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- Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?!
- Royal Opera Live: L'Elisir D'Amore
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1
- The Imitation Game
Interstellar 4 stars
Planet earth is slowly dying. Mankind looks to the stars for a new planet to colonise. When scientists discover a wormhole that should allow a spacecraft to travel beyond the galaxy into the unknown, doting father Cooper bids farewell to his son Tom and daughter Murph to lead an exploratory mission in search of a new home. Accompanied by fellow explorers Brand, Doyle and Romilly, Cooper undertakes the most important mission in human history.
- GenreAction, Adventure, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller
- CastMatthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, Casey Affleck, Sir Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn.
- DirectorChristopher Nolan.
- WriterChristopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan.
- Duration164 mins
- Official sitewww.interstellarmovie.com/index-intl.php
Writer-director Christopher Nolan shoots for the stars with a futuristic thriller, co-written with his brother Jonathan, about mankind's search beyond this galaxy for a new home to replace a dying planet earth. Epic in scope and wildly ambitious, Interstellar doesn't quite achieve its bold vision of a love story between a father and daughter set against the vast backdrop of mankind's final roll of the dice to avoid extinction.
However, even when this grand futuristic adventure malfunctions, it's a deeply engrossing meditation on the ties that bind and the endurance of those emotional bonds across space and time.
Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have captured some of the most breathtaking vistas including our first glimpses of a black hole or wormhole on large-format IMAX film.
These sequences pack a mighty visual punch and powerfully convey how tiny and seemingly insignificant we are on our third rock from the sun. Composer Hans Zimmer, who collaborated with the London-born director on The Dark Knight trilogy, provides another bombastic orchestral score to complement the majestic imagery.
Planet earth is dying: great dust clouds sweep across agricultural plains, ruining crops and making it impossible to breathe comfortably without face masks. "We used to look up and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt," laments Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former test pilot, who toils the parched soil with his 15-year-old son Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and 10-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy).
Cooper answers a call from Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to lead a mission to locate a new planet capable of sustaining human life. "We're not meant to save the world. We're meant to leave it," explains Brand, whose scientist daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) will be part of the four-strong crew along with astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and pilot Doyle (Wes Bentley).
Leaving his brood in the care of his father-in-law (John Lithgow), Cooper undertakes the most important mission in human history, knowing that failure would mean certain death for the people he loves.
Interstellar retains a tight focus on the characters without sacrificing the adrenaline-pumping thrills that fans expect from director Nolan. Two talking military machines called TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE are a marvel of mechanical puppeteering and inject much needed humour.
"I have a discretion setting," deadpans TARS in response to a request from Cooper to disclose sensitive information. Oscar winners McConaughey and Hathaway add emotional heft to their embattled astronauts, wringing out tears after Amelia sternly warns Cooper: "You might have to choose between seeing your children again and saving the human race."
A couple of dense, wordy philosophical discussions about gravity and love orbit the moon of unintentional hilarity but thankfully, Nolan avoids the crash and burn in the nick of time.
Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?! 1 stars
Mrs Keen, the new headmistress of St Bernadette's Primary School in Coventry, welcomes superteacher Mr Shepherd to the fold. On his first day, Mr Shepherd sustains a swift kick to the head from the school donkey. When he regains consciousness, Shepherd doesn't recall his daughter Lauren or his impending New York nuptials to sweetheart Sophie. Buffoonish teaching assistant Mr Poppy joins forces with Lauren to restore her father's memory.
- GenreComedy, Drama, Family, Musical, Romance
- CastCatherine Tate, Adam Garcia, Celia Imrie, Marc Wootton, Lauren Hobbs, Martin Clunes.
- DirectorDebbie Isitt.
- WriterDebbie Isitt.
- Duration110 mins
- Official sitewww.facebook.com/NativityFilm
A couple of years ago, my inquisitive nephew - then six years old - asked what happens to children who are consigned to Father Christmas' naughty list. I told him that children who misbehave don't get any presents on Christmas Day and must spend the following 12 months being extra good. I know now that I was wrong.
Mischievous scamps on the naughty list will be punished by spending 110 minutes in the company of Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?!. There are elements of this shambolic third instalment of writer-director Debbie Isitt's improvised festive fables that my little nephew might enjoy: flatulence, dollops of donkey dung and a gurning man-child dressed in an oversized animal costume.
However, no amount of wrapping can disguise an early Christmas turkey, overstuffed with sickly sentiment, mawkish musical sequences and gargantuan leaps of logic. It's a crying, snivelling shame: the original Nativity!, released in 2009, was an unabashed delight that has become an annual treat in my tinsel-laden household.
This third and hopefully final chapter is a nightmare before Christmas. Mrs Keen (Celia Imrie), the new headmistress of St Bernadette's Primary School in Coventry, welcomes superteacher Mr Shepherd (Martin Clunes) to the fold to whip the pupils into shape ahead of an Ofsted inspection.
On his first day, Mr Shepherd sustains a swift kick to the head from the school donkey. When he regains consciousness, Shepherd doesn't recall his daughter Lauren (Lauren Hobbs) or his impending New York nuptials to sweetheart Sophie (Catherine Tate).
Buffoonish teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) joins forces with Lauren to restore her father's memory by visiting favourite haunts from his childhood and participating in a flash mob competition in London.
Meanwhile, in the Big Apple, Sophie's old flame, arrogant flash mob guru Bradley Finch (Adam Garcia), worms his way back into her brittle affections with help from her parents (Duncan Preston, Susie Blake), brother (Ralf Little) and bridesmaid (Niky Wardley).
Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?! is possibly the worst film I've seen this year. The script's definition of a flash mob is extremely loose, some of the children at St Bernadette's look too old to attend primary school, several New York scenes have clearly been shot closer to home with British actors at odds with the accent and Mr Poppy is a major irritation rather than a joyous source of giggles.
Performances are as wooden as a Norwegian spruce and the song and dance numbers are unevenly lip-synced. Characters behave without melodic rhyme or reason. Sophie's brother inexplicably vows to help slimeball Bradley win back Sophie, then sabotages the nefarious plan in the next breath.
To answer the over-punctuated question in the film's title: with regret, dude, he's at the knacker's yard dragging the entire cast and crew with him.
Royal Opera Live: L'Elisir D'Amore 3 stars
A live broadcast from the Royal Opera House in London of Laurent Pelly's production of Donizetti's comic opera in two acts charting the love affair of lowly peasant Nemorino and beautiful landowner Adina. Vittorio Grigolo and Lucy Crowe play the lovers across the social divide with Bryn Terfel as quack doctor Dulcamara.
- CastLucy Crowe, Vittorio Grigolo, Bryn Terfel.
- DirectorLaurent Pelly.
- Official sitewww.roh.org.uk/cinemas
- Release26/11/2014 (selected cinemas)
Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)
- Wednesday 26th November 2014
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 stars
Genetically modified turtle brothers Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello grow up in the sewers of New York under the guidance of their mentor: a giant rat called Splinter, who teaches them Ninjitsu. Aided by plucky journalist April O'Neil and her cameraman Vern Fenwick, the turtles wage war on a shadowy figure called Shredder and his army, known as the Foot Clan, who are spreading fear and terror throughout the Big Apple.
- GenreAction, Adaptation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Romance
- CastWill Arnett, Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg.
- DirectorJonathan Liebesman.
- WriterAndre Nemec, Josh Appelbaum, Evan Daugherty.
- Duration101 mins
- Official sitewww.ninjaturtlesmovie.co.uk
- Release11/10/2014 (Scotland); 17/10/2014 (UK & Ireland)
The adventures of turtle brothers Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael began life in the mid 1980s as an irreverent comic book and rapidly spawned an animated TV series, a trilogy of films and a dizzying array of merchandise. Turtle power has endured to the present day, including a computer-animated series on Nickelodeon.
It's no surprise then that Jonathan Liebesman, director of Wrath Of The Titans, has resurrected the heroes in a half shell for the big screen. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an outlandish, action-heavy romp that remains faithful to earlier incarnations, condensing the characters' back-story into a snazzy comic book-style opening sequence.
Die-hard fans will enjoy the heavy whiff of nostalgia, but if Liebesman was hoping to indoctrinate a new generation, he has cowabungled it. His film is incredibly violent, albeit bloodless, reducing two very young boys in my screening to distressed screams.
The lack of spilt blood is preposterous, especially when the turtles face chief villain Shredder, who sports armour festooned with blades. Razor sharp projectiles scythe through the air but miraculously don't nick flesh. Shredder by name but not by nefarious nature.
Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) grow up in the sewers of New York City. They flourish under rat mentor Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), who teaches Ninjitsu to his surrogate sons.
During one of the turtles' sorties above ground, Channel 6 news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) glimpses the crime-fighters, who are preparing for war with hulking terrorist Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his army, the Foot Clan.
Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello fear exposure so they track down April and spirit her to their subterranean lair. "It's our Fortress Of Solitude, our Hogwarts, our Xavier's Academy," whispers Donatello, piling on the pop culture references.
Once April learns of the turtles' noble quest to destroy Shredder, she pledges her allegiance and ropes in wisecracking cameraman, Vern (Will Arnett), and prominent businessman Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who has publicly declared war on the Foot Clan in a televised speech.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles updates the characters for the modern era. Thus Mikey has a penchant for cat videos on the internet and the three scriptwriters shoe-horn verbal references to films and TV shows with abandon: "Maybe she's a Jedi," whispers Mikey after April reveals she knows Splinter's name without an introduction.
The turtles are rendered through motion-capture performances and look rather creepy, but they somersault to perfection in action set pieces including a tumble down a snow-laden mountainside.
Alas, the hefty budget hasn't stretched to remedying basic continuity errors like when Fox's plastic heroine emerges from a downpour with dry, flowing hair. Believe that and you'll lap up this bland turtle soup.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 4 stars
Katniss Everdeen barely survived the Third Quarter Quell and she gathers her strength in the company of her friends, architect of the rebellion Plutarch Heavensbee and the President of District 13, Alma Coin. The scent of rebellion is in the air and the people look to Katniss to lead them against President Snow and the armed forces of Panem. However, Peeta has been captured by Snow and is being manipulated to quell the uprising.
- GenreAction, Adaptation, Adventure, Drama, Family, Romance, Science Fiction
- CastJennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci.
- DirectorFrancis Lawrence.
- WriterDanny Strong, Peter Craig.
- Duration123 mins
- Official sitewww.thehungergames.co.uk
The spectre of war casts a long shadow over the penultimate chapter of the blockbusting dystopian thrillers based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling trilogy. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 follows the lead of the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas by cleaving the final book in two.
This decision - driven as much by greed as artistic necessity - results in a dark, brooding two hours of self-sacrifice almost completely devoid of the propulsive action sequences that distinguished the earlier films. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen, a pawn in the battle of wits between the money-rich Capitol and the impoverished Districts, remains a mesmerising constant.
She delivers another emotionally bruising performance, especially in early scenes when her battle-scarred teenager stares over the smouldering ruins of her beloved District 12, littered with charred skeletons of friends and neighbours who were incinerated as they fled.
This hellish vision brings Lawrence to her knees, unable to hold back racked sobs of pain. The floodgates open and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong take their time channelling her aching sense of loss into an all-consuming rage that will set the Capitol ablaze this time next year. "If we burn, you burn with us!" she bellows down a camera lens at President Snow (Donald Sutherland). We don't doubt it.
Katniss barely survived the Third Quarter Quell. Separated from fellow tributes Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Johanna (Jena Malone), who are being held in the Capitol, Katniss gathers her strength in a secret underground complex. Her allies include childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), architect of the rebellion Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).
The people of the Districts look to Katniss to lead them against President Snow and the armed forces of Panem. "We're going to stoke the fire of this revolution that this Mockingjay started," growls Plutarch, commissioning a series of propaganda videos directed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) with Katniss as the reluctant star. Meanwhile, Snow initiates his own forceful media campaign fronted by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and a clearly disoriented Peeta.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 is the calm before the storm of full-blown conflict. It's a slower burn than previous films and lacks some of the on-screen electricity since Katniss and Peeta are separated but Lawrence burns bright as the eponymous "girl on fire".
Effie's role is expanded from the book to bring some comic relief to the subterranean gloom. "Everything old can be made new again - like democracy!" she chirrups. Maybe so, but as Part 1 makes abundantly and agonisingly clear, you have to sacrifice innocent lives to sweep away the past.
The Imitation Game 4 stars
Socially awkward mathematician Alan Turing arrives at Bletchley Park where Commander Denniston presides over a group of the country's keenest minds in the hope that one of them can break the Enigma code. Turing ploughs his own furrow and raises eyebrows by recruiting Joan Clarke to the team. She is a beautiful mind like Turing, inspiring him to greatness by observing, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things people never imagine."
- GenreAdaptation, Biography, Drama, Gay, Thriller, War
- CastKeira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard.
- DirectorMorten Tyldum.
- WriterGraham Moore.
- Duration114 mins
- Official sitewww.theimitationgamemovie.com
In December 2013, The Queen granted a posthumous royal pardon to Alan Turing. The London-born mathematician had been prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 - a criminal act at the time - and he undertook a treatment of chemical castration with oestrogen injections rather than serve time behind bars.
It was an undeservedly inglorious end for a brilliant man, who was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code and should have been feted by our battle-scarred nation as a hero. Based on a biography by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game relives that race against time to decipher German communications and bring the Second World War to a swift conclusion.
Morten Tyldum's masterful drama neither shies away from Turing's homosexuality nor lingers on it, framing nail-biting events at Bletchley Park with the mathematician's 1951 arrest in Manchester. "If you're not paying attention, you'll miss things," Turing teases us in voiceover.
Indeed, you'll miss impeccable production design, an unconventional yet touching romance, subterfuge and sterling performances including an Oscar-worthy portrayal of the socially awkward genius from Benedict Cumberbatch.
Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) sits in a police interrogation room with Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), facing a charge of indecency with a 19-year-old unemployed man called Arnold Murray. "I think Turing's hiding something," Nick informs his Superintendent (Steven Waddington), who is keen to wrap up the conviction.
In flashback, we witness Alan's arrival at Bletchley Park where Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) preside over a group of the country's keenest minds in the hope that one of them can break Enigma.
Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) work alongside Turing, but he ploughs his own furrow and raises eyebrows by recruiting Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to the team.
She is a beautiful mind like Turing, inspiring him to greatness by observing, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things people never imagine."
Punctuated by school day scenes of the young Turing (Alex Lawther) and his first love, an older boy called Christopher (Jack Bannon), The Imitation Game is a beautifully crafted tribute to a prodigy, whose invaluable contribution to the war effort was unjustly besmirched by bigotry.
Cumberbatch is mesmerising, trampling over the egos of fellow code breakers without any concern for their feelings as he vows to solve "the most difficult problem in the world". It's a tour-de-force portrayal, complemented by strong supporting performances from Knightley, Goode et al as the close-knit team who note, "God didn't win the war. We did."
The pivotal Eureka moment sets our pulses racing, heightened by Alexandre Desplat's exquisite orchestral score. Director Tyldum navigates the fractured chronology with clarity and flair, ensuring that his heart-rending film doesn't itself become a perplexing puzzle.