The Croods 3D
* * * * *
Cert U, 99 mins
Two of this week’s new movies make polar opposite uses of modern technology – one will delight children of all ages, the other will leave adults in a state of shock.
First up, the fun stuff.
Taglined “are you better off now than you were four million years ago?”, DreamWorks’ latest animation The Croods is a colourful adventure about a family of prehistoric cave dwellers forced out of their comfort zone.
How to Train Your Dragon co-director Chris Sanders takes us on the world’s first family road trip.
The Croods are at the heart of what quickly becomes a funny, spectacular comedy animation with the added dimension of being deep-rooted in our biggest 21st Century fears.
Would-be political leaders call for ‘change’ at every election, while technology companies tell us that ‘new’ effectively means ‘exciting, must-have, can’t live without’ – and it’s the combination of these two competing forces which is speeding up the pace of modern life to a potentially frightening degree.
Grug (Nicolas Cage) is the unadventurous patriarch of the Crood family. He’s only ever lived in a cave and wants to keep everyone safe.
His resistance to change often seems ridiculous, but his neurosis is relevant to now and often bitingly funny with lines like: ‘Cavemen don’t need brains. Ideas are for weaklings’.
The message from the film is that surviving is one thing, living is quite another.
And so, despite Grug’s potentially depressing head-in-the-sand approach, there’s a clear signpost to encourage younger minds to aim for the wonderful world of invention.
The 3D works well and an early chase sequence involving keeping an egg in the air is CGI animation at its very best, offering near-perfect harmony between physical action and musical rhythm that will have Pixar’s finest brains studying every frame.
* * * *
Cert 15, 90 mins
In total contrast, putting even simple telephone technology in the wrong hands can lead to disaster according to Compliance.
This deeply unpleasant story seems to be unbelievable, but it’s based on a bogus call made in the US where there have been many similar cases.
Indeed, its insidious nature was validated in the UK only last December by the suicide of a nurse at the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for morning sickness.
Here, fast food restaurant manageress Sandra is already feeling vulnerable thanks to a bad day at work when a ‘policeman’ telephones to say employee Becky is being accused of theft.
The bogus caller then leads Sandra towards completely humiliating Becky while drawing others into his conspiracy.
Compliance is an unforgettable, harrowing illustration of how some people end up being controlled by others in all sorts of ways.
It’s a cross between the recent, brilliant Danish film The Hunt, about a teacher becoming the victim of a child’s imagination, and threatening phone call movies including Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line of Fire (1993) and Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002).
If only one person had used common sense, Becky’s suffering would have been stopped in its tracks.
But that’s where the film’s clever, universal title comes in to its own.
On a corporate scale, for example, how many people end up working managers they only ‘meet’ via emails and whose decisions fail to make sense to those on the ground?
Why does an irrational fear for our own job security make us so complicit with illogical arguments?
Piling question upon question until those on the receiving end become helplessly broken, Compliance is the most sinister workplace film since Robin Williams’ One Hour Photo (2002).
Ann Dowd (who plays Channing Tatum’s mum in current release Side Effects) is a proper, mature actress you can absolutely relate to as the hapless Sandra, while Dreama Walker – Clint Eastwood’s granddaughter in Gran Torino (2009) – has the thankless role of becoming the increasingly victimised Becky.
With strong language and themes of sexual abuse and pitiful humiliation, Compliance is never an easy watch.
But it might make you a tougher person after watching it.
* * *
Cert 15, 107 mins
Directed by Lee Daniels (Oscar-nominated for Precious), here’s a rare beast – an all-star movie with as many risks as Compliance.
In one of her most remarkable performances to date, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman plays a bottle-blonde Death Row groupie called Charlotte Bless who is convinced the wrong man has been convicted.
Matthew McConaughey hopes to make a name for himself as Miami Times’ reporter Ward Jansen returning to his home town where Zac Efron is his college dropout brother, Jack.
The film includes an alligator being gutted, Kidman doing explicit things on screen she’d surely never have done if she was still Mrs Tom Cruise and another big name actor as the potential killer.
The Paperboy is hot, sweaty and all the more enjoyable because it’s so wild and deeply uneven – proof that Hollywood needs to take more chances on films like this with an unpredictable edge.
Cert 12A, 96 mins
In a film that feels too close to Liam Neeson’s 2009-hit Taken for comfort, there are no risks taken here as Nicolas Cage returns to New Orleans for the sixth time in his increasingly expendable live action career.
The extended opening robbery/car chase looks naff and there are times when the digital camerawork makes some scenes resemble expensive versions of the stunts in EastEnders or Coronation Street.
And that’s before the laughable climax.
Cage plays a thief called Will Montgomery whose daughter has been kidnapped and locked in the boot of a car by Vincent (Josh Lucas).
If Will doesn’t keep answering his phone, she’ll be killed.
Sixteen years on from Con Air (1997), Stolen reunites Cage with British director Simon West.
But swapping a pink rabbit for a blue teddy this time out is an in-joke too far which smacks of the desperate foundations on which the flimsy premise is built.
Jack The Giant Slayer 3D
* * *
Cert 12A, 114 mins
Given how ultra-familiar the Jack and the Beanstalk story is, you’d never dream there would be such a long and dull opening narration to what is meant to be an all-action thriller for children.
Jack the Giant Slayer is watchable enough, but seriously overlong at 114 minutes with only the extended, second ending offering full-throttle action.
The mostly British cast includes Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane and an unrecognisable Bill Nighy as a two-headed leader of many giants.
About a Boy star Nicholas Hoult is now all grown up but struggles to convince as Jack.
Since the beanstalk element survives and its growth is brilliantly realised, more’s the pity Singer didn’t insist on making a tension-packed 90-minute version of the tradition story.
As the beans have always suggested, less could well have given us more.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Cert 15, 100 mins
Jim Carrey and Steve Carell are two of the biggest comedy names around.
So, when the two of them come together in a movie that’s as flat as this, it almost makes you wonder if you’ll ever laugh at a Hollywood film ever again. The story begins with two childhood friends finding a common bond through magic.
By the time they are big-name adult stars in Vegas (and now played by Carell and a woefully miscast Steve Buscemi), their relationship has cracks that are about to be exposed by the much more daring Steve Gray (Carrey).
For a film that’s supposed to be all about magic, it’s anything but.
Cert 12A, 93 mins
Despite starring Chris Hemsworth (Avengers Assemble) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), this remake of a 1984 Patrick Swayze film about an invasion of the US has been on the shelf for two years.
Debut director Dan Bradley is a stunt co-ordinator by trade so there’s a degree of energy on screen as the young actors lead an improbable fightback which looks like a domestic equivalent of the battle for Libya.
Far too often, the solution to the next problem or the link to the next sequence is yet another explosion or gun battle, while the digital editing leaves us scarcely able to see what is really going on – or caring anything about the characters.
But, if Hollywood’s suits want a Syrian situation on their own doorsteps, this is a good calling card.
* * *
Cert 15, 85 mins
A small British movie about a band of ageing punk rockers who get a younger but comparatively talentless band into the charts playing one of their new songs.
Veteran actors Phil Daniels and Keith Allen lead the cast as Johnny Jones and Minto, with newcomer Jamie Blackley (Snow White and the Huntsman) as Drainpipe.
Vinyl has its heart in the right place but the bickering overcomes the story arc, resulting in a curiosity piece that will no more stand the test of time than a 45rpm single.