Ian Fleming’s less developed franchise has so far run to only one film; a pity, since Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a strange and rather wonderful piece of work. Inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) and squeeze Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) restore an ancient Grand Prix car and head off with some kids on an adventure to child-less domain Vulgaria. Screenwriter Roald Dahl only based the sunny first half of the film on Fleming’s work; the second, a dark and frightening turn of events, is entirely Dahl’s own, and the creation of the Child-catcher (Aussie dance-whizz Robert Helpman) typifies Dahl’s macabre sense of humour. The overtones generally are far too dark for family audiences, but a slew of famous names supporting (James Robertson Justice, Benny Hill, plus many of the Bond cast) plus Ken Adam’s amazing set design and some singable songs make Ken Hughes’s film one you’ll get a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from.
Long before Space Cowboys or Sully, Clint Eastwood was flexing his muscles with this high-tech thriller with an aviation rather than web-browser bent. Mitchell Gant (Eastwood) is recruited to infiltrate Soviet Russia and return in the cockpit of the Firefox, a plane so high-tech it responds to the thoughts of the pilot. The first half of the film has a lot of Clint standing around in toilets looking pensive, but once Gant gets his hands on the plane, it’s all action fare; even if the projection work isn’t quite to modern standards, it’s amazing for 1982. Adapted from Craig Thomas’s novel, Firefox is still fun to watch, even just as a record of Eastwood learning his trade; a strong supporting cast including Nigel Hawthorne, Freddie Jones, Warren Clarke and Ronald Lacey are also along for the ride in this unusual star vehicle. Reboot, please!
After the huge success of The Sting, neither Paul Newman, or Robert Redford fancied another, so this sequel represents a mighty downgrade on most aspects of the package. Who better to step into the shoes of Newman than Jackie Gleason? Almost anyone. And if Mac Davis is a like-for-like substitute for Redford, it’s a strange equation indeed. It’s another con-man story, with rollercoasters, boxing and all kinds of period attractions thrown in. But despite the lack of star-power, there’s much to enjoy here, with a super script by the same author, David S Ward, more wonderful soundtrack work from Lalo Schifrin, and some neat support from Karl Marlden, Oliver Reed and Teri Garr. Forever in the shadow of the original film, The Sting II is actually a pretty good film in its own right, and worth checking out for curiosity’s sake.
There’s a small but significant list of great and underused comic performers who contribute bigly to Bad Moms; any film featuring Clark Duke, Wanda Sykes and Kathryn Hahn has to be a must-see. And Bad Moms does deliver the laughs needed for a hit comedy; from the duo behind the Hangover films, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, this comedy manages to slip quietly away from accusations of misogyny and reclaim some comic ground for the ladies. Mila Kunis’ s Amy falls foul of local schoolteacher Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and decided to battle back at the local PTA with some help from her friends. Some good music choices (including DNCE’s Cake by The Ocean and Icona Pop’s I Love It) add some montage power to the parent’s rebellion, and Hahn in particular gives an outrageous break-out performance.
Hailed as a return to form for Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine is more like a return to familiar ground; Burton’s obsessions are never buried deep in his work, and it’s not like he was dampening his style down for Big Eyes, Frankenweenie or Dark Shadows. But this YA adaptation of the book by Ransom Riggs has a more confident and epic scope as it relates the story of a young boy Jake (Asa Butterfield) who is won over by the many gifted children of Miss Peregrine (Evan Green). There’s some complex, time-shifting story-telling here, and a strange visual atmosphere involving the British coastal resort of Blackpool. A strong supporting cast including Rupert Everett and Judi Dench don’t get to contribute much, but Green is as good as ever, and Burton seems to have remembered what his audience like to see; channeling his off-kilter style into a compelling narrative.
Not-unreasonably maligned on release, Ted 2 is a far inferior product to the original talking bear movie, but has a few hidden virtues. When so many sequels are reverent and respectful of the original property, in the hope of spinning a franchise, Ted 2 is a more old-fashioned sequel in the it’s completely slapdash and careless; it’s in the spirit of Smokey and the Bandit 2, and even as a few similar action sequences in the unrated version. Ted 2 also has an interesting idea, as Ted (Seth Macfarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) engage lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is fight in court to prove that Ted should have ‘human’ rights. While the original was on-point and engaging, the sheer randomness of the in-jokes is the appeal here, with everyone from Liam Neeson to Morgan Freeman pulled in, unwarranted and self-indulgent musical breaks and lots of really filthy humour in the auteur’s patented style.
In terms of unappetizing prospects, an adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s 1930’s book about children on a jolly boating adventure is hard to beat; it’s so old-fashioned it makes Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven look as hard-boiled as a Jim Thompson novel. Credit Dear Frankie screenwriter Andrea Gibb for adding a few select espionage elements to this BBC prodiction which manage to give it more of the flavor of classic spy-story The Riddle of the Sands. Philla Lowthorpe directs and there’s a strong supporting cast including Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Harry Enfield, Andrew Scott and Jessica Hynes. The sunny feel of the Swallows and their rivalry with the Amazons is well caught, but the careful integration of real-world issues is deftly handled and revitalizes a fairly hoary old property to good effect.