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

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⭐⭐ (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 but 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)

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⭐⭐⭐ (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)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 136 mins

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is the hotly anticipated sequel to the surprise hit that was 2014’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. James Gunn returns in the director’s chair and as an individual, really is at the forefront of these films, defying expectations from people who were initially critical of this concept. Gunn’s first installment generally received very positive reviews and is one of my favourite entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. The same cast return and Gunn has also recruited a couple of new names into this universe perhaps most impressively Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, the latter of whom I am a big fan of. Gunn is a lot more involved in this film, solely taking credit for the script which he co-wrote with Nicole Perlman last time. The intial trailers for this film have looked promising and Gunn doesn’t seem to have made a straight rehash of the first film, instead looking to take it in a refreshing direction. Does Gunn manage to strike gold twice?

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is unevenly paced and overstuffed but the amount of heart it has allows it to just about be successful. Gunn hasn’t made your typical sequel but the story he chooses to tell is all over the place and at times, incoherent. The film retains much of the heart the first film had and this is what allows the film to work better than a film such as ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ or ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ which were lunk-headed, equally overstuffed and had zero heart. Gunn manages to further expand the mythology of this sub-universe of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Guardians of the Galaxy are very much an important and established strand of this behemoth. I just wish the film was better and although the film has recieved positive reviews generally, many people are either very positive or negative. It is only because of the characters and the amount of attention invested in them that I can just about push this film into a 3-star rating.

The cast are as expected, very good and there are a lot of surprises that Gunn has had up his sleeve with regards to them. The main cast – Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel all fare well with perhaps Cooper receiving the most development in his character. Michael Rooker’s Yondu is surprisingly the standout of the entire film and I really felt for his character as the film progressed with his story arc. Sean Gunn is also surprisingly strong in this film as well as Yondu’s first mate, Kraglin. Kurt Russell doesn’t do much to advance his career with this film and he isn’t as nuanced as he has been in a couple of his recent projects but he’s decent enough. Karen Gillan and Elizabeth Debicki are perhaps the weakest links and aren’t given all that much to do.

I admire Gunn for his ambition to take the series in a different direction even if, in my opinion, the film didn’t really gel with me. Unfortunately, it follows recent comic-book trends of being overlong, overstuffed and shockingly at times, boring. The film already has an intimidating run time of 136 minutes  but I could easily have cut the film down to just below the 2 hour mark by removing a plot thread that didn’t bare that much importance in the film. The pacing is all over the place and the film hasn’t really been put together in a coherent manner with some of the changes in scene feeling really choppy. I’ve complained in the past of the final battles being boring and contrived and I had a big problem with this film’s climax too, perhaps the weakest part of the film. It is only because the film manages to redeem itself after this battle that I didn’t come out of the film annoyed.

Music plays a big part in these films with Gunn assembling a soundtrack full of memorable pop hits, just as he did with the first film. It’s refreshing to see Gunn not go for the most obvious hits but I think music is rather overplayed in this film. As for Tyler Bates’ score, it is unfortunately not memorable in the slightest and very uninspired. Henry Braham’s cinematography is very colourful and vibrant – the film has a distinctive colour palette compared to the first film.

Overall, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’ is decent in its own right but fails to reach the heights of the first film. It is overstuffed and clumsily paced but the film’s heart makes the film worthwhile enough. It puts this strand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an interesting position for the future and it’ll be interesting to see how these characters mesh with others in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. It is one of the lesser entries in the franchise thus far but in its own right, it’s still fun enough. However for a comic-book film, you can do a lot better than this year with ‘Logan’ and ‘Wonder Woman’.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Handmaiden (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Park Chan-Wook
Starring: Kim Min-Hee, Kim Tae-Ri, Ha Jung-Woo, Cho Jin-Woong
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 145 mins

‘The Handmaiden’ is the new film by Korean director, Park Chan-Wook, of whom I am a big fan of. Most notably, he was responsible for the original ‘Oldboy’ (although I did quite enjoy the remake by Spike Lee too) and ‘Stoker’, his English-language debut. Park Chan-Wook goes back to his roots with ‘The Handmaiden’ which is an adaptation of Sarah Water’s Victorian crime novel ‘Fingersmith’, only it has been relocated to the backdrop of the Japanese occupation of Korea. It tells the story of Sook-hee who is recruited by Count Fujiwara to be the handmaiden of a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko. Fujiwara plans to marry her and then send her to an asylum in order to gain her inheritance. However, there are some complications to this plan. The Handmaiden’ originally was released at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and received very positive reviews. It has been on my radar ever since then and I am so pleased that it has finally received a UK release. It has taken a long enough time!

‘The Handmaiden’ is Park Chan-Wook at his best – it’s nearly perfect. It has a labyrinthine plot that is interwoven intricately and the characters are developed in an extremely assured manner. It kept me gripped throughout and as the film continues to get more nuts, I was really on board with it. What’s also impressive is that it’s not quite as blatantly violent as some of Park Chan-Wook’s films have been in the past, instead choosing to focus on story. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of brutal, sadistic violence in this film but it is used sparingly. Visually, the film is beautiful to look at – Chung Chung-Hoon’s cinematography is wonderful and there are plenty of scenery chewing shots.

The performances in this film are utterly superb and hopefully this cast will go on to have strong careers. All of the performances are very layered and the characters that are portrayed at the start of the film are not who we think they are come the end. Kim Tae-Ri as Sook-hee perhaps fares the best out of the leading characters and the film is largely portrayed through her perspective. She manages to convey the mischievousness and self-awareness her character has on this plot but like Lady Hideko, Sook-hee is also naive and child-like in nature.  Kim Min-Hee and Ha Jung-Woo as Lady Hideko and Count Fujiwara are both excellent as well, their characters also going through various transformations in nature. Cho Jin-Woong as Uncle Kouzuki, a character who controls virtually all aspects of Hideko’s life is excellent in a supporting role, a sinister and serpent-like character who becomes more and more prominent as the narrative ensues.

The score by Cho Young-wuk is fitting and compliments the film very well. In an ideal world, I wish Clint Mansell would have been collaborated with Park Chan-Wook again after his sterling work on ‘Stoker’ but the score that we do get is still strong with some memorable themes. The cinematography by Chung Chung-Hoon is where the film marvels visually. He knows when to hang onto a shot and also typical camera angles that you would expect to be implemented do not happen – it is pure eye candy!

Park Chan-Wook continues to cement himself as one of the strongest directors of our time and I’m very pleased ‘The Handmaiden’ has seen the light of day in the UK. It is one of the best films of the year so far and it juggles a labyrinthine plot with visual ecstasy and very strong performances. It kept me gripped throughout its intimidating 145 minute run time and I didn’t want it to end. It left me in a trance and kept me thinking about this plot for quite a while. It isn’t playing in a lot of cinemas but this is a film I urge you to seek out  – it is outstanding.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Get Out (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Stephen Root, LaKeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 103 mins

‘Get Out’ is Jordan Peele’s (one half of comedy duo ‘Key and Peele) directorial debut. It is a comedy-horror about a couple, Chris Walker (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who embark on a weekend trip to Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). Chris is worried that they won’t be accept him due to his African-American heritage. Whilst this initially does not appear to be an issue, there is a constant ominous feeling that builds throughout the film that something isn’t right, ultimately developing into a crescendo of tension.

‘Get Out’ is an innovative and intelligent comedy-horror that is meticulously crafted and endlessly cine-literate. The concept behind this film is very original and is highly critical and satirical of the post-Obama presidency. Rose’s father even states in a recurring line that he “would have nominated Obama for a third term.” Its final third is particularly impressive as the narrative starts to gradually unravel, culminating in a collection of shocking sequences. It also features an interesting score by Michael Abels that is an eclectic mix of neck-prickling strings and melodic themes. The cinematography by Tony Oliver is also thoughtful and well-judged. 

The film is not without flaws though. Several scenes prior to the big reveal are quite unnecessary and if this film wasn’t in the hands of such a talented director, it is very possible that the film could have fallen apart. Also, there is nothing particularly noteworthy with the performances – the cast are competent but nothing more. 

‘Get Out’ is proof that the horror genre is once again at a high and it can be added to a growing list of sophisticated and atmospheric horror films that have been released over the last couple of years. If Peele continues to come up with equally ambitious ideas, he will go far in the film industry. 

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Kong: Skull Island (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Wingham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 118 mins

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is the latest iteration of this classic monster character, a staple of cinema since 1933. The character was last seen in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake which I generally really liked but it was very self-indulgent clocking in at a minute shy of 3 hours when it really didn’t need to be. Over the years, with the introduction of cinematic universes such as Marvel and DC, Warner Bros are having a go at creating what has been dubbed a ‘MonsterVerse’, films centering on classical monsters such as King Kong, Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is the second entry in this franchise after Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film ‘Godzilla’ which I had mixed feelings about – it had a great first half but completely fell apart in its second. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is directed by up-and-coming director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who made his directorial debut with 2013’s ‘The Kings of Summer’. This is not a new thing in Hollywood hiring younger directors and throwing them straight in the deep end – sometimes this has worked, sometimes it hasn’t. Vogt-Roberts has assembled what is perhaps the best cast for any film this year containing Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly to name a few. This isn’t just a remake of the typical King Kong narrative again for the sake of setting up a context in the MonsterVerse – Vogt-Roberts has been inspired by the Vietnam War and uses this as a backdrop for the film as a team of scientists and Vietnam War veterans set foot on Skull Island. Initial trailers have looked very promising for this film, particularly the cinematography by one of my favourite DOP’s, Larry Fong, who did such an excellent job on last year’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘ and with a cast this good, it’s very hard for this behemoth to fail.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is rather simplistic and very creaky in the script department but it is an entertaining, unashamed film that is visually mesmerising. Vogt-Roberts has proved himself here and really puts his own stamp on the material. There are so many memorable visual shots in this film and it looks as if he has really spent a long time trying to put the film together considering every frame what works and what doesn’t. What is also impressive is that although the film manages to set itself up in a wider universe, it doesn’t drill this message in throughout the entirety of the film and the film works very well as a standlone piece as it does in a franchise. This does mean however that the film is a bit style over substance as it is very simplistic story-wise and the human characters do get sidelined from the fantastical creatures and character development is a problem in this film.

The cast are generally sound and all put in a good effort with the material they have been given, but character development is paper-thin. The cast members who make the biggest impression are Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly who are probably the two characters who get developed the most. Samuel L. Jackson plays himself which is always entertaining and he gets a couple of good lines in the film and John C. Reilly provides comic relief and gets quite a nice character arc. Of the rest of the cast, Tom Hiddleston makes a good lead and he pretty much plays himself which is both a good and bad thing. Brie Larson isn’t given particularly much to do other than wince, grimace and act as a plot device. John Goodman is a great actor but his character is difficult to empathise with and we don’t really get to learn anything about him other than being a plot device.

The story is unfortunately paper-thin and the whole film is very predictable not leaving a lot to imagination. Watching this film was a bit of a strange experience because I would normally start to get annoyed with a film that does this but on the strength of the visuals and the fun factor, I was able to get on board with it and accept it for what it is. The script which is by Dan Gilroy (who directed the exemplary ‘Nightcrawler’), Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly is another kettle of fish and at times is pretty ear-gratingly bad. It’s a bit of a surprise particularly coming from Gilroy but it is in desperate need of a rewrite. Once the action begins to kick in however, it’s not too much of a problem but future screenwriters for these films need to do a better job as it’s just about excusable here.

The score by Henry Jackman is generally sound, memorable at times but a little annoying at others. The cinematography though by Larry Fong is simply outstanding and there are certain images that really stayed with me. Fong has been going from strength to strength and I think this is his best work. A lot of action films resort to quick cuts to obscure the action and this often makes what is happening on-screen quite toothless and redundant but this was most certainly not the case with ‘Kong: Skull Island’. Fong knows when to hang onto a shot and also typical camera angles that you would expect to be implemented do not happen. There is a scene early on in the film when Kong attacks a helicopter and the way that it has been shot is absolutely mesmerising as Fong chooses to shoot the action from some very creative angles and locations. It is pure eye candy and Fong continues the good work throughout the film and all of the action sequences are shot with clarity and creativity.

Overall, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is not quite the slam-dunk that I wanted it to be but once you look past the flaws and get on board with the film, it’s great fun and is never boring. The visual effects are simply outstanding and there are many moments of pure spectacle. It’s a shame that the human characters are generally paper-thin and the script is creaky but its sheer entertainment manage to make this a worthwhile watch and I’m very impressed to see Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ fingerprints all over it and how cine-literate it was. It’s a much more well-rounded film than ‘Godzilla’ which was a film of two halves and the quality of the cast alone despite the quality of the script manage to pull this film up. Compared to Peter Jackson’s vision, it’s a tricky one as that film had a lot more substance and better character development but Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ vision is a lot more efficient and visually pleasing. It’s overall a good film but some basic problems hold it back from being excellent. I’m interested to see the direction that this ‘MonsterVerse’ will go in and on the strength of Vogt-Roberts’ direction, I’d be very happy for him to get the gig for another film in this franchise or another big-budget blockbuster.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

In A Valley Of Violence (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Ti West
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, John Travolta 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 99 mins

‘In A Valley Of Violence’ is another entry in the Western genre which has been going from strength to strength as of late. Last year, there were four excellent Westerns which all featured in my Best of 2016 list – ‘The Hateful Eight‘, ‘The Revenant‘, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ and ‘Hell Or High Water’. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ didn’t really do much for me and although in the UK, ‘In A Valley Of Violence’ has recived a direct-to-DVD release, it was released in America theatrically last year. This film is directed by Ti West who is both an actor and director who has previously directed horror films such as ‘The Inkeepers’ and ‘The Sacrament’ who suddenly revealed his love for Westerns when he came along with this script to Ethan Hawke, who he wrote in the screenplay with the actor in mind for the character. Fortunately, it has all worked out and Ti West has been able to assemble a very impressive cast comprising of Hawke, but also James Ransone, Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga but perhaps most impressively, John Travolta who I haven’t seen in a film in quite a long time. Reviews for this film have been positive from both critics and audiences alike but it will take a lot for this film to reach the heights of other films I have been utterly transfixed by recently.

‘In A Valley Of Violence’ may be a little simplistic in the plot department but it is a supremely entertaining romp that features some great performances and is suitably graphic at times. It is competently directed by Ti West who has written a memorable script and everyone who is in this film both in front of and behind the camera seems to be having a really great time. Although it doesn’t try and reinvent the genre, from the opening moments when I got on board with it, I had a big smile on my face the whole way through and it’s one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen this year so far.

The performances are of course, great. I will watch Ethan Hawke in anything and here he doesn’t disappoint. The standouts here though are James Ransone who has been steadily building his career over the past couple of years from being a bit of a bit-part player to now getting meatier roles who has collaborated with Hawke a few times. Secondly, John Travolta who really chews the scenery here but he makes for a menacing foil to Hawke who is quite well developed.

Although the film more than makes up for it in the entertainment factor, the story is rather on the simplistic side. The film plays out pretty much the way you expect it to although it does take a few moments to take a breather and explore some of its themes in a little more detail. Compared to the other Westerns I have cited as fantastic from last year, this film doesn’t have as much meat-on-the-bone as they do but in terms of sheer enjoyment, it’s up there.

The score by Jeff Grace, who I am a big fan of, does not disappoint and he manages to craft many memorable cues here. The cinematography by Eric Robbins is serviceable and the film has a very authentic feel from past Westerns.

Although ‘In A Valley Of Violence’ doesn’t tread particularly new ground, it is always extremely entertaining and at times, enthralling and it is on the strength of the performances and script that the film succeeds in the way it does. I genuinely think this film could have done well enough on a theatrical release. Hawke and Travolta are box-office draws enough for it to make more money. Maybe it’s for the best however as Ti West can continue to make smaller budget films with great scripts. But I do hope enough people will be able to access it and watch it as it’s far better than a lot of the stuff that’s playing in cinemas at the moment. I really liked it and had a big grin on my face throughout the entirety of the film. This is another Western to add to the growing list of good one’s in the recent resurgence of this genre.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Excellent)

Logan (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 137 mins

‘Logan’ is the much-anticipated swansong to this iconic character that Hugh Jackman has made his own since the beginning of the ‘X-Men’ franchise. I am generally a big fan of this franchise and other than last year’s ‘X-Men: Apocalypse‘, have been entertained at the least by all of them and a couple of them, I have been well and truly wowed by. This is the third attempt Hugh Jackman has made with this character in a standalone film – Gavin Hood’s 2009 ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ is generally regarded as the worst entry in the franchise. Conversely, I really liked it. Then, James Magnold directed 2013’s ‘The Wolverine’ which until its last 15/20 minutes is a near-perfect film and is my favourite comic-book film behind Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’. My excitement when Mangold was revealed to be back in the director’s chair for ‘Logan’ was at an all-time high – he managed to craft a near-perfect iteration of this character before and has made some other great films such as the 2007 remake of Western ‘3:10 to Yuma’. After the success of ‘Deadpool‘, ‘Logan’ was revealed to be filming with a 15 / R rating in mind so for James Mangold who not only is a great director, but also being given the opportunity to make a film he really wants to make without the confines of certification is a dream come true. This is coupled with the fact that Jackman has vowed for this to be his last performance as the character and in the strong marketing leading up to the release of this film, it genuinely looks like Jackman and Mangold want to make the very best film they can. ‘Logan’ tells the story of a battered and ageing Wolverine having to care for Professor Xavier who then has to lend assistance to the protection of a young mutant, who seemingly bears many similarities to him whilst being pursued by sinister forces.

‘Logan’ is not just a fantastic superhero film, it is also a fantastic Western film that just happens to have a superhero starring in it. The Western genre is a genre that is close to my heart so not only is it refreshing to be given another ace Western but for it to be in the shape of ‘Logan’ is extremely impressive. The film is gritty, swearytastic and deliciously violent, fully earning the film a 15 / R rating. The performances by the cast all-round are great and Mangold directs this film with real flair. The film has a lot of emotional beats and really develops these characters that we have come to empathise with over the course of this franchise. The story, also manages to surprise with a couple of great twists and turns. I’m not sure if it’s better than ‘The Wolverine’ but it is definitely equal to it and both of Mangold’s efforts are the best comic-book films since ‘The Dark Knight’.

The performances really are superb and you can really sense the conviction in both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart and that they aren’t in it just for the cash. These are two individuals who genuinely seem to really want to pay respect to these characters. Jackman, with the elevated age rating is finally allowed to swear which helps establish a sense of realism in the film and when the action arrives, detail certainly is dwelled upon. This is truly nasty violence and isn’t just toothless violence that has a lack of purpose in a 12A / PG-13 film. ‘Logan’ is also Patrick Stewart’s best performance who really gets to display his acting chops as a dying Professor X who relies on Logan to live. His character is the lynchpin in harmony in Logan’s life and it’s in the films quieter moments, of which there a lot of, that really allow these characters a space to breathe. I must admit initially I was a little hesistant that both Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant had been cast and was worried they would be hammy and lack seriousness but both of them are fantastic. Merchant’s Caliban gets some great character moments early on in the film and although he’s not really a character that has played a big impact in these films beforehand (Caliban featured in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ played by Tómas Lemarquis) but it feels as if we have known him for a long time. Richard E. Grant doesn’t show up until late on into the film but his character is cold and calculated and when allowed to, sinister. Boyd Holbrook, as the main villain, is decent and is menacing enough at times but this film isn’t his to showcase his talent. Mangold took a big risk casting Dafne Keen as Laura / X-23 who Logan has to take under his wing but she is excellent and is a great physical actress, not getting a lot of lines in the script. One of the small problems I have with the film is a plot device in the final act where her character changes and it was quite a jarring scene initially but it was something that I managed to settle with. 

One of the most significant reasons as to why this film has had the wild success it has is beacuse of the decision for it to be rated 15 / R. This is something that ‘Deadpool’, although the film was lacking, managed to demonstrate and this has translated seamlessly to ‘Logan’. Violence and strong language are not just used for the sake of it, they are used to establish a more coherent realism and this helps to create a stronger versimilitude. It’s refreshing to see that these films have provided examples to others that you don’t just need to appeal to the widest common denominator to succeed and rake in as much cash as you can, the quality and integrity of the actual film itself is bigger at stake.

The score by Marco Beltrami is simply superb, Beltrami did a sterling job on ‘The Wolverine’ but here he experiments a little more, for example infusing elements of jazz or piano into its eclectic score. Originally when the film was announced, Cliff Martinez was meant to assume scoring duties which I feel would have been interesting and we’ll never know what he had up his sleeve but Beltrami is a reliable composer who collaborates with Mangold a lot and it’s impressive that he’s managed to craft a score this good whilst being hired very late into the game. The cinematography by John Mathieson is also superb and he doesn’t just settle for the quick-cuts so commonly used in these types of films – he knows when to hold onto a shot a little longer than is comfortable and the slow pace of editing helps create this Western feel.

I loved ‘Logan’ and I really felt a great sense of relief when the credits started to roll and the film was pretty much as great as I expected it to be. It’s too often where you get a film that really plays its card right with its marketing material only for the actual film to be underwhelming and I was also initially worried at the univeral acclaim that this film has recieved as my critical opinion can quite often wildly differ from the consensus if you a regular reader of this website. The entire cast and crew have done a beautiful job with this film and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine recieves a wonderful send-off – please don’t be tempted to be drawn back to this world, Hugh, you’ve ended it perfectly! ‘Logan’ is one of the best films of the year and one of the best comic-book films of all time – it is so nearly perfect.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Excellent)

Patriots Day (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 133 mins

‘Patriots Day’ is the third collaboration between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg after ‘The Lone Survivor’ and ‘Deepwater Horizon’. What these three films have in common is that they are retellings of true events, ‘The Lone Survivor’ that of  and ‘Deepwater Horizon’ a retelling of the the BP Oil Spill. ‘Patriots Day’ recounts the events of the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013 and its immediate aftermath in tracking down the perpetrators through the eyes of a fictionalised policeman played by Mark Wahlberg. Until Peter Berg teamed up with Mark Wahlberg, I haven’t really been a fan of his filmography and have found him to be a slightly less offensive version of Michael Bay – ‘Battleship’ particularly annoyed me with its sheer stupidity and loudness. Mark Wahlberg can be a fine actor when he wants to be but he can also really play in some terrible films and I genuinely feel that this partnership is in the same level as that of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese for example, as they have both created their best work with these films. ‘Patriots Day’ has assembled a fine cast comprising of Wahlberg but also J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon and John Goodman for example. It has similarly received strong critical and audience reception, a third success for both Berg and Wahlberg.

‘Patriots Day’ is a fantastic film and in some aspects is even Peter Berg’s most accomplished film. It is a fascinating retelling of these tragic events and has several simply staggering action sequences and is gripping right from the start. It features some fine performances by the majority of its cast and I’m really impressed with the amount of respect the entire cast and crew seem to have for this material. I do think Berg lays it on a little bit thick at the end of the film in an epilogue which is interesting in learning about the fate of these characters but I think Berg’s intentions are a little too patriotic. But other than this, for the most part Berg remains fairly agnostic and even delves into the back story of the criminals as well.

The performances in this film are generally very respectful although some characters do get a little short-changed in terms of development as Berg tries to tell this story from many different perspectives. The standouts of the film are Mark Wahlberg, J. K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze. Mark Wahlberg’s performance fictional policeman, Sergeant Tommy Saunders, is very good here and he is the character we see most of these events unfold with and his character is a good mediator as a story device. J. K. Simmons provides a lot of the comic relief but the role was practically written for him and he is brilliant in one action sequence late on into the film. Kevin Bacon manages to successfully ramps up the urgency of the situation and Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as the criminals are particularly nasty. Unfortunately, although fairly high billed in the cast, John Goodman isn’t given a lot to do which is a shame because he is always brilliant in whatever he’s in and all Michelle Monaghan’s character needs to do is give marital support to Wahlberg. However, there are a lot of characters this film needs to juggle and the ones that Berg chooses to focus on are particularly appropriate.

The action sequences that Berg creates are simply mesmerising. Whilst we all know that the Boston Bombing sequence is coming, Berg holds off for a fair while before this happens in exchange of character development and this makes the film all the more gripping as we all know that this will happen and impact on these characters at some point or later. There are also some brilliant action sequences towards the last act of the film, a car shoot-out particularly worthy of mention which is absolutely brutal.

The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is as expected, great and particularly memorable in places and really ramps up the tension throughout the entire film. Just as impressive is the cinematography by Tobias Schliessler who manages to combine archival and dramatised footage near seamlessly throughout the entire film, almost giving the film a documentary-like quality and I thought it worked really well.

Overall, ‘Patriots Day’ is another gripping spin on true events and the partnership between Berg and Wahlberg evidently only grows stronger and stronger. Berg takes his time in establishing the context and characters before the action begins to sink in and when the film kicks into gear on the manhunt for the criminals, it is stunning. The performances are all very respectful and everyone is convincing and Berg manages to craft some mesmerising action sequences, a far cry from his older films which were firmly in Michael Bay territory. ‘Patriots Day’ is one of the very best films of the year so far and further cements how good Peter Berg can be when given the right material.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)