25 April 2017
It's been nearly a week since I saw Raw, the latest film from French director Julia Ducournau, and in truth I still feel just a little queasy when I think about it. From its opening scene, Raw is a film that maybe more than anything else seeks to provoke its audience, and regardless of what the intended reaction is - disgust, fear, horror or even laughter - it's very, very good at getting it. It's not going to be a film for everyone, or maybe even a film for most, but those able to stomach Raw's particular brand of horror will find a movie able to get under your skin and stay there in a way that very few can.
We follow lifelong vegetarian Justine as she begins her first year at the veterinary college that her older sister attends, and that her parents attended many years ago. After a bizarre hazing ritual forces Justine to eat meat for the first time in her life, she develops a horrific rash that once cured leaves her hungry for more.
20 April 2017
Rightly or wrongly, revenge is a theme that has become almost synonymous with the filmography of South Korean director Park Chan-wook. Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Lady Vengeance and even Stoker are all films that are interested in the recurring motif of justice and retribution, and in that sense The Handmaiden is very much apiece with the rest of Chan-wook's filmography - it too is if not explicitly a film about vengeance, at least includes it as an important part of its story. But The Handmaiden also comes with a subtle shift in worldview that pushes Chan-wook into exploring new and interesting directions, which alongside an added layer of substance results in what may well be his best film to date - and as any film fan worth their salt should know, that's not nothing.
Based loosely on Sarah Waters' novel "Fingersmith", The Handmaiden tells the story of pickpocket Sook-hee as she works as a maid for wealthy heiress Lady Hideko in Japanese-controlled Korea. Sook-hee has only taken the job as part of a plan to scam Hideko out of her fortune by convincing her to marry an accomplice, but as she spends time with Hideko she begins to fall in love, putting the plan in jeopardy in the process.
16 April 2017
At this point, I feel like you're either on the same wavelength as the Fast and Furious franchise or you're not. When I saw Furious 7 two years ago, I most decidedly was not, and my review at the time reflected that - having since seen both Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, however, I'd now consider myself wholly on-board with the larger-than-life soap operatics that is core to the franchise. These films are big and broad and dumb, sure, but their willingness to earnestly embrace the recurring motif of family and the ridiculous sense of canon built up over the last 16 years or so means that they work, often in spite of themselves - and Fast & Furious 8 (or to use its far superior title, The Fate of the Furious) offers no exception.
The plot this time sees international cyber-criminal Cypher forcing Dom to turn on his family in order to help her steal various pieces of technology, but despite the simplicity of that hook, newcomers to the Fast and Furious franchise are going to find themselves entirely lost here. So much of what makes Fast & Furious 8 work on anything beyond a purely visceral level is rooted in the work that previous films have done with the characters and their relationships to one another - anyone lacking that context is likely to miss out on the weight behind Dom's betrayal, Cypher's hold over him or the tension in bringing a Shaw brother onto the team. This over-the-top melodrama is ultimately where the heart of Fast & Furious 8 (and the franchise at large) lies, and as such those not attuned to that frequency simply won't find as much to enjoy here as those who are.
6 April 2017
Ben Wheatley may not be the most easily digestible director making a name for himself today, but as the man behind movies as varied as Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England and High Rise, I'd find it hard to argue that he isn't one of the most interesting. His films are never short of originality, often bursting onto the scene less like a breath of fresh air and more like a hurricane of different, and Free Fire offers no exception - set almost entirely within the confines of an abandoned warehouse, we follow two groups of colourful, vibrant characters as they engage in an absurd shootout that, barring a short set-up, lasts for the films entire running time.
That set up sees a group of IRA members travelling to Boston in the 1970s to buy a bunch of assault rifles from South African arms dealer Verne, but the details of why this deal is happening are nothing more than set dressing for a film that really only exists to ask and answer the question of "can a single gunfight in one location really be turned into a feature length film?". In that respect, it could be argued that Free Fire is more interesting as an experiment in storytelling than it is as an actual movie - but that doesn't mean that it's ever less than a very entertaining film too.
4 April 2017
The glut of great horror films we've had over the last few years have made it easy to forget, but horror is tricky. No other genre relies so heavily on all the individual pieces working together in harmony - if the audience aren't engaged or if suspension of disbelief is broken for even a second then the entire thing falls apart, sucking all the tension out of the film in one fell swoop. Horror is a careful tightrope walk that results in something wonderful when done properly - but one foot out of place at any point and regardless of how well things have been going until then, it's game over.
Unfortunately, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a great example of that principle. Set in a private morgue, we follow a father-son coroner team as they perform an autopsy on the titular Jane Doe, whose body was found at the site of a grisly homicide without a single mark on it. As they learn more about the mysterious corpse in front of them, the tension rises as the atmosphere builds - but The Autopsy of Jane Doe fails to sell a turn of events about halfway through, meaning that despite some decent jump scares and a very creepy atmosphere, the finale simply doesn't work.
21 March 2017
It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but the best horror films aren't necessarily the scariest. Horror as a genre works best when it's married to the fears of its audience in a much broader sense, and for that reason the best horror films tend to be those tuned into the zeitgeist of the time, those willing to be about something in a way that a lot of modern horror rarely is. Whether it be the anti-consumerism of Dawn of the Dead, the red scare of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the technophobia of Black Mirror, social commentary and horror have always made for a great pairing - it's little surprise then that Get Out is no exception, commenting on race and culture in modern America and establishing itself as an instant classic in the process.
We follow Chris Washington as he and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, travel to her family home for the weekend in order for him to meet her parents for the first time. Rose has never had a black boyfriend before, and the fact that she hasn't yet told her parents about Chris being black has him concerned about their reaction. Fortunately for him, Rose's parents are liberal and tolerant to a fault, but that doesn't stop Chris from feeling uncomfortable and out of place - a feeling that only grows when he starts to notice the strange behaviour of the Armitage's black servants, and the eagerness of Rose's mother to place him under hypnosis and cure his smoking addiction.
16 March 2017
As the second installment in Warner Bros' attempt at creating a coherent cinematic universe based on the monster movies of old, Kong: Skull Island is something of an oddity. Not only is it almost entirely unrelated to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla - a natural by-product of it being set a full four decades earlier - it's also radically different in both style and tone to the film that it is soon meant to crossover with, to the point where I struggle to see how the studio plan to bridge this pretty significant divide. And that's not to say that one is better than the other - I liked them both, for very different reasons - it's just that we haven't seen a cinematic universe that seems to give its directors this much creative freedom so far.
And if nothing else, that makes for a very interesting film indeed.
Set in 1973, we follow a ragtag expedition group made up of scientists, government employees, a photographer and a mercenary as they travel to Skull Island in order to explore what they believe to be the last uncharted territory on the planet. Accompanied by a US helicopter squadron for protection, they soon find that the island is infinitely more dangerous than most of them could have expected, and after the destruction of their helicopters have just three days to make their way to the Northern shore of the island for rescue.
6 March 2017
Given the mediocre quality of the franchise at large, it's hardly the highest of praise to claim that Logan ranks amongst the best X-Men films to date, but that doesn't make it any less true. Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for a full 17 years now, and despite the less than stellar nature of some of those films I think we can all agree that he's often a highlight of the ones he's been in - what a relief it is then that Logan offers us not just the violent Wolverine solo film that many have been clamouring for since 2000, but also a movie that acts as a worthy, albeit imperfect, farewell to a character/actor combination that we've been watching for the best part of two decades.
Set in a not-so-distant, slightly dystopian future in which mutants are all but extinct, Logan follows our titular character as he attempts to care for an aging Charles Xavier just South of the US/Mexico border. Struggling to afford the medication that stops Xavier suffering from frequent seizures, Logan ends up accepting a contract to help smuggle a nurse and her "daughter" - secretly a mutant herself - across the US border and to a safe place for mutants called Eden, located in North Dakota.
17 February 2017
I don't think it's all that unfair to say that American action films tend to suck, especially when it comes to a good old fashioned dust up. These days they're far too reliant on shaky-cam in order to mask the simple fact that their stars don't have the training required to make combat look good on screen, and there are very few films in recent years that have managed to overcome that in order to deliver a truly good fight scene. John Wick was one of the few, a film dedicated to practical action and real stunt work in a way that made it stand out amongst the crowd - and now John Wick Chapter 2 has done it again, full of the stylish action that made the first film such a breath of fresh air while also further exploring the heightened, pulpy world that these characters inhabit.
It's a blast.
We follow legendary hitman John Wick as he is once again dragged out of retirement, this time by Santino D'Antonio, an Italian mob boss to whom he swore a blood oath many years ago. The rules of the world John once inhabited means that refusal to honour this blood oath will cost him his life, forcing him to travel to Rome in order to carry out a hit that he doesn't want to.
8 February 2017
As a spin-off from 2014's surprisingly good The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie had a lot to live up to. The Lego Movie was in many ways a breath of fresh air, a funny, subversive, wholly original film that impressed not only because of how good it was for a branded product, but just how good it was as a movie full-stop. Following that up was always going to be a challenge, one only made all the more difficult by centring the movie around one of pop cultures most recognisable icons - and yet The Lego Batman Movie is by and large a success, albeit not quite to the same degree that The Lego Movie was.
The reason for that success is simple - much like The Lego Movie, there is a sense of purpose to The Lego Batman Movie that gives it a reason to exist beyond mere corporate interests. The Lego Batman Movie positions Lego Batman not as a distinct version of Batman but as an all-encompassing overview of the character as he has existed in pop-culture for the last eight decades, a conglomeration of all previous canon that allows the movie to act as both a cunning meta-commentary on the Batman franchise and a celebration of the character's many incarnations over the years.
3 February 2017
It's weird that we don't talk about Danny Boyle more often. Few directors can boast a filmography as varied and consistently interesting as his, and yet in the grand scheme of things he's completely under-appreciated, only really taken note of when he's set to release a new film. Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Steve Jobs all showcase his many talents as a director - and now T2 Trainspotting can be added to that list, the long-awaited sequel to potentially his most well-regarded film and one that (thankfully) doesn't disappoint.
It's been twenty years since Renton ran off with the £16,000 at the end of Trainspotting, but when T2 Trainspotting starts not a lot has really changed. Our characters are older now, but they're still very much the same people they were two decades ago - Renton is still an addict, albeit to exercise rather than heroin; Sick Boy is still a schemer, coming up with any number of get rich quick schemes that ultimately fall apart; Spud is still a junkie, unable to get his life on track; Begbie is still very much Begbie, only made more bitter by his time in prison. That lack of development between films is very much deliberate - these characters are incapable of meaningful change thanks to their inability to let go of the past, whether that be through regret (Renton), anger (Sick Boy and Begbie) or just a vague sense that things were better back then (Spud).
1 February 2017
Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, Hacksaw Ridge isn't just a declaration that Mel Gibson is back in Hollywood's good books. It may be his first directorial effort in a decade, but it's clear that the time he's been away hasn't changed him - not only is Hacksaw Ridge a well-made film, but his choice to revisit themes that he's more than familiar with also serves as a notice that he's still very much Mel Gibson, with all that entails.
Set predominantly during the Second World War, Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Private Desmond Doss, a combat medic who refused to kill or even hold a gun due to his beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. Despite that, he still managed to save the lives of 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa, becoming the first conscientious objector (or conscientious cooperator, as Doss puts it) to receive the Medal of Honor.
27 January 2017
It's been a couple of days since I saw xXx: Return of Xander Cage now, and I still can't decide if it's the most self-aware film I've ever seen, or the least. It's either a brilliant self-parody of a Vin Diesel movie or the ridiculous next step in what a Vin Diesel movie is, a knowing nod and wink to the audience or an earnest but horribly misguided attempt to give Vin Diesel a new ensemble action franchise to lead. You could quite easily walk away from xXx: Return of Xander Cage with either interpretation, and ultimately, which it is doesn't really matter - regardless of if xXx: Return of Xander Cage is so bad it's good or just good, it's still a lot of fun to sit through.
The story sees extreme sports enthusiast/spy Xander Cage come out of hiding in order to help the NSA retrieve a piece of technology called the Pandora's Box from a group of terrorists who are also all extreme sports enthusiasts. If that synopsis doesn't paint a pretty good picture of what to expect from xXx: Return of Xander Cage, how about this: the film opens with a scene that sees a footballer successfully stopping an armed robbery by kicking a napkin holder at the robber's head.
25 January 2017
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go down to the Switch launch event in London. Along with other members of the public I was lucky enough to try the few games that have been revealed for the console and get some hands on time with the unit itself. The potential it has and my excitement for the system were somewhat dampened by the big presentation Nintendo held a few days before the event. There were too many variables that weren't addressed and the lineup of games wasn't that big, especially the amount that are being released early on. I thought the overall concept of the Switch was still great but that was shown to us last year. Apart from information regarding HD rumble (of which they didn't really explain) and a few new games, there wasn't much content to back it all up. As a brand new home console from Nintendo they could have gone in a very different direction that I'm sure would greatly please more dedicated gamers.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the direction and quality of games they are showing off with a few niggling issues that are holding back my overall excitement levels. It was only on the train ride home from the Switch event where the true potential of the system hit me. Having those console experiences on the journey would be game changing. The quality of the screen and controllers. The ability to play multiplayer games with just the unit itself. The ease of popping off a controller and giving it to a friend.
But then of course my mind wanders to the questions of battery life, range of games and storage space and the doubts and issues build up again, but for a moment I saw the possibilities of what the Switch could open up. A handheld that happens to be a console is such a straightforward yet clever idea that it seems unbelievable that no-one has pulled it off yet. Along with the quality of Nintendo's first party games, it could take off with a whole different audience who weren't even aware of the Wii U's existence.
Let's get straight into the games along with a quick grade to see how they stack up against each other.
23 January 2017
M. Night Shyamalan is a difficult director to pin down. Neither the "next Spielberg" he was once touted as nor the entirely talentless hack he has often been painted as, he's a director whose wildly inconsistent filmography means that he's pretty much the definition of a "hit-and-miss" filmmaker. Fortunately, his latest movie Split is more hit than miss, a small scale horror/thriller that's fairly entertaining throughout, showing us a Shyamalan who is willing to embrace his genre roots in a way that plays to his strengths as both a writer and as a director - and something that I'd like to see more of in the future.
Split follows three teenage girls - Claire, Marcia and misfit Casey - as they are kidnapped and held prisoner by Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who suffers from severe Dissociative Identity Disorder due to childhood abuse. As the girls attempt to escape they meet a number of Kevin's personalities, including the obsessive compulsive Dennis and 9-year old Hedwig, and slowly learn that the reason they were taken was to witness the emergence of "The Beast" - the incredibly violent 24th personality in Kevin's body who aims to purge the world of the impure, starting with them.
18 January 2017
I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed. Live by Night is the first film for a very long time that I've truly regretted seeing in the cinema, and although that sounds incredibly negative (especially considering some of the dross I've seen in recent years), you have to understand that statement is more due to my own personal feelings about Ben Affleck as a director than it is the quality of the film itself. I've greatly enjoyed all three of the films that Ben Affleck has previously directed, and have been rooting for him for some time now - something that only makes Live by Night all the more saddening, a black mark on an otherwise respectable directing career.
Based on the Dennis Lehane book of the same name, Live by Night tells the story of Bostonian bootlegger Joe Coughlin during the Prohibition era. Following hospitalisation and a three year prison sentence at the hands of Irish gangster Albert White, Joe starts to work for rival Italian Mafia boss Maso Pescatore in order to get his revenge, moving down to Tampa, Florida to run the Mafia's rum empire and coming into conflict with the KKK in the process.
11 January 2017
Despite having been looking forward to La La Land, the latest film from Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle, for some time now, the first two musical numbers had me more than a little worried that I wasn't going to enjoy it. The opening to the movie, a colourful, well-choreographed sequence on a gridlocked highway, felt entirely incidental even while it was happening; the follow-up to that, which sees Emma Stone's character Mia and her friends getting ready for and then attending a Hollywood party, was far too reminiscent of something like Hairspray or Grease for my tastes. It wasn't until the third number, a truly old-school song and dance titled "A Lovely Night", that La La Land really clicked with me - at which point I was completely hooked by a film every bit as good as you've probably already heard.
La La Land is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, a romantic musical that disproves the empty-headed sentiment of "they don't make them like they used to" with ease thanks not just to the songs, dances, structure and tone that makes La La Land completely unique in modern cinema, but also the sheer sense of craft on display throughout. There isn't an aspect of La La Land that isn't highly polished, from Justin Hurwitz's wonderful score to the dance choreography to the vivid cinematography, all of which help La La Land pop from the screen in a way few films manage to do even once, never mind multiple times.
6 January 2017
At this point, I can only conclude that there is an actual, honest-to-God curse on those who attempt to adapt video games into films. It's not a shock that there have been a lot of bad video game movies - most of them are relatively low-budget flicks designed to take advantage of the brand name and nothing more - but Assassin's Creed, much like last year's Warcraft: The Beginning, had real potential. Director Justin Kurzel had previously worked with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard on his very well thought of Macbeth, so seeing the three of them reunite for this felt like something of a statement, a declaration of intent - and yet somehow, Assassin's Creed has still ended up being an entirely terrible movie, one lacking even a single redeeming feature.
Based on the video game series of the same name, Assassin's Creed follows Callum Lynch, a death-row inmate who is the last descendant of 15th Century Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha. Following a fake execution, Callum is held against his will by the Abstergo Foundation and used as a test subject in a machine that allows people to tap into their "genetic memories" and relive the lives of their ancestors - something that the Abstergo Foundation hope will lead them to the Apple of Eden, an ancient artefact that would allow them to control free will and "cure violence".