13 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express review


The world might not have been waiting with bated breath for a new Poirot film, but I'd be lying if I said that the first trailer for Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express didn't pique my interest. Bright neon writing, an Imagine Dragons soundtrack, a lengthy tracking shot from a first-person perspective before the reveal of the greatest moustache you've ever seen - Murder on the Orient Express looked radically different from what I expected, which when combined with a really impressive ensemble cast made it something I was actually kind of excited to see.

And for good reason, it turns out. While hardly a must-see movie or the genre revitalisation I had hoped for, Murder on the Orient Express is still a mostly well-made and very watchable detective yarn, the kind that you don't often see anymore. You know the story - there's been a murder on the Orient Express, and it's up to Hercule Poirot (who is "probably ze greatest detective in ze world") to figure out whodunnit.

31 October 2017

Brawl in Cell Block 99 review


From the very opening scene of writer/director S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99, we understand that main character Bradley Thomas is a man of barely tempered rage. A slab of meat 6'5" tall, he seems to be just one annoyance too many away from seriously messing somebody up, and while he's clearly self-aware enough to try to keep his temper under control, it's a silent, ever-present threat whenever he's on-screen. He's effectively a ticking time bomb - how long can it possibly be before he explodes? And which of these people is going to be the one that finally pushes him over the edge?

It's these questions and the sense of anticipation they create that keeps Brawl in Cell Block 99 engaging throughout, which (as with last year's Bone Tomahawk) Zahler is completely uninterested in rushing. It takes a long time before Bradley reaches the titular Cell Block 99 - the rest of the film (by which I mean the vast majority of it) is spent following Bradley as he moves from car mechanic to drug mule to convict, allowing us plenty of time to become well-acquainted with Bradley and see that he isn't just the intimidating, rage-fuelled psychopath he first appears to be but a flawed, caring human being who is aware of his shortcomings and trying his hardest to make up for them. It may be a gritty, grimy exploitation flick at heart, but it also quite clearly has an interest in its characters beyond just how much misery it can put them through, and that helps elevate Brawl in Cell Block 99 above films of a similar nature without forcing it to pull its punches later on.

27 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok review


Up until now, has anyone really cared about the Thor films all that much? Even as a pretty big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they're two of the movies I'm least likely to revisit - not because they're outright bad (they aren't), but because they're rarely anything more or less than just purely functional, coming across as uninspired and uninspiring in a way that makes them stick out like a sore thumb when compared to the rest of this franchise. When Marvel Studios first announced the slate of films that would make up Phase 3 of the MCU, no-one seemed particularly interested in whatever the fairly blandly titled Thor: Ragnarok would be, leaving the studio with just pressing one question: how do you solve a problem like the Thor films?

The answer, as it turns out, is to bring What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi on board. With Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi has taken all that didn't work about the previous films (so, almost everything other than the relationship between Thor and Loki) and thrown it straight in the garbage, clearing the table for him to completely reinvent the franchise and making a damn good movie in the process.

We rejoin the titular God of Thunder two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which time he has been travelling around the universe in an attempt to learn as much about the Infinity Stones as possible. After finding out that it is Loki, not Odin, who sits on the throne of Asgard following the events of Thor: The Dark World, Thor confronts his brother and travels with him to Earth in order to find Odin and return him to the throne - but ends up accidentally gets himself stranded on the junk planet Sakaar in the process, leaving Asgard vulnerable to attack from Hela, the Goddess of Death.

14 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 review


How do you even begin to talk about a film like Blade Runner 2049? No matter which way you look at it, making a sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner was always going to be an enormous risk, whether that be the financial risk of creating a decades late, high profile, big budget sequel to a film that originally flopped at the box office or the creative risk of being responsible for a disappointing follow up to what is often considered to be the greatest science fiction movie ever made. Frankly, it's a miracle that Blade Runner 2049 even exists at all - the fact that it's actually ended up being a good film is really just the unlikely icing on this already incredibly implausible cake.

Because yes, Blade Runner 2049 is indeed a good film, occasionally veering into genuine greatness. But maybe more surprisingly, it's also a worthy follow up to the original, one that uses the story of Blade Runner as a stepping off point for its own exploration of this world, both narratively and thematically. We follow K, a Blade Runner for the LAPD, as he is tasked with secretly investigating a chest that was found buried under the farm of a Replicant that he recently retired.

28 September 2017

mother! review


"I feel like I've just been assaulted". That's the first thing a friend of mine had to say after leaving the cinema following mother!, and it's also as accurate a description of director Darren Aronofsky's latest as you're likely to read. It's a cruel and upsetting movie that the vast majority of people simply aren't going to enjoy, but for some, it's also going to be nothing short of one of the most powerful cinematic experiences they're likely to have this year. If you already intend to see mother!, please, stop reading this review right now and simply go see it - it's definitely a film that benefits from knowing as little as possible about it in advance, and I'd hate to colour your opinion about what mother! is actually about before you've even seen it.

Yes, it's one of those kinds of films. It's also, I think, a masterpiece.

mother! follows a young woman (not one of the characters in mother! has a name until the credits) who is living with her older husband in his house, one that she has rebuilt following a terrible fire. After a stranger claiming to be a doctor shows up at their door, the husband invites him to stay with them, much to the chagrin of the young woman. Not long afterwards, the stranger's wife shows up and starts living with them too, and before long any semblance of normalcy has been broken as the house becomes over run with people.

22 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle review


I'm a pretty big fan of director Matthew Vaughn, but one thing that has always frustrated me is his reluctance to make sequels to his films. Not because his films desperately need sequels, but because the sequels end up being made anyway and never live up to his original film - Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past manages to waste all the potential that Vaughn's X-Men: First Class left the franchise with, and the less said about the abortive Kick-Ass 2, the better. So when it was announced that Vaughn would be returning to the director's chair for the sequel to his brilliant Kingsman: The Secret Service, I was genuinely excited - even if the world doesn't strictly need a second Kingsman film, at least this sequel had a decent chance of being good.

Instead, Kingsman: The Golden Circle quite firmly answers the question of why Vaughn doesn't make sequels.

Following an attack from a powerful drug cartel that devastates the Kingsman organisation, Kingsman: The Golden Circle follows Eggsy and Merlin as they travel to America in order to team-up with their American counterparts, the Statesman. It turns out that the Statesman have been looking after a somehow still alive Harry Hart since he was shot in the previous film, but the retrograde amnesia he's suffering from means he remembers nothing from his life as a Kingsman. Around the same time, the leader of the aforementioned drug cartel, the Americana-obsessed Poppy Adams, announces to the world that she's been poisoning her product, and won't release the antidote to her hundreds of millions of users around the world until the President of the USA ends the War on Drugs once and for all.

19 September 2017

It review


Is it sacrilege for a film critic to admit that his only knowledge of Stephen King comes in the form of Frank Darabont's adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist? It certainly feels like it at the moment - every other review of Andy Muschietti's adaptation of It seems to be written by people well-acquainted with both the novel and the 1990 mini-series, and that can't help but paint me as at least somewhat ignorant when it comes to this film. That said, a fresh pair of eyes is often a useful perspective to have when it comes to adaptations of much beloved things, and from where I'm standing, It is nothing less than a damn fine horror movie, regardless of how much you do or don't know about the story beforehand.

Set over the course of roughly a year during the late 80's, It takes place in the small town of Derry, which despite looking like a fairly normal town has an unusually high rate of missing people cases, especially amongst children. After a young boy named Georgie goes missing during a rainstorm, his almost-teenage brother Bill becomes obsessed with finding him in the town's sewers - but soon discovers that there is something terrible lurking under the town, something that begins to hunt Bill and his group of friends by using their deepest, darkest fears against them.

23 August 2017

Atomic Blonde review


It might be tempting to call Atomic Blonde "the female John Wick" thanks to its stylish, well-choreographed action and the fact that the two share a director in David Leitch, but it's also a description that is going to see people entering the cinema wildly misled about what kind of film it really is. Yes, Atomic Blonde's particular brand of action can't help but feel reminiscent of that in John Wick - but where John Wick offers a lean, straightforward action flick, Atomic Blonde is instead a constantly twisting spy thriller focused more on the ever-increasing complexity of its plot than being an entertaining action film.

Set around the fall of the Berlin Wall, we follow MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton as she travels to Berlin in order to retrieve a microfilm that contains the details of all the spies working in Berlin at that time. The microfilm reportedly contains the identity of "Satchel", a mysterious double-agent who has been a thorn in the side of MI6 for years - naturally then, there are a great many people who want to use that information to their advantage, only making Lorraine's mission all the more dangerous.

12 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review


Now, look. It'd be easy for me to sit here and shit all over Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, because it's just that kind of movie. Big, bold, colourful, earnest and downright goofy is rarely a combination that results in critical success thanks to how easy it is to feel superior to the movie in question, and the dozens of articles written only to tear down Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in the most verbose, scathing way possible bear that out. But as entertaining as those articles are to read, director Luc Besson's latest is a film that while certainly not for everyone seemed to operating on my exact wavelength throughout - and try as I might, this big, bold, colourful, earnest and downright goofy film is one that I simply can't force myself to be cynical about. If enjoying Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is wrong, then buddy, I don't want to be right.

After a great little montage takes us from the modern day to the 28th Century, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows special agents Valerian and Laureline as they keep the peace on Alpha, the space-borne city that the ISS has morphed into over the best part of a millennium. It's inhabited by hundreds and hundreds of different alien species, all there to share their knowledge and expertise with the rest of the universe - but after Valerian receives a strange vision of a dying planet and the leaders of Alpha are attacked at a summit held to discuss a radiation leak at Alpha's center, Valerian and Laureline are forced to go off the grid in order to figure out what exactly is going on.

3 August 2017

Dunkirk review


Christopher Nolan is often accused of being an emotionless director, and while it's a criticism I've only ever half agreed with in the past, Dunkirk certainly doesn't provide much of a counter-argument. It's a movie he's been wanting to make for the last 25 years, one he deliberately put on the back-burner until he felt that he had enough experience directing blockbusters to do it justice - so why is it that Nolan's pet passion project a quarter of a century in the making feels so... well, passionless?

To be perfectly clear, it's not that Dunkirk is ever anything less than finely tuned and impeccably crafted, it's that there's simply not much more to it than that. By weaving through three overlapping time-frames that each follow a different part of the evacuation - land, sea and air - Nolan is able to ensure that the pace never dips for even a moment while also giving Dunkirk the ability to explore three very different types of action, and it is this variation that allows Dunkirk to remain spectacular throughout. It is, in effect, a roller-coaster, and as such its entertainment value comes far more from the up and downs along the way than than it does actually reaching its destination.