8 April 2019

Us review

I don't think I'm overstating things when I say that Jordan Peele's Get Out ended up being a pretty big deal by any measure. It made just over $250 million worldwide on a budget of less than $5 million; it received the kind of critical acclaim most directors would kill for; it was nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), winning Best Original Screenplay; and maybe most importantly, left the kind of immediate cultural impact that can't help but ensure its longevity as both a movie and an important part of pop culture. It is, in short, a great movie - which means that the only real question I had going into Peele's Us was simply this. How can it possibly live up to Get Out?

Sadly, the answer is that it doesn't, but the reason is a little more complicated than just "it's not as good". In many ways, Us is (somewhat appropriately) the mirror image of Get Out - very much still recognisable as a socially satirical horror film, but inverted in a few places to create something that feels radically different to its predecessor. The most obvious of these inversions is that Us is deliberately far less comedic than Get Out, instead focusing its energy on creating the kind of visceral, immediate scares that the more cerebral Get Out lacked - but maybe more important is the films approach to theme, swapping out the laser like precision of Get Out in favour of something less refined but significantly more complex, open ended and further reaching.

The plot itself, however, starts off fairly simple. We follow a fairly average American family of four (the Wilsons) as they holiday in Santa Cruz, which also happens to be where matriarch Adelaide suffered a traumatic experience as a child. That night, 4 mysterious figures appear at the end of the beach house's driveway, terrorising the family before revealing themselves to be terrifying doppelgangers of the Wilsons.

24 March 2019

Captain Marvel review

"It's about damn time", said Evangeline Lilly's Hope van Dyne in one of the post-credits scenes of 2015's Ant-Man, and now, eight full films and the best part of half a decade later, the meta-promise of that short scene has finally come to fruition - far too late by any measure, but still. In Captain Marvel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe at long last has its first film led by a woman, an origin story (of sorts) for the titular Captain that while almost inarguably imperfect, gets far more right than it does wrong. The result? A movie that I enjoyed considerably more than I expected to based on the rather lackluster trailers, only making the upcoming Avengers: Endgame all the more tantalizing in the process.

Set in the mid 1990's, we follow an amnesiac member of the Kree Starforce known as Vers as she and the rest of her squadron (led by her mentor, Yon-Rogg) are tasked with rescuing an undercover Kree spy from the Skrull, a race of shapeshifting aliens with whom the Kree are at war. After the mission goes badly wrong, Vers finds herself stranded on Earth with the Skrull hot on her tail, only to learn that she may once have lived here before she lost her memory. Teaming up with SHIELD agent Nick Fury, the two of them start investigating how she ended up losing her memories and joining the Kree, all while trying to avoid the Skrull as she waits for Yon-Rogg to arrive on Earth to pick her up and take her home.

26 February 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part review

It's kind of hard to believe that it's been five full years since The Lego Movie was released (I've officially reached that age where I say things like "this years gone fast"), but really, quite a lot has happened in that time. We've had two The Lego Movie spin-offs, of varying quality. Star Wars came back. The Marvel Cinematic Universe went from big deal to maybe the biggest deal. The DC Extended Universe started in earnest, and then died on its ass, and then started again. Pokémon Go came and went, which for my money is still the last time the world felt positive. The USA elected their very own President Business. Bloody Brexit.

My point is that despite just how quickly the time has passed, a lot has happened in our world since the release of The Lego Movie - so maybe it's only appropriate that a lot has happened to the world of The Lego Movie in that time too. Picking up right where the first film ended before jumping forward in time five years, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part sees the city of Bricksburg destroyed by Duplo alien invaders and rebuilt as a gritty, post-apocalyptic wasteland called Apocalypseburg, forcing the population (with Emmet as the only exception) to adopt a dark and tough persona in order to survive. But after an alien from the Systar system named General Mayhem kidnaps Batman, Unikitty, Benny, Metalbeard and Wyldstyle, it's up to Emmett to rescue them and prevent OurMomAgeddon, teaming up with a battle hardened space pilot named Rex Dangervest along the way.

6 February 2019

Green Book review

With just a few minor tweaks, it's entirely conceivable to me that Green Book could've played as a near pitch perfect satire of your average piece of prestige picture Oscar bait. I mean, look at the damn thing - it's not just a period piece, but an allegedly true story period piece that "tackles" (and I use that word in the lightest way possible) historical prejudices, while always managing to adhere to a tone that subtly and not so subtly insists those days are long behind us, that the societal problems on display in the film aren't something to be worried about now. Add to that an incredibly grounded, down to earth, emotionally driven performance from Mahershala Ali and one hilariously over-the-top, larger than life, hugely stereotypical performance from Viggo Mortensen, and it's easy to see a world in which Green Book could've been to Oscar bait what Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was to the musical biopic.

Sadly, that's not the case. Green Book may contain moments of comedy (both on purpose and entirely by accident), but as far as intent goes we're a long way away from anything that could be considered even slightly subversive. Instead, it's the kind of film your elderly grandparents would love, showing how easily racism can be fixed when "one of the good blacks" is willing to give the white man a chance, a white man who despite being shown early on to be overtly racist is a nice enough, open-minded guy deep down. Sure, some cops back then were racist, but hey, #NotAllCops, and the good ones will help you get your car out of the snow with a smile on their faces. Sure, some might've been corrupt too - but hey, Green Book makes sure to point out that some of those cops are black. At almost every turn, Green Book tries to find a way to make the injustices featured throughout seem all that more palatable, and the result is a film that really had nothing interesting or original to say on the topics that it's supposedly - but isn't actually - about.

15 January 2019

The Favourite review

"Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power". It's a quote often misattributed to Oscar Wilde (as far as I'm aware, no one actually knows where it came from), but more importantly, it's a quote that couldn't help but come to mind when thinking about The Favourite, the latest film from The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer director Yorgos Lanthimos. In The Favourite, sex is seemingly only ever a means of establishing power, whether that be through attempting to create an heir, marrying for a title, paying a debt or even simply gaining someone's favour. It is the latter of these that The Favourite naturally spends most of its time on, but make no mistake - sex and power are intrinsically linked throughout, whether it be staring you in the face or hiding just out of view, obscured somewhat by the norms and systems of society but still very much ever present.

It's a thematic core that in the wrong hands could've easily come across as misogynistic, playing into tired femme fatale tropes without a shred of irony or self-awareness, but thankfully Lanthimos (and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) are smarter than that, able to ensure that we understand this to be a societal phenomena rather than a gendered one thanks to just how much of The Favourite ultimately circles back and highlights this link. Take, for example, a scene in which a naked guy who looks so much like James Corden that you'll do a double take gets pelted with rotten fruit for the entertainment of a group of bawdy male politicians, or one in which another politician sits there "stroking his goose" (not an innuendo within the context of this review but very much a visual innuendo within the film itself) as he and an opponent speak with the Queen - I wasn't over-exaggerating earlier when I called this link "ever present", and the result is a film just as focused and thematically interesting as The Lobster, and equally fascinating to think about after the fact.

31 December 2018

The Must See Films of 2018

Woah. Welcome to the end of the longest year on record, twelve months so full of global bullshit that it feels like it's been decades since even June. Sadly, I haven't been able to see quite as many films as I would've liked in 2018 - a combination of real life getting in the way, and the simple fact that my local cinema seems dedicated to the cause of advertising interesting movies and then refusing to actually show the bloody things - so if your favourite film doesn't appear in this list, well there's a fair chance that might be because I just haven't seen it. Either that, or you have crap taste and I personally hate you. Either way, below are the films that were released in the UK in 2018 that I would call "unmissable", films that any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to see.

So, in release date order;

Black Panther

I mean, obviously. I'm struggling to think of another film that had the kind of immediate cultural impact that Black Panther had, and while few would argue that it's director Ryan Coogler's best film, there are also few would argue that it doesn't belong somewhere near the top of a list titled "Best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe". Sure, the CGI is a little rough at times, and that can't help but leave something of a sour taste in the mouth. But between the great performances, the fascinating characters (both heroic and villainous), the deeply thematically rich story and the brilliant Bond-esque middle section, Black Panther still ends up being one of the very best blockbusters released this year.

You can read my full review of Black Panther here.

29 December 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse review

It's been a good couple of years for Spider-Man fans, which is something of a pleasant surprise when you consider the radically different position the character found himself in just four short years ago. Cast your minds back to the winter of 2014 for a moment - Spider-Man couldn't help but feel a tad like yesterday's news, what with the newly crowned Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the screen, the Raimi trilogy already being something of a distant memory and Webb's attempt to restart the franchise failing to ignite much passion in anyone but its most vocal detractors (myself included - if nothing else, at least The Amazing Spider-Man 2 inspired me to start this very blog). Things weren't looking great for ol' web head - and yet since then, we've seen the character make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to much applause, star in his first good solo movie since 2004, make a hugely enjoyable appearance in probably the most successful and talked about film of 2018 and even star in his own critically acclaimed and highly successful video game. It's been quite the impressive turnaround - so really, I guess it's only fair that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ends that winning streak in such a disappointing fashion.

I'm joking, of course. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might actually be Spidey's biggest success story yet, a film so top to bottom great that if given the option, I'd have sat there and watched it a second time just as soon as the end credits stopped rolling. And possibly even a third.

We follow Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino New Yorker teenager who (wouldn't you just know it) winds up getting bitten by some kind of radioactive spider and gaining superpowers. But this isn't your average origin story - after a plan to stop a dangerous experiment held by Wilson Fisk goes wrong, several other Spider-Folk are dragged into Miles' universe, all of whom will soon die from the side-effects of being in the wrong universe if they cannot get back to where they came from.

21 December 2018

Creed II review

Is it OK to admit that I was kind of dreading the release of Creed II? It's predecessor is, at least in my opinion, one of the best old-fashioned capital M Movies released this decade, and the promise of a sequel to that - a sequel without writer/director Ryan Coogler at the helm and acting as a follow-up of sorts to Rocky IV, of all things - was always going to be something of a shaky proposition at best. After all, the Rocky franchise is almost defined by the phrase "diminishing returns", and my love for Creed meant that I didn't want that to happen again here. Happily though, my fears were misplaced - Creed II might not reach the heights of Creed (and in fairness, I really don't think it was ever going to), but it still manages to be a worthy sequel and an entertaining movie in its own right.

The plot couldn't be simpler if it tried, what with the whole film being pretty much just a new lick of paint on the bones of virtually any boxing movie (and especially Rocky IV), but that's not really intended as a criticism - no one is going to see these movies for innovative storytelling or shocking plot twists, after all. Instead, Creed II is more than happy to hit the beats you expect when you expect them, choosing to focus it efforts not on subverting expectations or doing something brilliantly original but instead on just delivering a really good version of what it is, and that's exactly where it succeeds.

2 December 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald review

Before we start this review in earnest, I'd like to take a moment to direct your attention to the title of the latest entry in what Warner Bros are trying to establish as the "Wizarding World" franchise. It is, as you likely know (how else did you get here?), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Let's think about that for a second, shall we? To put it in non-magical terms, the title of this film is "Cool Animals: Race War", and it's about David Attenborough getting into a fist-fight with Adolf Hitler. I'm making light of it, but there's a clear, undeniable friction between the "Fantastic Beasts" branding and the path these films have actually took, resulting in a film - and indeed, a franchise - that feels at war with itself, tugging in two different directions throughout and nearly tearing itself in half. And that's just the title - the opening scene of the film only reinforces this sense of friction, a sequence that sees Grindelwald (again, the wizarding version of Hitler) escape from prison that ends with some classic Harry Potter happy twinkly music as the title card appears. "The magical Nazis are on the rise again! Time for a fun adventure!".

It's a staggering miscalculation, the first of many that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald commits over the course of its running time that all add up to create something that simply shouldn't exist, if not at all then certainly in the form it's currently in. From a film-making perspective it's bad - drab and unexciting in all the ways that instantly mark it as a David Yates movie - but from a Harry Potter perspective it's downright insulting, inserting clearly made up on the spot backstory where none is needed and (seemingly) altering established facts about this world and its characters on a whim. It's fan fiction-y and pandering in all the worst ways, and it ends with a "shocking reveal" so deeply unearned by the film itself and totally at odds with the larger Harry Potter canon around it that I have to assume that the characters involved are either mistaken or simply lying, less my brain be turned to mush trying to figure out just what the hell J.K. Rowling was thinking. Making a film "just for fans" is easy - making a film that's "just for fans" that even the fans are going to hate is bloody hard, yet it's the one thing that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald unequivocally succeeds at.

22 November 2018

Widows review

Widows, the latest film from writer/director Steve McQueen, is something of a strange film to try to talk about, and not just because this fairly prestigious production from the director of 12 Years a Slave and starring a number of big name actors turns out to be based on an early 1980's ITV series of the same name. The premise is simple enough - after their husbands die during a job gone wrong, a group of widows must pull off a heist their husbands had planned before their deaths in order to placate a dangerous criminal - but it's the way that Widows tackles that premise that makes it complicated to discuss.

You see, while Widows is inarguably a heist film, it's quite unlike any heist film I've seen before, certainly a far cry away from the glitz and glamour of the Ocean's movies. It terms of tone it's far more similar to something like Michael Mann's Heat, but even then there are fundamental differences in how each film approaches its story, characters and themes that keep them arms length apart. Widows isn't a film about absurdly complex plans or criminal codes of honour - it's just the story of a group of determined women forced to do something they'd all much rather not be doing, and doing it to the best of their abilities.