Sunday, 13 August 2017

#62 ATOMIC BLONDE


Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy,  John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella and James Faulkner. Written by Kurt Johnstad (based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart). Directed by David Leitch. Running time: 115 minutes. Budget $30 million.

The plot sees Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton running round East and West Berlin, willy-nilly in those heady, pre-collapse days of 1989 in the company of ‘gone native’ MI6 agent David Percival (James McAvoy) in search of yet another list of every single allied agent in the world, e-VER, which has been hidden in a mirco dot hidden inside a watch that was worn by her now-dead lover, James Gasciogne who was killed by the KGB. Now everybody on both sides of the wall wants that list and are willing to beat, bribe, bully, bludgeon or just plain kill anyone who gets in their way. But Lorraine has more reason that most, she wants revenge and find the mole in MI6 who’s been leaking classified secrets to the enemy.

After that it’s a dizzying sprint through the streets of Berlin accompanied by a smorgasbord of classic 80s hits as our blonde bombshell dispatches anyone and everyone, be it by fist, foot, high-heeled stiletto, pistol or snog. And the good news is, if you’ve seen the trailer than you’ve not seen the whole film, just most of it!

This is a stylish and exceedingly well fight-choreographed orgy of violence and style over content, that is sadly undone by its utterly poe-faced lead, who cracks a smile only once throughout the whole thing. Now, I wasn’t expecting a laugh riot, but a sense of humour, even a black one, would have made this a much more enjoyable romp, as would giving us, the audience, a little bit more to work with. All the way through this we get the sense that Lorraine is 4 steps ahead of us and everyone else for that matter and after a while that becomes a little tedious and you soon find yourself just coasting along waiting for the next bone jarring fight or car chase, which oddly enough isn’t that often. Although the highlight of which is a blistering ‘one-shot, one take’ stairwell fight between Charlize and at least 4 KGB agents that is simply, and staggeringly superb.

The film barrels along, ticking off all the spy film bingo boxes and never missing a beat as we discover who the mole, codenamed Satchel really is. Although by the end of this you might, like me, be a bit confused. Theron is excellent, this is obviously a project she was very committed to, in fact all the cast are great, although poor old Sofia Boutella perhaps deserved better.

And yet oddly enough despite a kick-ass premise, some superb action and fight scenes, some raunchy moments and some great violence, this never really went off for me. It was alright but I never really engaged with it.

I was hoping for more, maybe the beginning of a female John Wick franchise and maybe that was my downfall because ultimately this was intended to be more, a mix of the classic spy drama, like Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy and Bourne, but without the vomit-inducing shaky-cam bollox. It's directed by David Leitch, who was the uncredited co-directed John Wick and he's clearly showing he has an extraordinary talent for hi-octane, hard-hitting action flicks and long may he reign!

The trailer promised far more than the end product could deliver but this was still an entertaining and satisfying action romp and proves that Charlize Theron is one kick-ass action heroine!

7/10

Sunday, 23 July 2017

#60 DUNKIRK


Starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Gillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy. Music by Hans Zimmer, Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. Budget £150 million. Running time 106 minutes.

Told from three different perspectives, the land (port of Mole, where unnamed private, Fionn Whitehead fights to survive), the sea (Mark Rylance pilots his small boat to Dunkirk) and the air, (where RAF pilot Tom Hardy fights and flies for his life) this is a superbly directed and intense film made even more so by Hans Zimmer's sound track that utilises a ticking clock to add extra pressure.

Watching Whitehead's repeated attempts to get off the beach becomes almost unbearable, as does each of the three story arcs that finally collide with dramatic effect in a nail-biting finale.

Nolan directs with real aplomb and his staging of the action is fantastic, as is his ability to ratchet up the tension. However this is a strange, almost alien film. The streets of Dunkirk are utterly empty, naturally apart from the 300,000 stranded Tommies standing on the beaches, obediently queuing to be rescued. The cast apart from a few token female nurses is 100% male and most jarring there are no German soldiers to be seen and indeed for most of the film they are only referred to as 'the enemy', we never see the face of a single German solider, nor do we see a British soldier actually do any fighting. It's also a war film that is oddly devoid of blood or violence, nor gruesome battlefield gore, rest assured this is no Saving Private Ryan. And yet despite all of that, the impending sense of death pervades every frame of this film, the sense of guilt of the survivors, the uncomfortable awkwardness of the living towards the corpses of comrades that wash in with the tide, I've never seen a film that so makes you so fear for the living. Ultimately the film does feel a little too clean, everything spic and span, everything art-directed to perfection and everything too 'otherworldly' despite its slavish devotion to period detail.

I've read that this film has been critised for not having a plot or a story, but I beg to differ, just because a film doesn't have an 'arc' for its characters to follow doesn't mean it doesn't have a story. For me, just watching our groups of characters trying to survive and get off the goddam beach was more than story enough.

I breathed a sigh of relief when this was over, I was moved and involved, the 107 minutes flew by and I was left emotionally shaken.

9/10

#59 & 61 VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND WORLDS


Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Haweke, Herbie Handcock, Kris Wu and Rutger Hauer. Written and Directed by Luc Besson. Budget £197 million. Running time 137 minutes long.

It literally breaks my heart to write these words, indeed the ambulance is on its way as I type them, but this isn't the triumph I was praying for, although what it is is the most beautiful, inventive and spectacular looking science fiction film I've seen since... 5th Element. In fact, in terms of visual mastery and inventiveness this is nothing less than utterly extraordinary. And if I was scoring the film purely on creativity and its look I would have no qualms of scoring it 10/10.

Unfortunately it's like looking at the world's most fantastic supercar and lifting the lid to discover it's just a shell, that there's nothing going on under the hood. It's like a huge stick of candy floss and a box of toffee coated popcorn after the dazzling, tantalizing burst of all that sugary goodness there's nothing to fill you up.

The plot sees Valerian (Dane DeHann) and the object of his, rather creepy, love obsession Laureline (Cara Delevingne) stumble from one plot point to the next by taking turns to be captured and rescued by the other, while Valerian grooms Laureline into letting him shag her. Then it's off to the City of a Thousand Worlds in search of the big plot reveal that somehow links into the beautiful opening scene, a very angry general (Clive Owen) a cute, long-snouted pearl-shitting alien matter convertor and an insane menagerie of assorted alien lifeforms who are all after something or other, oh and Rihanna as Bubble the shape-changing cabaret singer. And at the center of all that is a tale that is nothing. The main plot device is the repetitive rescuing of each of the main characters, in turn. Besson has obviously spent all his time on the visuals and nothing on the plot, characters, script or serious lack of one or all of those parts.

Sadly there's also the lack of not one iota of chemistry between the two leads. That said, Cara Delevinge is unbelievably beautiful and both the camera and Besson clearly love her as her face dominates the screen for large portions of the film. She's an interesting actresses and once she gets past eye rolling and sneering as her default acting setting she has real potential. DeHann is way too slight and weedy to carry the lead role.

But, regardless this is still a delightful movie, it deserves to be seen up on the big screen, just not in 3D, the opening 20 minutes are genuinely wonderful as we watch the birth of the City of a Thousand Worlds, and a day-in-the-life of a strange alien race whose fate subsequently powers the plot of the whole film. And if the film had managed to sustain this early promise, I would be weeping tears of joy and proclaiming this the second coming. But it didn't and I'm not. I just wish Luc had worked with a script writer who could have knocked some sense, or story into the proceedings, because ultimately this does become somewhat tiresome.

I love the comics, which this film is based on, I love Cara Delevingne and I think Luc Besson is a visionary but alas this was was the perfect example of style over substance.

Story: 3/10
Visuals: 10/10
Average Score: 6/10
Cara Deleingne +1
Final score 7/10

#57 DESPICABLE ME 3


Starring Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate, Dana Gaier and Julie Andrews. Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda. Budget $80 million, running time 90 minutes long.

Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are sacked from the Anti-Villain League for failing to capture Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), a former 1980s child actor who's grown up to become a super-villain after he steals a big diamond for his own nefarious purposes, well actually for the third act and final showdown macguffin. Added to that double-dose of adult-life doo-doo comes the surprising news that Gru isn't the only child he was led to believe he was, indeed he has an identical twin brother called Dru (also Steve Carell) who was brought up by his father. We learn that both parents took one of the twins and raised them oblivious to the other. Then the Minions, apart from three, quit cos Gru has turned good and promptly get arrested and thrown into jail. Meanwhile, Balthazar is off on a mission of destruction with the big diamond (see told you) and something even bigger! Lucy (utterly wasted in this film) goes shopping and tries to bond with the three girls. Oh, and talking of them, the youngest daughter wants a real-life, honest-to-goodness unicorn, before the status-quo is returned to normal in time for the next instalment. Blimey, talk about 'never rains but it pours.'

There's a serious amount of plot and story to cram into, DM3's relatively brief, running time of 90 minutes, indeed there's too much because ultimately the film suffers from it. You never truly get a chance to engage with the film or one of the many different plot points before another takes over and that sadly lessens the impact of the film. It starts off wonderfully and very funny and the bits between Gru and Dru are delightful and very funny, as are the bits with the unicorn hunt, and the bits with the Minions, and the bits with Bratt building up to his big third-act macguffin thingie, and... and well with every thing, but sadly it's as a whole that the film comes apart. There's too much of everything and not enough time to do any of it any justice. Plus there's a real sense that when the first 70 minutes of the film was first screened someone pointed out the film makers had lost the plot and so the third act gets shoe-horned into proceedings. Plus since that showdown is extremely reminiscent of the exact same Macguffin in the Minnions Movie it feels neither fresh, or that funny. Just loud and flashy.

The bottom line is this, cos I'm waffling and this damn review has taken me over a week to write and if I wait any longer it'll be the first review I've written that'll come out after the release of the film.

The animation is superb, the inventiveness is a delight  and it looks wonderful thanks to the French studio what made it. And It's very funny movie in parts, Carell and indeed Carell are both very funny as Gru and Dru, as is Trey Parker. But it's a case of the unlearned lesson of 'less is more'. Yes, you'll have a good time but the 3rd act is just too generic and obvious and it weakens what has gone on before.

Gru and now Dru are great characters, as are Lucy, the daughters and the Minions. They deserve better, or atleast something less formulaic next time please. Plus bring back Balthazar, he's awesome!

7/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

#56 & 63 WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES


Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Michael Adamthwaite, Amiah Miller and Steve Zahn. Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves. Directed by Matt Reeves. Budget $150 million. Running time 140 minutes. Cert 12A.

Another simply superb summer blockbuster brings the new 're-imagined' Planet of the Apes trilogy to a meaty, satisfying and dramatic ending. Featuring another exceptional performance from Andy Serkis and what is simply the most staggeringly impressive, natural-looking special effects you've ever seen. Seriously, if you thought the ape effects were good in the first two films, Rise and Dawn, then you ain't seen nothing yet! You will marvel at all realistic these apes look.

The story takes place five or so years after the previous film where we learn that Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ever-growing family of intelligent apes are being hunted to extinct by a group of soldiers called the Alpha-Omega from 'up North' who are on the revenge trail following the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. All Caesar wants to do is live away from humans in peace and quiet, but sadly the humans lead by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) have other ideas. Following a brutal night-time assault on the secret base of the Apes, Caesar heads out for brutal, bloody revenge with Maurice, Luca and Rocket along for the ride and some company. It isn't long before our band of bare-back riding apes have adopted a mute young girl who they name Nova (Amiah Miller) and a self-speaking-taught ape (Steve Zahn) there mainly to offer light comedy moments to an otherwise relentlessly sombre and serious movie. The ever-growing band of Ape warriors finally track down The Colonel to his mountain lair, although not in the way that Caesar intended and we discover the War of the title is more than just a conflict between humans and apes...

I have to say that when the first of this trilogy first came out in 2011 I wasn't expecting it to be any good, the memories and mental scarring of the horrific Tim Burton abomination starring Marky, Mark Walhberg from 2001 still seemed too fresh and yet that 2011 film proved to be a stunning re-invention that totally kick started this staggering franchise. I was blown away by Serkis as Caesar and over the three films, I've thoroughly enjoyed watching his character, mature and age, it's not often you get to see that across three films. Similarly how delightful to know that in 6 months time I'll be able to sit down and watch all three films back-to-back and enjoy a solid 8 hours of drama.

This film does an amazing job of also subtly referencing the original 1968 classic original Planet of the Apes movie starring Charlton Heston with several brilliant nods.

With a solid cast, a tight script and some excellent action this provided a deeply satisfying and powerful conclusion to the trilogy. Hats off to Matt Reeves for delivering such a superb film and to Andy Serkis who brings such a powerful and believable performance.

9/10

Thursday, 29 June 2017

#54 & 55 SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING


Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, from a story by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. Directed by Jon Watts. Running time 133 minutes. Budget $175 million. Cert 12A.

CONTAINS NO PLOT SPOILERS


On my sweet, mother funking lord, how is this possible? How is it that a franchise now into its sixth movie, a series slowly murderised over the past three outings, and offering us yet another iteration and origin of its lead character, in a painfully short history suddenly be so, so utterly...
  
GOODMAN FUCKING BRILLIANT!

I mean, hand-on-heart, no bull-shit. This is arguably, not only, the single best Spider-Man film ever made, it's also one of the best super-hero movies EVER made! The only down side is, I seriously doubt we're ever going to see a better Spider-Man film than this, I fear it's going to be downhill from now! I mean I loved the very first two movies, the ones starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi. The second of which was my favourite Spider-Man film right up until this last night when I saw this.

Seriously, EVERYTHING about this movie is note perfect, from the casting, the script, the plot, the structure of the movie, the final showdown, everything! The portrayal of Peter Parker (Tom Holland – who has just secured himself a glittering career), his life at school, his relationship with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his relationship with Ned, his best friend (Jacob Batalon) who had the potential to be annoying but isn't, Christ I could list everyone, but it's not fair to single out any one performance, because EVERY ONE in this film are great! Including Michael Keaton who doesn't overwhelm the movie, he brings such a languid, depth to this with a performance of real balance. GOD I LOVED THIS FILM, LOVED IT!!!!

At one point the audience erupted into spontaneous applause at a plot reveal that was so surprising, so unexpected and so fantastically handled and the last time that happened was during Saving Private Ryan when Vin Dissel got shot.

Look, no word of a lie, this was just fantastic! Honestly, I can't fault it. Doing away with a huge global, spinning vortex of doom, seen in very nearly every-single super hero film ever made, doing away with a massive dude showdown and instead just focusing on character, plot and story. I mean, who'd have thunked it that just focusing on those three simple elements you could get a film this great? Even Spider-Man's origin is dealt with in this film, but only if you're listening, it's revealed in a conversation and takes up two sentences. This was everything that the two wretched Marc Webb abominations weren't. And I'm willing to bet that the morning after this opens, DC are going to start crying and tearing their hair out in desperation as they stare at the mess of a movie that Justice League is going to be. It could be argued that someone at Marvel, possibly Kevin Feige sold his soul to the devil?

I could go on and on, pouring praise on this movie, but the thing is, I don't want to. I want you to go and see it, without as little knowledge as possible, so I'm not going to talk about the plot, I'm not going to describe anything about particular scenes or any of that stuff. I went in blind and it was great. I would, hand-on-heart, recommend this even to a man lying on his death bed with only two hours and 20 minutes of life left.

I thought Wonder Woman would be the best super hero film of the year, but I'm sorry to say that its reign has ended after only three weeks, cos this new Spider-Man film will now be the new benchmark by which we rate every subsequent super hero films!

If you've ever wanted to know what it would be like to be a 15-year old superhero with great power, then this is the film for you.

Honestly go and see it, be first in line. This is a joyous, exhilerating and utterly delightful superhero film, that not only stands head and shoulders above any of its predecessors, but also as one of the single best superhero films ever made.

A perfect 10/10.

Second time round, it's still a solid 10/10. My only problem is whether to describe this movie as amazingly spectacular or just spectacularly amazing.



Sunday, 25 June 2017

#53 GIFTED


Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer. Written by Tom Flynn. Directed by Marc Webb. Running time 101 minutes. Budget $7 million. Certificate 12a.

In a small town near Tampa, boat mechanic, Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is bringing up his 7-year old niece Mary (McKenna Grace) all on his own following the suicide of his sister a maths genius, whose tragic death is slowly revealed over the course of the movie. Together with a one-eyed cat called Fred and a neighbour, Robeta Taylor (Octavia Spencer), Frank tries to bring up Mary, a fantastically gifted maths genius like her mother, in as normal as possible life. But when Mary's gift is spotted by her teacher, Jenny Slate, it triggers a series of events that sees Frank's mother, Eveyln (Lindsay Duncan) re-enter Frank's life and launch a lawsuit to take full custody of her granddaughter, forcing Frank to make a decision that has a devastating effect on both him and his young charge's life.

A nothing special, straight-forword and rather touching family drama. It's ending is never in doubt, but the cast is so relaxed and believable in their roles that the whole film rolls out in an enjoyable and positively uplifting way, which, thankfully, isn't as emotionally manipulative as one feared. Chris Evans once again proves he's a very likeable actor with far more range than his roles as various superheroes has allowed him. Young Mckenna Grace is excellent as the young maths genius and the rest of the supporting cast are equally as plausible and great in their roles. Marc Webb proves he's far better at this sort of thing and 500 Days of Summer than those wretched Spider-Man movies he spewed up.

This is sweet, funny and uplifting story with just the right amount of string pulling, featuring a great cast and one killer revelation from Frank about his dead sister's final wishes.

8/10