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Open your mind to us, please. Open your mind... Open your mind... And your ears. And prepare to let our thoughts on Homefront, Frozen, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and Blackfish infuriate / delight / inform / frustrate / stimulate / entertain you (please delete as appropriate).
2013 was a productive year on screen for Jason Statham, with the Sylvester Stallone-scripted Homefront providing him with his third starring role of the year. Here he plays a retired undercover DEA agent who has moved to a small Southern town to raise his daughter in relative peace. After rubbing some local rednecks the wrong way he unexpectedly uncovers evidence of crystal meth production, which in turn, through some very bad luck and application of the rules of narrative convenience, sees him cross paths once more with the biker gang he inflitrated in his final investigation. After a troubled birth, Homefront attracted a cast far better than the script deserved and, if you can put the convenient plotting aside, is a reasonably entertaing little thriller, something aided by agreeably brisk pacing and likeable central performances, notably a believable relationship between father and daughter. Certainly not Statham's finest, but worth catching if you're a fan.
The latest Disney animation, Frozen, arrives on these shores in the wake of much praise and cries of it being a return to classic Disney magic. It certainly follows classic Disney formula - (very) loose translation of a fairy tale (in this case Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen), imperilled princess, animal companions, hunky men and comedy sidekicks. The tale is of a princess, cursed with an, at times, uncontrollable mastery of cold and ice, who is chased out of her city on the day of her coronation and inadvertently casting the kingdom into a deep winter. Her younger sister sets out to save her and the kingdom, and is aided by the aforementioned men, animals and sidekicks. Much may rest on your tolerance, or appreciation, of the musical numbers as, while it looks appealing and has some reasonably funny moments, the story is almost entirely predictable. While Frozen probably is the best thing Disney have produced in a while, it's all rather underwhelming and could most charitably be described as adequate.
Peter Jackson's love affair with Middle Earth continues in the second installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug, as the dwarves continue their journey to, and into, The Lonely Mountain. The problems present in An Unexpected Journey persist here: unnecessary orc antagonists (instead of dispensing with this here Jackson has in fact doubled-down), an apparent need to turn all events into action set-pieces and clear weaknesses when the writers stray from the source material. In spite of this it's still an entertaining movie and doesn't feel anything like its near-3 hour running time, and we imagine that if you enjoyed the first installment then you'll enjoy this, even if it's certainly not a classic. The big issue we have with The Desolation of Smaug, however, is the tone, which is much more akin to the far darker The Lord of the Rings than an adaptation of the (largely) cheery and adventurous children's book The Hobbit ought to be.
The modest box office success of 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy belies its popularity and the enduring appeal of the central character, so the production of a sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, is not a surprise, even if the near-decade wait is. Having conquered San Diego, Ron Burgundy and his wife Veronica are now working in network news in New York. Certain that he's about to make the big time, Ron is devastated when a primetime anchor job is given to Veronica and he is sacked. A despondent Ron is tapped to host a show on a revolutionary new 24 hour news channel, and he gets his old news crew back together to create a programme set to change the way news is reported forever. An increased role for Steve Carell's Brick provides many of the biggest laughs, though the character is stretched almost to breaking point, but there's plenty of funny material to go around. It is too long, and would really benefit from some judicious editing (for example, a whole disability sub-plot could, and should, have been cut), but the only important thing you really need to know is if it is funny, which, we are pleased to report, it very much is.
Having unexpectedly impressed recently in a straight role (in Philomena), we catch up with a film released a few months prior in which Steve Coogan brought to the big screen the character that made his name. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa sees the hapless presenter back in local radio as a media conglomerate takes over the station where he works and immediately look to make cuts. A highly successful 'Just Sack Pat' campaign by Alan leads to his colleague's dismissal and ultimately to a hostage situation, of which Partridge very soon becomes the face. This is the set-up for a series of increasingly ludicrous and farcical set-pieces with trademark Partridge wordplay. Despite being no great fans of Alan Partridge we found this deeply amusing, and Coogan's consummate portrayal of his most iconic character is one of the performances of the year, and Alpha Papa one of the funniest films.
Having received much acclaim at film festivals, including Sundance, earlier in 2013, Gabriela Cowperthwaite's documentary Blackfish really came to the fore after it was broadcast on US news channel CNN, since when it has become a rallying cry against SeaWorld's perceived animal cruelty. Focusing on Tilikum, a killer whale responsible for 3 human deaths, the film highlights the conditions of capture and captivity of orcas and questions the morality and safety of doing so. While it undermines some of its impact by including some pseudo-scientific claptrap, and is rather one-sided (SeaWorld declining to participate, though it is rather hard to conceive of what the other side of the argument could be, beyond commerce), this is nevertheless a compelling and thought-provoking film that will tug at your heart strings and stoke your anger.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.