Earth to Echo (PG)

All parents know that finding things to do with the children during the summer holidays isn’t easy. I can honestly say that both my children (one is 13, the other is 10) ask the same question before bedtime everyday of the holiday: “What are we doing tomorrow?” So I thought I’d take the time to report on a recent trip to the cinema with my two. Hopefully it will give you an honest, unbiased parent’s view of a brand new film that may help you fill half a day of the six-week break if you need one.

When I read the brief synopsis of this film on the Odeon website I judged it to be pretty much a remake of E.T. and I wasn’t disappointed with that assessment. The story is based on the same concept (i.e. an alien apparently stranded here on earth) but I wouldn’t let familiarity with the format put you off. If you think about it, most stories are founded on just relatively few tried and tested ingredients and this film is no different. I recall as a child going to pantomimes loosely based on the Peter Pan story where I was convinced Tinkerbell was going to die unless I shouted several times with all the other children: “I do. I do believe in fairies”. Watch out for that moment in this film if you didn’t spot it in E.T.

I won’t go into anymore detail about the story itself or I shall be forced to put a ‘Spoiler Alert’ at the start of this blog. Suffice to say the plot is fast-moving and entertaining. At no time did I catch my two yawning nor did either of them ask how much longer the film had to go (a result in itself!) They found the computer generated alien of this film every bit as cute as the ‘puppet’ E.T. and they warmed to the human characters. It was very American in places (for example the lead characters use a lot of American slang) but my two seemed to cope with that. Note to self: Don’t let them watch quite so much Simpsons in the future!

I supposed the acid test is – did my children both enjoy it? The answer to that is: Yes they did. With just a couple of caveats, I enjoyed it too. Firstly don’t let the direction put you off. The film purports to be recorded through a camcorder carried by one of the main characters with all the out of focus shots and unconventional camera angles you’d expect if that were so. I found this extremely off-putting at first but eventually I got used to it. Secondly it is a children’s film and as such doesn’t have a lot in it for adults (unlike the humour in the wonderful Toy Story and Ice Age type films). Despite its PG rating, I couldn’t find anything that required my ‘parental guidance’ and I’d have been quite happy for my two to see it on their own so you might want to consider that.

Robocop 2014

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I’ve just been to see the 2014 version of Robocop with my 10 year-old son and it occurred to me on the way home, this being half-term week here, that several parents might be considering this film as a viable alternative to ‘The Lego Movie‘. In particular they may be interested in my views on it’s suitability, with its 12A rating, for those under 12. So here are my views on José Padilha’s rehash of the 1987 Oscar nominated classic.

I should start by saying that although I saw the original 1987 version of this film – I haven’t seen it since! I have no desire to watch it now either, considering I’ve just seen the glossy, noisy, 21st century CGI fuelled version in all its glory so, trust me, I won’t be comparing ‘like with like’. I should also say that I will make every effort to avoid my definition of spoilers but if you genuinely want to let the story unfold as you watch the film then stop reading now and jump to the last paragraph where I comment on its suitability for younger cinema goers.

So what’s the basic story? It’s 2028 and America is still policing the planet’s trouble spots (no surprise there!) However in 14 years time the film makers would have you believe they will be doing that predominantly with the aid of robots. In an inventive opening sequence you are shown how effectively this is being done and are also introduced the film’s main premise – the US Government will not allow robots to police their own streets. Omnicorp, who make all these robots, are desperate to break into the home market. Unfortunately for them they are being thwarted by law makers who believe a human being, however slow thinking, angry, vengeful and emotional they are, is the best way to police the streets.

Michael Keaton (who I couldn’t stop thinking of as Batman) is Omnicorp’s CEO. He comes up with the idea of creating a half-man half-robot (some would say a cyborg) as a way of getting round the ‘no robot policing’ laws and destiny delivers Joel Kinnaman as Detective Alex Murphy into Keaton’s hands. He’s been blown to smithereens by the baddies (telling you why would definitely be a spoiler!)

So Detective Murphy, in due course, gets turned into a crime-fighting cyborg and all is going well until (look away now because there’s a slight spoiler here) just before the press conference they upload the entire Detroit police database into his memory. Alex blows a fuse (who wouldn’t as it looked like he’d just been forced to watch 1,000 particularly violent episodes of Crimewatch in just 30 seconds!) and runs amok tracking down Detroit’s most wanted. He seems apparently oblivious to the fact that his family are more than a little distressed that he was blown to smithereens and is now a one-man vigilante in a metal suit. He also seems to be content that and the baddies that attempted to murder him are still at large.

Enough of the story – you’ll have to go and see it if you really want to know the rest.

It wouldn’t be right to conclude my comments on the film without mentioning some of the acting. I’m fairly confident this film won’t get any Oscar nominations for any of its actors although Gary Oldman was superb as the doctor struggling with the ethics of it all. Detective Murphy’s family (wife and son) I thought were terrible but to be fair the script didn’t give them much to work with. Michael Keaton played a mean CEO but, as I said, he’s Batman. Once he’d been blown up Joel Kinnaman only really had his head to act with and that just didn’t work for me!

So did it merit the 12A rating? Undoubtedly it did for the level of violence. However my 10 year-old son thoroughly enjoyed it and I don’t think anything he saw is going to turn him into a homicidal maniac. There were a lot of under 12 children in the audience and none of them appeared to be overly affected or shocked. As an aside, many were there without an adult (poor policing by Kingston Odeon – perhaps a robot would do it better?) If you’re looking for a fast paced, non-stop action film for adults and over 10s I’d recommend it. If you’re a connoisseur of the 1987 version I’m afraid I can’t help you but my best guess is that you’d be disappointed.

Untouchable

Untouchable

This film is currently being shown in the UK on Sky. If you have satellite television please, please take the time to watch it. It is not only one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen but moving and amusing at the same time.  If you don’t have Sky don’t wait for it to be shown on a terrestrial channel – buy it on DVD or Blu-ray. You won’t be disappointed!