30 December 2016

The Must See Films of 2016

2016 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;

The Hateful Eight

Has there ever been a film from Quentin Tarantino that doesn't deserve to end up on that year's respective "Must See" list? I don't think so, and The Hateful Eight - a contemporary Western that sees some truly despicable people trapped in a snowy mountain lodge together - refuses to buck the trend. The claustrophobic setting (very much reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs) offers a refreshingly intimate movie in comparison to the director's last few projects, which when combined with a razor sharp script helps deliver the most quintessentially Tarantino film to date.

You can read my full review of The Hateful Eight here.

22 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review

As the first in what Disney/Lucasfilm hope will be a long line of spin-off films set in this universe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds itself in something of an uneviable position. All eyes are on this movie to prove that these spin-offs will be worthy of the Star Wars name, and it has to do that under the extra scrutiny of being a prequel in a franchise with a less than stellar reputation when it comes prequels, to say the least. Far more than most other films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is tasked with justifying its own existence - and it does, if only by the skin of its teeth.

Set in the days leading up to the opening of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (curse this franchise and its irrationally long naming conventions) follows Jyn Erso, daughter of Death Star designer Galen Erso, as she and a group of other rebels attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star in order to give the Rebel Alliance a chance of destroying it.

18 December 2016

The Birth of a Nation review

If any film should be able to elicit a strong emotional reaction from an audience, it's a film about the slave trade, one of the largest injustices in human history and one that happened a depressingly short time ago. Our default reaction to seeing this era realised on-screen is quite rightly one of disgust, horror and shame, and there have been a number of movies in recent years that have effectively harnassed those emotions in order to deliver truly powerful, moving films. Unfortunately, The Birth of a Nation is neither of those things, completely failing to engage its audience on emotional level despite it's inflammatory nature - and that's very telling about how much of The Birth of a Nation does (or more accurately, doesn't) work.

Deliberately using the same title as the 1915 Ku Klux Klan propaganda film, The Birth of a Nation tells the real life story of slave Nat Turner, who in 1831 led a violent rebellion against the slave owners of Southampton County, Virginia. We follow the deeply religious Nat as he is taken from plantation to plantation in order to preach to word of God to slaves at risk of revolting - but in seeing the horrors other slaves face on a daily basis, instead begins working to inspire that revolution.

10 December 2016

Moana review

Moana can't have been an easy film to make. Three years on and it has become all the more clear the kind of impact that Frozen really had - not only was it something of a cultural phenomenon, it was also a surprisingly subversive film that pretty much rebutted the very notion of the princess movie. Anything attempting to get away with a "one true love's kiss" is going to seem trite and old-fashioned after Frozen went about deconstructing many of the tropes most closely associated with these kind of films, and that puts Moana in a very odd position indeed. As a swansong to the genre at large, Frozen is hard to fault - but how on Earth does a princess movie follow up the film that killed the princess movie?

Moana's answer to that difficult question is a simple but effective one - move with the times. The cliches so expertly refuted by Frozen are instead ignored entirely by Moana, making it feel like just as much of an evolution of the princess movie as Frozen does, albeit in a quieter, less obvious way. Our main character is a princess in status only, and there isn't a romantic subplot or a damsel in distress to be found within throwing distance of the film - in fact, she may well be the single most capable female heroine Disney have ever created, a natural leader right from the start of the movie played perfectly by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho.

24 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was always going to face something of an uphill struggle. The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most successful of the 21st century so far, beloved by millions all over the world - a spin-off from that was always going to seem like something of a cash grab, regardless of J. K. Rowling's level of involvement. I'm pretty much as big a Harry Potter fan as you are likely to meet, and yet the possibility of a totally unnecessary spin-off coming along and damaging the property's well-earned reputation had me more than a little worried.

I shouldn't have been. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is by no means the perfect movie, but it still offers a good enough reason to revisit the magical world that J. K. Rowling created - and that's all it ever really need to do.

21 November 2016

Arrival review

Like all forms of entertainment, films matter. They may seem inconsequential at times, but they help inform how we think and what we think about, defining us as people even if we aren't always aware of the way they do that. 2016 has been a terrible year for a number of reasons (you know the ones), but Arrival's message of unity over division and the importance of international co-operation acts as a vital reminder that humanity is at its best when it puts the bullshit aside and strives for a common goal. Arrival is a really well-made film, one that was always going to be worth watching regardless of when it was released - but in coming out now, Arrival is transformed into something that feels like a downright necessity.

After 12 identical ships touch down in seemingly random locations over Earth, we follow linguist Louise Banks as she is hired by the US Army to communicate with the aliens, known as Heptapods for their seven legs. Deciding early on to focus on written communication over verbal, it's up to her to ensure that they have enough knowledge of the Heptapods' language to ask and understand the answer to "What is your purpose on Earth?" before one of the other nations - or even their own - allows their fear of the aliens to overcome them.

14 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals review

Nocturnal Animals, the second film from fashion designer/film-maker Tom Ford, isn't exactly an easy film to describe. An adaptation of Austin Wright's novel "Tony and Susan", it uses two distinct plots to tell one story, a narrative within a narrative in which information from one abstractly informs the other. Following the unexpected delivery of a manuscript, we follow art gallery owner Susan Morrow as she is drawn into the fictional story of Tony Hastings, whose traumatic experience forces her to recall painful memories of her past relationship with the manuscript's author.

1 November 2016

Doctor Strange review

As we neared the finale of Doctor Strange, I suddenly realised that I was more interested in seeing the after-credits scenes than I was in watching the film perform its conclusion. My investment in this movie rested more in seeing how this story and these character would go on to interact with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe than it did in the story and characters themselves, and although that's fantastic news as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned - a testament to how well these 14 movies have come together in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts - it's also a fairly good indication that Doctor Strange itself simply isn't all that engaging a movie.

Following a career-ending car crash, we follow talented ex-neurosurgeon Stephen Strange as he attempts to master the mystical arts in order to heal his hands back into the condition they once were. Travelling to a place called Kamar-Taj in Nepal, Strange starts to study and train under the guidance of The Ancient One, who eventually reveals to Strange that he now has a responsibility to protect the Earth from the kind of mystical threats that the Avengers cannot.

13 October 2016

Luke Cage season one review

There is a lot to like about Luke Cage, the latest Netflix series set in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. For a start, it's an unabashedly black TV show in a time when the default remains lily-white, and it's full of the kind of things that great TV relies on - interesting characters, a great cast, and a strong sense of style. Unfortunately, this is all undermined by a lack of direction that comes close to derailing the entire thing at times, which raises the questions - at what point does something stop being flawed and start being... simply not all that good?

Set in Harlem, we follow the super strong, bulletproof Luke Cage as he attempts to get his life back to normal after the events of Jessica Jones. He's working multiple jobs off-the-books, including sweeping hair at a local barbers and washing dishes at Harlem's Paradise, a club owned by gangster Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. But after three kids ruin a gun deal between the local gangs by stealing the money at gunpoint, Cottonmouth starts searching all of Harlem for them, bringing him to conflict with Luke.

8 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children review

Tim Burton has always been a director that I've never really been able to get on with. It's hard to deny that the man has a consistent sense of style, but you've got to remember that he hasn't released a truly good film in pretty much the entire time I've been alive, so it's difficult for me to see his shtick as anything other than a glossy cover for otherwise incredibly mediocre to downright bad movies. As such, I went into Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children assuming that it would be yet another poorly crafted movie coated in a thick veneer of Gothic wankery - but much to my surprise, it's actually... well, fairly enjoyable.

It's been described by many as Tim Burton's version of X-Men, and to be honest it's hard to argue with that. Miss Peregrine, like the children she cares for, is a Peculiar - that is, someone born with special powers and unique abilities that make living in human society difficult, if not entirely impossible. As such, she and other Peculiars like her look after young Peculiars by creating time loops in which they can live in peace.

1 October 2016

The Magnficent Seven review

Can a film really be praised just because it doesn't technically do anything wrong? Is it OK to criticise a film for simply being adequate? At what point does "purely acceptable" stop being good enough? These are the kind of questions posed by Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 film of the same name and one of the most staggeringly ordinary movies I've ever seen.

You know the drill. We follow Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter hired by the townspeople Rose Creek to protect them from Bartholomew Bogue, a businessman who is forcing them out of their homes in order to better capitalise on the nearby mines. Rounding up six unlikely allies, Chisolm and his motley crew travel to Rose Creek in order to liberate the town from Bogue's men and protect it and its people from the inevitable violent retaliation.

27 September 2016

Hands on with Dishonored 2

As with Just Cause 3 last year, Dishonored 2 pretty much single-handedly sold me on my ticket to attend this years EGX. I'm a big fan of Arkane Studios' Dishonored, the 2012 steampunk-esque (whalepunk?) stealth game that combined excellent world-building, satisfying mechanics and brilliant level design to deliver something that I've replayed more times that I care to admit, and the opportunity to play the sequel was simply too tempting to pass up.

The mission I played is one that takes place around about 4 hours into the game, tweaked slightly so that those unfamiliar with the first game still have a fighting chance of completing it. Choosing to play as either Corvo Atanno (the protagonist of Dishonored) or Emily Kaldwin (the now grown-up princess from the first game with abilities of her own), players are are tasked with infiltrating the mansion of genius inventor Kirin Jindosh in order to put a stop to the development of his automated clockwork soldiers, while also rescuing an old ally who is being held prisoner deep within the mansion.

26 September 2016

Hell or High Water review

Films are as much a product of the time they were made in as they are the product of those who made them, and Hell or High Water demonstrates that better than most. It's a film that could only really be created in today's climate, a modern Western with a strong anti-capitalist streak that's going to resonant with an awful lot of people. We follow brothers Toby and Tanner Howard as they rob a series of banks in order to pay off a reverse mortgage that their late mother took out on family land, and in doing so earn the ire of soon-to-be retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton.

The Texas presented to us in Hell or High Water is a thoroughly depressing place, one still struggling to recover from the effects of the financial crisis. The small towns we find ourselves in are virtually abandoned, strip-mined by banks that have successfully turned financial difficulties into easy profit, and that into the new norm. This is the environment created by the banks, which in turn creates people like the Howard brothers - regardless of the actions they take, Hell or High Water places the ultimate blame on the banks themselves for putting the brothers in a position where their actions are necessary. It ensures that we understand that the people are victims of the banks far more than the banks are victims of the people, and in doing so marks itself as one of the most anti-establishment films of the year.

19 September 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings review

The opening act of Kubo and the Two Strings is some of the finest film making I've ever seen, truly transcendent cinema that holds your attention in a vice like grip throughout, bursting at the seams with the kind of imagination and beauty and craftsmanship that you rarely get to see. From an awe-inspiring sequence that sees Kubo's mother sailing through impossibly rough seas, to a charming scene that sees Kubo using his magic, his music and his origami to tell tales to an enraptured village, Kubo and the Two Strings instantly marks itself out as something different in the best possible way, all before the plot is even set in motion.

We follow Kubo, a young boy with one eye who is living in hiding with his mother after his grandfather tried to blind him as a baby. Kubo, like his mother and the rest of her family, has magical powers - his are best expressed through his instrument, a three stringed guitar that he uses to stage small street performances that tell the story of a great warrior named Hanzo using magically animated origami. However, after the rest of his mothers family find him, Kubo must travel far and wide to locate and unite three mystical artifacts that will give him the power to defeat his grandfather.

13 September 2016

Don't Breathe review

2016 may have been a terrible year for blockbuster entertainment so far, but it's been a great one for horror, to the point where I've started to come around on a genre I previously had little time for. Films like Bone Tomahawk, The Witch and Green Room have all offered unique, exhilarating experiences with a real sense of craft behind them - and now Don't Breathe has done much the same, although admittedly to a lesser degree.

Set in Detroit, we follow a trio of young adults - Alex, the son of a security system installer; Rocky, a young mother looking to leave Detroit; and Money, Rocky's boyfriend - as they break into a blind veterans house in order to steal the large payout he received when his daughter was killed in a hit and run incident. Unfortunately for them, the man they are robbing is far more capable than they initially anticipated in spite of his blindness, and before long they are trapped in the house that he knows like the back of his hand.

8 September 2016

Sausage Party review

Imagine if Pixar, the people behind films such as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up and Wall-E, decided to make an adult comedy. Imagine if they gathered together a who's who of funny people, including most of the cast of Superbad alongside actors like Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd and even Edward Norton. Imagine if they made a movie specifically dealing with the concept of religion, and that the world would be a better place without it.

Now imagine that Pixar were also really, really bad at making movies. Imagine that they lost their ability to effectively tell a story, to create interesting characters, to make movies that resonant with their audience. Imagine if everyone working for Pixar suffered a severe head trauma immediately before putting pen to paper, instantly putting their mental age back by decades.

The result is Sausage Party, a film that means well.

30 August 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping review

If you ever needed definitive proof that general audiences are terrible at deciding what films are worth spending their money on, look no further than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Here's a film that audiences should have flocked to see - interesting premise, recognisable stars, and most importantly, genuinely hilarious - and yet there were just seven people in the showing I attended. Four, if you don't include myself and the two people who came with me.

That's the second emptiest showing of a film I've ever sat in, a frustrating reminder that general audiences seem to refuse to see anything that isn't based on a pre-existing intellectual property anymore. Still, a lack of interest from the population at large doesn't stop Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping from being quite easily the best comedy film of the year, a satirical look at the music industry and celebrity culture that leans hard into the over-exaggerated, almost surreal sense of humour that The Lonely Island are known for.

25 August 2016

Pete's Dragon review

In a time when studio interference seems more common than ever, it isn't difficult to appreciate what Disney have given us in Pete's Dragon. Here is a film noticeably lacking the hallmarks of a troubled production, one that isn't plagued by the kind of issues that often come from executive meddling. Instead, Pete's Dragon really feels like an example of a studio having complete faith in a directors vision, and the result of that is a wonderful little film that probably couldn't exist under any other circumstances - a film that a number of big studios could learn a great deal from.

We follow Pete, a young boy who has been living in a vast woodland with a friendly dragon named Elliot since his parents were killed in a car accident six years ago. However, as loggers cut deeper into the woodlands, Pete ends up being discovered and "rescued" by local park ranger Grace, and Elliot starts being hunted by a group of loggers led by Grace's soon-to-be brother-in-law, Gavin.

9 August 2016

Suicide Squad review

I can't believe we are living in a world in which Man of Steel - a staggeringly mediocre film throughout - is still the best that the DC Extended Universe has to offer. Despite being positioned as the saving grace of the DCEU, Suicide Squad is actually anything but - it's one of the most poorly made films I've seen in a year with more than it's fair share of poorly made films, a movie so flawed at a fundamental level of film-making that it's almost impressive. Warner Bros/DC had every chance to make a genuinely good movie here, and their inability to do that makes me more than a little concerned about the future of this franchise.

Because it isn't hard to pinpoint what went wrong with Suicide Squad - it's a film with all the hallmarks of a very troubled post-production period, one that seems to have been caused by extensive studio interference. Various reports indicate that the version of Suicide Squad in cinemas is a conglomeration of a few different cuts, and I'm inclined to believe them - it's a horribly edited movie, full of inconsistencies and oversights that end up making Suicide Squad feel more like a rough cut than a finished product.

28 July 2016

The BFG review

I went into The BFG with expectations pretty much as low as they could be. I've loved the work of Roald Dahl ever since I was a child, but nothing about the trailers or TV spots for this film had me convinced that it was going to be anything more than an over-produced, dumbed-down version of a book that I've read more times than I care to admit. Any Americans reading might not understand this, but Roald Dahl is special over here in much the same way that I imagine Dr Seuss is over there, and the idea that one of his most well-known and beloved books might end up being the punchline to an already disappointing summer film season was almost too much to handle.

I can't explain how relieved I am to say that isn't the case. The BFG may not be a perfect movie, or even a particularly good one at times, but it's as accurate an adaptation of Dahl's book as could be expected - a quaint, fantastical, beautiful movie that wears its whimsy on its sleeve. And I loved it.

25 July 2016

Star Trek Beyond review

Like a lot of people my age, JJ Abrams' Star Trek was pretty much my introduction to Star Trek as a franchise. However, unlike a lot of people my age I've never been overly impressed with that film - it's a decent action/adventure movie, sure, but it's as dumb as a brick too, a film reliant on its own momentum to power through a bunch of huge logical leaps that the audience are required to take just for the basic story to hold together. I may not know a lot about the Star Trek franchise, but I know it isn't meant to be stupid, which is why JJ Abrams was always the wrong choice for these films. At best, his work as a director can be classified as "superficially intelligent"; at worst, "entirely brainless". We like to pretend that JJ Abrams is this visionary science fiction auteur, but even a cursory look at what he's done in the genre is proof that he isn't even close to earning that status.

That's the main reason why I wasn't outraged when Justin Lin (best known for his work on the Fast and Furious franchise) was announced as the director of Star Trek Beyond, something I'm now very thankful for considering that he's now helped make the best film of the rebooted franchise to date. Gone is the convolution and conspiracy of Abrams' first two films, instead replaced by a relatively simple story that - again based on my limited knowledge of Star Trek - seems to embody what the Star Trek franchise was always meant to be about: the idea that unity will always triumph in the end.

14 July 2016

Ghostbusters review

Anyone with any kind of online presence has probably seen some of the controversy that the new Ghostbusters has been embroiled in since it was first announced. Hundreds of thousands of people (mostly men) have come out of the woodwork in order to tell everyone and anyone that their childhoods have been ruined by a film they haven't yet seen, a lot of whom are making that overblown, meaningless statement based solely on the fact that the new Ghostbusters are - gasp - women. This is, of course, a huge insult to the original Ghostbusters, a film that only works thanks to the fact that the protagonists all have dicks.

Joking aside, the backlash aimed at the new Ghostbusters has been both incredibly vicious and far larger than anyone could have expected. Its first trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos in the history of YouTube; comment sections all over the net turned into ideological battlegrounds; director Paul Feig has been on the receiving end of months worth of harassment. Ghostbusters is just the latest thing to shine a light onto an ugly, regressive side of the Internet, but when all is said and done? It's still just a movie, and an OK one at that.

7 July 2016

The Secret Life of Pets review

Illumination Entertainment's first film, Despicable Me, may have instantly marked them as a company to keep an eye on, but The Secret Life of Pets is just the latest film from them that indicates their early success may have been more due to luck than judgement. Gone is all the charm and originality that made Despicable Me what it is, instead replaced by a series of barely connected scenes that add up to nothing more than a significantly less effective version of Toy Story.

We follow Max, a dog living a cushy life in New York with his owner, as he tries to deal with the addition of a new dog, Duke. Naturally they don't get on, and it isn't long before the escalating battle between them results in both of them getting lost in the middle of New York city.

4 July 2016

Revisiting Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The first thing that most people will notice about Terminator 2: Judgment Day in comparison to The Terminator is its vastly increased budget, the opening battle sequence alone seemingly costing more than the entirety of its predecessor. If The Terminator showcased James Cameron's ability to work within his limits, then Terminator 2: Judgment Day is him showing us what he can do when those limits are significantly higher - it's an ambitious film, and one that almost entirely succeeds at what it is trying to do.

Set roughly a decade after The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day follows 10 year old John Connor, future leader of the resistance against Skynet, as he attempts to avoid being murdered by an advanced liquid metal terminator known as the T1000. Unlike The Terminator, which has more in common with the slasher flicks that were prevalent in the early 80's, Terminator 2: Judgment Day instead chooses to be an action film first and foremost, handing John a terminator ally in the form of a reprogrammed T800 in order to give him a fighting chance against the bigger threat of the T1000.

3 July 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence review

Independence Day may be director Roland Emmerich's best film, but that doesn't actually make it a good one. At best, it's just adequate - a mostly coherent story told by a mediocre director with characters that are, for the most part, purely functional. It's legacy comes more from the novelty it was at the time of release than anything else, and if we are being honest it's fair to say that Will Smith is, by and large, the only truly memorable or worthwhile aspect of the entire movie.

So imagine if Independence Day didn't have Will Smith. Imagine that it was bigger, and significantly stupider. Imagine that it was even less in control of itself, veering wildly in tone throughout. Imagine that it was badly put together, derivative of that which came before, utterly without charm or that earnest 90's cheese.

That would still be a better film than Independence Day: Resurgence.

Set 20 years after Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence has the alien species from the first film return to Earth in order to finish what they started. After an initial attack wipes out several major cities, it's up to the ESD (Earth Space Defense) to do what they can to stop the aliens from destroying the entire planet.

14 June 2016

The Nice Guys review

Truth be told, if you aren't already a fan of writer/director Shane Black then The Nice Guys probably isn't going to change that. It's unmistakably his, a film noir inspired buddy movie that never veers too far from the tone and style on display in both Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and (to a lesser extent) Iron Man 3. It's cynical. It's funny. It's got a strange sense of heart. But most importantly, it's a film with instantly captivating main characters.

We follow private eye Holland March and enforcer Jackson Healy as they team up in order to find a missing girl, but (as is to be expected) The Nice Guys is more interested in it's characters than it is the plot. To describe our main duo as flawed would be an understatement - Holland is an alcoholic single father who has to be driven around by his teenage daughter; Healy is a bitter divorcee who makes a living assaulting people. Neither are what you might consider to be good people, but therein lies the brilliance of Shane Black's writing - he balances the cynicism of these characters with beats that help show us that they'd jump at the chance to do the right thing if only given the opportunity. As with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, it's not so much that our characters are bad people, it's that they've been corrupted by a bad world.

8 June 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E22 "Ascension" review

Between the super-powered brawl that opens the episode, an assault on SHIELD by the primitive Inhumans, a last-ditch attempt to stop Hive's master plan and the death of a series regular, you'd be forgiven for thinking that "Ascension", the third season finale of Agents of SHIELD, runs the risk of feeling rushed. It's not like Agents of SHIELD hasn't produced it's fair share of episodes that are overstuffed, after all - even the first half of this season suffered thanks to how much it tried to do in just ten episodes, a focus on telling the story quickly over telling it well that robbed the show of it's ability to properly dramatise it's most important moments.

Fortunately, "Ascension" understands the difference between story elements that can be dealt with quickly and story elements that need some real time devoted to them, and in doing so offers us what may well be the most emotionally engaging episode of the show to date. Individual moments are given plenty of time in order to allow us to really feel them rather than just see them, an aspect of "Ascension" that also helps highlight how good the writing and performances are here.

5 June 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows review

It would be very easy to dismiss Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles: Out of the Shadows as little more than visual noise, and in truth not entirely unfair. From it's opening moments it's clear that it's a film aimed firmly at a younger audience, and anyone older than that won't find anything here that they haven't seen done better before. But to do so would be to ignore the fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is also a surprisingly competent movie, one that still feels like it's trying despite the easily entertained nature of it's target audience.

The story this time sees the titular turtles trying to stop another of Shredder's plans after he succesfully escapes from prison with the help of Dr Baxter Stuckman, a scientist who has been trying to create mutants of his own for some time now. With the help of Bebop and Rocksteady, a couple of lowlife criminals who Dr Stuckman has mutated, Shredder plans to bring an alien invader from another dimension to Earth in order to take over the world.

2 June 2016

Warcraft: The Beginning review

If the last 23 years have taught us anything, it's that it may be impossible to make a good film based on a video game. Every attempt to date has resulted in failure, without exception - even the somehow-long-running Resident Evil film franchise is nothing more than a series of duds, and they may actually be the closest we've got to "tolerable". It's impossible to say why this might be the case - you'd think the law of averages alone would have given us something decent by now - but the fact is that we're yet to see a good film that is based on a video game, and Warcraft: The Beginning doesn't manage to change that.

Opening up on the home world of the orcs, Warcraft: The Beginning initially follows Durotan, an orc war chief, as he and his people invade the kingdom of Azeroth using a magic called the Fel in order to escape their own dying world. From that point on we swap between Durotan and Anduin Lothar, a human military commander, as the war between orcs and humans is waged, which slowly sees Durotan begin to turn against his own people thanks to the way that the Fel (controlled by an orc named Gul'dan) has corrupted them.

30 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E21 "Absolution" review

My biggest fear going into the third season finale of Agents of SHIELD was that it would constantly be passing YoYo's cross between characters in order to keep us on our toes about who is going to die. Character death can make for excellent television when done well (hell, just see the latest episode of Game of Thrones for proof of that), but by having the advertising for the finale lean heavily on the fact that someone would die, I began to worry that Agents of SHIELD had nothing else to offer beyond that. It felt cheap, an easy way to raise the stakes without doing any of the legwork required to make it actually matter.

Thankfully, Agents of SHIELD has proven me wrong. Although there is an element of "Who's it going to be?!?" here, I'm glad to see that it isn't even close to being to focus of the episode. Instead, "Absolution" is content to simply let the SHIELD vs Hive story that the show has been building to since the mid-season finale play out, and in that respect it doesn't disappoint.

23 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E20 "Emancipation" review

Now that's more like it. After last weeks "Failed Experiments" disappointed in a big way thanks to it's status as filler, this weeks "Emancipation" chooses to make up for that in a tight, important episode that smartly acknowledges the events of Captain America: Civil War before quickly getting on with what the show has been building up to for some time instead.

This week sees Coulson trying to convince General Talbot that the Secret Warriors need to remain a secret in the wake of the Sokovia Accords (which apparently included a clause on the registration of enhanced people - new to anyone who saw Captain America: Civil War), while Hive continues his experiments to turn regular people into Inhumans. But the main plot has Daisy hacking into SHIELD and talking to Lincoln, who is still cooped up inside his own little quarantine and getting more frustrated with his situation by the minute.

20 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse review

There is a short scene in X-Men: Apocalypse that sees several of the new characters discussing the quality of the films in the original Star Wars trilogy, all of them agreeing that the third film is always the worst. It's an obvious piece of meta-commentary on the original X-Men trilogy that takes a shot at X-Men: The Last Stand while praising director Bryan Singer's original two films, which is gaudy enough on its own - but those paying attention will remember that X-Men: Apocalypse itself is the third film in this new timeline. Is this just a staggering lack of self-awareness, or a direct acknowledgement from the film-makers that they've badly messed up? It really doesn't matter. X-Men: Apocalypse is a bad film all the same.

The story this time sees the various characters we've been following over the last couple of X-Men films reunite in order to try to stop an ancient mutant named Apocalypse and his four horsemen from taking over the world. It's a simple tale of good vs bad basically, far removed from the more soap-operatic, character driven drama of the previous films in the franchise, and unfortunately X-Men: Apocalypse suffers for it.

16 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E19 "Failed Experiments" review

Opening with a brief flashback that shows us how Hive was first created by the Kree, the main plot of "Failed Experiments" sees SHIELD on a mission to try and kill Hive, or at least find out if they even can. At the same time, Fitzsimmons continue their work on an antidote for his ability to control Inhumans, while Hive starts work on a process that will turn regular humans into Inhumans.

I've got to say, I find myself quite disappointed with "Failed Experiments". Last weeks "The Singularity" was a surprisingly good episode of Agents of SHIELD that went to some interesting places while dealing with the consequences of "The Team". "Failed Experiments" seems to want to do the same, the problem being that it ends up hitting many of the same character beats as last weeks episode without really adding anything new. Again, we see Daisy threaten someone we know she cares for deeply thanks to Hive's influence; again we see the lengths Lincoln is willing to go to in order to help Daisy. It's repetition for no reason, something that even the first season of Agents of SHIELD managed to avoid.

13 May 2016

Green Room review

There can't be many people who have seen Blue Ruin and don't class director Jeremy Saulnier as one the most promising up-and-coming directors right now. It's a fair assessment; Blue Ruin is nothing short of a minor masterpiece, an incredibly well-made examination of the nature of revenge that instantly marked Saulnier (and his distinctively grounded, melancholic style) as one to keep an eye on. It's a film that exists firmly in the grey area of morality - one of it's many strengths - but Saulnier's follow up to that is as black and white as it gets.

Green Room follows touring punk rock band The Ain't Rights as they reluctantly agree to play a gig at a Neo-Nazi club after learning that the gig they were meant to play has been cancelled, leaving them broke with no other options. Despite opening up with a deliberately antagonistic cover of The Dead Kennedys "Nazi Punks, Fuck Off", everything is going well until they end up becoming unwilling witnesses to a murder that the Neo-Nazis want to cover up. Trapped in the titular green room, it's now up to The Ain't Rights to figure a way out of this mess before they are hacked to pieces by skinheads.

8 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E18 "The Singularity" review

It's no secret that the best part of Agents of SHIELD is and always has been the duo of Leopold Fitz and Jemma Simmons, collectively and affectionately known as Fitzsimmons. Their semi-romantic, will-they-won't-they friendship has been an important part of the show since the first season, and people genuinely care about them; something well-known by the shows writers, who take every opportunity they can to tear them apart, test their friendship, and break them in every way they know how. Fitzsimmons have been through a lot over the course of the last two seasons, so when an episode finally gives them the break that they deserve it feels both hugely satisfying and totally earned.

It is that which makes "The Singularity" such a good episode of Agents of SHIELD. The main story sees SHIELD dealing with the fallout left from last weeks "The Team" while also trying to get to various Inhumans that they know about before Hive can, but it is the side-plot that sees Fitzsimmons searching for someone who might have created a cure for Hive's mind control that really held my interest throughout.

5 May 2016

Captain America: Civil War review

A common criticism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that each film only exists to set up the next. It's an unfair one, in my eyes; for the most part, the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are in the habit of reacting that which came before more than than they are setting up future ones, something that helps make this constantly evolving world feel incredibly natural. Yes, Avengers: Age of Ultron can only happen thanks to the events of Avengers Assemble and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it never feels like those films only happened so that Avengers: Age of Ultron could. It's a careful balancing act that Marvel Studios haven't always pulled off, but when it works it works wonders.

As such, Captain America: Civil War is a reaction to... well, a lot. The world has grown weary of the Avengers since Sokovia fell out of the sky in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and after another Avengers mission results in civilian casualties an international agreement called The Sokovia Accords is created to stop the Avengers from operating without oversight from the United Nations. Those that sign the Accords can continue to work as an Avenger under the UN, but those that don't - such as Steve Rogers - have no legal right to involve themselves in those kind of conflicts; something that becomes a big issue when a still in-hiding Bucky Barnes is becomes the primary suspect behind a terrorist attack.

1 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E17 "The Team" review

Last week I said that I was disappointed with "Paradise Lost" thanks to how varied the quality was throughout. Although the main story of the episode was interesting, the other two side-plots only really existed to set up storylines for later on, and the episodes overall slower pace killed a lot of the momentum that the season had been building. I said at the time that it is now up to this weeks episode to not only be a significantly better episode, but also to provide a satisfying continuation of the story left unresolved by "Paradise Lost" - and "The Team" manages to do just that.

Picking up where we left off in "Paradise Lost", "The Team" opens up with Daisy and Lincoln forming the Secret Warriors in earnest before heading to the location where Coulson and Co (now fighting off wave after wave of Hydra goons) were redirected to by Giyera. But the main thrust of the episode takes place after the opening rescue mission, and deals with the paranoia experienced by SHIELD when they find out that Ward-thing (now officially referred to as Hive) may be controlling one or more of the Secret Warriors.

24 April 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E16 "Paradise Lost" review

"Paradise Lost" is one of the most uneven episodes of Agents of SHIELD in a long time. It's a clear attempt to return the shows focus to the season-wide plot that made the first half of Agents of SHIELD third season feel so fresh, something I've been clamouring for since the mid-season finale - but "Paradise Lost" fails to really balance all three of the plots that it deals with, resulting in an episode that varies wildly from genuinely interesting to... well, a bit boring, frankly.

Now that SHIELD have learned that Ward has somehow returned from Maveth, "Paradise Lost" sees Coulson sending Daisy and Lincoln to find out more information about ancient Inhumans from someone Lincoln used to know, while the rest of SHIELD investigate a facility owned by the company Gideon Malick's version of Hydra took over last week. Meanwhile, Gideon begins to realise that he may have bitten off more than he can chew with Hive, and we get to learn more about Gideon's past in a series of flashbacks.

21 April 2016

The Jungle Book review

There are an awful lot of people who insist that some films must be seen in the cinema in order to really appreciate them. Now, I love going to the cinema as much as anybody (and significantly more than most), and I see as many films on the big screen as I can - but I'm yet to see a film that has been described as a "cinema experience" that has also been just a genuinely good film. I mean, think back to films such as Avatar or Gravity - they're inarguably visually stunning and technologically impressive, but can you really say with any kind of certainty that either of them are genuinely good films? I think the lack of impression that either have actually made on pop culture at large answers that question.

That being said, The Jungle Book is probably the closest we've gotten to a film sold as a "cinema experience" that is also legitimately worth seeing as just a good movie. Predominantly inspired by the 1967 animated version, this live-action (can a film that is 99% CGI really be considered live-action?) remake follows Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves, as he travels through the jungle to live safely in a human village thanks to the threats of Shere Khan, a tiger who wants him dead.

18 April 2016

Revisiting Man of Steel

At this point it seems pretty safe to say that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't exactly set the world on fire. A box office disappointment and an unmitigated critical disaster, it's the kind of film that will be best remembered for the sheer level of "What the shit is going on" on display throughout, a movie that even a lot of die-hard Man of Steel apologists have to admit simply doesn't work - which makes me want to take a look back at the first film in what would later become known as the DC Extended Universe.

Because Man of Steel is, at best, a divisive movie. Even a full three years after it was released you can still find people arguing about it online, and it's usually an argument based around one of two things - either that Superman isn't meant to kill people, or that Superman didn't do enough to stop the destruction of Metropolis. And there is a very good reason why these two in particular are the most common complaints that people have with Man of Steel.

17 April 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E15 "Spacetime" review

I've been criticising Agents of SHIELD since it's return from it's mid-season break for one very frustrating reason - for the most part, it has felt as if the season wide plot established by the seasons first half has been dropped in favour of the "monster of the week" type structure that defined the shows first season. But I'm beginning to feel like I may have been just a little short-sighted.

Without noticing it, Agents of SHIELD has been subtly progressing the season wide plot each episode, making fairly significant changes to the position of both SHIELD and Hydra within the show while focusing on smaller stories each week. We certainly aren't in the same place now as we were when the show returned after it's mid-season break, but the way that Agents of SHIELD has chosen to show those changes has made it feel very natural, to the point where it's been difficult to really notice that some fairly important shifts have taken place.

14 April 2016

Hardcore Henry review

Hardcore Henry isn't the first film to experiment with the idea of the audience being put directly in the shoes of a character within the movie. It's not even really a rare technique - there has been a lot of found-footage films over the years that for the most part replicate the effect that Hardcore Henry is going for, which means that the question of "Can a film work when told from a first-person perspective?" was answered long before Hardcore Henry ever hit theatres. Yes, it can, and we've seen that it can multiple times before.

Which makes Hardcore Henry's failure as a film all the more difficult to swallow. This isn't an experiment in film-making that just so happens to have failed, it's an indulgent attempt to one-up the music video on which director Ilya Naishuller made a name for himself. In fact, it seems generous to really refer to Hardcore Henry as a film - lacking all the things that make a film a film (such as a story, characters, structure, themes), Hardcore Henry is instead nothing more than a 90-minute long music video, and I do mean that in the most derogatory way possible.

10 April 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E14 "Watchdogs" review

There has been a problem with Agents of SHIELD that has gone unaddressed for a long time now. It's never been a huge problem, just a minor frustration from time to time, but it's been there ever since the start of the second season and has shown up in a variety of ways in various episodes. And it all boils down into one, very simple question.

"Exactly how big is SHIELD now?"

It's not an unfair question. Between the enormous "garage" we see from time to time, the many extras that have appeared over the course of the last few seasons, the large scope of Coulson's SHIELD and the fact that they actually had a freaking Helicarrier in storage at one point, it seems safe to assume that they are fairly large - at which you point you have to ask how they have managed to stay underground given the hundreds of employees they have, the large areas of land they must use and the cost of all that military grade equipment. There is an inconsistency there, one not helped when "Watchdogs" has Coulson call Mack into work on his time off thanks to resource issues caused by the loss of Bobbi and Hunter.

6 April 2016

Eddie the Eagle review

Based on a true story, Eddie the Eagle follows Michael Edwards, an Olympic hopeful who after failing to qualify for the 1984 Winter Olympics in downhill skiing starts training for the 1988 games as Britain's only ski jumper. Moving to a training facility in Germany, his sheer determination to compete in the Winter Olympics despite his lack of experience or ability soon wins over ex-Olympic ski jumper Bronson Peary, who agrees to coach him.

Eddie the Eagle is as traditional a film as you are likely to see, following the tried and tested formula of the sports biopic pretty much to the letter and hitting all the same beats that you've seen before in the exact order you would expect. But I don't really mean this as a bad thing - it may not subvert your expectations or revitalise the genre, but it's still an incredibly well made movie with two great performances from Taron Egerton as Michael Edwards and Hugh Jackman as the fictional Bronson Peary.

3 April 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E13 "Parting Shot" review

It's rare that something setting up spin-offs actually works. Films like Iron Man 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and even Avengers: Age of Ultron to some degree have suffered by trying to set-up other films, bending over backwards to include unnecessary scenes that simply don't matter to the story at hand. It almost always feels cheap, a decision made by studio executives that reduces the quality of the thing you are watching in order to squeeze more money out of the next thing they have planned - so it's refreshing to see Agents of SHIELD do it well, especially when the show itself has been much-maligned by people because of its status as a spin-off in the first place.

After stowing away on Gideon Malick's plane at the end of last weeks "The Inside Man", "Parting Shows" opens up by showing us that Bobbi has been arrested before flashing back to explain how that happened. It's an episode focused almost entirely on setting up the upcoming Most Wanted spin-off show, but the reason that "Parting Shot" works is that it isn't trying to fit this set-up into an episode with something else going on. "Parting Shot" is very much Bobbi and Hunter's episode, putting them in the spotlight and (most importantly) giving them a proper send off, a satisfying ending even if you were to never watch Most Wanted. It sounds simple because it is, but you'd be surprised how often things trying to set other things up fail to do this.

31 March 2016

Agent Carter S2E10 "Hollywood Ending" review

For a show that has been slowly crafting an incredibly interesting story over the previous nine episodes, it has to be said that Agent Carter has somewhat dropped the ball in the season finale. Conveniently and unconvincingly dealing with the cliffhanger ending of "A Little Song and Dance" as soon as possible, "Hollywood Ending" goes on to deliver an unsatisfying conclusion to the season wide story, an uninspired affair that is quite easily the episodes biggest and most noticeable flaw.

Well, that and the complete lack of musical numbers this week.

27 March 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice review

At one point during Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor is tasked with giving a speech. It's not a good speech - despite clearly having certain concepts and themes that he intended to talk about, he seems distracted, unable to really process his own thoughts or communicate his ideas to the audience. He rambles on for a while, trying over and over again to make himself understood, but it's all for nothing - by the end of his speech, we only really have a basic idea of what he was trying to talk about, and any context for those thoughts or meaning behind them is entirely lost thanks to his inability to express himself properly. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is that speech, and director Zack Snyder is our rambling, incoherent Lex Luthor.

The basic story of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is incredibly simple, but you wouldn't know it from reading a full plot synopsis. After Metropolis was destroyed in Man of Steel, both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor independently decide that Superman is simply too dangerous to be allowed to live. In essence that's it, but there are so many extraneous plot details and unnecessary scenes that the whole thing collapses under the weight of itself long before our two main characters ever even meet.

Agents of SHIELD S3E12 "The Inside Man" review

Following on from last weeks reveal that General Talbot is now in charge of the ATCU, "The Inside Man" sees Director Coulson and General Talbot attend a meeting of world leaders in order to discuss the Inhuman outbreak. However, Coulson believes that Hydra leader Gideon Malick may have an inside man at the meeting, and as such he brings along Hunter, May and Bobbi in order to find out who that might be.

The biggest issue I have with "The Inside Man" is the exact same issue I have with the show as a whole -  as usual, I have no idea if the film side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever going to pay any mind to the TV side of things. That was OK when Agents of SHIELD was operating in the shadows of the larger universe, but the scale of the Inhuman outbreak and the response to it means that it should have had pretty big ramifications on the rest of the universe by now. But the fact is, it is really unlikely that Captain America: Civil War will in any way reference the fact that there are many more super-powered people in the world now, which (given the focus on ensuring powered people are responsible for their actions) only helps make Agents of SHIELD feel even less relevant to the world it inhabits.

25 March 2016

Agent Carter S2E9 "A Little Song and Dance" review

Opening with a knowing, tongue-in-cheek dream sequence before transitioning smoothly into a vibrant musical number, "A Little Song and Dance" isn't quite what I've come to expect from an episode of Agent Carter, at least throughout the first few minutes. This isn't a bad thing - it's a hugely entertaining sequence that I enjoyed very much, and although it doesn't really fit in very well with what the rest of the episode is actually about, it does show us where Peggy's head is at regarding Dr Wilkes and Daniel Sousa, as well as giving us the much awaited return of fan-favourite New York waitress Angie, from the first season.

Beyond that, "A Little Song and Dance" is as captivating an episode as Agent Carter has ever produced. Picking up on where "The Edge of Mystery" left off, we at first split our time between watching Peggy and Jarvis try to escape from captivity while Daniel Sousa, Jack Thompson and Dr Samberly attempt to deal with the situation they have found themselves in after firing the weapon.

23 March 2016

Daredevil season two review

Most people (myself included) thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Daredevil. It wasn't perfect by any means, hampered by an increasingly meandering story as it went on and a finale that dropped the ball in a multitude of ways, but as an introduction to this new part of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe? It did a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the Netflix shows, something followed up by and capitalised on by the significantly better Jessica Jones.

Although the second season of Daredevil fails to reach the heights set by Jessica Jones, it's still an improvement over the first season in nearly every way - primarily thanks to the way that show-runners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez seem to have listened to and acted on criticisms of the first season. The most obvious strength that the second season has over the first is also the most simple - the second season of Daredevil has enough going on to actually justify it's length.

There are two fairly distinct stories at play in the second season of Daredevil. The first sees the introduction of fan-favourite character Frank Castle (also known as The Punisher) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a murderous vigilante who is terrorising Hell's Kitchen as he seeks revenge for the death of his family at the hands of criminals. The other sees Matt reunite with Elektra Natchios, an old girlfriend from Matt's time in college who is significantly more dangerous than she may appear at first glance.