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Jim Schembri’s new release movies – May 14

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE ***1/2 (97 minutes) PG

Straight out of the ‘they can make a movie out of anything these days’ school comes one of the most unexpected animated delights of the year thus far.

The Angry Birds Movie is based on the ridiculously popular phone app video game where you fire a slingshot containing a spheroid bird into a house-of-cards-like structure. You get points for how good your aim is and how much of it comes down. Oh, there are also little green pigs involved.

Now, the obvious question: how on earth do you get a 90-minute motion picture out of a nothing premise without boring the life out of everybody?

The answer, as conjured by newbie directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly and veteran Simpsons writer Jon Vitti, is to go backstory crazy.

To that end, the film creates an entire society of friendly, flightless birds who give context and meaning to the anger boiling inside Red (Jason Sudeikis). He has a huge anger problem he is trying to keep under control through self-discipline and some court-mandated therapy sessions.

When a ship turns up full of the aforementioned pigs, things escalate nicely as the notion of threat is introduced. These piggies seem nice, but are they Babe pigs or Animal Farm pigs? What are they really up to, the angry and ever-suspicious Red wonders. 

As with all the other franchise films based on toys and games (Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Lego Movie, etc) Angry Birds is an unashamed exercise in pre-branded pop cinema. The magic behind this, of course, is that from the word go the film carries major branding and recognition value. This plays well in a congested movie marketplace.

Sounds cynical? Of course it does – or it would if the film wasn’t such a fast, funny, deliriously silly, breezy piece of animated folly – far too low-brow for Pixar, far too dragon-free for Dreamworks.

As for its target audience, the preview screening was packed with kids and adults. Normally if a family film is tanking, adults hit their iPhones and kids attack the screen, often dancing and yelling as they do so.

Surprisingly, none of that occurred, signalling that kids were as engaged as their parents and guardians who, let’s face it, probably spend more time than children playing Angry Birds, usually during meetings and traffic jams.

One other important thing: this reviewer has long argued that there needs to be a special Oscar each year honouring unlikely and remarkable achievements in filmmaking.

This would recognise those talented, unsung creative heroes who have woven great yarns out of thin air, who have revived dead franchises and written unimaginable sequels – Weekend at Bernie’s 2, for example, or Basic Instinct 2.

The key, of course, is that they pull it off, as is certainly the case here. A phone app turned into a fun family film? Makes you glad you lived this long.

Next stop, Bond: Idris Elba shows his gunmanship in the ripper action film Bastille Day.

Next stop, Bond: Idris Elba shows his gunmanship in the ripper action film Bastille Day.

BASTILLE DAY *** (92 minutes) M

Terrific, if ultra-bloody French shoot’em up action film starring Bond-in-waiting Idris Elba as an ex-company man who hooks up with a shyster (Richard Madden from Game of Thrones) to help bring down some social media-savvy terrorists (hashtags are now weapons, people). It’s formula foot chases and blazing barrels left, right and centre, and while there’s not much depth invested in the standard mismatched partners set-up, director James Watkins (The Woman in Black; Eden Lake) more than makes up for it with his love of sharp editing and long takes. One particular action sequence, captured chiefly in one shot, is a masterful deployment of the style championed by the Hong Kong school of action. 


Isn’t she vulnerable?: Jennifer Aniston in the unfairly maligned Mother’s Day.

MOTHER’S DAY **1/2 (118 minutes) M

After Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve comes Mother’s Day, another pleasant, holiday themed, totally innocuous, multi-story family friendly comedy by veteran director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman; Happy Days). The one big difference here, though, is that this film has been hated upon so much you’d think it was a piece of neo-Nazi propaganda. There’s absolutely no reason for it, though.

The best of the inter-locking stories involve Jennifer Aniston trying to cope with her ex-husband, played cheekily by Timothy Olyphant, finding a new partner. The film’s main flaw is that it’s a tad long – a quibble that will disappear on disk – and features a few too many of those ‘movie’ coincidences (when things just happen to keep the story going).

But nothing that can justify the critical crucifixion the film has received. Perhaps critics were fuming with rage over how Julia Roberts apparently got $3 million for four days work playing a TV hostess. In any case, the film has been a huge word-of-mouth hit in Australia. Go figure.

OK, what now?: Tina Fey asks for combat advice in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

OK, what now?: Tina Fey asks for combat advice in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT *** (112 minutes) MA

As a war correspondent ducking shrapnel and cracking wise in Afghanistan, Tina Fey – aka 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon – does a sturdy job as Kim Barker in this fact-based serio-comedy about America’s ‘forgotten war’. Based on the sprawling, best-selling memoir The Taliban Shuffle, the film casts her journey into the frontlines as that of a single, middle-aged woman in need of purpose and companionship.

Though sold through its slightly misleading trailers as a jaunty Good Morning, Vietnam-type romp – Good Morning, Afghanistan might not have been a bad title! – the film is a tad more sober and sombre, especially when accounting for the human cost of war.

Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street) chimes in nicely as a sex-loving, ambitious colleague, Martin Freeman (The Office) is enjoyably vulgar as a Scottish journo and Billy Bob Thornton is front-and-centre as a square-as-they-come marine commander.

Shot on a fairly low-budget, directors Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love; I Love You Phillip Morris) do a great job recreating the sights, smells and chaos of a country in a continual state of crisis.