WELCOME TO THE PUNCH review

Starring: James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty), Andrea Riseborough (Made in Dagenham), David Morrissey (The Walking Dead)

Writer/Director: Eran Creevy (Shifty)

Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes

Release Date: 15 March (UK), 27 March (US)

Welcome to the Punch comes to us from Eran Creevy, the writer/director of the indie Brit flick Shifty, which is a great example of a film with a small budget but plenty of ingenuity. Now armed with a bigger budget and bigger stars, does his sophomore attempt live up to the promise his first showed, or is Creevy a one-trick pony?

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For about the first half of Welcome to the Punch, you get pretty much what you expect from a British crime thriller. It’s definitely not bad and better than most of them these days, but nothing you haven’t seen before. But about halfway through, some major plot shifts lifts the comfort of the plot from under you and sends the film on a much different path. There are some very fresh and inventive ideas thrown into a plot that is pretty standard, and keep the movie from getting stale. Even with the familiarity, the film is still pretty well written with some good dialogue and characterization. Whilst I think the ending could have been a bit better, this is still a brisk and entertaining tale that even manages to throw some social and political commentary in there.

Punch features a wide variety of well-known and not-so-well-known British actors that all deliver on what they need to. McAvoy, cast a bit out of type as a gruff, Dirty Harry-esque cop, shows he has range and can handle himself in a scrap. Strong, whilst playing the kind of role he can do backwards at this point, brings enough depth and emotion to an otherwise stock role that you can get behind him by the end. Riseborough continues her rise up the ranks here, and avoids the stereotypical role of women in movies like this whilst also having very good chemistry with McAvoy. Peter Mullan is also entertaining in his role, providing some comic relief whilst remaining serious throughout.

The visual style of the picture is far removed from Shifty’s gritty realism. Punch has a very slick look to it, punctuated by a sharp, blue colour scheme that adds a lot of flair to the action. The cinematography can get very frenetic during the fight scenes, occasionally swerving towards Crank-level energy without going bats*** insane. Whilst the film sometimes falls into the old edit-things-so-fast-it’s-hard-to-tell-what’s-going-on trap, the action is mostly discernable and well choreographed, whilst the music is suitably moody and pulsating.

Welcome to the Punch is by no means groundbreaking or challenging as a motion picture, but it packs a lot of (pun intended) punch. It’s a much better film that most films of its ilk these days, and proves that Creevy has a bright future in the film industry if he plays his cards right.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

SIDE EFFECTS review

Starring: Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Channing Tatum (Magic Mike)

Director: Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven)

Writer: Scott Z. Burns (Contagion)

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

Release Date: 8 February (US), 8 March (UK)

Side Effects is supposedly Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical release (his true final film, Behind the Candelabra, has been relegated to an HBO TV movie). Is this the swansong such a renowned director deserves, or is it a final effort not worth remembering?

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The plot of Side Effects is so full of twists and turns that I can’t even describe the basics without spoiling pretty much everything; you just have to see it for yourself. Just know that the trailers are throwing you for a loop and this is a much deeper and darker film than the marketing is letting on. Whilst the film starts pretty slow, a particular scene about a third of the way through (one that got the entire audience I saw it with to gasp) suddenly creates a huge turn and immediately got me intrigued and invested in the story. From there, the movie really kicks into gear and is a story that will be very hard for anyone to predict. I can’t say much more; now go see it for yourselves.

The cast does a great job with their roles; none of the main players disappoint. Law plays obsessive well, and his frenzied nature and inability to comprehend what is going on perfectly matches the state of mind most of the audience should be in. Mara gives her arguably the best performance of her career in a role that I think most actresses would struggle with due to its complexity, but she pulls it off perfectly natural. Zeta-Jones, whilst possibly a bit too suspicious at times, also gives her best performance in a long time. Tatum isn’t in the movie as long as the marketing tries to convince you he is, but in his brief time he also manages to emote much more than he averagely does.

Soderbergh has a very distinct but simple style to his movies, and that is all over Side Effects. Whilst the movie does have that graded look that a lot of Soderbergh movies have had recently where everything is tinted urine-yellow, it isn’t as strong or distracting as it was in Magic Mike or Contagion. The cinematography is pretty basic but effective, whilst the music fits the odd style the film is going for.

Side Effects is the first truly great movie of the year and is Soderbergh’s best film in a quite a while. The story is intriguing if occasionally confusing and the central performances are all very strong. All in all, Soderbergh couldn’t ask for a better movie to close his curtain on.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL review

Starring: James Franco (127 Hours), Mila Kunis (Black Swan), Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Zach Braff (Garden State)

Director: Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead)

Writers: Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rise of the Guardians)

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Release Date: 8 March (US, UK)

The Wizard of Oz is one of those classic movies that we were all forced to watch when we were young, and it is a film that I fondly remember. Despite several attempts, no one has ever been able to capture the magic of Oz the way the original did back in 1939. With the success of Alice in Wonderland several years ago, Disney is now taking a stab at L. Frank Baum’s work in the form of an unofficial prequel. Should you head down the yellow brick road again, or should you tap your heels together immediately and escape back to Kansas?

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The story of Oz is tale that has been told in many different ways before (even Raimi’s own Army of Darkness has the same basic story), but one that naturally fits the classic style of the rest of the proceedings. The film feels well structured and the pacing makes the 2-hour plus runtime fly by, but the dialogue could have used more work. I know it’s a kid’s movie, but too often I felt the dialogue was very on-the-nose when it really didn’t need to be. The film has a lot of humour, mainly between Franco and Braff, and most of the time it works well. They never have to resort to pop culture references or bathroom humour in order to create gags the way most family films do these days; it is all through character interaction. Nothing cheap and forced here like that other movie (coughMADHATTERBREAKDANCINGcough). The film also has plenty of references to the original film, from its black-and-white opening scenes to subtle references to characters and locations. It never feels too forced nor does it distract you from the story at hand. The film is an origin story for not just Oz, but the Wicked Witch of the West as well, and this story is handled generally quite well. I know fans of the musical Wicked are probably crying foul, but (as someone who hasn’t seen the show) I can say I have no problem with both versions of the story existing. This is simply just another interpretation of the character and neither version is truly canon with either the books or the original film. The film captures the feel of the 1939 version well; it merely expands upon through the use of a modern perspective and craftsmanship. I’m also glad the film didn’t resort to using a standard action climax and go against the entire style of the source material the way Burton’s Wonderland did. Here, there is a climax but one that feels much more natural to the story and doesn’t feel anywhere near as forced as Alice fighting a Jabberwocky purely to create tension and a sense of threat.

The cast of the film works, though maybe not the most ideal. Franco seems an odd choice for Oz at first (the original choice of Robert Downey Jr would have probably worked better), but he warms on you by the end. Weisz and Williams do well with their roles, even if Weisz hams it up a bit at points. Zach Braff is great as the monkey and has great chemistry with Franco, whilst Joey King as the china girl provides some much needed heart and emotion. My main problem with the cast is Mila Kunis; the way her character develops later on in the film (which I won’t reveal for spoilers sake) feels natural on paper, but Kunis doesn’t sell it convincingly enough. Maybe it’s the over-the-top nature of her performance, maybe the fact Kunis usually doesn’t play this broad a character, I’m not sure. There’s probably an actress out there who could have pulled this off better; I’m just not sure whom. Oh, and before I forget, there is a Bruce Campbell cameo for you Raimi enthusiasts. Whilst not his best, it is amusing and even calls back to his Evil Dead days.

Like Burton’s Wonderland, Oz was shot primarily on green screens with effects to create the magical land of Oz. Like it or not, it is still very visually impressive. The whole film has been designed beautifully, both in its original parts and those lifted from the original film. Raimi utilises his love of moving cameras and odd angles to great affect here, and the 3-D is actually worth the price this time round. Danny Elfman’s score for the film works most of the time, but whenever that choir kicks in it feels too much like a Burton film. And not in a good way.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is good return to form for Raimi, and probably one of the better live-action family films in recent memory. It’s a good companion piece to the 1939 classic as well as a good film on its own, and is a much better film that Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in every possible facet. It ain’t perfect, but that didn’t stop me from having a fun, nostalgia-filled time at the movies.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

TOMB RAIDER review

Developer: Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider: Legend)

Platforms: PS3 (version reviewed), Xbox 360, PC

Release Date: 5 March (US, UK)

I’ve never been a big follower of the Tomb Raider franchise. I’ve played bits of the previous games, and I saw the first movie, but other than that I’m mostly a stranger to the adventures of Lara Croft. As with pretty much everything these days, the franchise has gotten a gritty reboot. Can an old dog learn new tricks, or is this new beginning actually the end?

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A new tale with no ties to the previous titles, the story of Tomb Raider works mainly because so much attention had been paid to the character of Lara Croft. The game spends time letting you get to know her and shows how she developed from an innocent explorer, to frightened survivor, to hardened badass. I’ve not felt this much connection or sympathy for a character in a game since John Marston in Red Dead Redemption. Otherwise, the story is your basic Indiana Jones-type fair, but one with a lot more edge. This is a violent game, and earns its 18 certificate. From grizzly sacrificial murders to a scene where Lara wades her way through a river of blood, there is more shocking imagery in here than most horror films. It’s like a more f***ed-up version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Since we last saw Lara, the adventure platformer genre has been co-opted by the Uncharted franchise. Tomb Raider takes obvious queues from its contemporary, but adds elements from other games as well. Unlike Uncharted, Tomb Raider has a somewhat open world to explore for XP and treasures, much like Metroid Prime or Batman: Arkham Asylum. Also like those games, Lara gains and modifies her weapons and tools over the course of the game, which encourages you to backtrack to old locations to reach areas you couldn’t before. The platforming sections are brilliant, treading a fine line between classic Tomb Raider’s leaps of faith and Uncharted’s almost on-rails approach. The gunplay, whilst inferior to the platforming, is still a lot of fun and very challenging at points. There’s nothing more satisfying than headshotting an unsuspecting enemy with your bow and arrow before mowing down his buddies with a shotgun and finishing your last guy off with an arrow to the knee (I’m not making a Skyrim joke there. You can literally stab a guy in the knee with an arrow). Sure, it kinda goes against the whole “reluctant killer” thing, but it’s still fun. The puzzles are still here as well, and they are also fairly challenging. The game also has a multiplayer suite, but it’s pretty generic and feels tacked on. That, however, doesn’t spoil what is otherwise a fun and thrilling single player with enough length to be enjoyed playing through once without returning to find all the hidden gems.

Graphics wise, Tomb Raider is exactly Crysis 2 but it still looks great. A lot of attention has been paid to the environments, which all look distinctive and beautiful. The game seamlessly transitions between gameplay and in-game cutscenes; only the opening cut-scene is pre-rendered (and is pretty much just the initial trailer for the game anyway). The voice acting and motion capture here is excellent, particularly Lara herself, and the music perfectly matches the tone.

Tomb Raider is a fantastic game and one well deserving of your time. If Crystal Dynamics continue down this road for the rest of the franchise, I think they’ve found themselves a new fan. Whether you’re a Tomb Raider fanatic or just wanting something to hold you over until they announce Uncharted 4, this is the game for you.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

STOKER review

Starring: Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Matthew Goode (Watchmen), Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Director: Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy)

Writer: Wentworth Miller (Prison Break)

Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes

Release Date: 1 March (US, UK)

For a movie from the director of the brutal but brilliant Korean picture Oldboy, you’d hope that his Hollywood debut would have much more impact. Sadly, Stoker is a misfire of a film; one that has a solid starting point but ends up crashing short of the finish line.

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The basic premise of the film is intriguing and it is what mainly carries the film throughout. It fulfils what most thrillers lack these days: unpredictability. I honestly had no idea where this movie was going, and once the truth is revealed it is genuinely shocking. Unfortunately, the film then falls into a rushed and anti-climactic ending, one that doesn’t seem to gel with the previous eighty minutes. The film is very much a slow burner, making the film feel much longer than its actual brief runtime. This works well at the start, but the film begins to drag before suddenly moving too quickly to properly comprehend the meaning of its ending. The film’s writing is inconsistent, moving from pretty decent to downright amateurish. The film’s opening scenes are full of “subtle” exposition that feels unnatural, and everyone outside of the main characters feels like a cookie-cutter stereotype. Wentworth Miller has never been that great an actor, but he should probably take a few more writing classes before he attempts to touch a word processor again.

The film has a strong principal cast who are given material juicy enough to have fun with, but they all often seem lost and confused. Wasikowska is again playing the emo-ish oddball she usually plays but to much more eerie effect, but she never really gives us enough to fully understand what is going through her warped mind. Matthew Goode’s performance feels too over the top; I know we’re supposed to be suspicious of him, but does he constantly have to act so creepy. We get it! Nicole Kidman is decent in her part but never gets enough to do, and Jacki Weaver briefly enters the picture before unceremoniously disappearing. The actors don’t feel well directed enough, possibly the result of a foreign director’s vision either not being spelled out well enough or getting lost in translation.

If I can say anything extremely positive about the film, it at least looks very pretty. The cinematography makes a lot of use of long tracking shots that are executed well, as well as plenty of other neat camera tricks. This gives the film a sense of style and originality the rest of the film is sorely lacking.

Stoker is a film that I can’t hate, but it lacks so much that I can scarcely call it good. It lacks enough originality and suspense to make it feel compelling, further worsened by poor writing, mediocre performances and a confusing ending. Park Chan-Wook was aiming for a Hitchcockian feel with this one but we instead got a Brian DePalma film, and not a good one.

FINAL VERDICT: 5/10

CLOUD ATLAS review

Starring: Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), Jim Broadbent (Hot Fuzz), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Hugo Weaving (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)

Writers/Directors: The Wachowskis (The Matrix), Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run)

Runtime: 2 hours 52 minutes

Release Date: October 26 (US), February 22 (UK)

Based on the absurdly long book by David Mitchell (no, not that David Mitchell), Cloud Atlas is an absurdly long movie by the creative minds of The Matrix trilogy and Run Lola Run. Does this collage of stories and talents amount to more than the sum of its parts, or is it a jumbled mess of ideas?

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The film is made up of six different stories, with elements, themes and occasionally characters crossing between them. The problem with it is that these stories are told all at the same time, cross cutting between them constantly and randomly in attempt to highlight the similarities between them. What this ends up doing instead is making the film hard to follow at times. Often, certain stories are left to gather dust for a while for far too long, leading me to say “Oh yeah, that story still exists” more often than I should be. The film’s runtime is far too long; a good half hour could have been lost easily in the cutting room. The stylistic differences between stories also cause some major tonal whiplash. One second, you’re watching Halle Berry being chased by a hitman through San Francisco. Next second, you’re watching Jim Broadbent and his wacky pals get into some hijinks at the retirement home. It just feels uneven and makes it hard to care about all these stories. That, and some of the stories just aren’t that interesting. After seeing which directors directed which sections, I discovered tended to like Tykwer’s parts more than the Wachowskis. Being a big fan of The Matrix, this is upsetting. After this, Speed Racer and The Matrix sequels, its fair to say these siblings are one-hit wonders.

The cast of this movie is full of notable stars playing multiple varied roles. Actors change age, race and even sex between stories, which can lead to both amazement and unintentional hilarity. Tom Hanks probably performs best through all of the stories, confirming that he is still one of the best actors working today. Berry is better here than she has been in a while, but I’ve never thought she was that great an actress to begin with. Broadbent is as wonderful as he is in everything, whilst Whishaw provides a great performance in his centrepiece role. The ever-threatening Hugo Weaving plays the villain in every story he’s in, but it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s in drag doing his best Nurse Ratchet impression. Pity these performances are wasted on such weak material.

Despite the story woes, at least Cloud Atlas is a technical achievement. Every story has its own visual style and flair, making them easily distinctive and easier to identify when flip-flopping around constantly. The music is beautiful and easily the best thing about the film. There has been much debate about the quality of the make-up, and I’d say it is pretty mixed. Often it’s really impressive (several times, I didn’t realise who played who until the credits), but at other points it’s just unnerving; the aforementioned Weaving in drag and Doona Bae made up to look Caucasian are the two obvious ones. I’m not saying it’s racist, it just isn’t very convincing.

Cloud Atlas is a bold and beautiful experiment, but one that fails miserably. The intentions are noble and craftsmanship accomplished, but the film is too muddled and inconsistent to leave me feeling anything other than utter confusion and disappointment.

FINAL VERDICT: 4/10

ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES review

Developer: Gearbox Software (Borderlands)

Platforms: PS3 (version reviewed), Xbox 360, PC, Wii U

Release Date: 12 February (US,UK)

I am a massive fan of the Alien franchise, the first two films in particular. James Cameron’s Aliens has had a huge influence on the world of sci-fi, especially on video games. Games such as Doom, Halo and Gears of War have taken obvious influence from that movie, so how original can a game based on the original source material be? In the hands of Gearbox, it would be easy to assume this game would be certified gold. This couldn’t possibly go wrong. Right?

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First off, the story. Oh, the story. Taking place after the events of Alien 3, the game returns to the dreaded LV-426 for a story that is supposedly now official canon. And to that I say this: BULLS***! This has got to be one of the most contrived, lazy and downright awful attempts at making a proper sequel to Aliens that could have been attempted. The whole endeavour comes across as bad fan fiction, squeezing in every possible thing that was so great about the movie in an attempt to please fans, only to come off as pandering bollocks. The characters are flat, the scenario unoriginal, and the story never bothers to explain the most basic of questions. How did the Sulaco end up back over LV-426? (this is a question brought up several times in game, but always quickly shrugged off with a “I don’t know”. Point to writers: if there’s a plot hole, DON’T POINT IT OUT!) How did so many Xenomorphs manage to get on board? This and more plot holes are littered throughout, one of which I can’t bring up because of spoilers. But trust me, this isn’t that interesting a story. You’d be better off watching Alien Resurrection.

But the gameplay is what counts, right? Well, it’s your typical run-and-gun first person shooter. Not much more to it than that. Just go from room to room, blast some Xenos, and repeat for about six to eight hours. No real strategy or thought involved, just hold fire until everything dies. While this can lead to some cathartic fun, by the halfway mark the game runs out of ideas. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game wasn’t so piss easy. I played on hard and breezed through the game with the same amount of struggle I would get from playing any Call of Duty game on easy. This is mainly due to the absolutely retarded AI. The Xenomorphs, supposedly the most lethal killing machine in the galaxy, are dispatched with little effort or fear and their tactics never ranged more than “run up to you and smack repeatedly”. The game also has you fighting Weyland-Yutani soldiers, which just causes the game to lose all originality and just become another military shooter. And after a rather pathetic final boss, the game ends with little fanfare and, worse still, a f***ing cliffhanger. One of the few bright spots of the game is the multiplayer, which can be fun for a while but the severe lack of maps and the balancing issues between Marines and Xenomorphs causes this to become old way too quick.

This game has been in development for six years, and it shows. The graphics are severely outdated, with stiff character animations, muddy textures and some of the worst lip-synching this side of the PSone. The game is also incredibly buggy and unpolished. Among the problems present are: blatant clipping issues, audio drop-outs, poorly disguised load times behind really slow opening doors, people getting stuck on objects, the list goes on. The only good thing I can say about the visuals is that at least the lighting is pretty good. On the audio front, the game’s sound effects are spot on, especially the Pulse Rifle. Nothing is more satisfying than that sound followed by the squelching of alien flesh. The music is also great, both original and the tunes taken from the movie. The voice acting, however, is passable at best. They aren’t exactly given good dialogue to read, but even major players from the movie like Lance Henriksen sound bored out of their minds.

In the end, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a massive disappointment. The story is utter tripe, the gameplay is generic and unchallenging, and the graphics are outdated and unpleasant. After this and Duke Nukem Forever, Gearbox really needs to sort themselves out and put as much effort as they put into these games as they do into their Borderlands games.

FINAL VERDICT: 5/10

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD review

Starring: Bruce Willis (Looper) and Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher)

Director: John Moore (Max Payne)

Writer: Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes

Release Date: 14 February (US, UK)

What can I say about Die Hard that hasn’t been said? It’s the pinnacle of action movies, a game-changing motion picture that influenced the action landscape forever and made Bruce Willis an icon. The following sequels, though never living up to the original, were also entertaining diversions. I even like the fourth one, ridiculousness and all. But is the fifth outing one worth gearing up for, or has John McClane finally run out of luck?

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The plot of Die Hard 5 (I refuse to call it by that ridiculous title) is so bland, so banal, so utterly generic, that I’m struggling to remember key plot details just mere hours after watching it. After an incredibly slow start, the film finally kicks into gear but doesn’t keep up the pace. When there is action, it’s pretty run of the mill. When there isn’t, it is downright torturous. The film attempts to bring in a father-son dynamic between Willis and Courtney, but in the most half-assed overdone way. The constant bickering, the refusal to call McClane “Dad”, McClane always saving his son’s ass and not thanking him for it. It all just feels ripped from other movies; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade this ain’t. At least the movie is short.

If you know what to expect from Bruce Willis these days, you’ll get exactly that. His portrayal of his iconic role feels half-baked, as if Willis doesn’t know what’s going on or doesn’t care. His one-liners are pretty weak 85% of the time; some of them don’t even make sense (“I’m not smart. I’m just on vacation” WTF?). He doesn’t even feel like John McClane; it’s just Willis being Willis for the umpteenth-bazzilionth time. Jai Courtney attempts to pick up the slack, but the character of McClane Jr is given so little personality that he has nothing to work with. The two’s chemistry is passable at best, never getting close to the kind of relationship Willis had with Samuel L. Jackson or even Justin Long. But the villain is good, right? The Die Hard franchise is known for its memorable cast of villains, from Alan Rickman to Timothy Olyphant (OK, maybe not Olyphant). And the villains here are…Russians. Nothing that special or memorable about them. They’re just Russians. The film tries really hard to make these guys seem evil and just fail. They even try to tread out a real-life tragedy in attempt to make them seem more villainous; that’s just lazy and disrespectful.

But what about the action? That’s what we come to see these movies for. Every Die Hard movie has it’s memorable action scenes, from as simple as jumping off a building to as ridiculous as crashing a car into a helicopter. Many took issue with Die Hard 4.0 for taking the action to ridiculous levels, and those people are probably going to be even more pissed with this one. The action here is preposterous and not in a good way. Once in a blue moon does the film do something interesting, but nothing that memorable. The John McClane of the original Die Hard would never have survived some of the s*** he pulls off here. Remember how much glass hurt him in the first movie? F*** that, he’s constantly crashing through the stuff here with barely a scratch! Combine the unimaginative action with constant shaky-cam and sloppy editing, and you’ve got yourself a bland action movie that hardly feels like a Die Hard movie at any point. All in a day’s work for hackmaster John Moore. Even the biggest hater of Die Hard 4.0 would be begging for Len Wiseman to come back after seeing this atrocity.

Die Hard 5 is a spit in the face of the franchise, an embarrassment that should be quickly forgotten about and never spoken of again. The film barely resembles its roots and just goes for generic thrills straight out of the Michael Bay School of Schlock Filmmaking. Willis has already said he’s up for at least one more. It can’t get any worse than this, right? Right?!

FINAL VERDICT: 3/10

WARM BODIES review

Starring: Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class), Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four), Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), John Malkovich (Con Air)

Writer/Director: Jonathan Levine (50/50)

Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes

Release Date: 1 February (US), 8 February (UK)

Many are quick to dismiss Warm Bodies as yet another lame attempt to cash in on the Twilight craze. Does this film suffer from the same problems as those abysmal films, or does this zom-rom-com have more on the inside?

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The plot of Warm Bodies is a very loose adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, but about as loose as you get. The film follows the romantic comedy structure to a T, but with its setting and characters it remains fresh. The film keeps up a good pace throughout, scattering just enough humour as it goes, before entering an entertaining but extremely brief climax. The writing here is consistently witty, with enough jabs taken at both the zombie and rom com genres to entertain fans of both genres.

The little kid from About a Boy has come a long way, hasn’t he? In what is his first leading role in a major film, Hoult excels. He plays undead well, letting his face do a lot of the talking to convey his emotions when his ever-constant monologue decides not to chime in. Palmer is decent as well, though her character isn’t as developed or interesting as Hoult. Rob Corddry provides a lot of good humour, whilst the enigmatic John Malkovich is barely used in a stereotypical role that could have been played by anyone.

Possibly the most unfortunate thing about Warm Bodies is the lack of gore. I know they’re trying to appeal to the teen market, but even for a 12 rated film the violence on display here is pretty tame. Sure, we get to see headshots and even some brain devouring, but it all feels held back. They could have gone a little messier and still gotten away with the rating. The movie also has a very indie soundtrack, often segwaying into montages that seem out of place at times.

Warm Bodies is the first genuinely good movie of the year, and does enough new things to make it stand out. Whilst not a classic, it is entertaining and has plenty of laughs to be worth a watch.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

MY TOP TWENTY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2012

One week to go until the Academy Awards, where we get told by a bunch of old Hollywood farts what the best movie of last year was. As usual, they are probably going to be disappointing but most of us will still watch anyway. But before then, I might as well get my opinion out of the way. Please keep in mind that I have not seen every film that came out last year, and that this is my opinion so don’t get fussy if your picks aren’t mine.

20. WRECK-IT RALPHA charming animated adventure set in the world of my other favourite pastime: video games. Full of great gags and obscure references, this is Disney’s best animated effort in a long time and also the best animated film of the year.

19. DREDD – Ignoring the unfaithful Stallone film, Dredd delivers us a film that does Judge Dredd justice (pun intended). Delivering action set pieces and dark humour reminiscent of classic 80’s bullet-fests, this movie delivers on everything it promises and more.

18. CHRONICLE – An interesting combo of superhero antics and found footage, Chronicle delivers a brilliant take on the rise of the super villain. Featuring a star-making performance by Dane DeHaan and having fun with its handycam style, Chronicle sets a new benchmark for what can be done with found footage.

17. THE MASTER – Featuring phenomenal performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master tells us a tale vaguely reminiscent of a certain religious leader. With its astonishing 65mm cinematography and all the quirks you expect from a PT Anderson flick, The Master is a long journey worth taking.

16. LOOPER – Time travel is always a fascinating subject for sci-fi movies, and it’s great when someone can dig up some fresh ideas for the concept. Rian Johnson did just that with Looper. Sure, the plot doesn’t make complete sense when you really think about it but even the movie seems aware of that fact. Don’t miss this interesting sci-fi tale.

15. KILLING THEM SOFTLY – Depicting America in a light that isn’t exactly sunshine and flowers, Killing Them Softly is a bleak and violent comment on the state of US society. Featuring stellar performances from the entire principle cast and great use of slow-mo, this is one of the most underrated films of the year.

14. JACK REACHER – Tom Cruise decides to stop grinning for once and becomes a gritty crime-solving machine in this stylish thriller. Bringing back that classic 70’s/80’s thriller feel, Jack Reacher fills this somewhat familiar story with some well done fight scenes and a good sense of humour. It’s a pity we’ll probably never see that sequel.

13. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN – Whilst I still have a fondness for the original Raimi films (yes, even the third one to an extent), this reimagining truly brings the wall-crawler to life in a fashion more suiting to our times. Andrew Garfield delivers a Spider-Man much more believable and flawed than Tobey Maguire ever could, and action sequences that rely more on practicality than CG. I can’t wait see what Marc Webb can come up with in his imminent sequel.

12. FLIGHT – Denzel Washington gives another Oscar worthy performance in this brilliant drama. A true return to form for the great Robert Zemeckis, Flight’s opening scenes are some of the best in recent memory and, while the rest of the film never matches up to it, still tells a tale of alcohol and lies worth watching.

11. THE RAID – This Indonesian action-fest is a real kick in the backside for Hollywood action movies. With some of the most inventive and bone-crunching fight choreography ever put on camera, The Raid remains some of the most fun I had in a cinema last year. With action scenes this great, who cares if the story is a bit generic?

10. THE AVENGERS – Marvel pulled off what many saw as impossible by combining several of their heroes into one giant nerdgasm. Joss Whedon was the perfect choice to pull this diverse set of characters together in a way that doesn’t feel too contrived. The film does what many Hollywood blockbusters fail to do (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay’s Transformers) by setting up their characters well enough that you give a s*** during the third act of chaos. My only worry is: how the hell are they going to top this?

9. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED – This indie gem deserves a lot more attention. With its hilarious script and fun performances from the principle cast, Safety Not Guaranteed shows how much you can do with a minimal budget and still tell a story this high concept. I can’t say much more; you just have to watch the movie.

8. DJANGO UNCHAINED – Tarantino has returned in top form with his best film since Pulp Fiction. A bloody ode to the Spaghetti Western, the all-star cast and witty script heighten this film beyond just a bunch of references to Sergio Leone films. Easily his most accessible film and also quite possibly his most fun.

7. SKYFALL – 007 has finally washed the taste of Quantum of Solace out of his mouth, and has returned in one of the best Bond movies ever. Javier Bardem’s bad guy is a true match for Bond in every facet, and gives Judi Dench the swansong she deserves for such an important role. Sam Mendes proves he can do more than just Oscar-bait dramas with this film that shows up Christopher Nolan and his decent-but-incredibly flawed The Dark Knight Rises.

6. ZERO DARK THRITY – The hunt for Osama Bin Laden has quickly gotten the Hollywood treatment, and who better to tackle the tale than the team behind The Hurt Locker. Jessica Chastain gives a career-defining performance in this thriller that shows the events leading up to that fateful raid in a neutral manner that doesn’t try to spoon feed you it’s own opinion.

5. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS – Martin McDonough’s Tarantino-esque tale of dognapping and screenplays is a terribly bleak comedy of epic proportions. Sam Rockwell’s performance is one of his best, and the witty script provides many a good jab at the quality of writing in American crime films. A bloody good time.

4. THE SESSIONS – A charming true story that will make you both laugh and cry, John Hawkes’ performance is the best I’ve seen all year and it is a true crime that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his efforts. Helen Hunt and William H. Macy are great in their supporting roles, and the story manages to leave you satisfied despite the situation these characters end up in.

3. ARGO – Speaking of Oscar crimes, where is Ben Affleck’s nomination for Best Director? The man has crafted here one of the most intense, engaging and entertaining dramas in recent memory. The script is quick and witty, the cast all perfectly fit their roles (except maybe Mr. Affleck himself, but he’s still great anyway), and the third act is thrilling despite the fact there is little to no action involved.

2. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS – How could this not be on my list? Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have crafted one of the most inventive, crazy, hilarious and jaw-dropping horror/comedies ever conceived and does it all with a straight face. Every time I thought “How could this get any crazier?”, it did. A true landmark for the genre, it’s going to be hard to take the Evil Dead remake seriously after watching this.

1. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – My pick for my favourite film of the year features no guns, explosions, aliens or superheroes. It does, however, have a great script and powerful performances from all involved. Bradley Cooper shows range here I thought he never had, Jennifer Lawrence manages to trump all her other brilliant performances, Robert De Niro gives his best role in years, and even Chris Tucker comes off as good here. David O. Russell has managed to tell a story here that touches the heart and the funny bone in equal measures, and I can’t wait to watch this masterpiece again.