Thursday, 14 December 2017

#97 STAR WARS - EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI


Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isacc, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, laura Dern Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran and Benicio del Toro. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Budget $??? Running time 152 minutes.

The war rages on among the stars. The First Order continues its purge of the old Empire and resistance alike under the rule of the Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is tying to lead what's left of the Resistance's fleet to safety ahead of a battle fleet lead by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), while trying to buy time while Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Chewbacca try to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to give up his life of a hermit on Ahch-To – a planet that was the birthplace of the Jedi religion – and join the resistance as a beacon of hope. And onboard the Resistance's flag ship, Finn (John Boyega) just wants to get away from it all that is until he meets Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) a young grief stricken Resistance officer and sets off on a mini quest that might just save her fleet. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is struggling with the duality of his feelings and the guilt he's still feeling for murdering his father, Han Solo in the last film. AND Poe Dameron (Oscar Isacc) just wants to jump into a ship and blow stuff up.

And that, apart from the stuff involving Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Lupita Nyong'o, BB8, R2 D2, C3PO, some odd fish-faced nuns, a group of slave kids, and of course the Porgs is that! No wonder this film is over two and a half hours long!

What an utter, utter delight! What a thrill! What a glorious ride! What the ruddy what?

I simply wasn't expecting to love this film as much as I did, in fact I'm simply staggered by just how entertaining and thrilling this film was. It's packed to the literal gills with incident, plot and story, often for expense for character development. All too often just as we're getting used to watching these characters we cut to what the others are up to, although what this does is give us a sense that this war touches the lives of everyone in this galaxy and it does give the film a sense of urgency. I saw this just 9 hours ago and I'm still reeling from it, there was so much to take in, so many great scenes and incident that I'm still giddy with excitement. Among the stories told those that stand out for me were the treads involving Kylo Ren, Rey and Luke Skywalker. 

The direction is very good, the effects, model work and cgi is, in a word, superb. The action and battle scenes, which starts with the very first scene are just glorious, exhilarating and most surprisingly not too jarring, you're actually able to work what's going on which is rather rare these days. Written and directed by Rian Johnson the film, despite it's vastness, feels like the vision of one man rather than a  committee demanding a checklist of tropes to tick off to satisfy focus groups. 

It's not perfect, it stumbles in the middle, losing momentum as one group of our characters become prisoners to another and the back and forth can, at times, be a little jarring, but the thing is I forgot I was sat in the cinema!

This is a great addition to the canon of Star Wars and one that ranks alongside Empire Strikes Back as one of the best. After a glut of some bloated action flicks based on long running franchises this year, I'm looking at you Transformers, Pirates, Fasters and Leaguers this was a superb and utterly delightful romp!

9/10





#96 BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL



Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki written by Tetsuya Oishi. Based on a Manga by Hiroaki Samura. Directed by Takashi Miike. Running time 141 minutes. Certificate 18.

When disgraced Samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) is infected by sacred bloodworms given to him by an 800 year-old nun he is forever cursed with immortality, and although he can never die, he still feels the agony of healing after each and every wound and injury.

52 years later, the sole survivor of a massacre that claims the lives of her parents, Rin (Hana Sugisaki) stumbles into Manji's life and begs him to avenge the death of her family by hunting down Kagehisa Anotsua (Sōta Fukushi) the master swordsman who killed them. It transpires that Kagehisa dreams of destroying all other Dojos so that his will be the only one. Manji reluctantly agrees and together they embark on a quest for vengeance culminating in an utterly blood-soaked final showdown that will see the deaths of literally hundreds of Samurai.

This is the 100th film directed by Japanese legend Takashi Miike whose films range from bloody violent Samurai movies and Yakuza crime flicks to family friendly movies.

Blade of the Immortal is unlike an American or European film you'll ever see. It's beautifully shot and the pacing and structure is strangely alien, particularly if you're used to having your stories laid out in a nice little line. Japanese films often seem structured in such a way that the audience has to play attention and they seem to be expected to fill in the blanks when and wherever necessary. 

The action is superb, the violence almost balletic in nature, the running time is somewhat bum numbing. Although that said the relentless sword fighting never gets boring, somehow Miike is able to present fight after fight with aplomb and skill. It's helped that the villains culminating in the final showdown between Manji and Kageshisa, seem to get bigger, better and more outlandish. Ranging from one-armed men with the sharpened bones of his arm stump acting as a pretty savage stabbing weapon to a fellow immortal with a death wish. 

This is an operatic and sweeping epic action flick that contains many images that will stay with you long after the movie has ended. It's also impressive that a film with such a simple structure should still engender the characters with real depth and feelings that we the audience care for them. 

A very satisfying and unique film and well worth checking out, particularly if you like blood-soaked Samurai flicks about revenge and honour.

8/10

Saturday, 9 December 2017

#95 A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH


Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey and Marius Goring. Written and directed by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell. Running time 104 minutes. Budget £320,000.

Re-released and restored to all its glory, this is one of my all-time, top-ten favourite movies. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen it, although this was the first time on the big screen. God bless the NFT!

The story sees Peter D. Carter (David Niven), a R.A.F Squadron Leader forced to bail out of a burning Lancaster bomber over the English Channel without a parachute rather than burn to death. Before he jumps he dictates one last message of love for his family to a young American radio operator June (Kim Hunter) and in his final minutes the two connect, then leaps to his almost certain doom...

Meanwhile in heaven, his fellow Lancaster pilot Rob Trubshawe (Robert Coote) waits his chum's arrival, and 30 minutes after Peter fails to arrive, the alarm bell sounds and it is discovered that the angel sent to collect him, Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) missed Peter thanks to a frightful pea-souper and so Peter accidentally avoided his own death.

Instead he awakes on a beach and discovers to his astonishment that he's still alive, more over he incredibly meets up with June and instantly they fall in love. 71 is sent to Earth to fetch Peter, but he refuses and demands the right to appeal the decision because in the allotted extra 20 hours he's had he's fallen in love with June. 71 informs him that he has three days to find a defence counsel to represent him.

But is Peter experiencing reality or is he suffering from traumatic head injury? June turns to her friend, noted brain specialist Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) for help, and intrigued by the young poet Peter's plight takes charge of him so he can get to the bottom of the situation. He realises the significance of Peter's hallucinations and the importance of Peter defending himself in the courts of Heaven, but Peter can't find a suitable candidate to be his Counsel and his physical condition worsens. As luck would have it on the day of his appeal, Peter is sent for life-threatening surgery and Dr. Frank is killed in a terrible motorcycle accident, thus giving Peter the Counsel he so desperately wanted and the chance to properly fight over the little matter of Life and Death.

This is a truly moving, wonderful and utterly beautiful film, it's charming, funny, perfectly balanced and utterly satisfying.

The performances are all divine, David Niven is that rare actor who simply shined in every film he made, and in this he is incandescent. Roger Livesey brings such intelligence and wit to his role as the hyper-vibrant Frank that his death makes you mourn his passing. And Kim Hunter's eyes convey with just simple tears the love she has for her dashing young pilot lover. With a staggering exquisite script, some simply perfect acting and excluding Britishness through every pore and fibre of its being, this is a perfect movie. Not one bum note, not one bad line. From the genius of filming heaven as a black and white galaxy-spanning modernist idyll to the technicolour wonder of a simple Dorest beach in summer. This is a film that fills you with awe and leaves you moist eyed with wonder.

If you've never seen this film, you must! It will resonate and sing to you in a way that no modern film will ever do. It is a fantastic slice of British life and shows us just what we can achieve when we are at our best.

10/10



#94 THE DISASTER ARTIST


Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison brie, Are Graynor, Josh Hutcherso and Jacki Weaver. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Based on the book The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Budget $10 million. Running time 103 minutes.

The story behind the making of, what is considered to be, one of the worst film ever made The Room.

Set in 1998, the film follows young 19-year actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) who one day during acting classes meets the mysterious Johnny Wiseau (James Franco) - a strangely accented and mannered man of indeterminate age and ethnicity and together they set off for Hollywood to find fame and fortune. While Greg has some early luck, Johnny doesn't and after one too many knock backs decides that if Hollywood won't come to him, he'll come to it and sets off to write, direct, produce and star in his own film called The Room, the the help of his friend, Greg. The movie follows the making off the notoriously bad $6 million film, financed exclusively by Wiseau himself as he hires a full crew, buys all his equipment and sets off to make a star of himself, even going as far as to book a cinema to screen the finished film, not only at a preview but also so it becomes eligible for Oscar consideration.

The Room, is a film of staggering ineptitude, which once seen can never be forgotten. Nowadays Wiseau declares it was always his intention to make a comedy, which The Room most certainly is. Although it's highly debatable that it wasn't his first intention, indeed it seems far more believable that Wiseau was making what he thought to be a serious social drama. What he ended up with is a film so bad it transends the word bad and becomes something approaching a work of genius.

In complete contrast, The Disaster Artist is an extremely well made and extremely funny retelling of the story behind The Room. It's well written, well acted and very well directed, indeed every single thing that The Room isn't. Best of all, you don't need to have seen The Room to enjoy this. Likewise, James Franco is extremely generous in his portrayal of Wiseau, he never once makes him a spectacle of mockery and fun. He also avoids cheap gags and shows the frustration and pain of a creative person as he struggles to realise his dreams, regardless how bad that dream might be.

This was a very funny and enjoyable flick whose only downside is that it makes you want to watch The Room again.

8/10

#93 WONDER


Starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs. Written by Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad an Stephen Chbosky. Based on the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Directed by Stephen Chbosky. Budget $20 million. Running time 113 minutes long.

Was this wonderful or did my mind wander and make me wonder why I'd gone?

Welcome to The Mask 2.0, or Wonder as they'll have you believe. The not true story of a boy called Auggy (cos being born with a terrible genetic facial deformanity isn't enough of a problem so you need a stupid name to go with it) played by the star of the film Room (Jacob Tremblay). The film follows home-schooled, midly disfigured Auggy as he embarks on his first year of school and how he adapts to this terrifying new world filled with 1st World People's offspring and their problems, most of which seem to consist of how to fill their vast houses and huge people carriers with more tat.

The film shows the effects of Auggy on those closest to him in little chapters each named after the character and it's all very sweet and charming. Managing never to be too button pushing or  over sentimental, a thin line it tight-ropes along, only occasionally stumbling but never falling off, until the applause filled finale that sees the whole school riser up and hail Auggy as Wonderful, but not just cos of his, you know, 'face' but because he's 'special', and not in that 'special' way that we tend to say when talking about kids who might be less than, 'special'.

Anyway,  this isn't a terrible film, it's very sweet, and good natured and it has a lovely happy ending, but what more do you expect?

Not a horrible experience, but not horribly good either. No real need to see this, although it's always lovely to see Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. That said, if anyone can tell me what the fuck he does for a job I'll be impressed. I have no idea what he does or the effects of Auggy on his life. He's just there to offer the odd piece of fatherly advice before he fucks off to do his job. I like to think he's a government sponsored assassin and when he's not being a loving father he's butchering enemies of the state in the most agonising ways possible.

No one in this film is horrible, not even the bully, who's just a victim himself of unwanted pressure. Looks nice, it's mildly entertaining and Jacob is a joy to watch, but that's it really.

6/10

Saturday, 2 December 2017

#92 BATTLE OF THE SEXES


Starring Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silevrman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cummnig, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Eric Christina Olsen. Written by Simon Beaufoy. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Running time 121 minutes. Budget $15.5 million.

Based on a famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), when, in response to Billie Jean King having the audacity to demand equal prize funds as the men, former World No. 1 player Bobby Riggs declared that there wasn't a woman tennis pro alive he couldn't beat and challenged her to a match.

The film follows Billy Jean King as she takes her all-women tennis tournament on across America and her burgeoning lesbian relationship with the team hairdresser Marilyn Barnet (Andrea Riseborough), set against the the media circus Bobby throws up in anticipation of the final showdown between him, the self styled King of the Chauvinists and King.

The trailer would have you believe this is a Steve Carell comedy and it's not. Emma Stone carries this film and provides the glorious emotional heart of it all. She is simply wonderful in the role. Carell is equally as good, but this film is told more from King's point of view rather than Riggs.

The period detail and soundtrack are delightful, the performances top class and the final match between is superb! A totally enjoyable movie even, if like me, you're not remotely interested in tennis.

Overall, this offers a very satisfying and thoroughly entertaining movie, that aces the dreariness of Justice League.

8/10

Saturday, 18 November 2017

#89, #90, #91: 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 some improvement, hopefully not too little too late.

6/10

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

#81 THE SNOWMAN



Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg and J.K Simmons. Written by Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan and Soren Sveistrup. Based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbo. Directed by Tomas Alfedson. Budget $35 million. Running time 119 minutes. Certificate 15.

I've seen films in the past that have actually made me literally cry in awe, I've seen films that have made the hairs on my arms rise in delight and I have seen films have made my blood boil in rage. But I have never seen a film that left me as stunned by its unbelievable ineptitude, that was until I sat through The Snowman. Because believe me this is the single most ineptly made film I have EVER seen, ever.

In fact I have never before seen a cast and crew of this skill and calibre so ineptly handled.

The film follows alcoholic detective Harry Hole as he spirals down his own dark, alcohol induced hole of self pity while trying to solve a series of bizarre murders that stretch back at least 10 years and all have to do with a serial killer who leaves snowmen at the scenes of his murders. It took our hero nearly all of the 119 minutes to work out who the killer was, me on the other hand and I'm guessing most of the audiences had sussed out not only who the killer was but how he was picking his victims and what linked them all together within the first 10 minutes, we then spent the next 109 minutes wondering why our pickled hero couldn't. The only hard thing to work out was why such a great cast and terrific source material should end up being so crushingly inept. And inept is the right word, because this film isn't meh, or boring, it's just bland, blank and inept, soul crushingly inept.

Offering us only the occasional flourish, thanks almost entirely to the superb vistas and scenery the rest of this lackluster and inept clunky crime thriller manages to squander all of the promise of the trailer and giving us nothing to get our teeth into and remains an absolutely thrill free ride of genuine banality. In fact, the trailer is a masterpiece in comparison and does the amazing trick of seeming to be a far better structured film than the film it's promoting.

Give this a miss and watch the vastly superior Headhunters movie instead. 2/10


#80 THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE


Featuring the vocal talents of Dave Franco, Justing Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods and Jackie Chan. Screenplay and story by (deep breath) Hilary Winston, Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Jared Stern and John Whittington. Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan. Running time 101 minutes, certificate U and budget $70 million.

How many times does it take for a joke to get old hat?

In the case of LEGO movies, it's three. Or to be more precise it's The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the third film from the LEGO universe following far too closely on the heels of The LEGO Batman Movie and the break away super hit The LEGO Movie.

Using exactly the same formula as the last two films but without the same level of relentless wit and imagination and more importantly Batman, this is the 98 odd minute long advert for LEGO's longest running theme, Ninjago. For the uninitiated among you, Ninjago features six teenage ninjas trained by a seventh who keep on fighting to bring big baddy Garmadon to justice. The film sees Garmadon unleash his big secret weapon, given away in the trailer and the Ninjagos, including Garmadon's son Lloyd, embark on a weapon to defeat the CATastrophic effects of Garmadon's secret weapon. Along the way, our band of plucky teenagers learn to overcome blah blah and become better whatnots. Including Garmadon, who re-unites with his estranged son, Lloyd.

Cue lots and lots of  jokes (some funny, some not so), plenty of pithy comments, silliness and desperate relentlessness. Sadly the film focuses far more on the later than the former and after awhile it all becomes rather tedious.

In the good old days an audience would wait years for a new sequel of a much loved movie or the next instalment in a franchise, not now, now we get a new film every year whether we want it or not. So, never fear, if you don't like this one there's always LEGO Movie Sequel and The Billion Brick Race scheduled for 2019.

Younger kids should love it, but if you're an adult and have already seen the first two movies then this offers you nothing new. But while it's on it's still mindless fun. Despite the fact that particular joke is beginning to wear a little too thin.

7/10

#79 BLADE RUNNER 2049


Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, LennieJames, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto. Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Running time 163 minutes. Budget between $150 -$185 million. Certificate 15.

35 years after the events of Blade Runner, replicant Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with hunting down and killing the last remaining Nexus 8 replicants who are still coming back to Earth, decades after they finally rose up and rebelled.

K is a new type of bioengineered replicant, a Nexus 9, programmed to obey. He unwaveringly answers to his boss Lt Joshi (Robin Wright) and undergoes regular baseline tests to establish he's not developing emotions or feelings. Following the successful retirement of a Nexus 8, K uncovers a secret so profound that it could change the world forever, evidence that a Nexus 8 died while giving birth, something long thought to be impossible. K is tasked with killing the offspring and sets off to hunt down the now grown adult. Along the way he uncovers a conspiracy 35 years old, a conspiracy that involves hunting down his predecessor Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) while simultaneously fighting off the lethal attentions of a killer Nexus 9 and the rantings of a blind trillionaire industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) the owner of Wallace Industries manufacturers of the new Nexus 9 replicants. K's only aid comes in the form of a holographic phone ap called Joi (Ana De Armas), who just so happens to also be a Wallace construct. As K's investigation unravels he encounters old friends and new just as the body count starts to ramp up and the past and present poignantly collide in the snow.

Full disclosure. The original Blade Runner movie is one of my favourite films, ever since it was first released 35 years ago in 1982.  I've owned it on every format from VHS to DVD to Blu Ray. I first saw it at a special Starburst magazine preview one Sunday morning at the Shaftsbury Avenue Odeon. I can still remember sitting in audience and feeling a flush of tingles race up my spine from the moment the fireball scene opened and the first opening bars of Vangelis soundtrack rang out.

As such I think it's safe to say that I felt a certain amount of trepidation when news of this sequel was first announced, which only grew with the release of the first trailers. I was fearful that this new film would miss what had made the first film so incredible and what we would be left with would be yet another terrible 21st Century reboot. A joyless, souless, rehash so when the first reviews started trickling out my anxiety lessened to such an extent that I went in with a little spring in my step.

And I left 163 minutes later, sombre and quiet, a little bit pummelled by the powerful, booming Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch soundtrack and dazzled by Roger Deakins exceptional cinematography and Denis Villeneuve's masterful direction. The visuals were breathtaking, the cast excellent and the effects almost seamless. It offered up nods to the original, while never feeling as if it's pandering, it attempted to forward the Blade Runner's story and tired to remain truthful to the Ridley Scott masterpiece. However, in the final analysis this, for me, was the perfect example of a flawed masterpiece. A film that will in years to come be held up as an example what an adult-themed science fiction film can achieve and while it never matches Blade Runner originality it's still a tour-d-force. However, this film has a problem and that's its length, it's just far too long. In fact there's really no need for it to be this long, especially since it's such a slow burn to begin with. It builds incredibly slowly and ultimately drains any momentum the film struggles to create.

The great thing about Blade Runner was that the story at its core was an unbelievably small and almost trivial tale and at its end had utterly no impact on the vast world in which it took part in. Sadly the story at the centre of Blade Runner 2049 is a vastly different matter, its scale when finally revealed will have a profound global impact on the world portrayed and strangely I feel a little sad it had to be so big. There are other things that niggled me too, but listing them all here feels a little churlish and besides, I still loved it. Overall it's a powerful and sombre film filled with poignant sadness and loneliness and I loved it for that.

This film gets so much right, indeed almost everything including some surprising cameos. but ultimately you're left missing Roy Batty's final 'Tear drops in the rain' speech and craving to hear the Vangelis soundtrack. Also there's a distinct lack of people in this world, one which the conceit that everyone's gone off world, just doesn't make any sense. I loved the slow build of this film, that fact it took its time to unfold, the scale of this world is simply staggering and the sense of weight and scale was almost palatable. Ryan is a magnetic presence and you find yourself drawn along by his characterisation, he is after all just after what we all want, some companionship and a little love, which makes his relationship with Joi so powerful and gives this film an emotional heart it needs. This is a harsh film and a harsh environment, the only truly likeable character is a prisoner with no hope of ever walking in the snow, let alone the rain, and wherever we look we see signs of a society just dying. However this raises many questions that cry to be answered that sadly aren't. We want to learn more of Wallace to find out what he is truly up to. We want to find out more about the off world colonies and we want to know more about Deckard's damn dog, is it real?

This is a powerful film that pays homage to the original while still retaining its own voice and majesty. It's certainly a modern classic but whether we'll still be talking about it, as its predecessor 35 years later remains to be seen. Sadly it died at the US boxoffice, much like the original so that in itself is a good start!

Great visuals, great soundtrack, great performances, great direction, just too long. 9/10

Sunday, 24 September 2017

#77 CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (RE-ISSUE)


Starring Richard Drefyuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, François Truffaut, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen and Cary Guffey. Written and directed by Steven Spielberg. Budget $20 million. Running time 135 minutes long.

This classic film follows the after effects of a Close Encounter of the Third Kind that sees the break up of a marriage and the abduction of a small boy that causes his mother to be vilified as a possible child murderer.

Made in 1977 and following hot on the heels of Star Wars, this was the film that some of us 13 year olds (in 1977) thought was going to be as fantastic as George Lucas's work of genius. Alas to us back then it was a bit of a disappointment, lacking as it was huge space battles, hairy aliens and talking robots. However with the benefit of age and maturity you can now marvel at what an superb film this is. Sure the effects at the end and the arrival of the aliens is fantastic, but what makes it so fascinating to watch, as an adult, is the effects on Roy Neary's (Richard Drefyuss) psyche and family of his encounter. That and his, desperate search for answers. It's beautifully scored by John Williams and the cast is perfect. Plus it makes such a change from the usual wham bam action of most science fiction films.

What you forget is how little is spoken during the film, there are many sequences where characters act and don't speak and yet so much is conveyed. Indeed the whole alien 'first contact' sequence that takes up most of the third act is simply staggering and still packs a fantastic emotional punch. This is one of those films that you find yourself thinking about long after it's over, for example Roy's ditching of his young wife and kids as he gallivants off with his alien chums to the stars.

This new digitally remastered 4K print is superb and boy does this film deserve to be seen up there on the big screen if you get a chance.

10/10

#78 KINGSMEN: GOLDEN CIRCLE

Starring Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Edward Holcroft and Elton John. Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn and directed by Matthew Vaughn. Budget $104 million. Running time 141 minutes. Cert 15.

One year after the events of Kingsmen: The Secret Service and everything's gone pear shaped, the entire Kingsmen infra structure has been destroyed in a single co-ordinated airstrike and every agent except for super agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and quartermaster Merlin (Mark Strong) has been killed, all on the orders of the world's most successful and richest drugs baron – Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). She's living in total secrecy orchestrating an insane plot to flood the world with poisoned drugs so that the drug industry will be legitimised she'll be recognised as a powerful and successful business woman. Needing help to find out who targeted them, Eggsy and Merlin head for the US and fall under the patronage of the Statesmen, the American equivalent of Kingsmen, run by Champ (Jeff Bridges) who use the cover of a distillery as cover rather than the men's tailor outfit of the English cousins. There they team up with Statesmen agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) who's the American version of Merlin. And finally they're off to track Poppy down to her Indonesian volcanic lair that she's decked out to look like a small town American town complete with burger bar, cinema and nail bar. Along the way, our plucky Brit heroes stumble across an old friend who's lost, not only an eye, but his way and memory and needs help to rediscover himself.

And that, apart from a relentless barrage of violence and one utterly disgusting, and not in a good way, sex scene, oh and Elton John, is that.

Matthew Vaughn's fifth movie and sadly his first missfire, this is an ugly, bloated movie with none of the charm and wit of the original nor its lovely story arc. This time round Vaughn and Jane Goldman have developed an overly egged pudding of a plot which sees our heroes bouncing back and forth from America to a series of locations from London to Glastonbury and Italy, each time returning to the US before the final showdown in the villains lair. The action is repetitive and lacks all of the style and originality of the, err original movie and it's nearly 15 minutes longer. The bulging cast features four major American actors who only pop up occasionally for what amounts to a series of cameos, indeed Channing Tatum literally spends most of his role sleeping and Julianne Moore disappears for most of the movie.

And yet there are still things to love about this film, Eggsy's relationship with the Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden is both touching and sweet, as is Eggsy's re-connection with his old mentor, Harry (Colin Firth). Elton John is bloody funny, Mark Strong is, as ever, glorious, funny and fantastically watchable and Julianne Moore hints at a far more interesting character if only she'd been given more time to shine.

But what isn't nice is the rest of this film. The action scenes are rendered almost unwatchable thanks to violent editing and shaky cam, the back and forthing between the mission and the Statesmen Kentucky HQ robs the film of its momentum and the sub plot featuring the President of the United States is annoying and poorly developed. There's also an over reliance on rehashing memorable scenes from the first movie - for example an almost word-for-word remake of the wonderful pub scene as well as far too many, repetitive 'one-take' action sequences. All of which just makes this  feel like a tired rehash and not something fresh and original. You don't get the same exhilaration and nothing in this comes close to capturing the pure genius of the church shootout of The Secret Service.

But the single worst thing of this entire film is a mission that Eggsy goes on to bug a suspected link to Poppy's drug plot, Clara Von Gluckfberg (Poppy Delevingne) who just so happens to be the girlfriend of the failed Kingsmen candidate Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft) from the first film. Charlie is the cybernetically enhanced lead henchman of Poppy.  Eggsy heads off to Glastonbury with a tracking device, mounted on a finger sized condom that will only work if it's introduced to Clara's mucous membrane. This leaves Eggsy with a dilema, especially since he's in a loving relationship with his Swedish girlfriend so he rings her up to ask for permission to shag his target. Naturally she expresses her displeasure with his request, so Eggsy comes up with a genius solution to finger his target. Luckily with a camera just millimetres away from Eggsy's digit we get to watch its trajectory to splashdown. Literally. Now, I'm not a prude, far from it but I found this one scene to be genuinely and completely unnecessary. It could of be handled far more subtly and we wouldn't have had to watch his fingers slide into her red knickers and then disappear from view.

So, overall this is an overblown, over-egged and over long action film, with relentless action and a body count in the hundreds. Poppy Adam's plot seems clever on first hearing, but as the film progresses you start to realise it's just stupid and worst of all the mechanics of it cause continuity problems that don't make sense. The final showdown, which is a long time coming finally lacks punch and relies too much on a pair of robotic killer dogs and then to make it even longer, there's not one, or two, or three but five foes to vanquish at the end and boy that gets pretty boring.

All that said, Taron Egerton is a fantastically watchable actor, he brings an immense amount of charm to his character and the relationships he has with Harry, Tilde and Merlin are a joy, what a shame there wasn't more of that than the other.

6/10













Sunday, 17 September 2017

#76 MOTHER!


Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Running time 121 minutes. Budget $30 million. Certificate 18.

SYNOPSIS  
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A SOMEWHAT MORE DETAILED THAN USUAL SYNOPSIS OF THE FILM. AS IN IT GIVES AWAY THE WHOLE STORY. IF YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE THIS FILM AND GO IN BLIND THEN PLEASE SKIP TO 'REVIEW PART, NO SPOILERS' AT THE BOTTOM, HIGH-LIGHTED IN RED. OTHERWISE, GET READY FOR A REAL SHOCKER...

The film opens with a badly beaten woman standing in a wall of fire, that is before Javier places a beautiful crystal on a small plinth in the charred, smouldering remains of a once magnificent wooden house, referred to later as 'paradise'. The crystal radiates light and transforms the blackened husk of a house back into pristine glory. Then a young woman, Jennifer Lawrence wakes up alone in bed, rolls over to look for her husband and calls out, 'Baby?'.

We discover that the house is tended to by Jennifer Lawrence, indeed she does everything in the house and spends 2/3rds of this movie doing house work while her husband Javier Bardem, a poet with writer's block struggles to write a new book as good as his first one. He spends his days looking for inspiration while Jennifer drifts from room to room, doing DIY or cooking meals for Javier. Then one day Ed Harris and later Michelle Pfeiffer turn up and take over. Jennifer puts up with them for a while but really wishes Javier would just ask them to leave, but he won't, especially when Ed reveals himself to be a big fan of Javier's work. Then they start to mess things up and no matter how much she pleads, Javier refuses to send them away. Then their two sons turn up, Domhnall and Brian Gleeson and before you know it, the former's only gone and murdered the later by bashing in his head. Distraught, Ed and Michelle throw a wake in the house and invite loads of people who just take over and Jennifer gets really upset. Anyway, one day while Javier is away, Ed and Michelle break into Javier's office, despite being told that's the only room in the house they're not allowed in, and break his crystal and finally he loses it and he throws them out of his house. Then in an argument, Javier and Jennifer have break up sex and she instantly falls pregnant, which in turn inspires Javier to write a new poem. On the day the baby is due, the poem is finished and before she knows it, the house is filled with thousands of new people who all worship Javier and his new poem, and that's when things finally go bat shit crazy.

These new interlopers utterly trash the house to such an extent that an insanely violent riot breaks out and a whole new religious order emerges with those who take the new poem as a religious tract and inter-faith fighting erupts with other supporters of the poem fighting over its interpretation. Finally open warfare erupts and the house is horribly trashed. In desperation, Javier rescues Jennifer from the anarchy and barricaded in his office she gives birth to a baby boy. And then something truly horrible happens to the baby and Jennifer is horribly beaten and in a fit of rage destroys the house and herself in a huge fireball, reducing the once magnificent house to a smouldering ruins once again. Javier carries her badly burned body back to his office and tells her he needs her love and that he has to try one more time. Then he rips out her heart and removes a beautiful crystal from it which he places on the small plinth, which once again transforms the blackened husk of the house back to its former pristine glory. The film ends with a new woman waking up in Javier's bed, rolling over to look for  her Poet husband and calling out 'Baby?'.

To make sense of all that has gone before here is a handy guide as to who Jenn, Jav, Ed and Michelle really are, although you might have already worked it out for yourselves. I'd sort of guessed from the literal get go.

SPOILER ALERT.
Jennifer Lawrence is MOTHER NATURE, Javieer Bardem is GOD, Ed Harris is ADAM and Michelle Pfeiffer is EVE. The Gleeson boys are KANE and ABEL.

REVIEW PART, NO SPOILERS.

This is a huge, self-indulgent pile of utter bollocks. And although beautifully art-directed and well directed is just so pretentious that it literally disappears up its own arse with self-importance twaddle. If you found Darren's equally appalling Noah a tad too religious for your taste, listen lady you ain't seen nothing yet!

Actually for a while this is quite an interesting and intriguing film, its been marketed as a strange horror/mystery but believe me the only horror here is your own when you realise this is just a fucking 'what-if' Sunday school story. Honestly it's so utterly annoying because when the religious bollocks finally gets flung in your face you're frankly past caring.

The only saving grace (pun intended) is the delightful sight of Jennifer Lawrence wearing a see-through top right at the beginning of the movie. Oh and Ed Harris who's another one of those actors who can do no wrong, well almost no wrong, cos this one really tested my patience.

Nothing to see here, save yourself and jog on.

3/10


#75 AMERICAN ASS ASS IN


Starring Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar and Taylor Kitsch. Written by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. Directed by Michael Cuesta. Running time 111 minutes long. Budget $33 million. Certificate 18.

Based on a series of books written by Vice Flynn, Mitt Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) is sent off on the revenge trail when his fiancee is killed in a terrorist beach attack. 18 months later a laser-focused Mitt has grown a beard, learned the Koran, become fluent in Arabic, infiltrated the Muslim terrorist cell responsible and transformed himself into a one-man killing machine. However, before he can exact the revenge he's dreamed and trained for he's recruited by C.I.A Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) for an ultra bad-ass black ops outfit managed and trained by cold war warrior and utter bad-ass Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). It transpires that a shipment of weapon-grade Plutonium has been stolen on behest of a splinter group of the Iranian government and the chase is on to track it down before it's used to destroy the United States 6th Fleet. To make matters even worse the man behind the crime is a mysterious terrorist known only as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) whose skills and training seem awfully familiar to the sort of training Hurley provides. Hmmm, I wonder if there's a connection...

This film is a real rarity, it's an 18 certificate action film and it's hardly surprising considering the violence, graphic deaths and torture scenes that populate the film. It also doesn't skim on the detail or cut away before we see multiple bullet holes, knife wounds and the close ups of finger nails getting ripped out that seem to behalf practically all the cast of this film, my god even the utterly innocent unnamed bell boy who takes Dylan up to his hotel gets chainsawed to death when he asks for a tip!

Starring Dylan O'Brien who had the misfortune to star in the dreadful YA movies Maze Runner and also Taylor Kitsch, who not so long ago was the next Dylan O'Brien, that was before he had a truly dreadful run of terrible films like Battleshits, John Carter and Savages that seriously derailed his career. This time round he's playing the baddy and he's rather good at it, as is Michael Keaton in the gruff drill sergeant role who just eats up the screen in every scene he's in. Actually there's quite a lot to like about this film, it's an aggressive, hard edged spy thriller with double crosses, hidden agendas, car chases, explosions, fights and more swarthy looking assassins than you can shake a stick at, and it's even got a ticking fricking atom bomb for god's sake, A TICKING FRICKING ATOM BOMB!!!!!

So, in the final analysis, what this is is a typical DTV Steven Siegel movie but with an A-List cast and a bigger budget, oh and no Steven Siegel which is a blessing and earns this film an extra star before we've even gotten to the final score on the door. It's in no danger of blagging a Best Picture Oscar, or one for screenplay, or direction, but it might just spawn a franchise, perhaps even becoming the next Bourne, actually if you liked Bourne then you know what to expect with this, although this is a more violent Jack Ryan than Jason Bourne. It's cut from the same cloth although one without the splashes of shaking camera splashes of vomit, the endless plots-beneath-plots, double crosses, or amnesia suffering super spy because the last thing we need is another one of those!

This is a solid, but utterly poe-faced, violent romp, which has no room for brevity or a lightness of touch and in the final analysis is the male equivalent of a romcom, so let's call it a ACTROM. It belts along, giving you no time to get bored, it's punctuated by action every couple of minutes, it's got guns, car crashes, explosions and punch ups and it's got Michael Keaton, so all-in-all, this is a solid enough Saturday Night Special of a movie and nothing more or less.

7/10



Sunday, 10 September 2017

#74 WIND RIVER



Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Graham Green, Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Budget $11 million. Running time 111 minutes. Certificate 15.

When a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the shoeless corpse of a young native American woman frozen to death six miles from the nearest house, he triggers an FBI investigation, in the form of green-horn FBI special agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) that forces him to relive the terrible death of his own daughter who died in horribly similar circumstances several years earlier, a death that cost him his marriage. However when a second naked corpse is discovered, this time of a dead male miner, the murders takes on a chilling new dimension.

What follows is an thought-provoking and intense but also sadly bleak and somewhat depressing crime thriller set on the stunning vista of a Native American reservation in the depths of Wyoming in the middle of winter in the company of Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Green). That said, despite being depressing, that's not a bad thing, indeed it really helps to make this a gripping thriller.

Jeremy Renner is surprisingly good as the tracker and hunter, bringing to his role some real depth, humanity and pain. Although Elizabeth Olsen has a less success in her role which gives her far less opportunity to emote as silently as her fellow Avengers team mate does. Similarly, this is a political film with something to say, this time about the plight of the Native American male youth which is explored and the film rarely misses an opportunity to point out the bleakness facing this tragically disenfranchised portion of American life.

Written by the man responsible for both Sicario and Hell or High Water, this is a serious and intense film that builds slowly and ends with an extremely dramatic and somewhat startling burst of some unexpected violence, which does feel oddly out of place with what has developed over the course of the film. This is Taylor Sheridan's first movie as a director and although he handles it well, some of his scenes feel a little clunky and there is a sense he is still to find his feet as a director.

7/10

#73 CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE


Starring Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele and Kristen Schaal. Written by Nicholas Stoller and directed David Soren. Based on the series of books by Dav Pilkey. Budge $38 million. Running time 89 minutes. Certificate U.

Two young friends, one a budding cartoonist the other a writer create a cartoon character called Captain Underpants who somehow becomes real and end up battling not only an angry principle but also a demented super-villain called Professor Poppypants.

This is one bloody funny animated film that came as an absolute suprirse to me, I'd avoided it when it first came out thinking I'd seen enough kids animated movies to last me a lifetime, but when my youngest Baxter said he'd like to see it I thought 'ah sod it, why not?' And I'm bloody glad i did. I loved this, it's silly, it's full of bottom and fart jokes and the animation is a delight! It's most certainly not big or clever and some parents will find it childish but they're missing the point! this is gloriously and unashamedly childish and I loved it for that! The jokes come thick and fast and even include a Uranus joke!

God, I hope there's a sequel. If you've not seen this yet and you get a chance DO IT! I promise you'll not be disappointed, unless you're a stuck up poppy-pants. This is a wonderful tonic to those saccharin overloaded, life-lesson-teaching animated films that get vomited up all the time, like all of the vile films that were previewed before it, like the My Little Pony movie.

So, if a school stage full of children making music with fart sounds has you smiling already then come and give it a go, you'll shit yourself laughing. I know I did.

Great unadulterated childish fun!

8/10

#72 IT


Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), Sophia Lillis (Bev), Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Wyatt Oleff (Stan), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), Nicholas Hamilto (Henry Bowers) and Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie). Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Budget $35 million. Running time 135 minutes long. Certificate 15.

There's an ancient evil that lurks deep beneath the streets of Derry, one that awakens every 27 years to feast on fear, but this year it's picked on the wrong bunch of losers to try and feed on. Now seven pre-teenage friends will overcome their personal demons and phobias and come together and try and put a stop to the evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and its terrible rampage.

I personally think that in generations to come the name Stephen King will be listed alongside the likes of Dickens, Shakespeare and Mark Twain as one of the greatest story tellers of all times. his output is prestigious to put it mildly. He's written over a 100 books, including The Stand, The Shinning, The Shawshank Redemption and Salem's Lot. And although his books tend to be, on the whole, extremely satisfying, the movie adaptations of his work isn't always successful and for every Carrie, Mist, Misery or The Green Mile there's a Maximum Overdrive, Dark Tower or The Cell waiting for the unsuspecting.

And so to IT, the second attempt to transfer Stephen's most epic opus to the glittering screen, although the last outing better known as the John Boy Walton adaptation is best known for Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise the Clown, one of the most unsettling screen monsters of all times, rather than for its rather dull and scare-free and bum-numbing running time.

This new adaptation was a deeply satisfying, surprisingly creepy and altogether thoroughly entertaining fright-fest, which while not scaring me as much as The Exorcist once did nevertheless left me feeling very unsettled and un-nerved by several of the encounters with Pennywise.

 I usually find films this long fairly exhausting, but not so this time, indeed I really think the long running time really helps the film. It makes you feel connected to the young cast and their plight. In fact, the young cast is excellent, be it class clown, hypochondriac or grief-stricken elder brother and the utter lack of a named actor makes it far easier to identify with them and the terrible horror they heroically face.

A terrifically gripping and satisfying movie that despite ending with a caption that reads: CHAPTER ONE still delivers a meaty and powerful ending that will easily satisfy you should the inevitable sequel fail to live up to this one.

A funny, gripping and genuinely scary horror film that despite following the 'don't show it all' rule, still manages to be seriously and unpleasantly gruesome.

8/10




#71 THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM


Starring Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam reid, Maria Valverde, Henry Goodman, Morgan Watkins and Eddie Marsan. Written by Jane Goldman. Directed by Juan Carlos Medina. Running time 105 minutes. Certificate 15.

Cor, luv a duck, there's a series of 'orrible murders what are all taking place in the middle of Victorian London during a ruddy pea-souper and it's up to one man Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighly) to try and stop the murderer, known as the Lime House Golem before he strikes again. Kildare, using the killer's own journal, tries to decide which of 4 suspects including Dan Leno and Karl Marks might be the killer, while at the same time trying to find evidence that'll prove the innocence of a former music hall star Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) on trial for the supposed murder of her husband.

A gory, well made, gripping who-dunnit murder mystery whose destination is far more entertaining that the journey, which isn't to say this is a bad film. Indeed far from it, this is a deeply atmospheric, very well acted and written murder mystery, ably directed by Juan Carlos Medina with a superb cast of actors and frankly anything with Eddie Marsan is worth seeing in my book!

Adapted from Peter Ackroyd's Dan Leno and the Lime House Golem this is an engrossing and satisfying thriller and makes for a very nice change from the usual summer glut of overblown special effects blockbusters that have been stinking up the cinemas for far too long this year.

8/10

Sunday, 3 September 2017

#70 STRATTON


Starring Dominic Cooper, Gemma Chan, Austin Stowell, Tyler Hoechlin, Connie Nielson, Thomas Kretschmann, Derek Jacobi and Tom Felton. Written by Duncan Falconer and Warren Davis II and directed by Simon West. Running time 95 minutes. Cert 15.

Dominic Cooper is Stratton, a SBS operative assigned to MI6 on the hunt of Grigory Barovsky (Thomas Kretschmann) a supposed 20-year  dead KGB operative who killed Stratton's partner in a bungled mission deep inside Iraq, or Iran or somewhere in the middle east. Anyway, Grigory has got his hands on a bio weapon called Satan's Snow or something and he's out for revenge. So Strat and his new partner, Marty (Tyler Hoechlin) head off for revenge and to bring an end to Grigory's shit.

Back in 1982 Lewis Collins starred in Who Dares Wins, his showcase to prove to Chubby and Eon as to his suitability to play James Bond. 35 years later and Dominic Cooper seems to be having a punt with this, an utterly middling putt-putt of a spy thriller which jets around the world from Camden, to Docklands to Rome as our very laidback and reserved hero Stratton goes about his job of attempting to prevent Grigory from doing his. It all builds to a very piffling car chase between Stratton's Land Rover SUV and a No. 9 red double-decker bus in a London park.

And that's it really. This is a middling, toothless, non-offensive poottle, mostly through London, which features a couple of casual car chases, some slight blood letting gun battles and a body count in the low teens. Apart from one rather hard-edged interrogation scene this is a rather bland thriller. If you want to see a proper action film about the SBS (Special Boat Services) check out North Sea Hijack, starting the later great Roger Moore as the cat-loving, misogynist marine counter-terrorist expert Rufus Excalibur ffolkes who goes up against unhinged terrorist, Anthony Perkins who's only gone and booby-trapped three North Sea oil platforms with three massive bombs!



STRATTON 4/10
NORTHSEA HIJACK 8/10

#69 LOGAN LUCKY

 Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Farrah Mackenzie, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank and Seth MacFarlane. Written by Rebecca Blunt. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Budget $29 million. Running time 119 minutes long. Cert 12A.

When Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) a one-time high school football star loses his job at a construction site because of an old knee injury, he conspires with his one armed brother, Iraq-war vet, Clyde (Adam Driver) and almost silent hair dressing sister (Riley Keough) to rob the local NASCAR race track (site of his construction job) during the Independence Day race. However, to do this they first need to break imprisoned explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of prison to blow the underground vault and then return him back inside, all in one frantic day!

What follows is a feel-good heist movie that Hollywood used to churn with abandon, although back in those days, the crooks never won, or seldom got away with the swag. This features a glorious, lovable cast of social misfits, a fucking kick-arse soundtrack and a lightness of touch which ultimately becomes rather jarring, because it masks the fact that beneath the surface this film is as hollow as an egg shell. There is nothing beyond the characters doing their thang to David Holmes choice chunes to hold your attention, and after awhile mine started to wander.

There's never any doubt our lovable heroes won't win and the actual heist aspect of the movie is so perfectly carried out without incident or threat that it totally takes away from the fact that the Logan family are supposed to be a bunch of dim, bad-luck cursed hicks, we're told endlessly that they suffer from bad luck, and yet despite the knee injury and the lost hand, neither of the boys seem that  unlucky. Jimmy has a loving relationship with his daughter, while Clyde runs the local bar, and yet wherever they go, this mythical unlucky curse is used to define them, it's shorthand for any actual character traits. As for the actual heist, which takes up a large portion of this film, you just watch it unravel, wondering how it all pieces together. Normally in these sort of films we'd see our band of anti-heroes practicing and getting better before the actual job, but not so here. Bang the day of the heist arrives and bam our heroes carry out, with perfect synchronicity, the heist. And as with every Soderbergh heist film, there's a nifty 'how did they do that' montage sequence at the end of the film to show you all the stuff he kept hidden.

This isn't all bad news, because we want these losers to win, they deserve it. And besides, there's no real victims here because the money stolen is covered by insurance and it belongs to some faceless corporation and not some individual, so you know it's all good. And also no one dies, not even during a prison riot.

The trailer makes this film look a lot funnier than it actually was, it's not a bad film, not by a long stretch but it's just so flimsy and straight forward that it ultimately just feels like Ocean's 11-Lite. In  fact, I think Soderbegh actually knows this because during a news report following the heist the news presenter describes this as an Ocean's 7-11. Gone are the smooth talking, hi-rolling, super rich con men robbing Las Vegas replaced by a gang of blue-colar red-necks.

Come for the trailer, stay for the music and enjoy it while it's on, cos once it's over you'll forget you ever saw it.

7/10