Sunday, 30 October 2016

#73 & 74 DOCTOR STRANGE



Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt and Scott Adkins. Written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Based on the character created by Steve Ditko. Budget $165 million. Running time 115 minutes. Certificate 12A.

Doctor Strange marks Marvel's 14th cinematic release, as well as this year's seventh super-hero movie and the third to feature Marvel characters. It's arrival brings magic and multi-dimensions to the already rapidly expanding Marvel universe but the question is, does this over egg the pudding or bring a whole other dimension of wonderment to the proceedings?

The plot sees genius, but arrogant, brain surgeon, Dr. Strange (Bendydick Cucumberpatch) survive a violent car crash that destroys his hands and thus his career leaving our driven doctor to embark on a quest to restore his genius. Along the way he stumbles across the legend of Kamar-Taj and heads off to Kathmandu in Nepal to find a cure. There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and is enrolled into a school of witchcraft and wizardry where he rediscovers his mojo, learns kung fu and discovers alternative dimensions, so far so typical for an origin story. But what about the threat, where's our supervillain (because every superhero movie needs one of those)?

Well fret not, true believers, cos coming round the corner of a folding skyscrapper is...

Medium sized villain, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a one-time disciple of the Ancient One who has been seduced by the dark side offered by huge baddy, Dormammu and stolen pages from an exceedingly old spell book belonging to the Ancient One and is determined to unleash a huge spinning vortex of doom on the world, so far so every other super hero movie. After that, the film follows the traditional template of superhero films by giving us the training montague, the suiting up scene, the self doubt and self discovery sequence followed by the 'end of the 2nd arc' dilemma before we're rocking towards the ubiquitous big Earth shattering slap down between Strange, Kaecilius and Dormammu before the credits and the mid and post credit sequences and The End.

And that's Dr. Strange. The wackiest Marvel movie since Guardians of the Galaxy. The cast is terrific and Carrotpatch brings a quipping, ironic twinkle to the proceedings. He's helped in no short measure by the most surprising, non-speaking sidekick you've ever seen, but I don't wish to spoil who or what it is. Let's just say 'he' gets all the best line(ing)s!

As always with these things, the casting is superb and extremely good actors and actresses elevate the nonsense to a higher level (perhaps Marvel's best secret). The script is funny and entertaining, giving us some emotional depth and drama as well as slam-bang action. The special effects are truly special and there's a superb sequence, glimpsed in the trailer, that's almost vertigo inducing, it's most certainly dazzling as buildings fold in on themselves like machines. Although the best sequence sees Strange defending a Sanctum from a full-out magical attack all on his own!

However, all is not perfect in the garden of Dr. Strange. The 3D makes this a murky, dark and gloomy spectacle and after the initial delight of it soon loses its thrill. The villains ultimately just want to destroy the world and it's frankly becoming boring, although Dr. Strange actually has something different up its sleeve by ways of dealing with it. But the biggest problem I  have with this film is with the change in the Marvel Universe Logo at the beginning of the film. It's been changed from the flickering images of artwork taken from the original Marvel comics for footage from the Marvel movies and that really grates with me. It feels as if Marvel is betraying its comic roots.

Overall, this is a fun romp of a movie, one of Marvel's lightest in touch and tone and that's fine in my book. Apart from the generic baddie's motivation and the now almost ubiquitous spinning vortex of doom threat this is another example of how superhero movies should be made.

It's pleasing to say that Marvel's strangest film to date has managed to pulled off a neat trick by passing its medical with flying colours.

8/10

Sunday, 23 October 2016

#72: JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK


Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh and Patrick Heusinger. Directed by Edward Zwick. Written by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herkovitz. Budget $60 million. Running time 118 minutes long. Certificate 12A.

Tom Cruise is the 6' 5" Jack Reacher, ex-military police Major and drifter, Smulders is his  staggeringly beautiful replacement at the 110, framed for espionage and locked up for a crime she didn't commit. And Danika Yarosh is Reacher's 'might be' 15 year daughter who's along to give emotionally dead behind the eyes Reacher someone to care for and act as the damsel in distress.

This is the second Jack Reacher movie based on the excellent, in my opinion, series of Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, that sees the ex-military police major stroll into yet another vast global conspiracy that'll see him resolve it by getting his retaliation in first, running very fast, talking very little and punching really, really hard. After that it's a join the numbers type of crime thriller actioner that Cruise does on, errr, cruise control.

He's pretty consummate at this type of film and could probably do it in his sleep if pushed but that said, this isn't that gripping or thrilling and nowhere near as good as his first outing as Reacher in the 2012 film, Jack Reacher. It's okay while it's on but it's very low key and the investigation, which reads so well in the books, seems perfunctory at best in this outing. The introduction of a daughter is a nice touch, as is a female character as strong as he is, but that is also oddly enough one of the film's downfalls, because since she is easily as good as he is, he almost becomes redundant in his own film. Meanwhile, the villains couldn't have been more villainous if they'd actually worn black capes, top hats and twiddled their mustaches, while cackling evily. In deed they're as evil as they are utterly inept, but perhaps not nearly as inept as the cops are who only show up in this film to get killed or to help frame poor Reacher for something he didn't do, which brings me to a major plot flaw in the Reacher novels.

Just how the hell is he able to kill so many people with such impunity? Surely he'd have to answer for some of the murders he commits? I mean, I realise the people he literally beats to death with his bare hands are all baddies, but surely they would have wives and families who'd demand to know who murdered their husbands, fathers, boyfriends or brothers? But no, it seems he's allowed to carry on slaughtering all those he deems naughty or crippling them permanently regardless of the law. Ah well as he's apt to say, Reacher likes to get his retaliation in first.

Not a bad film, just a bit bland, if truth be told, which is a shame cos I quite like the Cruiser and I really like the Reacher novels.

6/10







#71 INFERNO


Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Irrfan Khan. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by David Koepp. Budget $75 million. Running time 121 minutes long. Certificate 12a

Ben Foster is the young, billonaire genius with a plan to save the world by killing off 50% of the population. Tom Hanks is the nerdy, middle-aged scholar who's good at solving cryptic-clue crossword puzzles out to stop him and everyone else is just there to cloud the waters, chuck red herrings and briefly take turns taking the center stage as the villain (or are they) until the end gently rolls to a stop and we all go home.

Sustaining a completely horizontal level of excitement from beginning to end and offering nothing but red herrings, this is a film that takes us on a whistle stop tour of Florence, Venice and Istanbul while Hanks' Robert Langdon tries to solve the clues that'll lead the goodies to a bomb that if detonated while release a man-made plague called Inferno. All Langdon has to go on is the help of once child genius, now English surgeon Felicity Jones, ex paramour Sidse Babett Knudsen and an assortment of other characters who might not be all they seem.

This just putted along until ending, drip feeding us information, despite the fact that we, the audience, have already arrived at the ending well before Howard and his crew of film makers.

Bland and surprisingly flat, this was an adequate enough affair that mildly entertained while it was on but then promptly disappeared from your memory the moment you'd left the cinema.

5/10










#70 WAR ON EVERYONE


Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Theo James, Tessa Thompson and Caleb Landry Jones. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. Budget unknown. Running time 97 minutes. Certificate 15.

This is without doubt writer director John Michael McDonagh's attempt to remake Freebie and the Bean for the 21st Century. War on Everyone follows two cops, Alexander Skarsgård's alcoholic, with a damaged past, Detective Terry Monroe and Michael Peña's philosophical and happily married  Detective Bob Bolaño as they go after English crime lord and arch hedonist, "Lord" James Mangan, Theo James. Along the way they both act incredibly badly, stealing money from crimbos, doing drugs and generally acting just two degrees better than the baddies they're supposed to be bringing to justice. Not necessary corrupt, but definitely on the take these two cops take no prisoners in their pursuit of the real criminal while robbing the minor ones blind. Along the way, one of the two men discusses obscure European philosophers with his wife, while bringing up two kids, while the other tries drinking himself to death to drown the memories of a dark past, before finding salvation in a genuinely touching relationship with a beautiful young exotic dancer.

The plot sees the two corrupt cops discover a major heist in the planning stage and decide to steal the robbers blind unwittingly stumbling under the gaze of the big bad villain, Lord James a powerful crime lord with some truly appalling tastes, who decides to wage a war against the two cops.

With surprising slapstick violence, a streak of black as coal humour and a superb script, this film would make a perfect double bill with the Nice Guys. It's blissfully short and the performances of everyone is terrific.

Superbly directed by McDonagh, who also directed the equally brilliant 'The Guard' and 'Calvary' and featuring an excellent sound track and a great cast this was an immensely satisfying and funny film, that won't be everyone's cup of tea.  But me, I bloody loved it.

8/10

#69 BLOOD FATHER



Starring Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks and William H. Macy. Directed by Jean-Francois Richet, written by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, based on the novel by Peter Craig. Budget $ million. Running time 88 minutes. 15 certificate.

Mel Gibson starts his comeback tour with a low key, low budget, Liam Nesson style old-man actioner, showing off his gruff, buff bod and his new drink-free life style as he rescues his wayward daughter from a gang of bad Mexican drug dealers. And so begins Mel Gibson's re-introduction to Hollywood, not with a huge blockbuster but a small little gritty actioner just to remind us just how damn good, old mad Mel can be. This is a nice little thriller that sees  ex-biker, ex-con, ex-alcoholic trailer-park tattoo artist refind his mojo to save his daughter from her big bad boyfriend and his gang of gun happy drug runners.

These sort of films Mel could do in his sleep and still come out of it looking good. With a staggering amount of charisma and screen presence, Mel gives a master class in action movie making and elevates what should have been a straight to video b-movie to a satisfying and solid action thriller. With the odd flash of humour and some meaty action scenes as well as several touching emotional  beats as Mel's John bonds and reconnects with his daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty). This makes for a good Saturday night in flick.

Mel's not mad anymore. 7/10

Sunday, 2 October 2016

#68: MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN






Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva green, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Allison Janney, Ella Purnell, Chris O'Dowd, Rupert Everett, Dame Judi Dench, Lauren McCrostie, Cameron King, Pixie Davies, Georgia Pemberton, Finlay MacMillan, Milo Parker, Raffiella Chapman, Hayden Keeler-Stone and Joseph and Thomas Odwell.

Written by Jane Goldman, directed by Tim Burton. Budget $110 million. Running time 127 minutes long.

As far as I could work out the plot is as follows, Asa Butterfield is Jacob Portman a 16 boy whose grandfather (Terence Stamp) dies in his arms, in mysterious circumstances and without his eyes, and who, with his dying breath urges his grandson to find Miss Peregrine who he tells him is located somewhere in a Welsh children's home back in 1943. So Jacob and his father – work-shy twitcher and writer, Franklin Portman (Chris O'Dowd) travel to Wales as part of Jake's grieving process and before you can say, 'Jesus, aren't films involving multiple time lines confusing', Jake is traveling back and forth through time portals and getting embroiled in a school filled with a half-dozen children with incredible, dare I say peculiar powers. There they live the same day over and over, frozen in time, as they dodge German Luftwaffe bombing missions, eyeless, tentacle-mouthed monsters roaming the countryside and a mysterious, white-eyed baddy called The Baron, played perfectly by Samuel L. Jackson. Naturally he's hunting the peculiars for his own hideous reasons, which might or might not have something to do with the eyeball missing thingie. Added to that lot are a slew of convoluted plot points that takes 2/3rds of the film to explain ending just in time for the final act and the showdown  in Blackpool of 2016 between the peculiars and the Baron's 'hollow' men who are invisible to even the Baron. Then it's time for a huge, bewildering fight between the kids, whose numbers are bolstered by an army of skeletons brought back to life by one of the Peculiars and the Baron and his Hollow Men.

The critics have been cruel to this film, probably due to the fact that once media darling Tim Burton has so obviously lost his mojo having not made a good film since 1994's Ed Wood.

However despite that, this is a beautiful to look at film, with some simply superb art direction. and a very likeable young cast lead by Asa and Allison Janney. The actual peculiar kids are a treat each demonstrating  unique and interesting peculiar abilities and much praise must be given to just how impressively and truly scary this film is. But be warned, this film is a 12A for a reason. Seriously very young kids are going to be scared witless by at least three of the nightmarish sequences, in particular the scene where the eyeless Hollow Men devour, with relish, a literal pile of human eyeballs plucked from the corpses of peculiar children.

Although this is also what makes this film so impressive, it's not afraid to scare its target audience and it'll be the parents to balk first, kids will love the gross out, blood-free gore, and the nightmarish images nearly all of which are refreshing new. You'll find yourself slowly sucked in to this wonderful and grotesque world of lovable freaks.

It's not a perfect film, as already said it's a film that spends at least the first 80 minutes establishing not only the world it's set in, the plot and the plans of the villain who, to be honest, isn't introduced properly until the start of the third act.

And it's actually in the third act when the film sadly loses momentum and you find yourself gasping and groaning in frustration at the actions of Asa's Jake who proves to be a truly inept hero, several time you feel like shouting at the screen as he bungles and stumbles through situations. Likewise the film which has so carefully avoided being too childish falls for a Saint Trinians style battle with the Hollow Men armed with only snowballs, candy floss and some jelly snakes which just stops short of being cringe-worthy.

My kids loved this both of the scoring it an 8 and overall this was a very entertaining and enjoyable YA romp which for once didn't feature a dystopic, post-apocalyptic world filled with chaste, unrequited love and pale faced vampires.

Defo worth a look. 8/10




#67 DEEPWATER HORIZON


Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand. Directed by Peter Berg. Budget $156 million. Running time 107 minutes.

Based on a New york Times account of the world's biggest environmental disaster, Deepwater Horizon is the story of that disaster as told from the perspective of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), an engineer onboard the rig, Jimmy 'Mr. Jimmy' Harrell (Kurt Russell), the oil rig manager,  Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) pilot of the doomed rig and Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) as the BP executive who ignored safety warning in the name of greed and pleasing his corporate masters.

The subsequent catastrophic blowout on board the semi-submersible drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon lead to a deep-sea oil leak that flowed for 87 days, releasing approximately 4.9 million (or a 130 million gallons) barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and took five months to finally cap. It cost the lives of 11 workers, whose bodies were never recovered, and resulted in BP paying over $54 billion in environmental and economic damages and penalties! And guess what, not a single BP executive, especially Vidrine was ever charged, although a couple of low level executives were sacrificed to appease the media, but not the relatives of those 11 men who died.

The film sets the scene by introducing our main characters and making them seem like ordinary men and women with home lives and families before dropping them on the oil rig just 12 hours before the disaster. From the word go though it's obvious that all is not good on the rig. It's in desperate need of a serious overhaul, there's a list of hundreds of problems that need fixing and the rig is 54 days late in completing its mission. Meanwhile behind the scenes Mr. Jimmy is battling the BP suits over safety concerns. It's a slow build up, mirroring the building pressure of oil, silt and gas deep beneath the ocean floor building to the 'final' safety check that sees all hell break loose as the rig is ripped apart by the most cataclysmic fireball you've ever seen!

After that it's a mad, frantic dash through the slowly melting and sinking rig as the survivors fight to survive and be rescued. Before the truly tragic photo montage of the men who lost their lives and the depressing final trawl explaining what happened, or didn't happen next.

This is unlike most disaster films, being that it's based on a real life disaster. The cast is surprisingly good, particularly Walhberg who doesn't grandstand the role and Russell who is simply superb as Mr. Jimmy, oh how you long for him to don that iconic eyepatch one last time. Indeed I kept thinking you could imagine a disaster film where Snake escapes one last time from the world as it finally explodes in a huge fireball.

But I digress. This was a powerful and intense film, marred by mumbled dialogue which meant that for most of the film you don't really know what's going on. It's carried by some truly terrifying special effects and believable and honest acting from the cast. This is well directed by Peter Berg, who for the most part ignores the hateful practice of shaky cam. I found sitting four rows from the front helped greatly, immersing you very directly into the action.

And talking of Peter Berg, this is his second disaster movie, the first being Battleships in 2012 which was a disaster for a whole different reason.

Unfortunately though, the film, is nearly all build up because once the explosion happens the survivors, as in real life, only objective is to get off that rig PDQ! There's no time for sequences of heroic problem solving, like doing the monkey bars over a sea of fire, or hanging from the outside of an elevator dangling from a helicopter, because that didn't happen. Instead, there's just some very frightened, blackened faced individuals trying their damnedest not to die all set against the extra-ordinary sight of an oil rig fire.

So for most of the film's very brief, for this sort of film, running time of 107 minutes we get to witness the mundane, lives of the rig's crew and the day-to-day running of the rig. But this is also one of the film's major fascinations, we the audience know that shit is about to get real, and you find yourself watching as the men go about their jobs with a certain lazy routine and you find yourself thinking, 'No! Don't do that, take more consideration! No, don't look down that pipe! Or no, for god's sake don't light that cigerette!' type of thing.

Malkovich as the baddy is also worth the ticket price as he chews up the role giving us a particularly unpleasant and slimy executive who lives to see the result of his actions.

Sadly, the fact that this is a true story makes this a much harder film to thoroughly enjoy as, let's say if it had been pure fantasy from the Roland Emmerich school of disaster movies, here you're all too aware that these are real people and as such their lives cost far more than a group of stereotypes emoting at the end of the world.

This was a dramatic, terrifying and solid, if too brief, 8/10.