War For The Planet Of The Apes (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 142 mins

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is the third installment in the ‘Planet of the Apes’ reboot series, kicked off by ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ in 2011 and ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ in 2014. ‘Rise’ was one of my favourite films of 2011 and it was very intelligent and boasted superb visual effects. It came as a massive surprise after Tim Burton’s previous reboot had disappointed and it looked like the film was merely a cash grab. ‘Dawn’ received even more positive reviews but whilst I admired the craft behind it, I was disappointed in its surprisingly simplistic narrative.  This film continues to follow Andy Serkis’ motion capture Caesar after the ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ of the previous two films which ‘War’ neatly sums up in its opening to keep new audiences engaged. Caesar battles with a ruthless Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson who tries to secure Earth’s future for humans by eradicating the apes.  The marketing team have been very elusive as to whether or not this is the closing chapter to a trilogy or whether or not this franchise will continue. Matt Reeves is back in the director’s chair after helming ‘War’ and I must say I was a little trepidatious as I have mixed views on him as a director. As mentioned, I found the story in ‘Dawn’ overly simplistic and he has previously directed ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Let Me In’, the former being a particularly difficult film to engage with. What’s even more surprising is that Reeves has been attached to direct a new reboot of ‘The Batman’ following Ben Affleck’s departure which I am concerned about as I don’t think his style fits with the iconic superhero.  With sterling reviews for ‘War’ again, it’s safe to say I was hesitant again as to what Reeves had done for this film.

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is a welcome surprise – it’s grim, heartfelt, revenge-filled and most of all, questions its intelligent audience with multiple morality questions. It is perhaps the strongest of the series but I would need to rewatch ‘Rise’ again to be sure. Dialogue is rather scarce in this film and there are many prolonged sequence where the film is almost like a silent film and it is just stunning to behold. ‘Dunkirk’, another Summer release also tries to do this but this film succeeds better in this respect due to its stronger characters and more powerful overarching message. ‘War’ is at its best when it is uncompromisingly grim, the pain and loss felt by Caesar and the various nods to the Western and War genre.

The performances in this film are brilliant and Andy Serkis once again, makes his case for the benefits of motion capture. Serkis does his best work in this film as Caesar who is now capable of pretty much fluent English and he really conveys the pain and anguish felt by the devastation of his inner world. There are definitely echoes of Clint Eastwood here in his quest for revenge and also echoes of the war hero. Karin Konoval also does her best work here as Maurice, the orange-utan who in many ways reflects Caesar’s conscience. Steve Zahn is also excellent as a new character called ‘Bad Ape’ who provides comic relief and a lot of heart to the film. I had problems with the human characters in ‘Dawn’ who were rather one-note and hard to empathise with. Fully fleshed out human characters are rather scarce in this film but Woody Harrelson is excellent as the Colonel and is well-developed and at some points, even emphatic as we can sense where his point of view is coming from. There is no doubt this character channels the infamous Colonel Kurtz and Reeves even includes a couple of references to ‘Apocalypse Now’ to draw the contrasts. Amiah Miller as Nova (spot the reference?), a mute orphan who the apes pick up on their way to the Colonel is outstanding, managing to convey her emotions simply from body language.

Reeves’ characters certainly make an interesting character study and what allows this film to really succeed is its more intelligent narrative. My main problem with ‘Dawn’ was its obvious and predictable narrative with not all that much substance but there is certainly more meat to chew on here. If there are any flaws in this film, perhaps it is a little overly compassionate at times and it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Rise’ in terms of its commentary on animal cruelty and suffering.

The score by Michael Giacchino is sublime here – it is extremely memorable and really elevates the material. Giacchino doesn’t just rehash his score for the previous installment, instead introducing many new themes to suit the different mood the film conjures and it’s clear that in his plethora of projects this Summer including the critically panned ‘The Book of Henry’ and the excellent ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming‘, it’s clear he’s put the work in here.

The cinematography by Michael Seresin is again brilliant after his work on ‘Dawn’ – the cold, harsh landscape feels so life-like and you can almost sense the wind breathing on the back of these characters. There are numerous shots which are simply awe-inspiring to look at and Seresin also knows when to hang onto a shot that is a little longer than comfortable. The action sequences are also refreshing in that he doesn’t just resort to numerous quick cuts.

Overall, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is a work of art and Reeves has really developed as a director, particularly from an individual in the past whose films I have had some big problems with. The performances and narrative in this film are what really hold it all together and it is very cine-literate but not to the point of parodying. I still don’t think Reeves is a match for ‘The Batman’ but if he manages to evolve like he does with this film, it could be brilliant. It is one of the strongest films of the Summer and shows a lot of promise for the future of this material.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Cars 3 (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Brian Fee
Starring: (voices of) Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Larry The Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Lee DeLaria

Certificate: U
Run Time: 109 mins

‘Cars 3’ is the latest Pixar film to grace our cinema screens and it is the sequel to, you guessed, ‘Cars’ and ‘Cars 2’. It has often be remarked that the ‘Cars’ franchise is lower-tier Pixar, sub-standard to the rest of their films. ‘Cars’ was famously the first Pixar film to not score above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes on its release and ‘Cars 2’ is the only Pixar film to have been very negatively received. This is quite unfair in my opinion as I found a lot to like in ‘Cars’ – it’s a film about trying to fit in and it has some glorious race sequences and I thought ‘Cars 2’ was actually an improvement. The prospect of a second sequel seems a little bit strange due to the lower reception of these films for general audiences but to me, this has a lot of promise. ‘Cars 3’ reverts to the figurehead Owen Wilson-voiced Lightning McQueen as its main character after many people rejected Larry The Cable Guy’s Mater in ‘Cars 2’ as being annoying. An ageing Lightning McQueen has to face the prospect that he is not at his peak anymore after a crash as he races against a new generation of racers. The film deals with his quest to make himself better so that he can keep up with the new crop and he receives training from a new character, Cruz Ramirez who has always longed to be a racer too but lacks the confidence. John Lasseter doesn’t return to the director’s chair for this film and this is instead directed by Brian Fee who has plenty of experience in Pixar over the years. I was really impressed by the marketing campaign for this film – a trailer detailing McQueen’s crash, a stunning photorealistic image to behold breaking the boundaries of what animation can or can’t do. This seems like a risk for the franchise, to try and win newfound fans after the first two films.

‘Cars 3’ unfortunately, is a step-down from the previous installments and we really don’t get the seemingly genius film that was marketed. Whilst ‘Cars 3’ hints towards a better film multiple times and has some really good moments, it is surprisingly generic. Pixar have always stated that their story is their number-one priority and it needs to be worthy of the Pixar name for it to get made. I’m genuinely surprised of the result in this instance. A strong opening sequence and the heavily marketed crash are all promising but the film meanders along a well-worn road of cliche and I have some big problems with how the film ends. It doesn’t have the same sense of energy the first two films had and even emotionally, the film feels rather cold – Pixar are normally geniuses at pulling the heartstrings, sometimes even manipulatively. Instead, there is no effort whatsoever here.

There are individual sequences that do work in their own right and there are a number of times where it looks as if the film is really going to pick up but it never does. Most promisingly, as soon as McQueen’s crash happens in the film’s opening, the film feels as though it’s going to take a really mature route and explore the inner character of McQueen – I would have been really impressed if it had done this. Shortly after this, there is an extended sequence where McQueen talks with his sponsor and again, what the film could have done was had an interesting critique on sponsorship. The film never decides to be mature and instead it degenerates into a film that is too overly kid-friendly and it doesn’t work.

To Pixar’s credit, the animation is outstanding and McQueen’s crash in particular is one of their best works. As mentioned, there are many stunning photorealistic shots of various landscapes and the attention to detail is mind-blowing. However, as I previously mentioned for ‘The Good Dinosaur‘, another film that suffered similar tonal problems to this film, if all you are looking at is the animation then there must be something seriously not right with the narrative and this is sadly the case. Even Randy Newman’s score isn’t overly memorable and although there are cues of promise, these are never fully realised – it’s all rather slap-dash.

It’s a real shame ‘Cars 3’ isn’t as good as it should be, particularly with the lofty promises of its ambitious trailers. The film is too disconnected between its photorealistic lanscapes and its cartoonish characters and Fee can never find a medium between these two aspects. To the film’s credit, it has generally been positively received and I understand that in my perception of the first two films, my opinion does differ to the norm. This should have made me all the more willing to accept this film but it’s sadly generic and severely lacking in its narrative. Although this review is predominantly negative, this is more in relation to the first two ‘Cars’ films which I would rank a lot higher. ‘Cars 3’ only just misses out on scoring a 3-star – it’s not an outright bad film by any means, it’s just disappointingly average and generic compared to Pixar’s normally lofty standards hence why I couldn’t quite bump it up into the ‘Good’ category.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

The short film that precedes ‘Cars 3’, ‘Lou’ is wonderful and has a fantastic emotional core to it and a powerful message. A shame that the film that followed couldn’t sustain this standard.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr.
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 133 mins

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is the third reboot of the webslinger in the space of fifteen years. There was the Sam Raimi trilogy with Tobey Maguire in the lead role – all are good fun (yes, even the third in my opinion) and the second one particularly stands out. Marc Webb’s two films with Andrew Garfield then followed which were also solid but the second installment recieved mixed reviews and stopped plans of a cinematic universe which there were plans for. Marvel and Sony then finally reached an agreement to incorporate the character into the profitable Marvel Cinamatic Univese and now here we are. Tom Holland now stars as the eponymous character with ‘Cop Car’ director Jon Watts calling the shots. Holland is a much younger Spider-Man than Maguire and Garfield were when they were in the role and Watts has stated multiple times he takes inspiration from John Hughes films in his direction for this film. I must admit a sense of fatigue had settled in before seeing this film as we have had so many variations of this character over not that long a time. The trailers made the film look a little too sickly sweet and a cash grab. Tom Holland’s character had previously been introduced in last year’s ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ but I found him quite weak and annoying and detracted from what was mostly a perfectly solid film. Add to that the disappointment of Marvel’s first outing of the year, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘ and I was trepidatious to say the least.

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’, to my surprise, was a breath of fresh air in what has been quite a convoluted genre of late. I thought it struck just the right tone between seriousness and humour and it is a very realistic and grounded film in the Marvel canon. It also features one of the best villains we’ve had in Michael Keaton’s Vulture who is extremely sinister and narcissitic. The whole cast are generally excellent and I was really invested in the narrative that Watts portrays. Watts also does well to not aim too high in terms of visual effects and although there are a couple of impressive action sequences, they never reach the heights of some of the other Marvel films which further helps to keep this film very grounded.

The performances in this film are spot-on – Tom Holland does a complete 180 from his performance in ‘Civil War’ and instead of finding him quite annoying and overly energetic, I found his performance a lot more genuine and heartfelt. Compared to Maguire and Garfield, Holland probably balances both roles of Peter Parker and Spider-Man the best and if Marvel continue to take this approach with the character, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops from now on. The standout in this film is Michael Keaton’s Vulture who is at times, extremely sinister and cynical but because Watts chooses to develop his character on a more human level, this really adds another layer to the character and Keaton’s villain is one that audiences can actually empathise with. It’s definitely one of the strongest Marvel villains to date and is refreshing to see seeing how many villains Marvel have under-delivered on. There is one scene of particular mention towards the third act of the film that is particularly well-acted by both Keaton and Holland together which was electric to watch on-screen. The rest of the cast all fare well too and it’s refreshing to see Watts not include too much Robert Downey Jr as the trailers had suggested. He is used sparingly in the film to advance the narrative. It’s good to see Jon Favreau back and he too is excellent as always. Zendaya also does a surprisingly nice job in a limited role.

The script and narrative is where the film really excels. In the screenplay credits, 6 different inviduals are credited and that would normally be a surefire sign of there being too many cooks in the kitchen but the script is surprisingly pretty much perfect. Narratively, the film is strong and the film’s pace is also perfectly judged and it didn’t feel as if the film was 133 minutes at all.

If there’s one nitpick I have with the film, it is the directing. Although Jon Watts has successfully implemented his John Hughes vision for the film, I don’t feel we get enough of Watts’ characteristics dripped into the film. We don’t really get the gritty, small-scale traits that he used in ‘Cop Car’ and this links back to my overarching argument for the entire Marvel canon that a lot of the film feels as if they don’t have a director’s stamp. This is a big problem I have with Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America films for example despite however well received they are, it just feels as if the film was made by a Marvel executive with not a lot of room for a singular vision. At least though, it pays off in this film.

The score by Michael Giacchino is at times, very good if not a little derivative of some of his previous works. It’s a shame it doesn’t soar as it had the potential to do particularly after his great work on ‘Doctor Strange‘ last year. However, looking at his filmography this Summer (of which there is a lot of), he clearly has put the work into ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ as he does some of his best work there. Here, Giacchino is servicable with a couple of high moments. The cinematography by Salvatore Totino is also serviceable and fairly safe, there’s nothing really overly risque with what he does.

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is just the welcome surprise I needed and for a film that perhaps didn’t receive the best marketing, it’s a blessing that the film is as good as it is. It proves why this needed to be made despite there already being an abundance of different Spider-Man films over the past fifteen years. With the exception of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2’, 2017 has been a very strong year for comic-book films – ‘Logan‘, ‘Wonder Woman‘ and now this and with both ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Justice League’ still to come, it shows there is plenty of new life left in the comic-book genre if it is left in the right hands.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

It Comes At Night (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Riley Keough
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 91 mins

‘It Comes At Night’ is the new film by rising star Trey Edward Shults who helmed 2015’s critically acclaimed ‘Krisha’. I must admit I hadn’t heard of this individual before until I saw the strong reviews his latest feature has received, a psychological horror-cum-thriller. The other draw to this film was the fact that Joel Edgerton was starring in it who is in my opinion, a multi-talented in many regards from acting to directing and did a sterling job of 2015’s ‘The Gift’, my second favourite film that year. Edgerton executive produces this feature. ‘It Comes At Night’ tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world after a virus has wiped out a lot of humanity and we follow a family played by Joel Edgerton as the father, Carmen Ejogo as the mother and Kelvin Harrison Jr as the son. We follow their life and the strange goings-on that they encounter until they one day stumble upon an individual who is the father of another family that are desperately looking for sanctuary. It all sounds very intriguing but with a mixed audience reception, is this purely a film for the critics?

I found a lot to like in Trey Edward Shults’ ‘It Comes At Night’ and Shults for much of the film, sustains a very intense, depressing, dour and volatile atmosphere. The performances across the board are great, with the standout being Joel Edgerton. It leaves a lot of plot points to audience imagination (possibly too much) but I was gripped pretty much throughout. I can see why the audience reception has been decidedly mixed – this film has been marketed very differently to the film that we actually get and it’s a very similar situation to what happened with last year’s ‘The Witch’ which was similarly marketed as an out-and-out horror film but ended up being more of an atmospheric burn. The film is complimented by an equally moody score and cinematogaphy. It’s not without fault though – it doesn’t quite manage to sustain its energy throughout its entire run time and without spoilers, I thought Shults left a little too much narrative to audience interpretation.

‘It Comes At Night’ is anchored by strong and genuine performances – Joel Edgerton knocks it out of the park as the overly protective father who will do anything to keep his family from harm’s way. There are many sequences where Edgerton faces moral challenges and I could really put myself in his character’s shoes. The rest of the cast are also strong and I hope this film puts a number of these cast members onto the map. The score by Brian McOmber is fantastic and endlessly atmospheric and really compliments the mood Shults tries to achieve with this film. The cinematography by Drew Daniels is equally effective and Daniels revels in what is shown to the audience and what is not constantly questioning what has been portrayed on-screen. There are a few genuinely shocking images that really contribute to the film’s uncomfortable tone.

And Shults generally does a great job at this and there were many moments where I felt genuinely uncomfortable and on-edge – I felt as if I needed to take a shower after this film due to its contagious atmosphere. The film left me thinking for a whie after it had finished over what I had just watched and as I tried to piece the plot together. This is also the film’s downfall however as well. Dream sequences are plentiful in this film and I think Shults overdoes it a bit to the point of the plot being a little incoherent which is what he appears to go for but it overwhelms the mystery a little. In a couple of interviews, Shults purposely states that he wanted to leave the ending amiguous but I feel the film could have been a little more effective if he had revealed a couple of plot points in order to care more for the film. Shults crosses a threshold where he leaves things to imagination for the sake of it and I felt I would have cared more for the characters and the situation that they had found themselves in if there was a little more clarity. What made ‘The Witch’ (for me, its obvious comparative film) so enthralling was it managed to find the perfect balance between revealing and witholding information, this I think does more of the latter to the point of it nearly being implausible and inconsequential.

I applaud ‘It Comes At Night’ for not following the tried-and-tested formula and for it asking many questions of what it aims to be for a mature audience. It’s films like this that we don’t get very often and that separate this from all the big-budget fare. It’s a film that requires multiple rewatches and there’s a very high possibility of myself being able to raise my rating of it. Although impressive on first viewing, I think Shults doesn’t quite reach greatness with the ratio of what to reveal and what to withold to audiences. Too much of the film is left ambiguous that there isn’t all that many strings to clutch on but hopefully on further viewings, the film becomes a little more clear.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Baby Driver (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bern
thal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 113 mins

‘Baby Driver’ is the new film by Edgar Wright, one of my favourite directors who was behind ‘The Blood and Ice-Cream Trilogy’ (or also known as ‘The Cornetto Trilogy’). Wright famously departed from ‘Ant-Man‘ when he had creative differences with Marvel and instead chose to work on this original piece. ‘Baby Driver’ tells the story of self-titled Baby, a young getaway driver played by Ansel Elgort who has been forced into working for Kevin Spacey’s intimidating crime boss. After a car accident when he was younger, Baby suffers from severe tinnitus so he constantly listens to music to drown out the noise, the backdrop to which the film is set to. Wright’s car-chase / musical concept is certainly a ballsy idea and the film is not too dissimilar from films such as ‘The Blues Brothers’  for example and it’s a been a very long time since a film of this ilk has been made. Wright has assembled a strong cast comprising of Elgort and Spacey but also Lily James, who serves as Baby’s love interest who also shares a passion for music, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal and Eiza González as part of Spacey’s crime crew.

‘Baby Driver’ is an utterly infectious film that is meticulously directed by Edgar Wright and is expertly paced – the film left me giddy with excitement! The action sequences are choreographed to a tee with several heart-pounding yet knowingly absurd car chases that put franchises such as ‘Fast and Furious’ to shame for managing to craft something far more engaging at a fraction of the budget. It is superbly acted by the cast all-round and Wright has his fingerprints all over this – this is very much an Edgar Wright film through and through.

I owe an apology to Ansel Elgort – he’s played in some terrible films such as the ‘Divergent’ franchise but ‘Baby Driver’ feels as though this is the role he was born to play. Elgort seems to be having a lot of fun here too and manages to pull of the quiet yet skilful personality that Baby has. Lily James is also great here and Jon Hamm hopefully receives a revitilisation of his career. Kevin Spacey is gleefuly maniacal as the feared crime boss who is well developed as the film plays its course. Perhaps someone who will be overlooked but deserves a big mention in CJ Jones who plays Baby’s deaf foster father who is actually deaf in real life but does a great job and balances comedy with heart.

Music is a huge part in the film and the entire film is choreographed so well to the well-chosen playlist Edgar Wright has carefully selected. The film pretty much is a musical of sorts and Wright’s visual and editing style fit very naturally. Steven Price’s original score is minimalistic but works in the short capacity it has in the film. Bill Pope’s cinematography also manages to wonderfully capture the action being portrayed on-screen and the film almost has a graphic novel feel at times. Pope shoots the car chase sequences with ease and offers alternative angles to ones you would normally expect.

It is so refreshing to see Edgar Wright back in the game after battling with ‘Ant-Man’ and instead of finding a similar big-budget project, has kept things small. ‘Baby Driver’ is a highly original work that is deserving of the heavy praise it is recieving and Wright has nothing to worry about career-wise if he can continue to make projects like this with the same amount of craft and skill. It features some great performances and I genuinely cared for all the characters, even antagonistic ones and the action sequences are breathtaking to behold. It is one of the best films of the year and I urge you to see it on the biggest screen you can!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

 

 

The Mummy (Review)

Film Title: The Mummy

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 110 mins

‘The Mummy’, a timeless Universal monsters property with Tom Cruise. Yes, such a film actually exists and this pairing of material and action star really doesn’t fit together. This rendition of ‘The Mummy’ is envisaged as the first part of a cinematic universe of Universal Monsters titled ‘Dark Universe’ with many more entries from other lucrative horror icons yet to come. Originally, the film that was meant to kick this cinematic universe off was 2014’s ‘Dracula Untold’ but it recieved poor reviews and has pretty much been wiped from existence. In the director’s chair here is Alex Kurtzman for which this is a big leap from him after having directed one feature which was 2012’s ‘People Like Us’ but has a been big contributor in producing and screenwrtiting for some big films such as the first two ‘Transformers’ films and the first two ‘Star Trek’ reboots. Again, this material seems a poor match for Kurtzman. Kurtzman updates this horror material by setting the film in London and having the titular villain as an ancient female princess who brings death and destruction once she has been awoken. The film also tries to interweave this material and set itself up for future installments by including Russell Crowe who portrays Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde, a scientist who leads a an organization called Prodigium, dedicated to researching and containing these classic monsters. Think of him as a Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe like-character for example. This is a very ambitious film with a strange mix of talent that needs to balance being a quality film first and foremost to entice filmgoers and then perhaps including some subtle nods towards future installments to further spark interest.

‘The Mummy’ woefully falls short of these promises. Kurtzman seems to have had a couple of good ideas but the way that this film has been put together is abominable. Tom Cruise is also woeful in a role he should never have been cast in and the film is not scary in the slightest and any attempts the film makes at injecting humour are aggressively unfunny. It’s such a shame because some of the titles we have been promised in the future have the potential to be great but if they’re going to be in the vein of this, the Dark Universe could be over before it’s even started. Whilst ‘Dracula Untold’ was forcefully pushed aside and despite that also being a disappointing film, it is a far more enriching experience than this film is. It doesn’t quite achieve a 1-star rating as there are a couple of nicely choreographed action sequences and the film does have a few hints of momentum in its mid-section but the film constantly stumbles and falls apart. At times, the film is even laughable which is always a poor sign. 

The performances in this film, bar one exception, are atrocious. As mentioned, Tom Cruise did himself no favours by associating himself with this project and whilst I must admit, I am not normally a fan, here he really shows why I have a low opinion of him. Cruise is famously known to get extremely involved with his projects and particularly working with a largely inexperienced director has exacerbated the problem. There are no stakes in this film with his character and no emotional connection – he is just bland, humourless and annoying. Annabelle Wallis is also poor in the film, her main purpose for existing in it purely for exposition. Russell Crowe hams it up as Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde and his big scene is bordering on pantomime-like but he too largely is in the film to tell the audience the story. Perhaps most offensive is Jake Johnson’s performance as Tom Cruise’ corporal ally who has a recurring role in the film with some equally dodgy visuals. The only cast member who has any sense of credibility here is Sofia Boutella who gives it her all as the titular Mummy and despite her character being poorly written, does a solid job.

It is genuinely shocking how many of the typical traps a film can have in a cinematic universe ‘The Mummy’ falls into. Although Marvel films are generally of good quality, it’s quite easy to point fingers at the films which are too focussed on setting up future installments whilst forgetting that the film needs to stand alone in its own right (I’m looking right at you ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron‘!). The other problem is failing to have a director’s stamp and Kurtzman’s direction just feels as if he’s a studio executive working through a checklist. At least, the next entry in this franchise is to be directed by Bill Condon, more of an auetur director so that film should at least avoid this problem.

Although it is a matter of personal taste, in my opinion if you have a score by Brian Tyler, you’re not doing yourself any favours and that is largely true here too. His music is just not memorable and does not fit the events that are being portrayed on-screen. Please, Hollywood, stop hiring him! The cinematography by Ben Seresin is serviceable and there a couple of nice shots and particularly the aircraft crash sequence which has been heavily shown in the trailers is well-captured.

It’s such a shame that ‘The Mummy’ is as big a let-down as it is and my low expectations unfortunately turned out correct. The film is squandered by poor direction, a poor lead in Tom Cruise, mostly poor performances across the board, ropey visual effects, illogical pacing, aggressively unfunny humour and an uninspired score to name just a few of its problems. Kurtzman, in his response to the negative reception of his film of course uses the age-old excuse of “it’s a film for the fans.” Well, if even the so-called ‘fans’ aren’t particularly warm to the film, the guy must be deluded. Hopefully the quality of this franchise improves with Bill Condon’s 2019 film, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Wonder Woman (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 141 mins

‘Wonder Woman’ is the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe and a true test for the future of this cinematic universe. DC suffered a one-two punch last year with both ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘ and ‘Suicide Squad‘ being critically mauled and ‘Man of Steel’ also dividing opinion in 2013. I really enjoyed BvS and it was unfortunate that ‘Suicide Squad’ didn’t live up to expectations due to the studio seemingly panicking at the turgid reviews BvS recieved and compromising David Ayer’s vision. ‘Wonder Woman’ has been of particular interest in its development as first of all, it’s our first proper look at this iconic female superhero and also it is directed by Patty Jenkins who seems to be a great match for the material and gives the impression that she genuinely cares for this character. Gal Gadot made a very good impression in a small role in BvS last year so if her character can be anywhere near as good as in that film, this is on the right course. Jenkins has assembled a strong cast comprising of Chris Pine as the male interest for Wonder Woman, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen and also screen thespians such as David Thewlis. This is a crucial film for the DCEU for it to retain any credibility – it needs to have a hit on its hands or this cinematic universe could very well crumble and hopes for ‘Justice League’ with Zack Snyder in the director’s chair aren’t exactly high.

‘Wonder Woman’ is immensely enjoyable for a long strength of its lengthy runtime, has a lot of heart and is surprisingly quite human for a comic-book film. Action sequences are used quite sparingly in this film, Jenkins really puts these characters at the forefront and develops them strongly. The performances, pretty much across the board, are excellent and the film looks great visually. Unfortunately, it does fall into the trap of stumbling in its final act where it becomes quite formulaic and contrived but until this point, it is a very fine film and definitely the strongest DCEU film so far.

The performances pretty much across this board in this film are universally great and whatever worries people initially had over Gal Gadot’s casting is more than put to rest. Gadot manages to balance the naivety, innocence and ferociousness of her character perfectly and is very charismatic. She was great in last year’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and this just further makes her case. Chris Pine, an actor who I don’t normally like, is also great in this and is really elevating himself lately with this and ‘Hell or High Water‘ which he was also superb in. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry is excellent and there are a couple of scenes which are note-perfect with their interactions. The ever-dependable David Thewlis puts in a great performance as does Elena Anaya’s villain, Doctor Poison who is surprisingly fairly subtle at times – I was a little worried she would be quite hammy in this as she can be in the past. The only exception is Danny Huston as villain General Ludendorff who has simply been miscast and his performance often verges on pantomime-like.

Patty Jenkins’ direction is outstanding and she clearly has a lot of respect for the character. It’s also refreshing that tonally, the film is quite neutral and I was worried that she would try and overemphasise the point that she was a female director directing a female star. The film closely resembles Richard Donner’s 1978 ‘Superman’ in tone and the initially intimidating 141 minute run time flies by. Unfortunately, Jenkins can’t quite escape convention in the film’s climax where it does get a little boring with the overused villain showdown but not to the extent of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘ which really hurt that film.

Rupert Gregson-William’s score is unfortunately not all that memorable but it is at least good to see him retain some continunity by reusing Wonder Woman’s theme throughout the film. Matthew Jensen’s cinematography is assured and particularly in the first act, manages to get some really vibrant shots on Themiscyria.

Overall, ‘Wonder Woman’ is a step in the right direction for the DCEU and for the most part, it is refreshing to see good character development and chemistry in a behemoth such as this. This is the best film in the DCEU so far and firmly puts them in competition with Marvel even though I did like ‘Batman v Superman’ last year and I will always defend David Ayer for his initial vision of ‘Suicide Squad’ before it got so brutally butchered. I just hope Zack Snyder’s upcoming ‘Justice League’ doesn’t revert the DCEU back to negativity but for now at least, this is a strong superhero film that is for the most part, a strong piece of work bar the conventional ending.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Review)

salazar-1

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally, David Wenham, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 129 mins

‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge’ (or in many other territories named ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’) is the fifth installment in this titular franchise. After poor reception to ‘On Stranger Tides’, I’m surprised this film was even made at all as it wasn’t exactly asked for but it did manage to gross upwards of a billion dollars. I’ve had mixed feelings on this series – I enjoyed the first film and the second film a lot more. I hated ‘At World’s End’ and I thought ‘On Stranger Tides’ was rather insubstantial. I was a lot more hopeful of this film due to the talent involved with Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg, the directors of ‘Kon-Tiki’ being at the forefront of this film. The visual effects have looked spectacular from the trailers and the film also has assembled a pretty strong cast with newcomers Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario and Javier Bardem as the titular villain. This time, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow needs to search for the Trident of Poseidon whilst being pursued by the undead crew of a ship lead by the titular Captain Salazar. Can this film redeem the last two disappointing entries or is this further proof that this franchise needs to stop?

Unfortunately, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge’ is more of the same – it’s a slight improvement over ‘On Stranger Tides’ and a lot better than ‘At World’s End’ but it still feels unnecessay, insubstantial and a cash grab to try and reinvigorate the series. What’s even more disappointing is how little of a director’s stamp there is here by Rønning and Sandberg – the film feels as if it was made by studio executives which is such a shame considering how talented this duo are. Other than for a short while in the middle section, the film completely lacks any energy and it feels far longer than the 129 minute run time than it is. It’s not a terrible film and it does have a couple of redeeming features to it but this is definitely a film to skip if you’ve got a choice this Summer. Of course, the visuals here are excellent but the action sequences don’t really have any flow to them and it’s hard to care for any of the characters.

Leading onto the performances, this is a real sore point for the film other than two exceptions. Gone are the days where Johnny Depp recieved an Oscar nomination for his performance as Jack Sparrow, Sparrow here is just an annoying drunkard who lacks all the charisma of this character in the first films. I understand Depp went through a hard time with his personal life and apparently the directors had to work around Depp’s schedule but frankly, why bother when this is the performance you get? Johnny Depp is generally a wonderful actor and recently put in a wonderful performance in ‘Black Mass‘ but he is unfortunately completely wasted here. Geoffrey Rush also phones it in but he has slightly more of an excuse to. Brenton Thwaites is a safe choice to play Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in previous films. Bloom and Knightley also return in this film for a small role but they certainly haven’t been missed. Who does fare well is first of all, Javier Bardem as the villain who as usual is endlessly charismatic and menacing. The visuals used for his appearance are stunning and Bardem does his best with the material given. Kaya Scodelario also stands out as Carina Smyth, an astronomer who helps Sparrow and Turner locate the Trident, the MacGuffin of the film and is endlessly more charismatic than Keira Knightley’s or Penelope Cruz’s female characters of the previous films.

The main problem with the film is for a lot of it, it lacks energy or any sense of pace and I was frequently bored by it. This should be a swashbuckling ride with kinetic action sequences. The film is actually the shortest installment by quite a margin but felt a lot longer than it is. There is a short section in the middle which is quite well-paced coupled with fantastic visual effects but this is unfortunately short-lived. Furthermore, there are so many efforts to have some comedic relief which completely fall flat as the film never earns it. The script is woeful – it is all over the place and feels like a ‘Carry On’ film script at times, only a bad one.

The score departs from Hans Zimmer now to Geoff Zannelli who is part of his production group anyway and it is a nice blend between old and new themes but nothing is particularly memorable. Paul Cameron’s cinematography is the best of the series and there are many jawdropping shots, particularly a memorable chase between a boat and an island.

Overall, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge’ is by no means, the worst of the series but it never reaches the heights of the first two films. The script is poor, it lacks energy and the performances mostly are flat. It’s also a shame that the film had the potential to be great with its choice of directors but there is a complete lack of any director’s stamp. What’s worrying is the film leaves prospects of a sequel fully open but we’ll have to see how much money this film makes first. But it is at least a step-up quality-wise from ‘At World’s End’ and ‘On Stranger Tides’.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 126 mins

‘King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword’ is the new Guy Ritchie film and is the proposed first film in a six film series. That’s certainly an ambitious end goal for a single film! I have been a big fan of Guy Ritchie in the past, particularly for his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films which both are pretty much perfect. I wasn’t a fan of ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ and his other films have been hit-and-miss but when Ritchie is on form, he is excellent. ‘King Arthur’ has had quite a turbulent time even making it to a cinema with multiple delays and reshoots. The marketing for this film has also not been impressive in the slightest – in my opinion, the film looks woeful from its trailers. But Guy Ritchie, coupled with a strong cast is what has kept my interest invested and I was hoping that the film would be better than trailers had suggested. Coupled with the poor reviews, things didn’t look too good.

‘King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword’ is surprisingly enjoyable and well-directed and particularly for its first half, extremely entertaining and innovative. However, it does get increasingly conventional in its second half and loses steam in the ending where it feels too much like a computer game. That said, I was never bored by it and admired what Ritchie was trying to do – pretty much a tongue-in-cheek gangster flick in the vein of ‘Snatch’ in Arthurian times. There are many standout sequences in the film and I particularly enjoyed the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ style slow-motion sequences with characters determining how they are going to win a fight. Daniel Pemberton’s score is simply superb and John Mathieson’s cinematography is also impressive.

The performances from the cast all-round are generally sound and it’s easy to see that they’re all having fun being in the film. Charlie Hunnam is great as the titular character and is very tongue-in-cheek and manages to inhabit the quasi-gangster treatment of this iconic character. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen are also strong here and provide a lot of comic relief and Jude Law, although not given all that much development, clearly looks like he’s having fun. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast aren’t given all that much to do, particularly Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, who is highly billed in the cast as the Mage who helps Arthur but fails to make a big enough impression.

The story is ok – it’s a fairly linear set out but it’s what Guy Ritchie does with the material which is impressive. As mentioned, I loved the intercutting sequences where Ritchie edits together a couple of different scenes together to bestow a sense of perspective. The film does begin to drag towards its end and becomes increasingly more derivative and conventional but there are still a few sequences peppered throughout that second half that are still great fun.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is outstanding and one of the best of the year so far. It is the glue that holds this film together and it is very innovative and memorable. I have been very critical of him in the past but ‘Steve Jobs‘ was a step in the right direction and this is his career best thus far. Fresh off from ‘Logan’, John Mathieson’s cinematography is also great here and there are a couple of awe-inspiring shots that really looked great on the big screen.

Overall, I can understand why ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ has recieved the reception it has but this wasn’t the experience that I had. I found it to be highly entertaining, creatively directed by Guy Ritchie and everyone seems to be having a fun time doing this role. No, it doesn’t particularly have much substance storywise but this is a big, brash, boisterous behemoth that wears its pride on its sleeve. It’s far better than a lot of the other Summer blockbusters so far and I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s actually good as I was initially very trepidatious of the quality of the film. I’d be very happy to watch five more but I highly doubt that will happen!

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Alien: Covenant (Review)

xenomorph-in-alien-covenant

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, 
Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 122 mins

‘Alien: Covenant’ is the hotly anticipated sequel to ‘Prometheus’, a film that seemed to have gone from most anticipated of its respective year to most disappointing overnight. Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ prequel proved wildly divisive amongst critics and audiences alike. I found it to be a deeply philosophical and fascinating watch and it contains some great performances from its cast. ‘Alien: Covenant’ has sounded as if it is the perfect sequel since its development from its fascinating concept of the crew being formed of couples and also the continuation of the storyline from ‘Prometheus’. The trailers have also been promising and the cast that Scott has assembled is very strong with new additions featuring the likes of Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demian Bichir to name but a few.

‘Alien: Covenant’ is a mixed bag – at times, it is excellent and successfully builds on the mythology outlined by ‘Prometheus’ but it is equally painfully derivative to the point of almost insulting its predecessors. The film is clearly divided into three sections – its first and last a retread of ‘Alien’ only updated for 2017 but its mid-section is the sequel that I really wanted. That’s not to say there is nothing at all of value in its first and last third but these are where the majority of the problems that I had with the film are based. On the plus side, Scott manages to sustain tension throughout the film and visually, there are some stunning set pieces and cinematography.

The film contains two wonderful performances, one from Michael Fassbender whose enigmatic android, David and updated model, Walter, really get some character development. Fassbender pulls off the dual role sublimely and his character is one of the very best parts of the film – to go any further into detail would be to go into spoiler territory. The other standout is Danny McBride who, in a more serious role compared to the rest of his back catalogue, does a great job. Both actors really elevate this material. The rest of the cast are sound but unfortunately aren’t given all that much to do. Katherine Waterston, unfortunately, is a carbon copy of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and the rest of the cast just aren’t given all that much to do.

Story-wise, there are parts of this film that rank right up there with the best films in the series and Scott progressively manages to further the world established with ‘Prometheus’. It is a dark, damp middle section that kept me on the edge of my seat and the concepts that are introduced left me thinking for a while after leaving the cinema. This gem though is buried in a film either end of it that is very derivative. We aren’t given much time to get to know the characters before all hell ensues at the beginning, which is a shame when you have such a high pedigree of talent. The ending of the film is very interesting but the obligatory final battle is a complete rehash of ‘Alien’, albeit not as scary or as tension-filled. It also forms a massive gap in the film’s logic of its story but to go into detail would be to spoil the film. And that’s another problem I have with the film – Scott wanted to go back to the horror roots of the original but the film isn’t particularly scary partly because Scott never earns it. How are we supposed to be frightened in a situation where we cannot empathise with the characters or if you’re going to recycle horror tropes from far better films?! The tension is there but there isn’t all that much bite.

I was really excited when it was revealed that Jed Kurzel would be scoring this film, one of the best composers working in the film industry today. Kurzel’s score at times, soars, but for a lot if it, it unfortunately just isn’t that particularly memorable – he had the potential to knock this film out of the park! Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is as usual, ace and there are some stunning shots in this film and he really makes the most of the set pieces that he can do with.

‘Alien: Covenant’ is unfortunately a bit of a disappointment considering the potential it had and based on the fact that I really liked ‘Prometheus’. ‘Alien: Covenant’ is a film though that will need to be rewatched because I think there is some further substance which wasn’t as apparent on first watch and also as its middle section really is fantastic. Fassbender and McBride are excellent here and when the film finds its footing, it is mesmerising but there is unfortunately, there is a lot of baggage in this film that doesn’t need to be here and it’s a shame it is so derivative in parts. It almost goes to the extent of being a parody which is always dangerous territory. I am still totally invested in this narrative that Scott has crafted and would still eagerly await a sequel but ‘Alien: Covenant’ could have been so much more.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)