12 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review


It's a really good movie.

I say this upfront because I know that parts of the following review might indicate otherwise, and I wouldn't want that to be the only thing people take away from what I'm saying here. Yes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has problems in its approach to some of the topics it attempts to deal with - but that doesn't stop it from also being a really well-made and engaging movie that I liked a lot. It's writer/director Martin McDonagh through and through, a great script bolstered by some of the best performances you're likely to see this year, and that alone means that it's a film very much worth seeing, warts and all.

Set in the fictional town Ebbing, Missouri, we follow divorcee Mildred Hayes in the wake of the rape and murder of her daughter, Angela. Frustrated by the inability of the local police to catch her daugher's assailant, she erects three billboards outside the town that specifically take police chief William Willoughby to task about the lack of arrests - a decision that the seemingly tightknit community of Ebbing don't take kindly to, being as Willoughby is in the late stages of pancreatic cancer.

30 December 2017

The Must See Films of 2017

One the one hand, it's deeply depressing that almost everything I said in my introductory paragraph to last years The Must See Films of 2016 article also applies handily to 2017, because it means that like 2016, 2017 has been an awful year for any number of reasons. One the other, it's also really convenient that I can change the year and have an introductory section to this article ready to go, so I'm going to do just that. You've gotta take the small victories where you can, after all.

2016 2017 may have been a shit year for a vast number of reasons, but the sheer number of high quality films released means that by and large, cinema wasn't one of them. Sure, there have been a few quite high-profile disappointments (I'm looking at you, Warner Bros), but on the whole there have been an awful lot of really great films released this year, to the point where this list became surprisingly hard to narrow down to a reasonable number.

But narrow it down I did. Below are a list of the films released this year in the UK that I would consider to be "Must See" movies - not necessarily the most "worthy" or the most important, just ones that I personally think any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to see.

So, in release date order;

La La Land

It's been almost a full year since I saw it, and I still find myself humming "City of Stars" and "A Lovely Night" from time to time. La La Land's lasting legacy might have been tainted somewhat by an unfair backlash and a now infamous Academy Awards cock-up, but that doesn't stop it from being a beautifully crafted and emotionally resonant film, one that handily puts to bed the idea that "they don't make 'em like they used to". Between 2015's excellent Whiplash and now this, writer/director Damien Chazelle has established himself as not just a director worth keeping an eye on, but one whose films I will always make the effort to see.

You can read my full review of La La Land here.


20 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi review


There's a moment quite early on in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that concisely sums up writer/director Rian Johnson's approach to his entry in this new trilogy. After an opening space battle establishes the stakes of the main plot, we cut to where we left Rey at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, still standing in front of Luke Skywalker with her arm outstretched, offering him his father's lightsaber. He slowly reaches forward, gently takes it from her... and throws it straight over his shoulder and off a cliff. Like Luke, Star Wars: The Last Jedi simply isn't interested in the plot threads left hanging by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, nor is does it care for what direction you thought the franchise might take - and it's all the better for it.

Rather than trying to answer the questions posed by its predecessor, Star Wars: The Last Jedi either ignores them or undermines them entirely in what feels like a deliberate refutation of J.J Abrams' "mystery box", instead choosing to spend its time in much more interesting ways. What we have here what many (myself included) wanted Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be - not a movie that panders to the characters and iconography of the original trilogy but one that isn't afraid to take bold creative risks with them, and while that's certain to anger the more possessive Star Wars fans, it also results in the most original, imaginative and genuinely exciting Star Wars film since 1980.

13 December 2017

The Disaster Artist review


The Room is almost inarguably the king of "so bad it's good" cinema, a movie so obviously incompetent at every possible level of both film-making and story-telling that it genuinely has to be seen to be believed, but it's the man at the centre of it all, Tommy Wiseau, that really makes it such a fascination. He's not just someone who wrote, directed and starred in a hilariously awful movie - he's also a bizarre, eccentric figure who looks like an alien in a poorly fitted and badly designed skin suit and somehow sounds even stranger, which is only the start of what makes him such an oddity of a public figure. No-one knows how he funded what ended up being the absurdly expensive production of The Room; no-one knows what country he was born in; hell, no-one even knows how old he really is. He is, quite literally, an enigma.

Naturally then, "fans" of Wiseau's trashterpiece are sure to find a lot to enjoy in The Disaster Artist, which is based on The Room co-star Greg Sestero's "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made". Opening when Greg and Tommy first met at an acting class in 1998 and following them as they move to Hollywood before deciding to make their own movie, The Disaster Artist explores both the relationship between the two of them and The Room's more than just troubled production.

3 December 2017

Ranking the films of the DC Extended Universe

Oh, Christ.

Warner Bros might not be separating their DC Extended Universe films into distinct "phases" in the same way that Marvel Studios have their Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it's pretty obvious that Justice League is the culmination of the DCEU to date in the same way that Avengers Assemble once was for the MCU. As such, with 5 films under its belt it seems only appropriate that we attempt to put these films in some kind of ordered list from worst to best. That the majority of these films are outright terrible makes this something of an unrewarding and difficult task - nevertheless;

5. Suicide Squad

Even referring to David Ayer's Suicide Squad as "a movie" seems like a compliment it hasn't earned - never before had I seen such a poorly edited, incompetently directed and terribly written collection of scenes on the big screen, which when combined with Jared Leto's grimy STD Joker and a confused, ugly aesthetic makes Suicide Squad one of the most deeply unpleasant, cringe-worthy cinema-going experiences I've ever had. That it has its defenders is frankly beyond me - it's anti-entertainment, and I refuse to spend any more time thinking or writing about it than I already have.

You can read my original review of this irredeemable trash here.


23 November 2017

Justice League review


As much as I'd hoped otherwise, you simply can't talk about Justice League - DC/Warner Bros' would-be answer to Marvel Studios' Avengers Assemble - in any meaningful way without first talking about its arduous journey to the screen. The long version of this story is an article all by itself, and still shrouded in secrecy and PR spin - the short version is that Justice League's production was already marred by heavy studio interference even before Joss Whedon was brought in to write and direct reshoots in the wake of Zack Snyder stepping away due to a family tragedy, and unfortunately the resulting film is exactly as messy and conflicted as that might indicate. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, torn between Snyder's original vision, Snyder's course-corrected version of the film and Joss Whedon's version of the film following Snyder's departure, and this clash of styles, tones and approaches ends up being far more than just a small problem - it's pretty much the films defining feature.

Following the death of Superman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League sees Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince attempting to create a team of superheroes to battle an incoming threat in the form of Steppenwolf, who intends to terraform the Earth on behalf of his master, Darkseid. With him are an army of Parademons, who have been kidnapping people in an attempt to learn the whereabouts of the Mother Boxes, three ancient ancient artefacts that once united give Steppenwolf the power to complete his plan.

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.