13 December 2017

The Disaster Artist review


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

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

3 December 2017

Ranking the films of the DC Extended Universe

Oh, Christ.

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

5. Suicide Squad

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

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


23 November 2017

Justice League review


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

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

13 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express review


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

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

31 October 2017

Brawl in Cell Block 99 review


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

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

27 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok review


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

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

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

14 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 review


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

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

28 September 2017

mother! review


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

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

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

22 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle review


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

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

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

19 September 2017

It review


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

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

23 August 2017

Atomic Blonde review


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

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

12 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review


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

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

3 August 2017

Dunkirk review


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

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

25 July 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes review


I can't help but feel that in ten years time, we're going to look back at the Planet of the Apes prequel/reboot trilogy and be amazed. Both Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offer smart, complex, emotionally engaging science fiction for adults on a blockbuster budget - frankly, it's a minor miracle that they even exist in a time when studios seem more risk averse than ever, never mind that they've somehow avoided the kind of interference that has hindered so many movies of late. It's that which has marked this franchise out as something truly different since the beginning, and War for the Planet of the Apes takes that to the next level by delivering not just one of the best, most satisfying conclusions to a trilogy I've ever seen, but also a genuinely brilliant and artistically uninhibited piece of cinema that is quite unlike any other big budget film you're likely to see this year.

Set a couple of years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar and his clan at war with a military faction that are obsessively hunting them. After a peace offering from Caesar to the Colonel leading the faction backfires, Caesar orders his clan out of the woods and across a desert in order to ensure their safety - but motivated by revenge, he chooses to enter the heart of darkness in order to find and kill the Colonel himself.

13 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming review


Between the love still held for Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy and the damage done to the brand by Marc Webb's abortive Amazing Spider-Man rebooted franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming was always going to find itself in something of a difficult position, culturally. Even ignoring how unlikely it was to live up to Raimi's Spider-Man 2, a film that's still arguably a genre high-point over a decade after release, Spider-Man: Homecoming is tasked with offering a fresh take on a character already well-established in pop culture while also delivering on the promise of finally seeing Peter Parker exist as part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe - maybe more than any other MCU film to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is burdened by some heavy expectations, to the point where it would have been far too easy for it to end up disappointing.

Fortunately, that simply isn't the case. It may not reach the dramatic or emotional heights of Spider-Man 2, but by giving us a Peter Parker who looks and acts like a genuine teenager, avoiding any hint of an origin story and maybe most importantly delivering hard on the comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to avoid retreading the same ground as previous films without leaning too heavily on its links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, in short, exactly what it needed to be, and the result is a film that's simply delightful.

30 June 2017

Baby Driver review


As far as elevator pitches go, "a car chase movie where the action is synced to its soundtrack" is a pretty great one, especially when it's coming from none other than Edgar Wright himself. As the man behind the brilliant Cornetto Trilogy and the still under-rated Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it's clear that Wright is maybe the most inventive and original writer/director working today, and with a pitch that great I was sure that as with his previous films, his latest would be another film I'd love dearly - so why is it that Baby Driver left me cold?

It's something I've been pondering since leaving the cinema, and ultimately I think it comes down to a question of individual taste rather than objective quality. Baby Driver is just as tightly-crafted as any of Wright's previous movies, utilising his almost trademark fast-paced editing style in combination with a non-stop soundtrack and some neat choreography to create something that feels totally unique, stylistically - unfortunately, it's all in service of characters and a story that I simply couldn't force myself care about, and all the style in the world can't make up for that.

19 June 2017

The Mummy review


Opening with a good 10 minutes or so of extended flashbacks and unengaging, blandly narrated exposition, The Mummy is a film that starts off badly and only goes downhill from there. That's probably not going to come as too much of a shock thanks to the laughably unimpressive trailers and the critical mauling that it's already received, but that doesn't make it any less true - The Mummy fails at pretty much everything that it attempts, whether that be simply entertaining its audience for 110 minutes or getting us excited about future films in what Universal were hoping would become a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque shared franchise. This is the studio's second attempt to revitalise their old Universal Monsters properties after Dracula Untold failed to set the world on fire three years ago, but already I think it's pretty safe to say that The Mummy's Dark Universe won't fare any better - it certainly doesn't deserve to, that's for sure.

The Mummy follows Tom Cruise's Nick Morton, a soldier/treasure hunter in modern day Iraq who accidentally unearths the tomb/prison of Ahmanet, a Princess who was kept hidden from history after selling her soul to the Egyptian god Set and attempting to give him a physical form. After freeing herself from her sarcophagus by causing the plane she's being transported in to crash, Ahmanet resumes her efforts to give Set a physical body, and decides that Nick is the perfect vessel for that.

6 June 2017

Wonder Woman review


There's a lot riding on Wonder Woman, the latest DC superhero film from Warner Bros, and not just because it's the first female led, female directed superhero film of the modern era. The previous three films in the DC Extended Universe have all underwhelmed to various degrees, either critically, financially, or both - all eyes are on Wonder Woman to prove that there is value to be found in this franchise yet, and while obviously imperfect at times, I'm pleased to say that it manages to do just that. It's taken far longer than it should have, but the DCEU has finally delivered a film that is genuinely worth seeing, flaws and all.

Told as an extended flashback framed around the photograph she was trying to reclaim in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman sees Diana Prince getting involved in the First World War after learning of its existence when American spy/pilot Steve Trevor crashes his plane into the sea surrounding her home, the island of Themyscira. Concluding that only Ares, the God of War, could be behind this madness, Diana travels to London and later the Front with Steve to kill Ares and put an end to the war once and for all.

27 May 2017

Colossal review


Colossal might have been advertised as a quirky, high concept indie comedy, but that's really not an accurate representation of it at all. It's funny at times, sure, but maybe not in the way that trailers would indicate, and comedy certainly isn't where the focus of Colossal lies. Instead, it's part relationship drama, part "emotionally stunted adult returns to their home town" film and, bizarrely, part monster movie, all of which is used to mediate on self-destructive behaviour and abusive relationships in a surprisingly earnest and sobering way.

Yes, it's an odd film. But importantly, it's also a very good one.

We follow Gloria, an alcoholic party girl who moves back to her home town following a bad break-up in New York. Living out of any empty house that her parents used to rent out, she soon runs into an old school-friend who offers her a job at his bar - but after a night of heavy drinking, Gloria begins to suspect that she might be in control of a gigantic, Kaiju-esque monster that, since she moved back home, has been periodically rampaging through Seoul, South Korea.

20 May 2017

Alien: Covenant review


To say that Ridley Scott's Prometheus didn't receive the warmest of receptions upon release would be something of an understatement - to this day it's considered to be a punchline amongst franchise fans, a reputation that has clearly influenced the development of its quasi-sequel to a large degree. Alien: Covenant is a film that feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a feature length piece of franchise course correction, and how much that works for you is likely going to depend on how much you like Prometheus - but as a newfound fan of Prometheus following a recent rewatch, I can't help but be conflicted by a film that while well-intentioned, seems all too happy to throw its predecessor under the proverbial bus.

Set a handful of years after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew of the colony ship Covenant as they travel through space on their way to a planet they are tasked with colonising. Awoken early from hypersleep by a neutrino shockwave that damages the ship, they stumble upon a nearby planet that would be even more suitable for colonisation than their current destination, and send a group down to investigate. It should probably go without saying that things go badly for the crew.

4 May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review


After just under a decade of consistently producing some of the best blockbuster entertainment each year, you can be pretty sure that you're in for a good time if you go to see a movie with the Marvel Studios title card in front of it, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - the fifteenth(!) film in the ever expanding franchise experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe - offers no exception to that. Fans of the first film are going to find a lot to enjoy here, and while this review may come across as very critical at times, it's important to take that alongside the knowledge that despite being noticeably more flawed than its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still an entertaining, engaging film in its own right, and one that I personally enjoyed very much.

The comparisons that you might have seen made between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back are apt, and not just thanks to this films status as a space opera sequel. It too makes the decision to split up its core characters for much of the film's running time, allowing it to tackle its two main threads at once - one following Peter Quill and some of the Guardians as they meet Peter's biological father for the first time, and the other following Yondu Udonta and the rest of the Guardians as he re-examines his life (and his relationship with Peter) following a chance encounter with an old ally.

25 April 2017

Raw review


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

The Handmaiden review


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

Fast & Furious 8 review


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

Free Fire review


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 Autopsy of Jane Doe review


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

Get Out review


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

Kong: Skull Island review


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

Logan review


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

John Wick Chapter 2 review


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

The Lego Batman Movie review


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

T2 Trainspotting review


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

Hacksaw Ridge review


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

xXx: Return of Xander Cage review


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

Hands on with the Nintendo Switch


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

Split review


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

Live by Night review


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

La La Land review


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

Assassin's Creed review


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".