie Holmes). In tow is Alex's Adderall-popping young daughter. It is she who picks up on the hissing voices beckoning from a basement ash pit. Desperate for company, she releases the murderous little buggers. Their emergence has the effect of letting steam out of the bag, and sees the taut opening half give way to cheap frights and an array of plot inconsistencies.
Had DBAOTD indulged in some Gremlins-style hokey-pokey rather than keeping it all so earnest, it may have worked better in a narrative sense and provided a more apt context for the tale's infuriating, toothless, finale.
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