Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 119 mins

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprise treat in the crowded Christmas market of films and a very solid sequel to the Joe Johnston-directed, Robin Williams-led 1995 original. Four teenagers find themselves sucked into the videogame when they try to liven up detention which they have been placed into for breaking the school rules. They have to play as the avatars that they have selected in order to make it out of the jungle alive and not get stuck in the game forever.

On paper, this sequel shouldn’t work, as it has a hit-and-miss cast and a director responsible for atrocities such as Bad Teacher and Sex Tape. However, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a film that obeys its own rules and the central concept of evolving the Jumanji board game into a modern videogame is a masterstroke of genius. The ways in which director Jake Kasdan interweaves the game into the film narrative is expertly handled, with characters having to tackle different levels, having a certain amount of lives and expositionary flashbacks and characters synthesised into the story. The film always feels fresh, has a lot of heart and even more surprisingly, questions its characters morals and teaches them some important life lessons. It’s consistently funny as well, with a wide range of humour to suit different audiences.

All of the cast seem to be having a great time here, with Jack Black in particular excelling as a male avatar whom is a female character and there are endless subversions and comedic moments of gender. The cast all have great chemistry with each other and are all very genuine. The film is visually sound too and supplemented by Henry Jackman’s drum-heavy score to set the mood.

If there is a problem with the film, it is with the handling of the villain. Bobby Cannavale’s one-dimensional villain is woefully underused and doesn’t add much to the plot and is nowhere near as sinister as Jonathan Hyde’s hunter in the original film. The film threatens to make its ending quite interesting at one point, but unfortunately the film ends rather generically, yet still crowd-pleasing.

Otherwise, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is definitely a film to recommend in the Christmas crop and it should appeal to a wide range of audiences. Any sense of trepidation one might have considering the talent involved and the fact that it is a sequel to an older film can be thrown out of the window as the filmmakers have treated this property with the utmost respect and have managed to successfully evolve with the times.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)



Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 152 mins

Set immediately after the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director Rian Johnson’s subversive sequel is certainly one of ambition and flair. Whilst J. J. Abrams’ sequel trilogy opener was one of frequent grandeur, it was decidedly safe. Johnson attempts to inject some of the slickness and voice that are present in the entire range of his filmography. Unlike The Force Awakens which was a grand voyage across worlds and large in scope, Johnson’s narrative is much smaller. The Last Jedi is essentially an extended chase scene.

The film has proven to be rather controversial with some of its characterisations amongst audiences, even extending to Mark Hamill, who was publically rather critical over the treatment of Luke Skywalker within the film. Johnson’s approach is hit-and-miss. In the case of some characters, it is refreshing to see a heightened sense of vulnerability and cynicism, in particular with Hamill’s Skywalker. However, by far, Daisy Ridley is the standout as Rey, who gets many stand-out moments and her character really develops as she matures from her fish-out-of-water characterisation in The Force Awakens. Andy Serkis and Oscar Isaac also fare much better this time around, Serkis’ villain who was introduced in The Force Awakens is suitably sinister and also has some great moments and Isaac gets a lot more screentime this time around compared to being underused previously.

But in the case of other characters, this is either regressive, conventional or on-the-nose, the latter referencing to the treatment of the late Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Adam Driver’s formidabble villain, Kylo Ren was expertly introduced by Abrams in The Force Awakens and whilst Johnson furthers his character arc, I thought the material paled in comparison. Gone are the extreme tantrums and venomous hate, Driver’s character here is much more mellow and mysterious.

Some of Johnson’s risks in the narrative and character choices also backfire. The fusing of an auteur director within the macro-economics of Disney can be rather problematic. As is also the case within the Marvel Cinematic Universe which Disney also figurehead, there is always an issue with promises of false death. There are moments in the film which dare to be really brave creative choices but never happen, which is a real shame. The film portrays life as expendable in many of its characters, but it doesn’t have the guts to extend this to its more central characters.

Johnson excels however with the action sequences, which are superbly crafted and particularly cine-literate. There are two scenes mid-way and late into the film that are particularly memorable, both bathed in red and complimented by Steve Yedlin’s superb cinematography, to connote the severity and bloodshed that these characters find themselves in. There is also a moment where Johnson experiments with sound (or rather the lack of it) and moments of pure popcorn action, in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which are seriously impressive.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ultimately proves a very different flavour compared to the familiarity and magical nature of The Force Awakens. What allows the film to work really well is how this film functions both as a standalone film and as part of a canon. It’s good to see risks being taken by Johnson and everyone all around would have been more courageous, the film would have been brilliant. That said, The Last Jedi is easily the most consistent film compared to The Force Awakens and Rogue One and this is despite it being the longest film, clocking in at a lengthy 152 minutes. The film is never boring and perhaps on subsequent rewatches and as time passes, The Last Jedi will hopefully be favourably remembered. I do, however, have concerns with how the final film in the trilogy which is set to be directed by J. J. Abrams will fare as the way the narrative has been handled in The Last Jedi necessitates capable hands to work out the best way to progress it. That said, at least The Last Jedi isn’t a film concerned with setting up sequels as its narrative is so firmly rooted within this standalone film. This is a rare and welcome outlier in the world of films being consistently being connected and needing to set up future installments.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Justice League (Review)


⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 120 mins

It feels rather surreal that Justice League has finally arrived on the big screen, particularly after a really tumultous production. After the negative critical reception to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) and Suicide Squad, Warner Bros decided to rein returning director Zack Snyder back by making the film less dark, murky and devoid of humour which were the problems that plagued BvS. As for myself, I have always liked and will always defend Snyder’s vision on that particular film, so from the start this film always felt as if it was aiming in the wrong direction. The Justice League are what DC is to Marvel’s Avengers, the culmination and grouping of these superheroes together in a feature film. Not just for myself, but for years, even the notion of a Justice League film happening was one I had never dreamed would come. Snyder unfortunately left the project this year after a family tragedy and Avengers director Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the project. Whilst we’ll never know exactly who shot what, Whedon then was commissioned to lead extensive reshoots on the film, also replacing Junkie XL as composer with Danny Elfman and having to cut the film down to a 120 minute run time which is strongly suspected to have been mandated by the studio.

Unfortunately, this all shows on-screen. Justice League is an absolute mess and is the result of again, too many cooks in the kitchen. Snyder and Whedon as filmmakers pull in completely different directions, with Whedon injecting more humour into the film whereas Snyder has always been the more visionary filmmaker. Whilst I was watching the film, I never felt the stakes faced against these characters and the film has no sense of flow. 120 minutes is a very short run time for the story this film tries to tell and is the shortest DCEU installment thus far. The film neglects to develop its new characters of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash that it introduces and has a very forgettable, one-dimensional CGI villain with typical end-of-the-world antics.

The biggest problem with the film is it feels unfinished. This is from everything down to the film itself, its acting and its visual effects. You can trash BvS all you want but you can’t deny that there were multiple instances in which Snyder stunned his audience with some mesmerising visuals. Justice League has none of that and its big set pieces aren’t convincing or believable due to the poor visual effects. By extension, the whole film feels as if it has been cobbled together at the last minute, a far cry from what it once was before. Everyone in the cast looks tired and the performances are mostly wooden and lacking energy. Of the new characters, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is going to have to do a lot of work to impress me in his standalone film next year as I thought his character was stupid and he spends virtually the entire film out of the water as opposed to in it which are his strengths. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is average and some of Ezra Miller’s humour as The Flash sticks but some of it aggressively doesn’t. Ciaran Hinds is a fine actor and god knows what they were thinking when they made his villain all-CGI so as not for Hinds to showcase his talents and his villain is so bland, so one-dimensional and again, this trend of poor visual effects continues as his villain looks like he came straight out of an early generation computer game.

The script is just woeful. It is penned by Chris Terrio, who also wrote BvS but Whedon also recieves a credit for his rewrite and like the film, the script feels as if it’s the two of them pulling in different directions. Many attempts at humour feel forced and the film often resorts to cliched exposition. The film’s final set piece, which should be the crowning jewel of this kind of a film, is boring and lazy. Characters make many references to saving the poor citizens who are being terrorised by the villain but we only see this suffering through the eyes of one family. Justice League has a huge $300 million budget – surely the filmmakers could have established a sense of scope in order to invoke that this situation is actually dangerous.

Danny Elfman’s score has recieved some flack for him not opting to reuse the themes Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL had used in the previous films, instead opting to use his classic Batman theme and John Williams’ Superman one. Although perhaps in principle, an interesting idea, what of Elfman’s score that has made it into the film sadly doesn’t really stick. I would like to point out however that on the soundtrack, there are a couple of interesting tracks that for some reason haven’t made it into the film. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is also sound but lacks the ambition and beauty of Snyder-regular, Larry Fong.

Justice League is not a bad film overall – it’s just a crushingly disappointing one with a real lack of ambition. With the talent involved and what could have been, it’s a real shame that the film that we get is one that doesn’t have much personality, is frustratingly pedestrian and inoffensively bland. There are a moments in it which showcase some of the better qualities of Snyder and Whedon but the cut that has been put together doesn’t fit together and it makes for a very jarring experience. I kept having to remind myself that I was actually watching a Justice League film because the low stakes that were being portrayed on-screen and the sub-par film weren’t really what I had anticipated.

DC need to have a big think going forward. With the exception of Wonder Woman earlier in the year, nothing has seemed to stick with audiences looking at past examples. Justice League is certainly not the worst film of the year and it is a film where I will always imagine what could have been. It will be interesting to see what happens with the standalone Aquaman film next year. Although his character recieved a poor introduction in this film, James Wan is in the director’s chair and hasn’t really put a foot wrong so I have confidence the first step in permanently course-correcting this franchise starts with him. We will have to wait and see.

⭐⭐ (Poor)


Only The Brave (Review)

Josh Brolin;Jeff Bridges

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 133 mins

Only The Brave translates the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of firefighters who died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013, to the screen. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, both films that garnered mixed reviews. Kosinski has assembled an impressive cast consisting of Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly to name a few of its talents and tells this inspiring story from the perspective of the firefighters and we see how this team of firefighters impact on their community and their family lives.

Only The Brave is easily the best film of Kosinki’s career and a gripping account of the subject material. It is clear that the cast have the utmost respect for these heroes, resplendent in the modest, genuine performances. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Kosinski is more of a visionary director than a narrative one and his previous filmography is visually pleasing to look at. Why Only The Brave works so well is because it combines Kosinki’s visual talents with a very solid script, allowing a strong equilibrium between the visual and the story. Kosinski captures the forest fires extremely faithfully – they felt genuinely threatening on the screen, the images of smoke and burning woodlands. The characters are also really well developed and I felt empathy particularly for Josh Brolin and Miles Tellers’ characters, the latter being our insight into the forest firefighter industry, a character trying everything he can to turn his life around from his dark past.

The film is not quite without its flaws though: it’s a little pedestrian in places and relies on generic beats of the genre at times. Furthermore, the film also gets off to a wobbly start, with its rather initially overt and on-the-nose presentation of gender at a few moments.

That said, Only The Brave is a largely successful effort and definitely represents a peak for director Joseph Kosinski. Perhaps, like Peter Berg who has also found success with adapting true stories into films such as Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day after initially making turgid duds, this genre could be where Kosinski finally finds home as a filmmaker? Only time will tell…

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 121 mins

A Palme D’Or contender earlier in the year, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the latest by Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos, who solidified himself as a talent to watch with his English language debut film, The Lobster, in 2015 and before that, the deeply unnerving DogtoothThe Killing of a Sacred Deer sees the director reteaming with the ever-reliable Colin Farrell in the lead role as a cardiothoracic surgeon, Steve Murphy, who we first see completing open heart surgery in the film’s striking opening moments to Schubert’s ‘Stabat Mater’ in F minor. Murphy lives in a upper market, suburban area with his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two children, Kim and Bob (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). Unknown to his family at the beginning of the film and for reasons not disclosed even to the film’s audience, Steve is a mentor to a teenager called Martin, played by the rising talent Barry Keoghan who was excellent back in the Summer in Christopher Nolan‘s Dunkirk. Martin is presented from the outset as a deeply disturbed and challenged individual with a past and his relationship with Steve feels extremely unnatural and sickly.

As with his previous filmography, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a genuinely unnerving and memorable experience, rich with strong themes and disturbing imagery. It is a film that requires multiple rewatches, particularly as Lanthimos has rooted this narrative in a Euripidian Ancient Greek myth. I felt genuinely unclean after watching it and was left thinking about it for quite a while.

Lanthimos maintains his signature arch, one-note dialogue and the characters are again, irrational yet weirdly enticing to watch. Farrell continues to prove why he is one of the most reliable actors in the business and whilst I’m not the biggest fan of Nicole Kidman, she does a great job here. It is however, the younger actors, who perhaps fare the best with Keoghan, Cassidy and Suljic all turning in brilliant performances and being able to mesh their adolescent innocence and maturity, fused with Lanthimos’ characterisation and dialogue.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer often feels not too dissimilar from a body horror film with Lanthimos’ bold music choices, amplifying the sustained tension and grisliness throughout the film and the situation the characters find themselves entrapped within. This is heightened by Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography, which allows the film to feel very claustrophobic and sickening at times but also, the shots in the city and the hospital have clear power over the characters, vast spaces in a labyrinthine maze that Lanthimos’ characters are trapped in. There is one particular shot of a character blindfolded and spinning which I found very difficult to watch but the execution and staging of this scene is perhaps one of the most memorable images of the year.

I’m not sure whether The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an enjoyable experience or not but it’s certainly a memorable one and it’s a film that I cannot wait to watch again. It’s films like this that challenge and question their audiences that keep me fascinated with the film industry. It’ll be a hard film to seek out as it’s in a limited release, but I would definitely recommend making the effort to see this. The Killing of a Sacred Deer cements Lanthimos as one of the most powerful voices of cinema of our time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Florida Project (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 115 mins

After universally impressing with Tangerine, a film shot on an iPhone 5S, director Sean Baker is back with another insight into society, this time in the deprived areas surrounding Disney World in Florida, hence the film’s title derision from the working name for Walt Disney’s project. But where the film also takes place is in effect, not unlike American “project” communities. Although Baker’s film is now shot on more conventional film, The Florida Project is an equally unconventional, searing look at society.

We follow six year old Moonee and her twenty two year old mother, Halley, both brilliantly played by Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, who are equally stars in the making. They are both ‘residents’ at The Magic Castle motel. Although the motel’s name might connote expectations of happiness and fantasy, these connotations can be discarded as the majority of the people who reside there are in effect tenants, only to legally work, they have to move themselves and their belongings out for a day intermittently. Moonee is a highly inquisitive girl, whose playful character often gets the better of her as she pranks others with her friends from these residences. Her heart is in the right place, however, and she only ever wants the best for everyone. Her mother, Halley, is struggling both emotionally and with money and the film follows how she is becoming increasingly unhinged and how this is putting strain on her daughter until a crescendo of tension in the film’s finale. But she still clearly has a motherly love for her daughter and wants the best for her, despite knowing how best to raise her child. Willem Dafoe puts in a career-best performance as Bobby Hicks, the manager of this particular hotel, who effectively acts as a father figure to the children. He comes across to them as stern, even bordering on unfriendly at times but he so clearly wants what is best for his tenants welfare.

At times, The Florida Project is a fascinating character study and explores the juxtaposition of adulthoood and childhood and its climax is particularly moving. But the film panders along more than enough to get there, it is definitely a good twenty minutes too long. That said, it is a film that warrants repeat viewings as it leaves a lot of questions for its audience, something that more casual viewers may perhaps feel rather underwhelmed. Although deeply flawed, Baker’s film is certainly a story worth watching unfold.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Murder On The Orient Express (Review)


⭐⭐ (Poor)

This piece was further developed and submitted as part of my portfolio for a university project. 

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, 
Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 114 mins

Murder on the Orient Express is yet another adaptation of Agatha Christie’s crime novel, only this one is directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. After solving a theft by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Poirot feels he has earned a well-earned holiday and one would be inclined to agree with the sheer amount of cases Christie has challenged him with in her many novels. However, this is short-lived when his presence is required in London so instead of an exotic holiday, he gets to travel in luxury aboard the lavish Orient Express. However, somebody is murdered on the journey and the train derails after an avalanche, effectively forcing Poirot to put his plans of a holiday on hold again. Branagh faces some strong competition from other adaptations and performances of the character – my personal favourite would be David Suchet in the television series, who is pretty much note-perfect.

Luckily, Branagh more than ably steps up to the task and his iteration of Poirot is outlandish and theatrical but with grace and respect for the character as well. In addition, he has also crafted the most fabulous yet outrageous moustache for Poirot!  However, Branagh puts his character so front and centre that he neglects to develop the rest of the cast. Branagh has perhaps one of the most star-studded casts of the year with actors such as Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Penelope Cruz, but pretty much all of them just chew the scenery because they are given virtually nothing to work with. All of the suspects feature in introductory moments in the film as Poirot learns who he is travelling with and in an interrogation scene once the murder occurs. It’s a real shame and it makes the film quite oddly uninvolving and cold at times as there is nothing to latch on to. Branagh certainly has the ability, with his 2007 thriller remake, Sleuth, being a very gripping experience but this is weirdly not the case here.

Musically, Patrick Doyle’s score is a disaster. Doyle has composed pretty much all of Branagh’s directorial efforts and they’re generally a great match but what Doyle has come up with here aggressively does not fit with the film.

The other big issue I have with the film is its ending which I really didn’t like and felt cheated by it. It also then begins to reveal, in my opinion, plot holes in the entire concept of the narrative, practically undoing the film. I won’t be discussing spoilers but this is probably the biggest factor as to why my ultimate reaction is more negative than positive.

On the plus side, as well as Branagh’s performance, the film looks great. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is excellent and a lot of shots almost feel as if they are an unnamed passenger, watching on the events unfolding. There are also some breathtaking, sweeping shots of the train and surrounding landscapes. The film certainly stylistically and visually looks the part.

I’m afraid I’m rather reticient to be overall positive on Murder on the Orient Express as is style over substance and its narrative and development of characters is very unsatisfying. Although perhaps a crude comparison, say what you will about The Snowman but at least that had the guts to be nasty at times and as silly as it was, I was more interested in it. The film is not a complete failure though – to give credit where it’s due, Branagh at least has the right building blocks should a sequel be made, which the film sets up in its final scene. I’d happily watch his iteration of the character solve a more satisfying mystery, coupled with the fact that the film is visually pleasing. Murder on the Orient Express is ultimately not the slamdunk on paper it should have been and its wasted journey should never have really left the station.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Breathe (Review)

Breathe_170816_Day37_ 1428.jpg

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Dean Charles Chapman, Miranda Raison, Ed Speelers, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 117 mins

Breathe marks the directorial debut of motion capture maestro Andy Serkis and recounts the important, true story of Robin Cavendish, an individual whose content life is brought to a halt after he is stricken down with polio. Cavendish is played by the ever-talented Andrew Garfield, who put in two brilliant performances already this year in Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. Breathe is arguably the most physical of the three performances for Garfield, who very much has to act with his facial expressions. Serkis is no stranger to the theme of disability, putting in a brilliant performance in Ian Dury biopic, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. 

Breathe is a decidedly safe film, mind, and is a neat, concise account of Cavendish’s life. Andrew Garfield, again demonstrates why he is one of the best actors working currently, towering over the rest of the cast. I’m reluctant to call it ‘Oscar-bait’ as that would be a disservice to its powerful story but Serkis would have really benefitted from crafting a more dark and daring film that explored more of Cavendish’s pains and feelings rather than every single character being portrayed as so upbeat, a quintessentially British mood. The swooning score by Nitin Sawhney fits the film neatly too and there are some nice moment in Robert Richardson’s cinematography.

Serkis runs into big problems late into the film as he simply doesn’t know where to end it. In my opinion, Serkis has two great opportunities (one after a powerful speech and another, after a shot of the ventilator working) but he squanders it and the film becomes overlong and increasingly emotionally manipulative. The final scenes are obviously intended for audiences to shed a tear but it left me cold, threatening to undo the good work he had done in the first 90 minutes.

For all its flaws, I was never bored by Breathe and for its first 90 minutes or so, it is particularly strong and tells a timely story of Cavendish’s life. It’s just a shame that Serkis chose not to be more risk-averse. If he did, the film could have been particularly special and that would justify its existence more for the relevant Awards.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Thor: Ragnarok (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 130 mins

Thor: Ragnarok is the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon and the third solo outing for the God of Thunder. The previous films (Thor and Thor: The Dark World) have generally been regarded as lesser entries in the collection but I moderately enjoyed both of them. Kiwi director Taika Waititi is in the director’s chair, having previously directed What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, two films that I love. Waititi is a genuine and growing talent and Thor: Ragnarok is his first big-budget film. It is quite surprising in itself that Marvel were even able to sign such a talented director up for a film after famously losing key figures such as Edgar Wright from Ant-Man and Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World to avoid compromising their vision. Waititi has a daunting task on his hands – firstly, to elevate himself up to a behemoth of a project as this and secondly, to make a universally appealing Thor film to overturn the notion of them being lesser films around. There is always the danger of these smaller directors having their visions corrupted by the studio (or worse destroyed like Josh Trank on Fantastic Four for example) so it will be interesting to see how much of Waititi’s style seeps its way into the film.

Waititi decides to make multiple changes to the format of the narrative the first two films took. Firstly, by ditching Earth. The first two films were heavily set on our planet, mostly to perform the function of serving Thor’s love interest, Jane, capably played by Natalie Portman. This is truly a film set in the cosmic realms, where Chris Hemsworth’s Nordic God must prevent the titular Ragnarok (end of the worlds in essence) after his evil half sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death played by Aussie Cate Blanchett wreaks havoc. Thor finds himself on Planet Sakaar, a garbage-filled yet colourful location where it is being run in a dictatorship by Jeff Goldblum’s zanily tyrannical Grandmaster. Thor finds himself quickly becoming a “contender” where he’ll have to battle to claim his victory against an unknown entity but unless he makes a mutinous escape, he’s pretty much locked in the Grandmaster’s clutches. You can probably see how this all comes together. Tom Hiddleston’s fan favourite Loki also returns and Waititi introduces new characters alongside Blanchett and Goldblum’s villains with Karl Urban as Skurge and Tessa Thompson as a Valkyrie, a warrior who had previously battled Blanchett’s unstoppable villain but is now a deflated, moody drunkard working for the Grandmaster.

Thor: Ragnarok is a Taika Waititi film through and through – it retains his signature humour and really inverts expectations on what a Thor film should be. This feels refreshingly different from the first two films, more vibrantly coloured and more comical. The film is extremely entertaining and puts the characters that we have grown to like over the course of the films in rather vulnerable positions throughout the film and there is a real sense of danger prevalent. Unlike recent comic book films which have a great, big (and boring) action climax at the end of the film to save the world, Thor: Ragnarok actually earns its finale. The marketing for this film has also been extremely impressive upon viewing the final product – there’s a lot that Marvel have managed to withold from its audiences which is very satisfying.

The cast are expectedly great, with Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum and director Taika Waititi himself making the biggest impressions. When not given the right material, Hemsworth’s performances dangerously verge on wooden but Waititi’s switch to a more comical film is a task that Hemsworth leaps up to and he proves a very deft hand at comedy (in addition to a well-needed haircut). Goldblum essentially plays himself as the Grandmaster and has many great lines and scenes with the characters. Waititi appears himself as Korg, a rock monster of sorts who trains the Grandmaster’s contenders before they fight and Waititi’s performance, based on Polynesian club bouncers, is extraordinary, managing to balance both rib-tickling humour and required heart. The rest of the cast all generally fare well but Blanchett’s villain isn’t given all that much to do sadly but when she is on-screen, she’s good enough. There is one exception though. Bizzarely, Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner / Hulk. Whilst Ruffalo is great as Hulk who Waititi really develops as a character, Ruffalo is terrible in this film as Bruce Banner. Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Banner has been permanently living in his Hulk guise. When he becomes Banner, Ruffalo’s performance feels oddly dejected from the film – it’s very strange and is the first time Ruffalo has ever underperformed in my book.

Waititi’s tone is frequently brilliant throughout the film and Thor: Ragnarok takes itself much less seriously than Thor’s previous outings. If there’s an issue with the film, it’s with the opening (although not the very first scene which is brilliant) before Thor finds himself on Sakaar. Waitit’s influence isn’t felt quite as much here and the film feels a bit choppily edited in a brief escapade back to Earth. Once Thor reaches Sakaar, the film never really lets go of its grip and it doesn’t let its foot off the gas until the credits roll.

Thor: Ragnarok is a big success for Marvel and a seamless leap to big budget fare from Taika Waititi. I was constantly entertained by it and its ending reminded me of the magic Marvel can pull off which makes Avengers: Infinity War look a very promising prospect next year, particularly with how the film surprisingly ends. Along with Spider-Man: Homecoming this year, Marvel have had 2/3 successes in my book – it’s just a shame Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a disappointment. Otherwise, I can’t wait for where the characters are taken from here and what Taika Waititi goes on to direct next.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Death Of Stalin (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 106 mins

After a rather long hiatus from last directing In The Loop, Armando Iannucci is back with a film about Soviet Russia about the titular death of Stalin and the power battle between his confidante’s that ensues. Iannucci has great flair for coming up with sweary, sophisticated insults with his larger-than-life characters and certainly, the connection between him and Soviet Russia is one that is ripe for invention, strengthened by an A-list cast.

The Death of Stalin begins in barnstorming fashion with a brilliant extended sequence set in a radio station where Paddy Considine’s character is asked by Stalin to hand him a recording of the Mozart concert currently being performed – which bemusingly, he hasn’t been recording it and has to find alternative methods to escape not only humiliation, but more importantly his life. Although nothing can match this superb sequence, there are still some other fairly memorably amusing sequences between its buffoonish characters. The film is really quite dark at times and offers a particularly bleak view of Soviet history. This squanders the overall tone and Iannucci’s film suffers from never being quite mean-spirited or funny enough.

Fortunately, the cast more than make up for Iannucci’s shortcomings. Jeffrey Tambor perhaps gives the best performance as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s deputy who clearly seems to be having fun in the role and has some great lines. Simon Russell Beale’s repulsively nasty but humorous head who is in charge of eliminating Stalin’s threats is an equal pleasure of the film, as is Jason Isaac’s sweary Yorkshire-accented Army Chief.

The Death of Stalin is certainly an enjoyable experience which is sophisticatedly funny in parts but suffers from an unbalanced tone and not pushing the boundaries more than what the film could and should have been, based off Iannucci’s past works.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)