The Conjuring 2 (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franke Potente, Lauren Esposito
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 134 mins

‘The Conjuring 2’ is the highly anticipated sequel to the 2013 original that breathed new life into the horror genre and boosted James Wan’s status as a director. What the original did so well was it used well-established concepts of horror (some may argue clichés) but Wan was still able to create a frightening, intense film that also featured a wonderful cast. It was one of my favourite films of 2013. Whilst many had assumed ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ (another great franchise that Wan has created) was the director’s swansong after moving on to the big-budget action sequel ‘Furious 7’, Wan has returned to direct the sequel to arguably his most well-recieved film before moving on to tackling the DC comic book superhero, ‘Aquaman’. Moving away from  Rhode Island where the Perron family were terrorised by supernatural forces, ‘The Conjuring 2’ is set in Enfield in London where this time the Hodgson family require help from the Warrens, the famous paranormal investigators that this franchise is circled around.

‘The Conjuring 2’ isn’t as strong as its predecessor – it is overlong which severely impacts the pacing  and just isn’t quite as interesting a story as the first one was. However, Wan delivers in spades on the scare-front and the film has some truly frightening sequences and also there are some great performances from the cast. Only Wan could have made or been given permission to make this film as 134 minutes for a horror film is uncommonly long and whilst there is a lot of character development (and self-indulgence), 20 minutes could fairly easily have been chopped off and the film would almost be as strong as the original. This is definitely its main problem which is to its detriment and the film does bear many similarities to William Friedkin’s, ‘The Exorcist’ and there are a couple of moments where the film leaves a bit of a sour taste as it reiterates many of the clichéd elements of superior horror films. Whilst this all may sound negative, it isn’t – coming off a near-perfect original  was always going to be impossible and whilst this is still a strong film, it does have its fair share of problems.

The cast here are great again – both Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson give very assured performances but it’s the new additions to the cast that really get a chance to shine. The standout is Madison Wolfe who plays the possessed victim, Janet Hodgson to a tee – I only found out afterwards that she is in fact, American which is testament to her authentic performance and I hope she will get a lot of work due to the strength of her performance here. Frances O’Connor, who plays the desperate and genuinely terrified mother of the Hodgson family is also very good here as is Simon McBurney who plays a fellow paranormal investigator, Maurice Grosse although his performance is a little hammy but it adds to the fun and excitement.

As with its predecessor, ‘The Conjuring 2’ is also based on what is supposedly a true story – the film doesn’t try and argue why it is but I would take the story with a pinch of salt. For example, the Warren’s in fact had only been two of many paranormal investigators and it would seem as if many of the events in the film have been dramatised. The story is strong and has a nice twist in its final act, but the film does bear a lot of similarities to ‘The Exorcist’. Whilst in ‘The Conjuring’, Wan was able to build upon existing codes and conventions of the horror genre, he does do so here too but here the similarities are a little too apparent and lessen the impact of the story the film it is trying to tell. The script is a little clunky in places unfortunately and characters such as the Warren’s daughter, Judy and cameraman Drew from the first film are sidelined which is a shame. Don Burgess takes over on cinematography duties from John R. Leonetti’s sterling work on the first film and he does an admirable job – there are a couple of really creepy and atmospheric shots but unfortunately without loses some originality from Leonetti’s work. Joseph Bishara’s score is very good here and he blends old themes with some new ones here to make the film refreshing.

Although ‘The Conjuring 2’ ultimately is a little disappointing coming off the near-perfect original, it still serves a lot of spine-tingling sequences in conjunction with its great cast. James Wan has clearly shown that he has a masterful understanding of the horror genre even if the film does slide into convention at times. However, the fact remains that the film is overlong and it is to the film’s detriment as at times, it really does sidle along and there are too many ‘filler’ scenes that enhance the film’s length for no added purpose. However as a horror sequel, ‘The Conjuring 2’ is a very strong and for all its shortcomings, is ultimately a very scary film that successfully expands on the groundwork of the first film.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Warcraft (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 123 mins

‘Warcraft’ (or alternatively known as ‘Warcraft: The Beginning’) is the long-awaited adaptation of the immensely popular ‘World of Warcraft’ video games. Unfortunately in the film industry, video game adaptations have never received much praise however this film is directed by Duncan Jones who made ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’, both brilliant films and he is also a big fan of the game. Armed with a healthy $160 million budget, this is Jones’ first big budget film however with both of his previous film, they’ve always looked visually astute so the budget should just be a tool to make his film look even better. Although on paper, the cast that is assembled may not be particularly impressive and lacks significant star-power, these kinds of films are more reliant on the impressive battle sequences and the visuals so this shouldn’t be too big of a problem at least if the acting is sound. So is ‘Warcraft’ the film to redefine the video game adaptation genre or is it another failure to add to an ever-growing list?

‘Warcraft’ is a mixed bag – it is without doubt, flawed and a little incoherent at times but one cannot doubt the amount of effort and love that Jones has for this material. The film is generally fairly entertaining but unusually, there is often a lot of thought here too and this is exactly why Jones is the man for the job. Unfortunately, the film has garnered a very negative reaction from critics and fans are rather mixed but with the money it has made so far in China, a sequel should hopefully be on the cards if the fans call for it.

The cast that Jones has rounded up for this film may not look particularly impressive on paper but for the purpose of the film, it just about works. Both Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton are sound as the leads and Dominic Cooper pretty much replicates his previous performances here as the ruler of the kingdom. The two standouts however are Ben Foster who really seems to be having good fun playing the mysterious and sinister sorcerer, Medivh and Toby Kebbell who looks to be following in Andy Serkis’ footsteps with his outstanding motion capture as the lead Orc protagonist, Durotan. What makes this film shine is its very interesting characters of which some are fairly well-developed but the film is a little too short and does plough through some material too quickly.

The story is a little incoherent at times but one can clearly see that Jones is trying to juggle a lot of material here in order to impress both the fans and audience. The film begins at a rollicking pace at the beginning constantly chopping and changing between different worlds and kingdoms but it all just about makes sense and sets itself up nicely for a sequel. Jones’ direction is what really saves this film – there are many confidently embedded moments where we really care for the characters and are able to judge the conflict between characters morally something which the games apparently don’t do. I also admire Jones for having the audacity to kill off characters – in this world, no one is safe and the tables can turn very quickly and it’s game over. Jones has clearly spent a lot of time working on this and despite the film not always hitting the correct notes, one has to admire him for taking on such a hard task. As mentioned, the film is a little short in places (Jones reportedly had to cut it down from 160 minutes to just over 2 hours) and could do with perhaps another 20 minutes developing its interesting characters more and taking its time with the fast-paced beginning.

Strangely, despite having a big $160 million budget, the film does visually look a little stodgy in places and does not compare to similar fantasy films such as ‘Lord of the Rings’ in a visual regard. If this film does get a sequel and the budget gets slashed, this will only be to the film’s detriment as it’s not enough here. It’s a little worrying to try and work out where the money has been spent as it hasn’t been compensated for anything else and the cast wouldn’t have cost that much. Simon Duggan’s cinematography is fairly assured here but the battle sequences are rather choppy and short – his work on ‘300: Rise of an Empire’, a similar film to this visually, is much better. Ramin Djawadi’s score is outstanding and the film has many memorable themes and I really hope they keep him on if they make a sequel.

So the long wait for ‘Warcraft’ has mostly paid off and Duncan Jones manages to pull this off with middling results. His creative influence is ever-present in this film and the film does manage to have some heart to it. The cast are satisfactory with Ben Foster and Toby Kebbell being the standouts. It’s a real shame that this film has got such the negative reception it has but with the film making a ton of money in China, it should just about be able to be profitable and hopefully enough to warrant a sequel. However if that goes ahead, it’s imperative Jones stays as director and that the film’s budget does not get slashed – the result would most likely be in keeping with what the critics are saying about this film if that were to be the case. But if you’re on the fence with this film, I’d definitely recommend going and seeing it on the biggest screen you can as there is a lot to like here.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Angry Birds Movie (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Clay Katis & Fergal Reilly
Starring: (voices of) Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Sean Penn
Certificate: U
Run Time: 97 mins

The film industry is at a peak with animation at the moment to both adults with films such as ‘Anomalisa’ and kids such as ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Inside Out’ which have enough references to entertain the adult viewer today. ‘The Angry Birds Movie’ is a feature-length adaptation of the most downloaded smartphone game of all time and with all of the spin-off’s and sequels that the original game has found, making it into a film was always the next logical step to cash in on their success and hopefully expand into a new media platform. Whilst this would suggest pure greed from studio executives and Rovio, although I wasn’t overly keen on it, 2014’s ‘The Lego Movie’ proved that in capable hands, adapting a film from a game doesn’t always have to result in a bad film and the film has a great heart to it. The directors of this film, Clay Katis and Fergal Reilly make their debut here, Reilly previously a storyboard artist and Katis an animator for Disney so whilst they may lack experience, the film should hopefully look stunning in terms of the animation.

‘The Angry Birds Movie’ is a cliché-ridden cash grab that is virtually laugh-free. The script is particularly stodgy in places with the first act being especially badly written. If the film gets a sequel which I strongly suspect it will do, it desperately needs a new screenwriter. However, what saves the film is there are a couple of very good voice performances which in turn makes some of the characters very engaging and I found that I did care for some of the characters despite the film not hitting it with its ill-attempts at humour. Additionally, the animation is as expected, first-rate and the world’s that have been created are stunning.

The screenplay by Jon Vitti, who has written some great episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ in the past, is extremely problematic. The jokes are uninspired and at times, quite bizarre and a little inappropriate for a film with a U rating. I chuckled twice. The story isn’t particularly inspired but it does manage to incorporate all of the aspects that gamers have come to love in the game. The first act in particular is really badly written and there is a sequence where it seems as if the filmmakers try to get protagonist, Red, angry and as a viewer, it made me angry having to experience this. Although cliché-ridden and borrowing from many other superior films, the film does manage to improve, largely due to its engaging characters. 

And that is where the film manages to partly redeem itself. Jason Sudeikis as Red is absolutely fantastic and his character is well-developed and I cared for the outcome of his character. Danny McBride as Bomb is also great as is Bill Hader as the villain, Leonard, who is very charismatic and a worthy antagonist. However despite these great characters, there are also some real duds such as Josh Gad’s Chuck and Maya Rudolph’s Matilda who is downright annoying. Poor Sean Penn really draws the short straw and he is merely in the film to grunt here and there.

The animation is excellent here and the world-building really is stunning – both islands created for the Angry Birds and Bad Piggies are vividly realised and there is a very careful attention to detail. It would have really elevated the film if there would have been some time to have a closer looks at the world and this attention to detail be capitalised on.

Ultimately, ‘The Angry Birds Movie’ is sadly a cash grab and the jokes consistently do not land with the audience. The script is a big issue and is something that if a sequel were to go ahead, requires drastic improvements. However, the film is never ‘bad’ – it’s just very uninspiring and although being very formulaic, on the strength of its engaging characters it is increasingly entertaining as the film progresses. It’s a shame that the film isn’t any better but the fact that the film badly botches its attempts at humour is near-unforgivable with the talent involved.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

X-Men: Apocalypse (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 144 mins

(POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is the latest instalment in this high-profile franchise and its story follows hot on the heels of 2014’s ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’. Luckily for this film, it is once again directed by Bryan Singer who directed that and also the original ‘X-Men’ and its sequel, ‘X2’ so expectations for this film are very high. This instalment looks to crank things up to 11 following ‘Days of Future Past’ as it deals with the threat of En Sabah Nur (aka. Apocalypse), one of the X-Men’s biggest foes in the comics and this is also the first film in the alternate timeline that ‘Days of Future Past’ sets up, so the film doesn’t have too much pressure on it story-wise and this really is an opportunity for a fun X-Men film that doesn’t have to be too concerned with past films.

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ severely drops the ball big time – it is far and away the worst entry in the entire franchise and apart from a promising first 45 minutes or so, is a CGI bore. The story is incoherent and sloppy and particularly towards the film’s climax, the film is unwatchable. Even the acting which is normally stellar is very underwhelming and there are many examples of both old and new characters phoning it in. There is some stuff to like here – there are a couple of good sequences and the film opens up rather promisingly but other than this, the film is an outright disaster.

The biggest problem this film has is undeniably its story. What made ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’ both worthwhile were their original stories mixed in with history and pop culture which in both cases, was a great blend. ‘Apocalypse’ however almost completely does away with this, except for a mean-spirited scene in the middle when the younger characters comment on how ‘The Return of the Jedi’ is the worst film in the original Star Wars trilogy clearly taking shots at Brett Ratner’s ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ (which I happened to quite like) when actually it is shooting itself in the foot being the third entry in the prequel trilogy. There is also another ill-natured scene part-way through the film which has the potential to annoy audiences set in Auschwitz.

The other problem which feeds into the poor narrative is the botching of the titular villain, Apocalypse, who is played by the always-wonderful Oscar Isaac but here he is made to shout whilst looking uncomfortable in a blue outfit. It is embarrassingly bad and the character’s villainous plan is so by-the-numbers. The stakes are never high enough and the character is so easily defeated, despite his mighty strength in the comics. Oscar Isaac clearly tries to do the best he can with the material but fails as the character is so poorly written.

The final action sequence and climax to the film is especially badly handled and it goes on and on for what seems like an eternity. The CGI looks unfinished and for the first time in any X-Men film, not only was I bored, I was also close to shouting at the screen for having to sit through this. The script by Simon Kinberg is ropey and at some points, laughable – I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word, ‘systems’ so many times in a film especially constantly being blurted out by Oscar Isaac’s villain!

The acting here is generally underwhelming with pretty much everyone phoning it in especially Jennifer Lawrence but Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler, a character so beloved and excellently portrayed by Alan Cumming in X2 is particularly awful here. ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ has recanted a lot of the most well-known characters in a younger iteration who aren’t particularly good with the exception of Sophie Turner’s portrayal of Jean Grey who is excellent and encapsulates the role very well. What particularly annoyed me with this film is how Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, easily the standout in ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’ is badly handled here and even his performance is mostly uninspired, save for a great scene that sends his character off hating the entire world, but particularly as the film progresses, Fassbender seems bored and unhappy.

That’s not to say ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is a complete waste of time – there are a couple of thoughtful sequences particularly in the first 45 minutes or so and the film begins very well with a well-crafted sequence showing the progression of time following the temporary demise of Apocalypse. I also thought that the extended cameo by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine that was teased in the final trailer is well done and demonstrates the brutality and sheer violence of the character to a tee and although Singer tries to outdo himself with another similar sequence to ‘Days of Future Past’ with Quicksilver, it’s still quite fun and there is a great standoff scene with Magneto vs the Police that for a brief period of time, holds up to Fassbender’s portrayal of the character in the previous two films. But all this is not enough to save what is a dogged and uninspired film.

Unfortunately, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ proves to be the low point for this franchise and as a superhero film in itself is an overstuffed and incoherent mess. It is the worst comic book film of the year so far by a big margin and over the past couple of years where there has been a strong run of superhero films, is second-worst to ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ which had virtually no redeemable qualities. It’s a real shame as it’s not as if it’s just a step-down from previous films – it’s a near-complete slam into bad territory. Here’s hoping ‘Suicide Squad’ and ‘Doctor Strange’, the final two comic book offerings of the year which I have very high expectations for, don’t drop the ball to this level.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Captain America: Civil War (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, Martin Freeman, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 147 mins

(POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)

‘Captain America: Civil War’ is the 3rd instalment in the Captain America franchise and the first chapter of Phase 3. Back in the director’s chair are Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ which is regarded as one of the best entries in the franchise thus far and a film that also allowed them the gig of directing the upcoming 2-part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ extravaganza. ‘Civil War’, however is more of a continuation of the events from last year’s abysmal ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and particularly coming hot off the heels of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, this needs to deliver if audiences are going to have faith in these directors of a film that will be the climax of every single film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ is a very solid effort from the Russo brothers and is an improvement over ‘The Winter Soldier’. It has a great cast and is one of the rare ensemble comic book films of recent times to not feel overstuffed. The film is however overlong – it takes a long while to get going and there is a lot of excess baggage that could have been trimmed but when the film does get going after 45 minutes or so, it’s very coherent and well-paced. Surprisingly, the film also features one of the best villains in the franchise, an aspect that Marvel are not good at and consistently fail at even in their best films, but Daniel Bruhl makes for a menacing and calculative three-dimensional villain.

The performances by the cast here are generally very good with the standouts being Robert Downey Jr, Chadwick Boseman and  Daniel Brühl’s villain. Robert Downey Jr is always great in these films but here we see a completely different side to him, a paranoid figure racked with guilt and he really does develop the character well and seeing him opposite Chris Evans, who is also more relaxed here demonstrates the great chemistry that both actors share. Chadwick Boseman makes his debut here as Black Panther, who will be getting his own film in a few years time and he is very good here, hopefully being able to replicate this in his own film. As mentioned, Daniel Brühl’s villain is one of the best in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and he is a very calculative and menacing character, always multiple steps ahead of the characters and Brühl is very committed to the role here which had the potential to be very hammy and forgettable. Unfortunately, although Tom Holland has received showers of praise for his debut as Spider-Man, I thought he was rather weak and annoying but I am interested to see how he will fare in his own standalone film – however his definitive moment is definitely not here.

The script penned by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is very coherent and polished and although the film has to juggle a lot of characters, everyone gets a chance to make their mark which is simply outstanding. It is one of the first team-up superhero film that has a long run time, which although undeniably overlong, the film is not overstuffed completely reverting the incoherent mess that was ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ last year which is a big achievement. Both writers should be excellent for the ‘Infinity War’.

One of the main strengths that the Russo Brothers have over other their Marvel Cinematic Universe director counterparts is their ability to craft memorable and awe-inspiring action sequences. They do not fall short here. The stellar action sequences in ‘The Winter Soldier’ proved their knack for creating action and it’s refreshing that they try and use mostly  practical effects as opposed to CGI. The now infamous airport sequence where all of the superheroes battle it out is a work of art and is one of the very best action scenes in the entire plethora of Marvel films and although the last half an hour to the film is fairly low-key in terms of spectacle, it’s absolutely stunning to watch the relationships change between our favourite characters, complimented by the action.

The score by Henry Jackman is surprisingly very lacklustre and not memorable in the slightest, lazily reusing riffs from ‘The Winter Soldier’ and adding nothing new to the film. The cinematography by Trent Opalach is very sound here and there are many shots in the film that are unique and creative.

Unfortunately, through no fault of the Russo Brothers, the film cannot shake off feeling very formulaic in places and particularly in the film’s beginning, I was very worried the film would be a let-down. Even still,  the film is so unbelievably predictable in places and heavy-handed but the Russo’s manage to just about fix this with the stellar ending. Marvel also continue to infuriate me with being unable to kill off a character for good and I was very disappointed here with this trend continuing to be prevalent.

As for the future of the highly profitable and critically loved Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Civil War’ has started off Phase 3 very well but I really hope that the films are able to have their own identification and directors stamp, I was always aware here that I was watching a Marvel film whereas although maybe a crude comparison, Zack Snyder really does allow his personality to flow through ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and it feels more the work of an auteur that it does a DC film. Here’s hoping that Scott Derrickson, director of the next film in this franchise, ‘Doctor Strange’ will be able to allow his directors stamp to command the film.

Overall, ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is a very solid effort from the Russo Brothers and ranks highly in the franchise in terms of quality. Although very formulaic in places and overlong, it does pose a lot of interesting ideas and the chemistry between these characters continues to flourish and the Russo’s take a risk that pays off in having a quieter, more thoughtful climax than recent films. The film also works on the strength of its villain played masterfully by Daniel Brühl, who will hopefully reprise his role in future films. In terms of how it compares to the other superhero films this year, I think it ranks higher than ‘Deadpool’ but controversially although ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a troubled film and at times incoherent, there is more of a sense of wonder about it and it is visually stunning. But ‘Civil War’ is a very good effort and I have full confidence in the Russo Brothers in being able to deliver two great films on the Avengers.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Eye In The Sky (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 102 mins

In a world where we are exposed to regular terrorism and as drone warfare conflicts our consciences, ‘Eye in the Sky’ couldn’t come at a more sensitive point in time. It also features Alan Rickman’s final live-action performance (he is also in the upcoming ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’) following his sad and unexpected passing earlier on in the year. The film also features Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi, the latter’s first role after a fantastic turn in ‘Captain Phillips’ which he was Oscar-nominated for. The film is directed by Gavin Hood who has a very patchy track-record, winning the Best Foreign Language film in 2005 for ‘Tsotsi’ but then directing ‘Rendition’ and ‘Ender’s Game’, both duds and the critically disastrous ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ which I happened to really like. So with a lower budget and considerably less pressure, can Gavin Hood restore his talent in a film that doesn’t get mired in big budget special effects.

‘Eye in the Sky’ is a taut and heartfelt application of the effects of drone warfare that is morally conflicting and features some fantastic performances – it’s straight up there as one of the best films of the year and is just what Gavin Hood needed. It is expertly paced and runs an economical yet efficient 102 minutes, enough to make a lasting impression on audiences and poses lots of moral arguments. The only reason why it doesn’t quite earn a 5-star rating is because the film doesn’t really develop its characters too much and having slightly more of a human edge to the film wold have informed audiences more coherently as to why characters make the vital choices that they do.

The film features some very realistic and powerful performances and boasts an impressive cast. Helen Mirren as the lead is tough and uncompromising and Aaron Paul gives a surpsingly heartfelt performance as Steve Watts, a drone pilot tasked with firing a Hellfire missile. The late Alan Rickman gives one of the best performances of his career as General Benson who supervises the mission in London. Barkhad Abdi is also great here as an undercover ground agent and proves that his performance in ‘Captain Phillips’ wasn’t a one-time stint, his performance is very raw and human. An excellent cast on paper has delivered.

The film has a great story and many emotional beats – it deals with some very real life consequences of drone warfare and this makes the film all the more human and impressive. The action is very well handled as well and the script by Guy Hibbert is extremely refined. The score by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian is also very fitting and compliments the action on-screen very well. Simply put, it’s a very well-constructed film both in its cast and crew.

Overall, ‘Eye in the Sky’ is a success for all involved and is a brilliant send-off for Alan Rickman in his final live-action performance. The film confidently handles the moral arguments to drone warfare and there are many decisions that interact with the audience very assuredly and make the film all the more engaging. This is just the project that Gavin Hood needed and this film really showcases his talent for thoughtful and confident directing and this should hopefully lead him onto a more successful career following his mixed filmography so far. But ‘Eye in the Sky’ is very good work – it’s one of the best films of the year so far.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Jungle Book (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐(Good)

Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 106 mins

Jon Favreau’s interpretation of ‘The Jungle Book’ is one of two cinematic offerings of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 work and a live-action remake of the 1967 Disney musical. The other is another live-action film that will feature Andy Serkis in his directorial debut. Favreau’s version uses photorealist rendering to create the settings in combination with motion capture and CGI, which the trailers seem to suggest that this film is a visual treat. Neel Sethi, a newcomer to the industry who plays Mowgli is the only live-action actor here and he is supported by a supporting voice cast, filled with great actors. The film has received near unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike and according to statistics, looks to be one of the best films of the year.

‘The Jungle Book’ is an efficient and an often enthralling film that has a lot of heart but it does come across as rather straightforward and workmanlike in places. It is a visual treat and a benchmark for what CGI allows filmmakers to create. The film also has some stunning casting, in particular with Idris Elba, Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley as one would expect. I know the film has received extremely high praise from critics and audiences alike and I wholeheartedly agree that it is much better than the trailers but I do feel it is a little overrated.

Visually, ‘The Jungle Book’ is a masterpiece and it’s astonishing to imagine how the entire film was virtually filmed in a studio in Los Angeles with Neel Sethi mainly on-stage himself being filmed with the rest of the cast recording their voices later on down the line. There are many outstanding action sequences, particularly when Mowgli flees the jungle that is stunning to behold. The visual effects alone are worth the price of admission. Andy Serkis’ upcoming interpretation is due for release in 2018 and with Serkis as a visual expert, it will be interesting to see how his film visually differs to Favreau’s.

The voice cast are also wonderful, with Elba, Murray and Kingsley being the standouts. Idris Elba voices one of the most memorable villains of recent year, Shere Khan who is extremely menacing and conniving. Bill Murray as Baloo and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera are also as expected, wonderful here and the chemistry between them and Sethi is beautiful to behold. It’s perfect casting and one that will be very hard to top. In Serkis’ version, Christian Bale will be voicing Bagheera and Andy Serkis will voice Baloo. Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli can’t quite pull off all the emotional hooks needed here, but it’s a mostly competent performance. Christopher Walken is competent here too but can’t manage the musical numbers and Scarlett Johansson is sadly wasted in a small role.

One of Favreau’s main challenges is how to satisfy audiences who loved the musical numbers of the Disney animated version. The film is devoid of any songs until Baloo enters the frame and it’s very impressive how he manages to break into song so naturally after his character develops. However, as mentioned Walken can’t sing and it’s oddly jarring in what is generally a fairly serious film and brings the film down.

In terms of the film’s run time, Favreau could very easily have gone on to make a 150 minute epic with a slow pace which he hasn’t done. Instead it runs at a very economical 106 minutes but I think it is a little short as this has meant a lack of character development at some points and I was consciously aware that Favreau seems to be working for a checklist, albeit a very good one. I think if another 15 minutes were added to flesh out the opening and help the audience to sympathise with Shere Khan a little more and perhaps also if Favreau had extended the period between Mowgli being driven out of the jungle and finding Baloo as Johansson’s slippery Kaa is completely wasted.

Overall, I was very impressed with ‘The Jungle Book’ visually and in terms of its performances. It’s got a lot of heart, as Favreau has proved time and time again he is capable of doing and there are some breathtaking action sequences. However, it is not without its problems and I think the pacing is a little too efficient and the film isn’t as strong in its second half as it is in its first. It is overrated but I did really enjoy the film albeit with some reservations. It’ll be interesting to see how Andy Serkis tackles this story in his 2018 imagining and to those who thinks he has no chance in topping this, it’ll be a tough job but one that given the right approach could very well better this. This is still great fun and gets many of the key components spot-on and Favreau’s profile will hopefully be further elevated in the film industry. However, I hope he doesn’t just get given big-budget films as 2014’s ‘Chef’ is his best work yet and is undoubtedly more fun and has a warmer heart than this. Go check it out.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐(Good)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 151 mins

(POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)

What has seemed like an excruciatingly long wait, Zack Snyder’s vision of this epic superhero clash has finally hit the big screen and ever since production started, it has proven to be mightily divisive. ‘Man of Steel’ which was also directed by Snyder proved to be a very controversial film and the casting of Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader angered comic book fans so much so that there were petitions for him to be fired and the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as nemesis Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman also proved to be highly controversial. This film is so important in establishing a cinematic universe for DC comics and if it fails, then they’re going to be in big trouble especially as DC have mapped out a whole plethora of films that are due for release up until 2020. Zack Snyder is also a very unreliable choice for a director as critics really seem to dislike him and all of the films that he has ever made except for his debut, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ have had very mixed reviews from critics. ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ has again, proven to be a very divisive film and many critics have totally dismissed it. Financially, the film opened up very well in its first week scoring the 7th biggest opening of all time but once the bad word of mouth reached around, the film experienced a ‘historic’ box office drop in its second week of 68%. Ouch! To add further fuel to the fire, the first instalment of ‘Justice League’ (DC’s equivalent to Marvel’s ‘Avengers’) is set for release in November 2017  with Zack Snyder once again in the director’s chair. It could be a very interesting few years for the DCEU (DC Extended Universe).

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is wildly uneven and its overstuffed story is very incoherent at times but it is a marked improvement over its predecessor, ‘Man of Steel’ and is very entertaining and features some outstanding sequences and some interesting ideas. Despite the fact that I found a lot to like about it, it’s fairly obvious to see why it has proven to be very divisive. Snyder’s treatment of these superheroes is very controversial at times (here Batman kills people unlike in the comics for example) and there are some gaping plot holes and some questionable decisions in the plot. I think it does set a decent groundwork for future DC films but if Snyder is sticking as director for ‘Justice League’, he needs to have a co-director or a better crew to support him and be able to ensure that there is a better and more coherent plot line.

The cast here are one of the film’s main strength – Ben Affleck is fantastic as both Bruce Wayne and Batman and really makes for a dark, brooding and troubled interpretation of this iconic character. There was famously a lot of backlash when his casting was announced, but I’ve always been a fan of the decision. If Affleck goes on to direct and star in his own solo Batman film as some would suggest, it could very well prove worthy to Nolan’s trilogy. Henry Cavill is unfortunately sidelined as the ‘Man of Steel’ and Snyder seems to much prefer the Batman arc of the film. However, Cavill does seem to have settled in as the character which can only be a good thing.  Jeremy Irons makes for a really worthy Alfred after Michael Caine played him in the Nolan trilogy and although not given much to do, there is plenty of potential for his character in future films. Unfortunately, Jesse Eisenberg as the villain, Lex Luthor, made for very controversial casting and his villain is a bit of a misfire. He is very hammy and practically gives his Mark Zuckerberg performance from ‘The Social Network’ here again only he can get very, very annoying. A real shame here as I was hoping for the best. Unfortunately, Snyder botches all the female characters into ‘damsel-in-distress’ mode which includes both Amy Adams and Diane Lane however Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is very well-realised and when she steps into the action at the end is a wonderful moment. Also, Holly Hunter plays a Senator called June Finch and she is very nuanced and tough here – a very good addition to the cast despite being in a relatively small role.

Snyder’s skill in crafting action sequences continues to show here and although the last third of ‘Man of Steel’ resorted to boring hitting and punching for 40 minutes, here they are much better and serve a purpose in the story apart from the final climax with descends into generic comic book territory. His aesthetic as a director is one of his strong points and there are a couple of shots and moments here when paired with Larry Fong’s cinematography which are simply outstanding. The film has a very very dark and bleak  tone and Fong is able to bring Snyder’s aesthetic vision to life in stunning fashion.

Unfortunately, where ‘Batman v Superman’ fails is in its incoherent story. This is especially baffling as Christopher Nolan has had some creative impact and of course, Snyder manages to spark controversy with some of the narrative elements. However, the film is not completely devoid of a story and there are some interesting ideas posed. The film is overstuffed despite having a 150 minute run time – Snyder has to juggle a Batman story, which he clearly seems to prefer, a Superman character arc that he neglects and set the film up for Justice League. When the film is released on DVD, Snyder will be releasing a 3 hour cut that is R / 15-rated. This sounds promising and hopefully the extra half an hour can help to flesh out the incoherent story. Who knows? – it could even transform the film in its current 150 minute format. That said, the opening scenes are wonderful and are testament to what Snyder is capable of doing when he has good ideas.

Ever since it was announced that Hans Zimmer would be returning to score this film, it was clear we would be in for a treat but here he also teams up with Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) to find inspiration for the ‘Batman’ theme as Zimmer had previously composed all of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. The score is largely recycled from ‘Man of Steel’ but there are some excellent new themes that they have composed which in my book, ticks the boxes. Both Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor have particularly memorable themes and the score in the opening credits is simply stunning. Unfortunately, shortly after the release of this film, Hans Zimmer revealed that he would be ‘retiring’ from the superhero genre as he has lost inspiration which is a real shame but I’m sure Holkenborg could continue and a Steven Price score for this Summer’s ‘Suicide Squad’ sounds fantastic so it’s not all bad news.

It’s a real shame that the marketing for this film has been so poor with virtually most of the film shown in the trailers. They really didn’t need to reveal Doomsday so early on in the marketing campaign and it would have been nice if they’d have left out Wonder Woman’s involvement in the final fight and the fact that Batman and Superman team up. With any film, when you market a film and reveal so much about it for more than a year and a half in advance, of course the fans are going to have unrealistic expectations which Snyder was never going to be able to fulfil. This film really didn’t need it. Sadly, this won’t change future marketing for MCU / DCEU films as they’ve already revealed their line-up until 2020.

Overall, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a solid foundation for the DCEU and successfully incorporates Batman and Wonder Woman into this cinematic universe. However, its incoherent, overstuffed narrative is by far and away its biggest downfall and is the main reason for its negative reviews. Although far from subtle, the film manages to introduce the prospect of the Justice League and it will be interesting to see how Snyder is able to handle this huge film. However, I’m not convinced that audiences will get anything much different from this. Snyder needs a better crew or even a co-director or I fear it will get a similar result.  However, it will be interesting to see how the 180 minute R/15-rated cut fares compared to this. The next part of the DCEU, ‘Suicide Squad’ is released this Summer and so far, it looks like it might right the wrongs of this film. However, this film is far from a bad experience, there are many moments of brilliance here.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Eddie The Eagle (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Iris Berben, Tim McInnerny, Mark Benton, Jim Broadbent, Christopher Walken
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 106 mins

‘Eddie the Eagle’ is a biopic based on the famous English ski jumper, arguably more famous for his personality than his ability in ski jumping. He was one of Britain’s only ski jumpers and came last in both the 70m and 90m jumps in the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988 but arguably, he has been remembered more vividly for his personality and his determination than those who won gold. Dexter Fletcher directs this biopic and Matthew Vaughn, behind last year’s outstanding ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ produces this film under MARV films which he owns. Taron Egerton, who also comes from ‘Kingsman’ plays Michael Edwards (‘Eddie the Eagle’) and is supported by Hugh Jackman who plays fictional coach, Bronson Peary.

‘Eddie the Eagle’ is a very well-intentioned and good-natured film that celebrates the mere participation in sport as opposed to merit but unfortunately succumbs to constant conventionality. Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman have great chemistry together here and as many reviewers mention, it is definitely a feel-good film that soars at times like the ski jumper but it’s very by-the-numbers. Matthew Margeson’s score is also fitting at times but comes off a little pantomime-like. Also viewer beware, if you want to watch an accurate account of Eddie the Eagle then this is not the film for you. I’d say roughly 80% of the film is fictionalised except for the groundwork that the film works on. It’s a baffling decision and one that leaves a very sour taste – it’s a ‘true’ story that has been drastically altered for cinematic purposes.

The performances are where the film really excels and both Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman shine here. Taron Egerton plays the titular character as very determined and earnest and his character is suitably well-developed. Egerton has been on a roll lately as he was brilliant in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ and also was one of the highlights of ‘Legend’ in a supporting role. Hugh Jackman plays fictional coach, Bronson Peary, a ski jumper who found success in the past but has now resorted to drinking and moping around. The chemistry of Egerton and Jackman is excellent and really drives the film along. Jo Hartley and Keith Allen play Edwards’ parents and both also share great chemistry with Egerton. Christopher Walken makes a small and slightly odd cameo as Warren Sharp, again a fictionalised character but Walken is one of cinema’s greatest actors that he can elevate anything that he plays in.  There is also a small role played by Tim McInnerny who is also always reliable in delivering a good performance.

Fletcher manages to establish a well-suited atmosphere here that like the film, feels a little odd and magical but the film is very engaging at times. All of Edwards’ jumps are shot extremely well and each time, I was on the edge of my seat on whether he was going to hurt himself or not – that is testament to how well the character is developed. Whilst being a little clichéd, the film hails participation in sport as more important than merit which does create a feel-good effect for audiences and the film’s final act is perhaps where at its strongest when he participates in the Olympics and I felt as if I was part of the Olympic audience spectating – the film really can be engaging at times.

However where all the film’s good work is undone is its accuracy. Why, why, why make a movie that is 80% a big lie?!!! He didn’t train in Germany, he trained in America and both Jackman’s and Walken’s character are fictionalised as is also the fact that his father is not shown to be supportive – Edwards’ father in this film is portrayed as quite a challenge for him to get past. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do this and it really leaves a sour taste over a film that is pretty solid.

Overall, ‘Eddie the Eagle’ is a very solid film despite being overly clichéd and by-the-numbers and it’s worth seeing alone for the performances by Egerton and Jackman. At times, the film really works and it is a very easy and light film to watch that does have a good rewatchability factor. But I really don’t understand why the filmmakers have decided to completely botch the real story behind this man and it is a real shame. As a film in its own right, it works but as a sports biopic, it’s wildly inaccurate.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

10 Cloverfield Lane (Review)

10 Cloverfield Lane

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr. 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 103 mins

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is a ‘spiritual’ sequel to the 2008 hit ‘Cloverfield’ that was highly anticipated for 6 months after a very secretive trailer was released in the Summer of 2007. (Read more about this here). Straight off the heels on ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, producer J. J. Abrams released a trailer for this unexpected sequel and once again, fans got their hopes up after the first film had been so warmly received. Like with all of Abrams’ works, the trailer once again was very vague and holds a lot of the twists that the film has to offer up its sleeve. It really is genius marketing. One of the gifts that ‘Cloverfield’ gave us was director Matt Reeves who went on to direct, ‘Let Me In’ and ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. This sequel is directed by Dan Trachtenberg in his debut so he too could be destined for success. The film features an impressive cast featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., the three of them staying in an underground bunker after Goodman’s patchy character reveals that there has been an attack on the world which is uninhabitable. So is the film any good or is this just an unworthy cash grab associated with the first film?

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is an incredible, intense Hitchcockian film that is taut and claustrophobic and gives us three fantastic performances from its trio. The script is absolutely terrific and it’s very easy to spot ‘Whiplash’ director, Damien Chazelle’s contribution. Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is very astute and assured and he will surely go on to do great things. It is a superb film and is 5-star material. Unfortunately, all this good work is undone by a very lacklustre final 15 minutes which is very haphazardly handled and tarnishes all the good work done and leaves a very sour note on all the development the film has undergone to set the audience up to its ending. However, just taking the film alone with the exception of this muddled ending, it is near-perfect.

The cast are vital in this film and if they weren’t convincing, the film wouldn’t have been as successful as it has been. I have not been a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the past, but in this she is absolutely fantastic in a career-best performance. Her character is constantly kept in the dark throughout the film and her development as a character is very well-realised but I did find her transformation into a full-on action hero towards the end of the film a little unrealistic. John Gallagher Jr is also very sound here and is someone who doesn’t play in films often so this hopefully should be a break for him. However, John Goodman completely steals the show here in what is a  career-best performance for him. The audience are never sure whether or not his character can be trusted or not and Goodman plays the role with so much charisma. At times, he is downright terrifying whereas at times, the audience are fairly sympathetic towards him.

The story is very well-handled and plenty is left up to the viewer’s imagination which is very effective. It is so well-directed, especially the first few minutes leading up to the opening credits feel straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock film and there are many encounters between the characters that are so cleverly scripted. At times, the film is very intense and I am a little surprised that the BBFC only gave the film a 12A which I feel is a little lenient. Without giving spoilers, it really is such a shame that all the good work is undone in the film’s climax which was so desperately disappointing.

I had not heard of Bear McCreary before this, but the score for this film is incredible and is very Bernard Herrman-esque. The first ‘Cloverfield’ was famous for having no score at all save for a 12 minute piece called ‘Roar!’ in the closing credits by Abrams-regular, Michael Giacchino. McCreary is another talent to watch and I’m sure will land some very interesting projects given the success of this film.

Overall, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is a stunning piece of cinema and is very intense and carefully directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg. The cast here are incredible with John Goodman stealing the show. It’s just a real shame that all the good work is undone in the last 15 minutes but with the exception of this, this film is very impressive. It will be interesting to see if Abrams can strike gold thrice with the announcement of this film 2 months prior to its release being very unexpected. To strike with the element of surprise, perhaps there will have to be an even longer break between this and a third instalment if there is one. Both film’s have been marketed fantastically and the prospect of a third film must be very daunting for the crew if they want it to have the same impact.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)