Saturday, 18 November 2017

#89: JUSTICE LEAGUE



Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miler, Henry Cavill, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, ConnieNielsen, J.K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds. Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon from a story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder. Directed by Zack Snyder and a little help for Joss Whedon. Budget $300 million. Running time 120 minutes.

"That wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be." - movie punter after leaving preview.

Good news everybody! This wasn't as terrible as Batman vs Superman, or Man of Steel or Suicide Squad! Although admittedly it wasn't as good as Wonder Woman. Or Thor: Ragnarok - but then it's not fair to compare DC movies to Marvel ones, so I won't mention Captain America: Winter Solider, Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy.

Maybe I should end the review there?

Doing away with the need of having one of the dreary plots that so drag down modern films these days, Zack and the gang wisely opt for just throwing 120 minutes worth of incidents at us in rapid succession in the hope that we don't notice this film has less depth than a saucer's worth of spilt tea.

The 'story' sees Batman - Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) putting together a band to fight against Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) in an upcoming 'Battle of the Bands' tournament to be held in a disused Russian nuclear power station. Off Bats goes traveling the world and recruiting newbies Flash (Ezra Miler), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aqua Man (Jason Momoa) to join him and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) before literally resurrecting Superman's career just in time for the final showdown against Stephenwolf and His Flying Beetles. And that's the 'plot'. Indeed it's basically the trailer but stretched out for an additional 117 minutes. Oh plus two of those unbiquitous post credits stings, if you're counting.

This film had a troubled production, it's original director and co writer Zach Synder had to leave the project due to personal tragedy leading to Joss Wheddon to step in to finish the film, it's rumoured that he shot approximately 15 - 20% of the film, so this is still primarily a Zach Synder film. Joss can be credited with helping Marvel to cement it's cinematic approach and is responsible for writing and directing the first Avengers movie. He's also credited with co-writing the screenplay on this and it's safe to guess that he's the man responsible for injecting the much needed humour into Justice League. Zach Synder in comparison is the 'creative genius' behind Batman Vs Superman and Superman: Man of Steel, two of the most crushingly tedious and poe-faced superhero dirges ever made, indeed it's him who single handedly hamstrung the DC Universe by making the films laughter free zones in the first place. A quality that Marvel realised early on is needed if you're going to make a film about groups of people in outlandish costumes hitting other groups of garishly dressed people in the face. Zach's also the man responsible for the decision to all but do away with the use of colour. An odd choice for films featuring characters dressed in a variety of primary colours.

But enough back ground waffle is this film any good?

Well, here's the thing. It's not a terrible film, it's certainly not another Superman or Suicide Squad, indeed it's actually rather entertaining, thanks mainly to the casting of the League who are all great choices, and this film remains entertaining right up until the arrival of the third act and the huge elephant in the room, Steven Wolf. He and his utterly generic band of cannon fodder the Parademons are pointless, tedious and rubbish. That coupled with the studio's demand that the film's running time be a very brisk 120 minutes meaning they can shoe horn in an extra screening per day thus making more money, at the expense of any depth, characterisation, or back story. And certainly no time at all for any origin stories for some of these new heroes.

Steve Vulf's quest is to uncover three 'Mother' boxes hidden somewhere on the planet and combine them to create a Trinity device that will then transform the Earth into his home world and all its population into more Parademons. Luckily the three boxes have been cunning hidden to prevent Steve Wolfie from, you know, combining them. The Amazonians built a huge keep to hide theirs in and have posted an elite guard of warriors to guard it for all eternity. The Atlantans have done the same but at the bottom of the deepest ocean on the planet and the Humans, tasked with protecting the third ultimate weapon just dropped theirs in a ditch at the bottom of the garden. Stevie Wulf turns up and finds them all no problem at all, just pops right up next to them and steals them, bold as brass. In fact, so generic and bland is his 'quest' that as a result the outcome of the movie is never, not even for one iota in doubt. We know how this is going to play out, we know the beats, we know everything, we even know who's going to turn up and save the day.

It seems unfair to judge the film as a whole, far better to review it on the fun part, the 'putting the band' together part of the film and it's that part that's really entertaining. The interplay between our heroes is fun, the Flash in particular is a great laugh and there's a real sense of camaraderie between them all. There's a great scene early on that sees the League working together for the first time to rescue abducted humans from the Parademons that is the highlight of the film.

I've now seen this film twice, I have to see it once more and that'll mean I'll have seen it three times in the space of four days. As such its flaws come to light and are amplified to the Nth degree. On the first screening I was left feeling utterly ambivalent, puzzled that I didn't feel polarised by the film, I neither hated it nor loved it. The second time round I found myself niggled by plot holes, of which there are many! But it seems churlish to list them all now, but there are two that I have to flag.

1. There is a distinct lack of threat to humanity in this film, apart from three police men, a shop keeper and her son, a beggar, a strange Icelandic community and a single family living next door to the nuclear power station humanity is totally missing from this film. Surely Superheroes sole purpose is to save people?

2. What the hell is going on with this cinematic Batman? he likes to kill living beings with a variety of guns, machine guns, cannons and weapons capable of firing projectiles. Yes, a biggie really but this one really narks me. Bruce Wayne aka the Batman, whose parent's death at the hands of a gun welding mugger lead him to become the masked vigilante in the first place seems to have no aversion to using guns to kill his opponents. In fact I'd say he positively relishes the opportunity. THIS IS WRONG. Hollywood. Sort it out.

Overall, this just about does justice to its source material, or at the least isn't leagues away from doing so. It's fun and rather entertaining but sadly let down by a truly generic and boring villain. Well done for DC in not totally fucking it up. Let's hope the punters decide to give you another chance.

Still nowhere near as good as Marvel but showing signs of much improvement.

7/10

P.S.
Best of all there's no spinning vortex of doom! Instead, there's a sort of burrowing tentacle crystal thingie.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

#88 PADDINGTON 2


Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi and Hugh Grant. Written by Paul King and Simon Farnaby. Directed by Paul King. Running time 103 minutes.

The first Paddington film, directed by Paul King and released in 2014 was a glorious delight utterly impossible to dislike and one which left you with a grin on your face and a spring in your step. This sequel is utterly committed to the old notion of if it ain't broke don't fix it, and not fixing it is exactly what it does!

The story sees our plucky marmalade addicted young Peruvian bear set out on a quest to buy a special one-off pop-up book for his aunt, only to fall foul of a sneak thief and end up in prison where his limitless decency and niceness wins over a convict population of hardened serial killers, murderers and rapists who help him escape to save the day, while the Brown family set off to find the real thief to prove Paddington's innocence.

If you liked or loved the first film, chances are you'll love this critic proof, family, film which offers exactly the same as the first film but now with an added extremely sweet and silly plot that features, silly slapstick skits, prison breaks and a big train chase. We get to see the positive benefit Paddington brings to his adoptive human family and his neighbours and it's all done with such sweetness and innocence that it's truly hard to hate this.

I loved the first film, thought it was an utter delight. And while I found this sequel perhaps too twee, too sweet and just too damn nice I still can't really fault it, the cgi was lovely, the performances engaging and the utterly charming nature of Paddington is a terribly hard drug to say NO to. This film is filled with delightful stunts, gags and some splendid CGI animation which feels far more real than Murder on the Orient Express. And while the CGI animation is good, and it is! It's the use of an animated sequence using paper cut-outs that fondly remembers the old TV animated Paddington show that puts the 5" thick icing on the cake.

Overall, this is a delightful and charming film which while it does feel a little laboured at time still wins you over with its relentless niceness. And that coupled with actors as good as Brendan Gleeson, Peter Capaldi, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Hugh Grant means you end up swept up by it all and leaving feeling a little fuzzy and warm.

Finally, Hugh Grant deserves a special mention for his fantastic post credit song and dance number which delivers a satisfying full stop to the proceedings.

8/10

#87 MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS


Starring Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Millem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman and Daisy Ridley. Written by Michael Green. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Budget $55 million. Running time 114 minutes.

Fabulously fantastically, brilliant, handsome and devastatingly fantastic Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is desperate for a holiday but he keeps getting called on to solve incredibly elaborate crimes, be they who stole a priceless heirloom from a church to who murdered the incredibly sleazy gangster business man, Samuel Ratchet (Johnny Depp) in the cabin next door to his on the Orient Express.

Considering the train of the title is trapped in a huge snow drift after a cgi avalanche the list of possible suspects for the crime is limited to those sat in the first class dining car. So, is it the dashing doctor Dr. Arbuthnot (Lesilie Odom Jr.), or is it Hildergarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman) loyal maid to Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench)? How about the mysterious Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin), or the stern German professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe)? Don't fancy them as the murderer, then how about rich American widow Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) or Ratchet's butler Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi) could he be the culprit? No, but wait! There's still Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), Ratchet's personal assistant, and Pilar Estravado (Penelpe Cruz) the Spanish missionary, she looks too good to be true! As does Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), used car sales man Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and I'm suspicious of that train conductor Marwan Kenzari (Pierre Michel) he looks like a likely candidate doesn't he? Finally, last but by no means least there's Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) our plucky English young woman, immensely fiesty and jolly.

And what do all these characters have to do with the infamous Armstrong Case of five years ago, which saw the tragic murder of a child kidnap victim and the subsequent deaths of four more people all linked to the case?  

Luckily, fantastically fabulous, brilliant and handsome detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is on hand to lead the possible suspects and us through the spider-web like labyrinth of clues, red herrings and intrigue to explain and reveal which one of them is the murderer.

Fully aware that this modern update of the original and infinitely better Albert Finley 1974 version is a tad slow for modern audiences and features a body count that numbers just one Kenny lobs in some un-needed extra beats of action and drama and a hinted at and needless mysterious romantic past for Hercule missing from Agatha Christie's original novel.

That coupled with an over use of 'happy valley' cgi animation and cgi created scenery robs this film of a sense of the real world setting or reality and creates the sense we're watching Polar Express 2. On top of that we have Kenny's portrayal of Hercule Poirot, no longer the preening fat Belgium with the weird little waxed moustache replaced by the rugged, dashing Branagh and his amazing handlebar moustache which takes up most of the screen whenever Kenny zooms in on his leading hero's amazing face for another closeup, which is every time Hercule speaks.

The talented ensemble cast emote their little cotton socks off and clearly seem to be relishing their roles, but it's all for naught since Kenny doesn't seem that interested in them, focusing instead on irritating camera moves and arty-farty shots through bevelled glass to show the duality of the characters. Similarly the reveal of the murder victim is similarly short-changed and badly revealed.

This thunks along from one suspect to the next, giving us just enough to leave us feeling baffled before Hercule strides in and explains it all for us and unmasks the killer with no real sense of drama or reveal. After which there's just time for the sequel set up and another god-awful cgi created vista.

A plodding, un-engaging period drama that utterly fails to ignite and which fumbles the classic reveal robbing it of any surprise or drama. It's only the decent cast that saves this from a truly dreadful score.

6/10

Sunday, 29 October 2017

#85 & 86 THOR: RAGNAROK


Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum,  Karl Urban, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins. Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. Directed by Taika Waititi. Budget $180 million. Running time 130 minutes. Cert 12a.

The story sees a hammer-less Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his half-brother Loki (Chris Hiddleston) marooned on the trash planet Sakaar by their deliciously psychotic big sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) following the death of Thor's dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). It transpires that big sis, who used to be daddy's little killer, proved a tad too hard to control and so he banished her to another realm until he died at which point she'd be allowed back to reclaim his throne, which just so happens to coincide with the ancient prophecy of Ragnarok, that foretells the utter destruction of Asgard.

Before Thor has even had time to introduce himself properly to the inhabitants of Sakaar he's captured by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) who is the last surviving member of the Asgard's elite all-female, Pegasus- flying, amazonian warrior caste called The Valkyrie, who all, apart from her, died when they captured Hela first time round. Scrapper 142 promptly presents Thor as a gift to The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) ruler of Sakaar to fight against his own champion in the Contest of Champions – a gladiator tournament he runs for the amusement of the population. Enter the Hulk, who's been missing from Earth for the past two years and who's also somehow ended up on Sakaar too. Bloody hell, this planet is just like waiting for a bus. You wait ages then three turn up at the same time.

ANYWAY. Now the two mightiest beings on the planet must battle for the benefit of The Grandmaster. So far so the trailer. After that, Thor recruits a team of heroes he christens The Revengers to return to Asgard to defeat Hela and that's the plot, sort of. There's also side plots featuring Heimdall (Idris Elba) who's fighting a guerrilla war on Asgard against Hela, and her right hand man Scourge (Karl Urban) and her large shaggy dog. Oh and just to make sure there's enough going on we have Loki who's up to his usual tricks. Add to the mix an assortment of cameos and guest stars and you have Thor Ragnarok, Marvel's silliest outing since Guardians of the Galaxy.

This is without doubt Marvel's funniest film to date, taking the humour of Guardians and then turning the dial all the way up to 11. In fact, once you've finished laughing and you've stumbled out of the cinema two hours and ten minutes later with a huge grin on your face and you start to think back over what you've just watched you begin to realise something...

All those gags and humour were at the expense of a coherent plot, or drama or a sense of dread or even of jeopardy. In fact, so light-hearted is this outing, that it utter derails any drama or adventure. We never, for one single moment ever have a shread of a doubt that our heroes won't succeed, likewise we have no concerns that any serious injury or damage will befall them either. Even when the Hulk horrifically pummels Thor's body and face with an utterly brutal barrage of double-fisted blows. In deed he emerges from one fight with nothing more than a few grazes. Which begs the question, just how powerful is Thor? Because judging from this outing he's genuinely immortal and more indestructable than Captain Scarlet.

As the Marvel film canon has progressed the humour, an important part of all super hero films, has gradually increased until in the last three Marvel films it's actually taken centre-stage and I think it's becoming a problem. Once you've created an immortal, indestructable superhero with limitless power what do you do with him? It's going to make the upcoming Infinity Gauntlet a hard film to feel any sense of threat for if we know that none of our heroes are going to die where will come the sense of a challenge? Usually our heroes are human and even though we know they're not going to die, we can still worry that some harm might befall them, be they James Bond, Indiana Jones or even Han Solo - in fact he's a good case in point, there was a hero who did die! And what a surprise that was.

But i digress. What of Thor Ragnarok?

Well, it's funny, in fact from the word go it runs up its funny credentials and then secures them up there for all to see. After that it's one funny routine after another as each of the characters gets a chance to do something funny, and believe me it is funny, you will laugh often out loud. Although that said, it is hard to actually and genuinely laugh silently. I've tried it, it just looks odd, almost as if you're having a convulsion.

Alright, I know what you're thinking. 'Jesus, David, stop waffling and just answer the question. Is this film any good? And is it worth seeing?'

Well, yes it's fun and it's a laugh but that's it really, there's no more depth then that. from the very first scene as Thor narrates to a skeleton what led him to that point right up to the final post credit sting, it's all for fun and all done in the best possible taste. And yet once it's over you'll start to ponder all the plot holes, like for example, why does Thor actually need the Hulk? What's his purpose in the mission? Why is Thor so desperate to get him to come back to Asgard with him? What is Hela's actual goal? She seems actually pointless, she has nothing to do. Actually for large portions of this film, major character just disappear, it's almost as if it's only the surface area that director Taika Waititi cares about. All that said, the cast are very good, Kate Blanchett is terrific as Hela and she obviously relishes a roll this outlandish, Chris Hemsworth proves he's got a good sense of humour as well as some impressive abs, Hiddleson phones it in again as Loke, a character who's lost a lot of his sinister bite and the there's Korg, a massive rock monster played by Taika Waititi. I also think Tessa Thompson deserves a special shout-out as Scrapper 142, who's an interesting character, or at least could have been if Waititi had just eased off the gag peddle a tad. It also pays wonderful respect to Jack Kirby and much of the designs owe a huge debt to him.

Sure you'll probably have a laugh, you'll enjoy spotting all the celebrity and superhero cameos, all those little Marvel Easter Eggs, the obligatory Stan Lee skit and the banter between the Hulk and Thor, but seriously that's all there is to this film, it's all just for shits and giggles. There's no depth, drama or excitement just lots of funny action packed gags. You'll have a laugh but come tomorrow you'll have forgotten the whole bloody thing.

8/10 on the first viewing, 7/10 on the second.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

#84 THE DEATH OF STALIN


Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffrey Tambor. Written by Armando Lannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martina and Peter Fellows. Based on a graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. Directed by Armando Iannucci. Running time 107 minutes. Certificate 15.

Set in 1953 and following the death of Stalin (sorry, spoiler alert), the members of the inner circle of the Soviet Empire, lead by Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) and Georgy Shukov (Jason Isaacs) engage in a desperate and frantic power struggle to find Stalin's successor. Cue lots of back and front stabbing, some superb dialogue, biting satire, excellent acting and some genuinely shocking moments as Armando Iannucci adapts a popular French graphic novel and gives it the Thick Of It treatment.

A very well written, acted and directed black comedy drama that's heavy on the drama and very lite on the comedy. Don't go in expecting a Russian Veep or Thick of It, this most certainly isn't either of those offering as it does not that many laughs. That said this isn't a bad film, indeed far from it. It's extremely thought provoking and rather shocking historical drama that uses laughter more as a device to deal with the shocking horrors of the Stalin and Beria era.

A deeply unsettling and dramatic comedy that gives you much to think about. Just don't go in expecting a laugh riot.

This year's most shocking and black political drama. Actually probably this year's only shockingly black and political drama, and that in itself is a good enough reason to catch this at the cinema. 8/10

#83 HAPPY DEATH DAY


Starring Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard. Written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Christopher B. Landon. Budget $4.8 million. Running time 96 minutes. Certificate 15.

In this Groundhog Day meets Halloween meets Mean Girls mash up, thoroughly unlikeable sorority biatch Tree Glebman (Jessica Rothe) is forced to relive the last day of her life as she tries to work out who killed her on her birthday, with only the occasional help from fellow student, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) but with the added complication that each time she comes back, she's weaker and more damaged than before meaning that time is running out for her. And although we never find out what agency is behind the repeated day, or why Tree should have been singled out for this bizarre treatment, the actual ride and final reveal is a bloody entertaining, surprisingly so.

This is a ridiculously fun little horror film that doesn't outstay its welcome and offers a gore-free, but still satisfying little slasher flick. Jessica Rothe who single-handedly carries this film is very likeable and a treat to watch, particularly her development as a character, which gives this film a real heart. Her transformation from total biatch to normal human feels natural and fluid as does her rather brilliant hunt for the identity of her masked killer, she a real take charge kinda of character, and better yet it's not at the expense of a sympathetic male character. This kept me guessing right up to the end and the final revelation was a nice surprise, as was the ending.

Great stuff and well worth a visit. The less you know about this going in the better.

8/10

   

Saturday, 21 October 2017

#82 GEO-SHIT-STORM


Starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Richard Schiff, Robert Sheehan, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Ed Harris and Andy Garcia. Written by Dean Devlin and Paul Guyot. Produced and Directed by Dean Devlin. Running time 109 minutes long. Budget $120 million. Certificate 12a.

The world is saved from the brink of environmental Armageddon by Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) and his creation of a space based weather combat system nicknamed Dutch Boy. However six years later he's living in a trailer while his brother, Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess) who's secretly dating the President of the United States (Andy Garcia) Secret Service bodyguard  Sarah (Abie Cornish) is running the space station. HOWEVER, when the satellite system starts to malfunction unleashing a variety of ecological disasters upon the world, Jake is recruited by Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom (Ed Harris) to fly back up to the station and find out what the heck is going on. After that it's a race against the clock to work out who's behind a global conspiracy to create a Geostorm and stop the space station from exploding with just one second to spare on the countdown clock.

I heard this described as the best 2 star film of the year. I beg to differ. This is a shit sandwich served up on a plate made of shit and washed down with a glass of liquid shit. Badly directed, stupidly written, lacking the most important aspect of any disaster film, ie disasters and rounded off by some seriously stupid ideas. This sadly isn't even so bad it's funny. It's just bad, bland and boring. The moment the villain of the piece stepped into shot I leaned over to Baxter and whispered, 'He's the villain.' That wasn't even before the first 10 minutes.

Although there is one hilarious sequence that had me howling with laughter, it concerns the world's most useless secret code. The rest of this wearisome, toothless sac of shit is a dreary drizzle of a movie, rather than the typhon filled thrill ride the trailer promised. Lacking all the scale and destruction porn delight of 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day. This squanders not only Gerard Butler and Ed Harris's talents but also Abbie Cornish.

I've just saved you 109 minutes of your life, not counting the adverts and trailers. You're welcome. 2/10