REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Doctor Who Series 7 Starts Filming

Here's the first official set photo from series seven of Doctor Who, which has just started filming.

Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill will reunite for one "final, rollercoaster voyage", but this series will then see the two companions to Smith's Doctor depart from the show.

It's unclear whether Smith will return for a fourth series (this being his third) afterwards. If he does, it'll make him the longest-running incarnation of the relaunched show, ahead of David Tennant, in terms of full series.

Smith said: "It's thrilling and exciting to be back and working with two of my closest friends."

The show will run a little later than previous years, after a change in schedule last series. The show's regeneration (forgive the pun) in 2005 saw the show air from April to June, but the sixth series, which aired in 2011, had a break over the summer and resumed in August.

Series seven will begin in August 2012, and run through to 2013.

Source & Photo: Doctor Who TV

The Muppets [Review]

As I have only graced this planet a mere eighteen years, I never really had the chance to grow up with the Muppets. I knew of them, but I’d never seen any of their shows or past films. This all changed with James Bobin’s film, simply titled The Muppets - and as it’s the first Muppets experience I’ve encountered, this review, unlike so many others, shouldn’t be clouded by nostalgia.

Instead, I’m going to tell you how great The Muppets is based on the film itself, because yes, it is absolutely, unequivocally GREAT. The film introduces a new Muppet, Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), brother to Gary (Jason Segel), who becomes obsessed with the original Muppets TV show. So when Gary offers to take Walter to LA with him and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), the young Muppet jumps at the chance to visit the original Muppet studios.

While on this tour of the depressingly run-down studios, Walter sneaks off and overhears plans by token baddie Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to bulldoze the lot in order to drill for oil. Only Kermit the frog, in his washed-up Bel-Air mansion, can save the day - by rounding up the original gang and putting on a show to raise enough money to save the studios.

It’s a plot that hints at themes of social commentary but is also completely self-aware in its ridiculousness. Indeed, The Muppets can really only be described as self-aware throughout its 103 minutes of runtime; from that villain (Tex Richman?!) to the charmingly cynical montage (in order to save time!) the film has more than its fair share of laughs - but never crosses the line into grumpy cynicism.

From opening number Everything That I Need, right on through to the film’s jovial climax, the production oozes with charm. Following in Pixar’s footsteps, there’s also the odd subtle joke that the kids might not get, and you’d need to be quick off the mark to see - such as Gonzo’s ‘AUTOMATIC DESTROY PLUMBING BUSINESS’ button, which had me chuckling for a while (or at least until the next joke came along, and they’re never too far apart).

It’s not all a barrel of laughs: there’s a fair few heartfelt moments, particularly for Walter and Kermit. Segel and Adams wisely hold back to let their felt friends take centre stage; it is, after all, their movie. But the human performers still do a damn fine job, including all the cameo actors - of which there are many, and none of which I shall spoil for you. But do look out for Walter's human comparison during the film's best song, 'Am I a Man, or am I a Muppet?'

Here lies the only very tiny flaw with The Muppets, though: throughout the film, hints at a big celebrity reveal are dropped, and by the end of it we’re left wondering where it was. There are a few big names, though the impact of many will depend on what kind of shows and films you watch. Nevertheless, The Muppets isn’t about its human characters, so this shouldn’t put too much of a dampener on things.

The Muppets made me fall in love with cinema all over again, and that’s a damn hard job to do considering how much I love it already. It’s funny, charming, heartwarming and delightful. I can’t give this film enough praise, and I can’t wait to see it again. I started this review by claiming it should be completely objective. I think I’ve achieved that, and if I have, then consider this a seal of approval - even for all you non-Muppets fans out there.


Dir: James Bobin
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Peter Linz
Walt Disney Pictures, 103 mins, 10/02/12

Synopsis: With the help of a young obsessed fan, The Muppets must reunite to save their studio from the hands of greedy oil tycoon Tex Richman.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance [Review]

Immediate sequels have always been hit-or-miss fare, especially when it comes to superheroes. Spider-Man 2 is far superior to the still excellent origin story of the original Sam Raimi film Spider-Man. Iron Man 2 couldn’t be any further from its predecessor in terms of quality; where the original was refreshing, exciting and well-acted, the sequel was bloated, self-indulgent and seemingly without direction.

It’s disappointing, then, that I have to place Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance alongside Iron Man 2 in my ‘SUPERHERO HALL OF SHAME’ (a page which might become reality in the near future, depending on how badly The Avengers turns out). I always enjoyed the first Ghost Rider (2007), critical slamming notwithstanding, and had high hopes for this sequel - despite a change of director and pretty much every cast member apart from Nicolas Cage.

Yes, the sole returning actor from the original film is good old Nic Cage, playing the titular Rider Johnny Blaze. This is our first hint that directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (of Crank fame) want to put the 2006 flick behind both them and the audience. We’ll come to realise this more as the film goes on, but I’ll come to that later.

For those unfamiliar with the background to the fiery demon that is the Ghost Rider, allow me to fill you in. Johnny Blaze, a young stunt biker, sells his soul to the Devil in order to save his father from cancer. Of course, the Devil being the Devil, he then kills Blaze Senior anyway, and forces Johnny to do his bidding as the Ghost Rider. Effectively, he’s the Devil’s bounty hunter, who comes alive around evil to punish those who have sinned. You might be sensing a few religious undertones - luckily, these were played down in the first film, in favour of some badass elemental action. In Spirit of Vengeance, we’re not so lucky.

I don't ever recall seeing this many flames on him during the actual film.
This origin story was the focus of the first film, and as it’s been five years since then, we get a quick recap in the form of an animated intro. This actually serves two purposes: one; to remind us of who the hell Ghost Rider is, and two; to completely rewrite and gloss over the original film. Pretend it never happened. The conclusion of that film [spoiler alert] lead to Blaze rejecting the Devil’s offer to remove the curse, claiming he would keep it to hunt down and destroy the villain. As Spirit of Vengeance opens, however, it’s clear that Blaze wants nothing more than to be rid of this curse - he’s hiding out in the barren wastelands of Eastern Europe because of it - and clearly never had the option to abandon it.

The film’s very loose plot revolves around the affliction, obviously, and sees the biker offered a chance to lift the curse - if he can save a young boy from the hands of the Devil’s henchmen. Why this boy is so important isn’t explained to us until pretty much the final act of the film (so I won’t spoil it for you) and it turns out Johnny Blaze never knew either. Why he agrees to a potentially fatal task without knowing why the hell he’s doing it is beyond me. Until then we’re forced to wade through a sea of confusion, trusting that this child - who, might I add, is one of the most annoying children you will ever have the misfortune to watch - is actually someone we should give a damn about.

Back to that point about religion - the film opens with a shootout in a monastery, and ends with a daft Pagan ritual, that supporting-actor-of-the-moment Ciarán Hinds (who here plays Roarke, also known as, yes, the Devil) only just manages to get through with his dignity intact. Everything in between seems to have some heavy religious overtone, from angels and devils to spirits and rituals. The source comics might have been laden with this stuff, but the film needn’t be. Mark Steven Johnson’s 2007 film managed a way around it all.

On the whole, Spirit of Vengeance’s main problem isn’t that it’s pacing is all over the place; nor is it the tedious religious overtones. It’s not even the irony of its refusal to acknowledge the original film when the sequel is so much worse. No, the main problem with Spirit of Vengeance is its lack of action. Throughout the entire 95 minutes, Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider for any considerable period about three times. Considering directing duo Neveldine/Taylor’s main previous credit is Crank, which was basically batshit crazy action on a relatively minor budget, one could assume that with $57 million and a guy with a flaming skull to play with, we’d end up with the greatest ‘rollercoaster thrill ride’ since, well, Crank. Except in 3D (which predictably adds nothing here).

Here's some stupid 3D wankery as Blaze battles his demons. Lovely.
But no. After a few setpieces in the film’s first half, including a fantastic scene where Blaze turns into Ghost Crane Operator, that confusing, religious, barely-holding-it-together plot comes into full swing. At which point you can wave bye-bye to any more action worth seeing and don the nightcap. The film’s climax is depressingly dull, and really just makes you wonder whether the boys ran out of money in the early days of production. Instead, they seem content to piss about with, well, piss jokes - the boy asks Blaze ‘what happens when you need to pee?’ (to which we’re treated to a visual of the deed itself) - and wondering how someone can eat when everything they touch decays instantly. Essentially, it’s a film that might well have been directed by six-year-olds. Ghost Rider isn’t the most serious material, granted, but there’s no need to submit it to this.

Still, it’s not all bad (though it mostly is) - Nicolas Cage puts in a stellar performance and Johnny Whitworth as sub-antagonist Ray Carrigan is suitably menacing, especially when he later becomes super-villain Blackout. Presumably so the Rider has someone to ‘fight’ (read: roll about on a car bonnet with). Violante Placido also does a fine job as the mother of Danny (Fergus Riordan), that grating child who you’ll spend the 95 minutes just wishing someone would kill already.

But even if the acting is passable, the style’s actually been toned down since the last film. Ghost Rider’s flaming skull is more of a skeleton with a candle in its mouth, and looks like it would fit in better in Jack Sparrow’s living room than atop a flaming chopper bike. But nevermind, as Blaze has lost his chain-stomping, fire-tyre Harley anyway; now he’s on a regular old boring motorbike. But then, I suppose the ridiculousness of having a toned down action film from the boys who made Crank fits in well with the ridiculous ‘plot’, characters and sheer nature of the film.

I really wanted to like Spirit of Vengeance.  The first instalment holds a special place in my heart, as you’ve probably guessed by now - it’s a film that I constantly have to defend, and which I will be doing in writing in a future column. But its sequel is just disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. If you liked the original (and chances are you didn’t), don’t go see this atrocity. In fact, just stay away from it either way.

See also: Ghost Rider (2007)

Dir: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba
Columbia Pictures, 95 mins, 17/02/12

Synopsis: Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), aka the Ghost Rider, is called upon to stop the Devil himself as a means of removing his terrible curse, as a sinister plot involving a young boy and a few deadly deals unfolds around him...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Woman in Black [Review]

I’m going to preface this review by saying that a couple of weeks before seeing the film, I read Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, The Woman in Black, for preparation. It was an astounding read, full of sheer horror, tension and dread. Sure, it was riddled with typical horror clichés and conventions, but these were pieced together so well, with such startling results, that it didn’t matter. But this isn’t a site for book reviews. So why am I telling you all this? Because director James Watkins’ interpretation of the novel left me underwhelmed and disappointed - in part due to its lack of adherence to its source.

The original plot has been adapted rather loosely; this was, admittedly, difficult to avoid, considering the slow pace of the book and the relative lack of anything actually happening. The film follows young solicitor Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) as he travels to Crythin Gifford to handle the estate of recently deceased Alice Drablow. Of course, things are never as easy as they appear, and ghostly goings-on begin to plague Kipps, whose four-year-old son Joseph is due to meet him in a few days - a plot point with more connection to the spooky locale of Eel Marsh House and Crythin Gifford than may first be apparent.

As horror films go, The Woman in Black falls neither side of the scare spectrum; rather, it sits wistfully on the fence, wondering whether to all-out terrify or just hope Radcliffe’s acting will suffice. Scares are limited to a few odd instances of Watkins practically shouting ‘BOO!’ at the camera with his titular antagonist; the director is too eager to show too much of everything and leaves little to the imagination. As a result, we’re left with a horror film that does nothing to insinuate a sense of fear or dread; where the book slowly built tension, the film instead thrusts everything at its audience to the point where a burning child might as well be a leprechaun dancing in rainbows - such is its tendency to frighten or leave any kind of lasting impression.

It must be said that that earlier jibe at Radcliffe might be a tad unfair - the problem isn’t that his acting is terrible, just that it’s eclipsed by almost all of his comrades’ efforts. Ciarán Hinds in particular, as Kipps’ only friend Samuel Daily, is marvellous, delivering with conviction. In a further variation from the source, Daily spends much of the film caring for wife Elizabeth (Janet McTeer in an equally brilliant performance), who is often driven mad by longing, in more ways than one, for her late son. Radcliffe improves as the film goes on (he’s completely unconvincing as it opens - Harry Potter can’t be a father, he’s only 12), and seems to do more with less lines. I suppose he would have made for one of silent cinema’s finest actors. It’s just a shame he can’t handle speech too well. 

On the whole, though, the acting standard is rather remarkable. It’s just a shame that Watkins lets the film down with his revelations that come too early; his scares that come too quickly - he seems to think little of his audience’s capability to use their imagination (though in the 21st Century that might be a somewhat fair presupposition of many) and leaves nothing to them. As such, The Woman in Black makes for a finely acted, finely photographed work of film, but as a horror piece falls far too short of the mark.


See also: The Wicker Man (1973)

Dir: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer
Hammer Film Productions, 95 mins, 10/02/12

Synopsis: A young solicitor travels to Crythin Gifford to handle the estate of Mrs Alice Drablow at Eel Marsh House. But why do the locals fear the place? Why do the marshes scream at night? And who is that mysterious woman, dressed all in black?

Poll: Who's your favourite Bond?

2012 marks 50 years since the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, directed by Terence Young and with Sean Connery in the starring role.

Connery was to carry on as 007 for another 9 or 21 years (depending on whether you count Never Say Never Again), and since then a whole host of rugged but suave (or if you'd rather, shaken not stirred) actors have taken on the role of Britain's most famous spy.

So Cryteria asks: who's your favourite Bond? Do you revel in the nostalgia of Sean Connery and Roger Moore? Or are you all about the here and now; is Daniel Craig the man to get the series back on track after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, or should someone else take over?

Well, maybe that's a question for another poll. But for now, have a glance to the right of this page and cast your vote for your favourite Bond. The poll closes on March 8th at 5pm, and the winner will be announced the following day.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Assassin's Creed III confirmed for October release

Back in November, a week before Assassin's Creed: Revelations was due in stores, we told you that developers Ubisoft had already planned another instalment. Now we have more details, and a release date, for the upcoming Assassin's Creed III.

The game will fall sooner than usual for the series, which has enjoyed a November release for the past few yearly instalments. The threequel, which is actually the fifth Assassin's Creed game, is set for release on 30th October 2012.

"We will push the title a lot, because it's a fantastic product that the team has been working on for three years," said Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot. "What we have seen is just fabulous."

With the length of time the developers have invested in this instalment, which has been under production since Assassin's Creed II in 2009, here's hoping for a complete series revamp, unlike previous games Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010) and Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011) - which simply added a handful of minor improvements.

Though the climax of Revelations suggests otherwise, it'd be nice to see a new assassin, perhaps in Victorian England (as we've suggested a few times in Creed articles - are you listening, Ubisoft?).

Source: Game Informer

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Chronicle [Review]

Various arguments have circled the web and blogosphere concerning the found footage genre…

“It’s overdone and uninspired!”

“It’s a refreshing and whimsical form of direction!”

…and so on and so forth. The two most notable examples of this genre prior to Chronicle are 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and 2008’s Cloverfield - both films I enjoyed greatly. And yes, this enjoyment was greatly aided by the found footage aspect. Surely then, you might argue, Chronicle should have plenty to merit a great review purely on the basis of its camerawork. Sadly, this isn’t the case.

Writer/director Josh Trank and co-writer Max Landis have meshed a fair few genre staples here, possibly hoping to pull a variety of demographics simultaneously. There’s comedy, action, sci-fi, teen angst, and of course the found footage ingredient that propels the entire nature of the film. Our three leads - the broken-childhood Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his despairingly analytical cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and wildly popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan) - stumble upon a mysterious object deep underground that bestows them with all manner of superpowers.

It’s not long before one of the three goes slightly off the rails - try to guess which one - but first the trio have some fun; from scaring children in Toys ‘R’ Us with floating bears to lifting girls’ skirts with a leafblower, it’s a refreshing change from the usual ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ shtick. It’s also all in stark contrast to the second half of the film, when things get fatally serious as the trio are torn apart by the power they’ve been granted. The fact that they were never the best of friends (Steve and Andrew had barely met) before they were bound together by power works well, and emphasises the reasons for the later events of the film.

There’s a handful of magnificent setpieces - particularly when the boys learn they can fly, and race through the clouds high above Earth - and the story is fairly gripping, if not anything unique. But the found footage mechanic almost ruins Chronicle; Trank seems to yearn to show off his own direction when Andrew takes to levitating the camera with his mind, and the constant flitting to cameras used by others - including security cameras and CCTV from various buildings - is oddly out of place. Rather than having the presumably intended effect of a carefully compiled ‘documentary’, Chronicle feels like the found footage film that shouldn’t be - and might well have fared much better in a regular format.


See also: Cloverfield (2008), Heroes (2006-10)

Dir: Josh Trank
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
20th Century Fox, 84 mins, 01/02/12

Synopsis: Three high school boys accidentally gain superpowers to comedic effect, but events take a turn for the worse when a third of the trio discovers his dark side...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Breaking Bad [Review]

For anyone who has seen teenage sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, the thought of bumbling dad Hal (Bryan Cranston) in the guise of a chemistry super-genius is hard to fathom.

Yet heavy-hitting crime drama Breaking Bad seems to have been a perfect career move for Cranston. Not only has it given him a platform to show his diverse range of acting talent but he has also become one of the greatest anti-heroes of all time.

The premise of the show is far from simple.  Walter White (Cranston) is a timid and unassertive middle-aged family man. He's also a chemistry genius but his immeasurable talent is wasted in a dead-end job as a high-school teacher. His wife Skylar White (Anna Gunn) is pregnant with an unplanned baby and his only teenage son Walter Junior (RJ Mitte) is cursed with cerebral palsy.

It's a scenario that could break any man, but Walter is too afraid to stand up and face the world.

Yet all of this changes when he's diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.  Staring into the jaws of death he realises that a life of being pushed around has left his family on the poverty line and has given him nothing to show for himself.

But after a trip with his Drug Enforcement Agent brother-in-law Hank Schraeder (Dean Norris) and a coincidental run-in with ex-pupil and small-time drug dealer  Jesse Pinkman, (Aaron Paul) Walter finds himself cooking meth with Jesse in an attempt to fund his treatment and leave his family with a hefty nest egg.

The storyline itself is gripping but it's the character development that really steals the show. The gradual transformation of Walter as he struggles with his morality is fascinating  to witness. He's just an ordinary man, sprung into a dark new world of violence and ruthlessness, all the while having to hide his secret second life from his family and more importantly from his drug agent brother-in-law. It's a life that not many of us will ever experience but it's strangely relatable.

Throughout, the writers present you with unavoidable preconceptions about a whole range of different characters, preconceptions that are duly crushed as each individual story unfurls. You convince yourself that junkie Jesse Pinkman is nothing more than the very bottom of society's barrel yet his optimistic personality and his difficult background leaves you with feelings of compassion instead.

Every episode ends with a cliff-hanger as Walter's web of lies and intrigue grows even harder to juggle and more people are dragged into his whirlpool of self-destruction. You'll be left frustrated by a few of his decisions, some of which selfishly affect the lives of others,  but ultimately the love for his family and his unerring pride shines through.

The meth-shaped plot anchor takes a backseat to the rich tapestry of characters painted into this frighteningly voyeuristic world of crime.  That is what makes Breaking Bad genius. Much like a chemical equation it has worked out the right formula. No other programme comes close in terms of enveloping its audience into its universe and throwing them onto the roller coaster of emotion that every character experiences.

It's practically flawless. It satisfies almost every watcher's TV desires, drama, mystery, documentary even a stab at the kind of dark humour found in programmes such as Dexter.

If you want to commit to watching something this year, you'd do no better than  Breaking Bad.  But you will certainly have to commit, because once you have a taste there's no way you'll be able to watch anything else until you hit the end.


See also: Dexter (2006-Present), Weeds (2005-Present)

Dir: Vince Gilligan
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Aaron Paul
USA, 2008-Present

Synopsis: After being diagnosed with lung cancer, high-school teacher and chemistry genius Walter White turns to the world of drugs and uses his talents to produce the world's highest quality meth in order to provide for his family.

Guest post by Callum Winterford