The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Patrick Hughes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Sam Hazeldine, Richard E. Grant

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 118 mins

‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is frankly, a terrible title for a film but if you look beyond this oversight, what you get here is what seemingly appears to be an old-school throwback 80’s style action film with two wisecracking actors, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. The film has looked like an extremely fun film from its trailers with plenty of swearing and violence thrown in for good measure.  The story is rather run-of-the-mill where Reynolds and Jackson’s characters have to put aside their differences to take down a ruthless, merciless Belarussian director played by Gary Oldman. Where the film looks a little less promising is behind the scenes. The film is directed by Patrick Hughes of whom this is his third title to his belt after ‘Red Hill’ and the utterly awful ‘The Expendables 3′. Hughes’ career has been pretty patchy to say the least so far so one has to be weary of this film as a trailer can always look good but the film could be just as incoherent, humourless and overlong as the latter.

‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ doesn’t break any new ground and is quite simplistic on the narrative front. That said though, it is ashamedly enjoyable, the leads have fantastic chemistry and it’s really quite funny in parts. The film is a little wearing in places and overlong but Hughes actually has been able to craft a good-enough film here. He even shows considerably flair for the action sequences which are finely crafted. I was never bored throughout the film and it always managed to grab my attention.

The performances are what really propel this film and without the electric chemistry shared between Reynolds and Jackson, ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ could have had a very different critical fate. Both Reynolds and Jackson play themselves in effect and both characters are suitably developed so we actually care for them as the film progresses. In particular, Samuel L. Jackson in great in anything he’s in and here is no exception. Out of the rest of the cast, Salma Hayek and Elodie Yung fare the best, the former as Jackson’s wife and the latter, Reynold’s ex. Gary Oldman is suitably ruthless as the over-the-top villain.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is in conjunction with the strong characters are the action sequences. An extended sequence set in Amsterdam later into the film is particularly impressive and I was really impressed with the camera work by Jules O’Loughlin and playfulness of the action being portrayed on-screen. Compared to ‘The Expendables 3’ which was lazily crafted and its action incoherent due to there being far too many edits, O’Loughlin manages to have a good variety of camera trickery. It’s a brilliant sequence that manages to blend action film tropes, innovation and stakes for the well-developed characters.

‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is luckily not the disaster it could have been and whilst it holds its badge of pride high and it is a little obnoxious tonally, it is generally really solid and always fun. Reynolds and Jackson really help to anchor this film and combined with some thrilling action sequences elevate the material that these filmmakers had to work with. Had these two aspects not been so good, the film could seriously have suffered. I feel rather ashamed to have liked it as much as I did but ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ ultimately makes for a dumb but fun Summer action flick with a beaming heart.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Annabelle: Creation (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a sequel-cum-prequel to 2014’s ‘Annabelle’ and is the next entry set in the filmic universe of ‘The Conjuring’. I thought ‘Annabelle’ was incredibly disappointing after James Wan had done an excellent job on ‘The Conjuring’ the year before. It is laugh-out-loud funny in parts, boring and has some atrocious performances from its cast. There’s a reason Ward Horton has seemingly vanished off the film scene… Although it would seem as if I aggressively didn’t want a sequel, when news came that in the director’s chair would be David F. Sandberg, I instantly had faith he’d do a good job. Sandberg is an excellent director who did a very efficient job with last year’s ‘Lights Out’ and he is infinitely more creative than John R. Leonetti who had directed the first film. I also really like both ‘Conjuring’ films and having Wan’s name on a film mostly indicates to a quality production. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is set before ‘Annabelle’ and we are first introduced to the Mullins family played by Anthony LaPaglia as Samuel, a toymaker and Miranda Otto as Esther and their daughter, Annabelle but nicknamed ‘Bee’. Very quickly into the film, Bee is run over by a car and is killed. 12 years later, a still-grieving Samuel and Esther welcome a nun and several orphans from an orphange to live in their property but as you can probably guess, things don’t turn out so well. The story doesn’t exactly break new ground but if the film is able to craft a creepy atmosphere and narratively advance this wider universe, the film has done its job.

And it does. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a marked improvement over its predecessor and is suitably scary, features good character development and is shot beautifully by cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. It also ties itself nicely into the wider universe but not enough to detract from the film – Sandberg still manages to satisfy on a standalone level. One must applaud Sandberg for having a go at crafting many different types of scare and seeing what sticks and there are several sequences which are superbly crafted. Unfortunately, the film does stick to convention at times and there are a few sections bordering on comedy but it is so, so much better than its predecessor in every level.

The performances in the film are great. Both Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson as Janice and Linda, two young orphans, the former a sufferer of polio who is confined to crutches excel in this film and have so much charisma and chemistry together. It’s also refreshing to see Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto in a mainstream film and both remind us why they deserve to act more often.

The scares are what Sandberg really nails and it’s good to see him try to stray away from convention. All of the films in ‘The Conjuring’ universe so far have impressed by being 15-rated without strong language, gore or sex. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ strays from the pack a bit as there are several sequences which are quite bloody and gory but it works in the film as Sandberg tries to shock audiences. One doesn’t really expect much other than a jump scare and Sandberg shakes up this tired routine. It is definitely the most startling entry in the canon so far in this regard.

Unfortunately, the story is rather conventional at times and characters do make some quite frankly stupid decisions. There are some moments which dangerously veer into comedic territory but Sandberg’s innovative scares manage to outweigh this problem. Had Sandberg been equipped with a stronger script, he really could have knocked this film out of the park.

Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is excellent here and there are multiple moments where the images crafted were just breathtaking. Alexandre’s camera angles also differ from the norm and he knows when to hold onto a shot for dramatic effect. Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is also strong at times and fits in nicely with the film.

Overall, my high hopes for this film proved to be correct and Sandberg continues to cement himself as a strong horror director. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is one of those rare sequels that manages to improve on its original in every way, a very poor film and this is a very reasonable one. It’s suitably scary and manages to tie itself nicely into the cinematic universe neatly without feeling forced. It proves the point that spin-off’s aren’t always cash-grabs, if anything it further enrichens the main canon of ‘Conjuring’ films. With ‘The Nun’ and ‘The Crooked Man’ in the pipeline following their introduction in ‘The Conjuring 2‘, there’s a good possiblity we’re in for a set of more quality films.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

 

 

Dunkirk (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 106 mins

‘Dunkirk’ is one of my most hotly anticipated films of the year, a war film based on the titular 1940 event directed by one of my favourite directors, Christopher Nolan. Nolan has been behind some of my favourite films of all time such as ‘Inception’, ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘The Prestige’ to name a few and even his weaker films are still excellent in their own right. The man hasn’t put a foot wrong yet and consistently crafts intelligent films for his audiences. ‘Dunkirk’ is another lofty concept by this intelligent director, a retelling of the World War Two event told in the structure of a triptych. We follow front-line soldiers for a week on land, we follow Mark Rylance’s civilian, Mr Dawson take their boat rather than have it commandeered by the Royal Navy out to sea to rescue soldiers over a day. Finally, we follow three RAF Spitfires (one being Tom Hardy) who provide air support to the battle over an hour. As the film progresses, we see how these three stories interlink with each other. It’s refreshing to see filmmakers such as Nolan try and experiment with genre convention. As good as some war films are, by-and-large there are always characters which we can sympathise with who guide the audience’s way through the film – not so much here. Nolan’s script is also reportedly very short with not a lot of dialogue so frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer’s score needs to cut the mustard to give the film its flow as well as cinematography and editing. Initial reviews for this film have been extremely positive, some even citing this film as his best work.

Whilst there is undoubtedly a lot to admire in ‘Dunkirk’, unfortunately I also have a lot of problems with it. It’s not a bad film by any means but Nolan misses the mark for me in a story that is too ambitious and hard to have any care towards. This was a point that kept cropping up in a lot of the more lukewarm reviews that I read prior to watching the film and I got a little bit annoyed as it seems as if those reviewers want convention. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the actual tone of the film seems off and I didn’t really find myself caring much for not just the characters but the actual event as the approach for me felt too conservative. It’s a very strange approach to take and I applaud Nolan for taking it but along with other reasons which I will discuss, I couldn’t find an emotional response.

The performances and characters in this film aren’t particularly developed as mentioned as Nolan tries to tell the story as it is, not by emotionally manipulating its audience by caring for its characters. That said, Fionn Whitehead certainly makes an impression in the highest-billed role and epitomises the notion of the faceless soldier. Barry Keoghan as a young boy heading off to sea with Mark Rylance’s father is also excellent. Even Harry Styles manages to suprisingly make an impression as a young British Private. Out of the more veteran cast, it is only really Mark Rylance that makes a strong impression whose guilt-ridden self haunts the picture throughout. The rest of the performances are all serviceable but could have been played by anyone – Kenneth Branagh is particularly wasted in a completely expository role only in the film to tell audiences of the wider context and Tom Hardy, again covered by a mask doesn’t have all that much to do.

The visual effects are frequently impressive but I have to say there was nothing mind-blowing about this film compared to other Nolan works. There wasn’t a single moment which particularly captivated me to gaze at the screen in awe unlike pretty much the rest of Nolan’s filmography. This was also why I frequently failed to connect with ‘Dunkirk’ as the battle isn’t visually done justice. The film also fails in establishing a sense of scope – we are only ever told mainly by Branagh’s expository Captain of what is happening in terms of the battle as opposed to being given a visual representation. It’s hard to care for a film that looks smaller than it is.

Hans Zimmer’s score plays an integral part of the film, particularly with Nolan’s lack of dialogue but none of it really managed to stick with me or reach the heights of some of his previous Nolan work. Many have described his score as intensifying with the events being portrayed on-screen but I found it to be quite tonally jumbled and again, as Nolan cannot establish a sense of scope, it all feels a bit for nothing. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is also serviceable but again, there was nothing particularly memorable to latch onto compared to what I had expected.

Overall, ‘Dunkirk’ is a disappointment when it comes to Nolan’s previous films and I’m quite frustrated with it. Perhaps my expectations were too high and this is a wildly different film compared to the rest of his back catalogue. There can be no doubt of Nolan’s ambition with this project but ‘Dunkirk’ is frequently hollow and empty. I can appreciate what Nolan was trying to do with this and perhaps a rewatch may iron out some of these negatives but it defintely failed to capture me like the rest of Nolan’s work does the first time. This review may sound negative – don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film but it falls well short of what I have come to expect from this masterful director. I’d still recommend going and seeing it as it is a story that needs to be told and there are quite a few nice moments but ultimately, the film left me rather cold in its depiction of this momentous event.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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)

wonder_woman-1

⭐⭐⭐ (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)