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Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

A tired and unnecessary sequel that’s as bland and clueless as the airhead beauty queens it tries to lampoon.

Last summer saw something unusual at your local multiplex – sequels that were actually very good. Spiderman 2 and The Bourne Supremacy managed to please audiences and studio chiefs by improving on the original films and still make a lot of cash. But if you thought this was the beginning of a new dawn then think again. Last week I had the misfortune to catch three sequels in two days and all of them were considerably worse than the original films. The other two will remain nameless (for now) but Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous was one of them. Given that the 2000 original was only just passable, I didn’t have much hope for this one. My pessimism was justified.

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Robots

The latest pretender to the Pixar throne is beautifully designed but lacks the wit and invention of recent animated films.

Animated features used to be the kind of films that kept children happy during the school holidays, but in the last ten years they have become an entirely different proposition. In 1995 Toy Story began a trend that saw animated films migrate from hand drawn kiddie fare to computer-generated blockbusters. Finding Nemo and Shrek 2 have grossed spectacular numbers and it was only a matter of time before other big Hollywood studios got in on the act. Fox’s first forays into this market were mixed – Titan A.E. failed to find a big audience – but with Ice Age grossing nearly $400 million worldwide another big animated feature was always on the cards.

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Team America: World Police

Whilst this gleeful satire on the “War on Terror” featuring marionettes instead of actors has some hilarious moments, the film as a whole doesn’t quite match the brilliance of the initial concept.

When the trailers first appeared for Team America: World Police it seemed that Matt Stone and Trey Parker (the creators of South Park) had managed to achieve the impossible. They had seemingly convinced a major Hollywood studio (Paramount) to fund a riotous satire on the foreign policy of the current US administration – with puppets. Could it be true? Given the current political climate Stateside you would think it unlikely at best. And you would be right. Well, sort of. Whilst the the film does take aim at the patriotic fervour lying at the heart of recent conflicts it also reserves plenty of venom for the liberals who have denounced such adventures.

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Million Dollar Baby

It may not be the masterpiece some US critics have suggested but Clint Eastwood’s latest film is a moving and refreshingly restrained boxing drama.

Continuing a trend in Eastwood’s recent career, Million Dollar Baby seems to be a subconscious subversion of his earlier career. In the early 90s Unforgiven re-examined the violence of the Westerns that established him as a star, whilst last year’s Mystic River was a cop drama that turned the revenge themes of the Dirty Harry movies on their head, with its focus on victims over heroes. Continuing the trend Million Dollar Baby seems to be a more serious revision of Every Which Way But Loose, the critically reviled hit that had Clint fist fight his way across America with a pet orang-utan. Instead broad comedy we have a much more serious examination of the highs and lows of boxing.

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Closer

Mike Nichols must have seemed the perfect choice to direct the film version of Patrick Marber’s play, a funny and sharp exploration of modern relationships. But despite the pedigree behind the camera and a terrific cast, the end result is cold and curiously lifeless.

The story involves two couples whose relationships intersect over a four-year period in London. When Alice (Natalie Portman), an American stripper, meets a journalist called Dan (Jude Law) they strike up a relationship. A few years on Dan meets a photographer, Anna (Julia Roberts), and decides to flirt with her. She initially rejects his advances and instead ends up going out with a dermatologist called Larry (Clive Owen). Undeterred, Dan meets up with Anna a year later at an exhibition of her work and they begin cheating on their respective lovers.