Norm of the North (DVD Review)

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U – 87mins – 2016 


 

ARCTIC SHAKE

Conservation meets animation in this mirrored-Madagascar tale of a talking animal leaving their natural habitat to journey to the Big Apple. With the unique ability to speak to humans, hulking hunting novice Norm (Rob Schneider) takes it upon himself to leave his icy home and stowaway on a ship to New York in order to stop the greedy real estate mogul Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) from turning the North Pole into a luxury condo development.

The toon’s CG style is blocky but bold enough not to be cumbersome, and kids will lap up Norm of the North’s frenetic pace and slapstick humour (in particular the trio of sidekick lemmings). Sadly, other than an admirable eco-friendly message, adults will struggle to find much to latch onto here – save for picking out the wealth of star voices (Bill Nighy, James Corden, Heather Graham).

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

London Has Fallen (DVD Review)

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15 – 95mins – 2016 


 

STATE OF ALERT

“Vengeance must always be profound and absolute.”

Following the sudden death of the Prime Minister, all the world leaders of the West descend upon the British capital for the state funeral. United States President, Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), brings with him a contingent of his most trusted aides, headed up by Secret Service protection supremo Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), who went above and beyond to keep his boss safe three years ago in Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen.

Good job he’s still on the payroll, too, as terror consumes London in a rat-a-tat plethora of fiery attacks on its biggest political guests and most iconic landmarks. With death and destruction surrounding them, Banning and POTUS are driven underground to hatch a desperate against-all-odds survival plan and bring down the insurgent terrorists alongside a formidable band of MI-6 agents.

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With Fuqua detained on a trio of high profile gigs (The Equaliser, Southpaw and the upcoming Magnificent Seven remake) and first choice replacement, Fredrik Charlie Countryman Bond departing before a single frame was shot, Swedish/Iranian director Babak Najafi stepped behind the lens of his first ever American production just a month before filming began on this explosive follow-up.

London Has Fallen is serviceable stuff: a loud, dumb, chase-heavy and explosion-packed A-list-headed hour and a half (trimmed down from the original’s bulkier runtime). Alas, most of the dialogue is crudely colloquial. Considering the calibre of characters, “fuck”, “shit” and “dickhead” are said far more frequently than I imagine they would – but when your safety is compromised, who’s pausing to refine their language?

“We live in a dangerous world,” returning scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt acknowledge, and herein lies the rub: in our depressing modern climate, when does a piece of entertainment cross the line into insensitive? Watching my capital reduced to an “urban battlefield,” I may have to agree with Variety magazine that London… falls foul of “terrorsploitation” in a way that other more clearly high-concept blockbusters such as Independence Day: Resurgence avoid. This is scarily plausible, and even the sight of a Hollywood beefcake kicking enemy arse can’t blunt that unsavoury edge.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

The BFG (Cinema Review)

PG – 117mins – 2016 – 3D


 

A WHOOPSY-SPLUNKING ADVENTURE

“Human beans is not really believing in giants, is they? Human beans is not thinking we exist.”

A Steven Spielberg blockbuster is usually a safe bet – doubly so when he is re-teamed with ET scribe Melissa Mathison; triply so when working from the source material of the world’s number one storyteller. But my reservations before sitting down to this centenary-marking Roald Dahl adaptation last night came from growing up with repeated rewatches of Brian Cosgrove’s BAFTA-winning 1989 animated interpretation. Voiced by David Jason, it nailed the look and sound of the benevolent twenty-five foot high dreamcatcher in a way I feared a motion-captured Mark Rylance possibly could not.

Additionally, The BFG 2016’s trailers had me worried, as the titular Big Friendly Giant just didn’t quite look right – his neck too long and his eyes too small for his flapping ears… But in all his visual splendour, away from the brief snatches of footage teased in the previews, my fears were allayed by Oscar-winner Rylance’s country bumpkin approach to the towering sandal-wearer. It is a reserved and charming portrayal – even if on paper he is a lonely old man kidnapping a young girl…(!!)

Ruby Barnhill as bespectacled ten year old orphan Sophie occasionally veers into “little madam” territory, but some concessions to fear and anxiety do soften the feisty-but-diminutive redhead, making for an assured performance from the newcomer in her debut big screen performance.

Kiddles (that’s children to you and I) will be positively awestruck by the wondrous realisation of the magical rainbow-lit dream tree and the misty mountains of Giant Country, with John Williams once again expertly orchestrating the necessary emotional undercurrent. The nine “filthsome” 50 foot brutes – with names such as Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) – who plague the reserved “runt” of the litter are just about silly enough not to give little ‘uns “trogglehumpers” (nightmares).

By having the same group of actors portray the CG-enhanced “frightsome” Giants as were early-on reprimanded by insomniac Sophie for causing a drunken scene during the witching hour, I was deceived into expected an additional narrative twist to Dahl’s classic tale (for instance, is it all a “ringbeller” dreamt by Sophie?), but Mathison – in what was to sadly be her last screenwriting credit – sticks to the well-known plot, with the final act visit to “Her Majester” Queen Victoria (Penelope Wilton) propelling the narrative – and cast list! – far beyond the slower and more tranquil pace of the opening half.

Once you have adjusted to the unconventional “gobblefunk” dialogue, human beans of all ages (and heights!) will find something to smile about in this family film, while the target demographic will be howling with delight – particularly when the royal corgis are “whizpopping” around Buckingham Palace after lapping up some “frobscottle”. Add an extra CR@B to The BFG’s Claw Score if you’re below double digits.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.5 (TV Review)

BBC One – 26th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Peter McKenna

Series created by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Sam Donovan 


 

CHAOS BEFORE CLARITY

Following last week’s leftfield cliffhanger, this penultimate episode in Ashley Pharaoh’s chilling period mini-series intensifies the “supernormal” activity, but does away with the story of the week template in favour of a more all-inclusive village-wide assembly of incidents.

It is All Hallows Eve in Shepzoy, and the farming community and out-of-town railway workers are uniting to mark the pagan tradition with typically folksy gusto. The date also marks the anniversary of the All Hallows Massacre, which centuries earlier saw the sword-slashing Roundheads ride on Shepzoy, hunting and gutting all in their way, “the ground sodden with blood…” Lovely.

It is gruesome visions of this historic bloodbath which this week manifest themselves to the fearful villagers, with the city-dwelling railway engineers driven out by the superstitious hauntings, after “townie” Smith (Harry Peacock) is terrified by the ghost of a hanging victim in the copse.

Maud Hare (1.3’s Elizabeth Berrington), meanwhile, is growing increasing concerned about living side-by-side with evil, as the mark of a noose grows more pronounced around her neck, and Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) is so consumed by his belief in the presence of his dead son and glimpses of a woman in a red coat carrying a book full of moving pictures, that he drags poor Harriet Denning (1.1’s Tallulah Haddon) back into the hot seat for another session of doctorly hypnosis.

“They’re coming for you, Nathan, they’re coming for you.”

Harriet’s father, village priest Father Denning (Nicholas Woodeson), is furious at Nathan’s ungodly meddling in the occult, until the whole village witnesses both a blazing tree which leaves no ash and a spirit army of Roundheads charging translucently through the forest. Reluctantly, he agrees to an exorcism, but Nathan is less than keen when his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer), reveals some startling evidence in the background of one of her photographs…

The hauntings intensify, the visions more frequent and the truth harder to ascertain in episode five of The Living And The Dead. A lot occurs in this busy hour of drama without the plot ever really progressing or the mystery becoming any clearer. Colin Morgan expertly portrays a spiral into insanity, while Peter McKenna’s screenplay is an effective exercise in tone and atmosphere. I suspect we are in for a spectacular finale next week, but if you aren’t binge-watching this as a boxset and catching it in weekly instalments then this is less satisfying as a standalone story, with no palpable beginning, middle or end.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

The Zero Boys (Blu-ray Review)

18 – 89mins – 1985


 

WEEKEND WARRIORS

“This is not a picnic!”

A team of teenage Rambo-wannabe war game champions, their girlfriends and Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet) happen upon a lived-in but deserted farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and spontaneously decide to squat in the vacant space to spur on their sexy post-paintball celebrations, scarcely sparing a second thought for the absent owners, who are more than a little hacked off when they return…

“It’s not a game anymore!”

While the often snowy image on this recent Arrow Video 30th Anniversary remaster does almost as bad a job of disguising the age of the film print as the horrendous hairstyles, short shorts and cringeworthy political incorrectness (“faggots,” “raping Mother Nature,” “I’m crippled!”), cult director Nico Hired to Kill Mastorakis’ trashy action-horror is such a product of its time that the wear and tear (even on crisp blu-ray) actually aids the retro charm. If, indeed, you can label a film with torture and slaughter charming!

While the puffed up blurb on the back lauds The Zero Boys as “genre-bending”, I would go even further in christening it a treasure trove of trusty terror tropes. From yokel maniac stalkers chiefly shot in smoke-shrouded silhouette, to storm-stranded survivalists separated and strung up by their own stupidity, Mastorakis mashs it all into a relentless multitudinous scream-fest.

If The Evil Dead, Red Dawn and Last House on the Left were to have a threesome, this would be the ungainly bastard hybrid offspring. There is Zero originality or subtly in these Boys‘ stumbling struggle for survival against sadistic slashers, nevertheless, with its cocksure and outright ballsy 80’s attitude and smorgasboard of excess exploitation, this is still a riotous retro watch perfect for a Friday night beer and pizza marathon – laughable shoelace-scuppering silliness, dire-logue and all!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

Star Trek Beyond (Cinema Review)

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12A – 122mins – 2016 – 3D


 

ASSURED LEAVE

With J.J. Abrams consumed with reawakening the Force, his role is reduced to that of producer on this third film in his action-led Trek reboot. Fast & the Furious franchise stalwart Justin Lin steps into the breach to assume the helm in this Into Darkness follow-up which sees Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the renowned crew of the USS Enterprise already almost three years into their five year mission in this alternative reality timeline.

It’s a bit of a jump given how this rejuvenated theatrical series could run and run, but with Star Trek 4 (or XIV if we’re counting Shatner and Stewart’s long-form adventures, too) already confirmed to include an element of time travel (Chris The Huntsman Hemsworth will return as Kirk’s deceased father from the 2009 kickstarter), who’s to say it still couldn’t? There’s no linear structural restraint in science fiction. And if nothing else the gap lends itself to a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek Captain’s log which references the “episodic” feel to life on ship.

With Simon “Scotty” Pegg and Doug Jung taking over screenwriting duties, Beyond could have been a wholly divergent affair, but despite a lessening of the lens flair and a noticeable darkening to some of the action shots, this is otherwise very in-tune with what came before: likeable, chucklesome, less strict with modern vernacular, and with swooping, swerving camerawork.

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Roused out of shore leave on the wondrous starbase Yorktown by a call for help from the sole survivor of an alien attack (Lydia Wilson), the Enterprise is swarmed by a contingent of deadly drone-like vessels led by the lizard-like warlord, Krall (Idris Elba), who is hellbent on retrieving an alien artefact in the Enterprise’s care.

With the iconic starship near destruction and descending towards an unsurvivable crashlanding on a hostile nearby planet, the crew are forced to evacuate in escape pods and then battle the elements – and Krall’s soldiers – in a bid to find a way off-world.

By separating the Starfleet’s top squad between those that escaped and those held captive by their foes, certain members who were dangerously close to being lost in the mix in 2013’s first sequel – such as Sulu (John Grandma Cho) and Chekov (the tragically late Anton Yelchin, honoured in the credits) – are able to stand out as individual heroes in their own strands. Scotty, meanwhile, more profuse than ever with his chirpy Scottish exclamations, is partnered with the instantly-endearing stranded scavenger Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who looks something like a female albino Darth Maul, fused with Rey’s charm.

While I could bemoan another case of the main villain transpiring not to be who we first believe (which so signified Into Darkness‘ entire campaign), this is another fun, pacey, action-packed joyride of a Star Trek movie; both respectful in its references to Gene Roddenberry’s 50 year legacy (Leonard Nimoy’s passing is both courteously handled and integral to the plot, while a photo very nearly garnered an audible cheer) yet braver than ever in pushing forward into new frontiers (new allies, new foes, new relationship for Sulu).

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (DVD Review)

15 – 108mins – 2016


 

DAWN OF THE DREADFULS

Death comes to Pemberley, but quite unlike how P.D. James imagined in this Austen meets the undead clash of corsets, courtship and cannibalism, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s genre-mashing 2009 ‘toilet read’ bestseller.

“Keep your sword as sharp as your wit.”

Trading with the colonies has brought the black plague to British soil, quarantining London’s aristocrats behind a grand barrier and leading men and women alike to refine their shaolin skills and put survival over socialising in taking down the reanimated corpses of their nearest and dearest.

Their are some unique touches here – such as the use of carrion flies to smell out dead flesh; the church of St. Lazarus being used to house “intelligent” zombies living off of pig’s blood rather than human brains – but aside from a couple of creepy snapshots (“ring-a-ring-a-roses”; servant uprising) this parody adaptation is neither creepy nor comic enough to be either horror or comedy.

“Oh, fuddle…”

With his tongue firmly in cheek, Matt Clone Smith is a scene-stealing ray of delight as “odious” buffoon Mr. Collins; a pompous man with verbal diarrhoea and a taste for scones. It’s just a pity that too many of the other stars play this cheese-fest far too straight, with Sam Riley’s aloof Colonel Darcy the prime offender; dickish and detestable to such a degree that I find it hard to believe Elizabeth Bennett (Lily Romeo & Juliet James) would ever be swept off her stocking-clad feet.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars