Earth to Echo
In 1982, ET phoned home and now another stranded extra-terrestrial requires assistance from pint-sized heroes to safely return to the stars in Dave Green’s fantastical family-oriented adventure.
Earth To Echo begs obvious similarities to Steven Spielberg’s classic coming-of-age story and the 1987 fantasy *Batteries Not Included.
Green’s special effects-laden picture lacks the emotional wallop of the former and the unabashed charm of the latter, but does tread a familiar path through fresh eyes by employing the found footage format a la Paranormal Activity.
Characters address an omnipresent video camera, verbalising their excitement and fear as a night-time bicycle ride into the desert becomes a rescue mission of galactic proportions.
Earth To Echo is a state-of-the-art ode to ET and its imitators that ups the technical ante for a generation that prefers to swipe at tablets and smart phones rather than go outside and play.
Green employs special effects at key junctures, but, for the most part, he’s reliant on the young cast to carry his film.
Actors Teo Halm, Reese Bradley and Reese Hartwig are appealing without being too winsomely cute, and there are some genuinely touching scenes of the boys choking back emotion as the enormity of the situation, and the risks, become clear.
Star Rating: 3/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 49%
Classical Greek mythology gets a campy, testosterone-pumped rewrite in Brett Ratner’s swaggering swords ’n’ sandals romp.
Based on the comic book series Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore, this laboured re-imaging of the demigod son of Zeus boasts slow-motion action sequences reminiscent of 300, albeit with reduced on-screen bloodshed to secure a 12A certificate.
Parents should exercise caution - these ancient civilisations are predisposed to outbursts of bad language.
The minds of screenwriters Ryan J Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos remain in the gutter when it comes to the two-dimensional women that festoon the screen.
These wenches swoon helplessly in Hercules’ presence or encourage his valour with the promise of personal services.
Directed with destruction-oriented bombast by Ratner, Hercules is undecided whether to take itself seriously or descend into tongue-wedged pantomime.
Certainly, Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane seem to be having a ball and Dwayne Johnson trots out a couple of droll one-liners.
The set pieces are orchestrated at full pelt with a generous three-figure body count but once the screaming ends, deficiencies in the script are exposed.
When the truth about Hercules’ tragic past is revealed, Johnson’s wail of anguish in close-up epitomises the film’s heavy-handed approach to matters of the heart: more volume, less palpable emotion.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 69%
The Purge: Anarchy
Released in the summer of 2013, The Purge was a guilty and twisted pleasure.
Set in a dystopian future America, which has legalised murder for one night of the year, James DeMonaco’s home invasion thriller milked every drop of gut-wrenching tension from its fiendishly simple premise.
At the box office, which is Hollywood’s trusted barometer of success, the film took almost 30 times its modest $3m budget.
For the inevitable sequel, written and directed once again by DeMonaco, the action moves forward 12 months onto the streets of Los Angeles, where the divide between rich and poor, hunter and hunted is even more pronounced.
The elderly and sick sell themselves to the upper class families as human sacrifices on Purge night in exchange for a paltry fee for their loved ones and an underground anti-Purge movement has declared war on the New Founding Fathers of America.
In the absence of obvious star names in the cast, DeMonaco relishes the luxury of being able to slice and dice his characters at will, heightening our sense of unease since there’s no guarantee any of them will make it unscathed.
The underlying social commentary about the class and wealth divide is poorly developed and strains credibility on a wider canvas.
However, as an unabashed adrenaline rush, DeMonaco’s sequel comes close to replicating the nail-biting thrills and blood spills of the original.
Star Rating: 3/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 56%
The House of Magic
Set largely within the confines of an ageing conjurer’s home, Jeremy Degruson and Ben Stassen’s undemanding computer-animated fantasy centres on a discarded feline, whose pluck and determination overcome adversity.
The film doesn’t overstay its welcome at a brisk 85 minutes and boasts flashes of visual brio.
That inventiveness is shoe-horned into lively opening sequences, which cut back and forth between a traditional third-person perspective and the four-legged hero’s point of view as he clambers up a tree or cowers beneath oncoming traffic.
There’s a quickening of the pulse, especially in 3D, as the camera replicates the tentative scamper of the cat along a branch as the animal prepares to leap the divide to an open window.
Sadly, Degruson and Stassen lose the will to push visual boundaries as the story unfolds and the grand finale, involving a snivelling villain and a wrecking ball, is an anti-climax.
With its bright colours and linear narrative, The House Of Magic should engage younger audiences.
Parents should be prepared for tears and screams before bedtime though when a snarling Doberman, which is chasing Thunder through undergrowth, appears to burst out of the screen and snaps its hungry jaws.
Older children will have to amuse themselves because the animation lacks the sophistication of Pixar, while the script operates on a single unchallenging level.
Solid vocal performances complement the archetypal characters, with fleeting comic relief from Carmen’s pooch, who boldly claims to be “the Marlon Brando of Chihuahuas”.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A
In selected cinemas...
Nicolas Cage delivers a compelling performance as a brute with a heart of gold in David Gordon Green’s touching tale of friendship.
Based on a 1990 novel by Larry Brown, Joe centres on the titular ex-con (Cage), who toils long hours in the backwoods of Texas as foreman of a team of labourers, who poison sickly trees so they can be felled and replaced with healthy specimens.
One day in the woods, 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) approaches Joe looking for work. Joe takes the youngster under his wing, becoming a surrogate father.
It transpires that Gary’s real father, Wade (Gary Poulter), is a booze-sodden bully, who lashes out at his family.
When Gary starts to earn money, Wade beats up his son and steals his money, and Joe struggles to withhold the urge to teach the abusive old man a lesson.
Rotten Tomatoes.com Rating: 84%
David Scheinmann’s heart-warming sports drama imagines a new lease of life for a footballing legend in the twilight of his life.
In 1958, legendary football manager Sir Matt Busby (Brian Cox) survived the tragic 1958 Munich plane disaster in which eight of his promising young players were killed.
Memories of the Busby Babes continue to haunt him in the early 1980s, when he has retired from coaching.
By chance, Busby crosses paths with 11-year-old tearaway Georgie Gallagher (Jack Smith), and discovers that the young thief is an extraordinarily gifted footballer and captain of a team of unruly players who are poised to compete for the Manchester Junior Football League Cup.
So Busby comes out of retirement to help Georgie nurture his nature talent.
As Busby and Georgie work together on and off the football pitch, they forge a touching friendship that helps both of them to heal rifts and look to brighter days on the horizon.
Rotten Tomatoes.com Rating: N/A
Who is Dayani Cristal?
In the Sonora Desert, Arizona Border Police stumble upon the decomposing body of a man. They lift the corpse’s tattered T-shirt and reveal a tattoo that reads Dayani Cristal.
This grim discovery provides the starting point for Marc Silver’s fascinating documentary, which follows dedicated staff from the Pima County Morgue in Arizona as they work tirelessly to provide the anonymous man with an identity and inform his next of kin.
Mexican activist and actor Gael Garcia Bernal and the film uncover stories of hope and suffering from migrant travellers, who risk their lives to cross the border in the hope of finding a brighter future over the horizon.
Rotten Tomatoes.com Rating: 69%