Sunday, 26 February 2017

#20 PATRIOTS DAY


Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons and Michelle Monaghan. Written by Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson. Directed by Peter Berg. Budget $45 million. Running time 133 minutes. Certificate 15.

A mostly true dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing with only Mark Wahlberg's character, Boston police sergeant, Tommy Saunders, as the fictitious focal point of the film as the made up part of the movie. The rest is based on the truth, which is that two half-Chechen radicalised Islamic brothers, Tamerian and Dzhokhar Tsarnaebv planted two bombs at the Boston marathon, which killed three, including a seven-year old and injuring over 240 innocent bystanders that sparked a huge manhunt that resulted in the death of two police men and the total shut-down of Boston as thousands of police men searched 20 block for the terrorists.

The build up to the bombing and the subsequent police investigation and manhunt is gripping stuff, with an excellent cast headed up by Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J.K Simmons as real life FBI Special Agent Richard Deslauriers, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and Police Sergant Jeffrey Publiese. While Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff as the two terrorist brothers make for excellent, mustache twiddling baddies. Peter Berg has made a tense and involving drama, which is only hamstrung by one thing. Mark Wahlberg, the made up hero of the film. Once again, the idea that we, the audience needs someone we can identify with so as to allow the plot unfurl, however this isn't the case. When Mark's Tommy Saunders starts wittering on about the fact that neither he nor his similarly fictitious wife, Michelle Monaghan can have children I couldn't have cared less, I was much more interested in how this true life terrorist attack effected the real life people who were there on the day. Wahlberg's character marches around shouting out guidance and information but similarly manages to avoid any of the actual action, including one hilarious sequence where he races to a dramatic shoot-out only to finally arrive once it's all over. The film follows the police investigation and ends with the dramatic capture of the younger brother. Then we get to see the real life versions of people and find out what happened next, this is the most touching part of the film and the sense of how such an atrocity can bring out the best in people.

Well acted, very well directed, Berg really knows how to handle the tension and action and with some genuinely powerful action sequences, this is an involving and gripping film, only marginally ruined by the Wahlberg whose character feigns a limp for most of the film to show that he's determined to power through anything in the pursuit of justice.

7/10

Saturday, 25 February 2017

#19 A CURE FOR WELLNESS


Starring Dane Dehann, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth. Written by Justin Haythe from a story by Justing Haythe and Gore Verbinski. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Running time 146 minutes. Budget $40 million. Certificate 18.

Bloody hell, this is an odd one. On one hand an unsettling and, at times, freakishly creepy gothic horror while on the other a sign-post heavy, nod and a wink melodramatic velvety black comedy, without the laughs.

The film sees rising ruthless corporate wunder-kid, Morris Lockhard (Dane Dehann) packed off to a Swiss sanatorium to bring back home a high ranking member of his company's board who's resigned in the form of a ranting, rambling letter. However once there, Morris discovers that like the Eagles, once you've checked in you can never leave. He falls under the spell of mysterious girl child, Hannah (Mia Goth), the oddly sinister Sanatorium Director, Dr. Volmer (Jason Issacs), and a gaggle of aged patients but what is their connection to the brutal, incest-riddled, legend of the sanatorium, a mysterious half-ruined castle in the grounds, the weird golden liquid filled blue-bottles that all the staff seem to take drops from, and what's with all the eels? With clues littered in almost every scene it's not difficult to work out what the funk is really going and the film builds in a genuinely icky way right up to the final act where the whole film's mystery is revealed and the scene is set for a Phantom of the Opera style ending and a huge fiery conflagration that all feels a little flat especially in the light of what has gone before.

When the film works it's because of the skill of director Gore Verbinski and his art department and set designs which are never anything less than sumptuous and beautifully textured. However it's ultimately let down by the need for that pat action-packed and conventional Hollywood ending, which
sort of spoils all the unsettling weirdness that has been building oh-so-very slowly over the past 126 minutes. Regardless, the performances are good and understandably mysterious and there are some gloriously disgusting body-horror shocks in store for the unwitting audience. This feels a little like David Lynch crossed with David Cronenberg.

Certainly a weird and creepy little film, let down by a Hollywood action ending and a very odd final scene.

7/10

#18 HIDDEN FIGURES


Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons. Written by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder. Directed by Theodore Melfi.  Running time 127 minutes. Budget $25 million. Certificate 12.

The dramatized story of how, in the early 1960s, three women of color fought against institutional racism, sexism and prejudice to help NASA and America win the space race against those no-good commies set against a belting funky sound track, a real eye for period detail and a highly likeable cast.

This is a well made, but very one note movie with no real highs or lows, lacking as it does any form of plot, the ending is never in doubt, which is hardly a problem since this is the sort of film where the journey is the most interesting part, not the destination. The film follows the lives of three genuinely astonishing and super intelligent woman,  Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle MonĂ¡e) whom, because of the color of their skin were always looked down on, patronized and criminally under-estimated, by all that is except Kevin Costner's made up character Al Harrison - seemingly the only man in the whole of NASA able to look beyond the color of Katherine's skin and utilize her incredible mathematical skills. 

For anyone with a fascination for the early days of the American Space Race and the movie The Right Stuff, this is terrific stuff, showing us the behind the scenes workings of the geniuses who worked the numbers and created the mathematics to put man into space before they even had computers!

This isn't an easy watch, it's truly difficult to witness the naked racism, the contempt and suspicion that the likes of Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons's characters throw at the our three heroines. The scenes inside NASA are gripping and exciting, but not so the 'God Bless America' moments outside the office, where everyone gets on, goes to Church socials, and fall, oh-so-politely, in love, that is when they're not winning the right to go to university, or secretly learning how to operate and repair NASA's first IBM computer, or just tearing down the wall of ignorance by going to the toilet. The film ends with the photos of the actual women and what they achieved and how they were honored and that's just icing on the cake. 

I'd recommend watching this and The Right Stuff as a double bill. Thoroughly entertaining stuff.

8/10

Sunday, 19 February 2017

#17 THE GREAT WALL



Starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau. Written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy. Based on a story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Budget $150 million. Running time 104 minutes. Certificate 12A

Not only the first ever English Language film directed by Zhang Yimou but also the most expensive, at $150 million, Chinese film ever made. Two European survivors of an mercenary expedition sent out to find the legenday 'black powder' (gun powder), Irish man William and Spaniard Tovar (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal) stumble across a mysterious murderous unknown beastie know as a Taotie and kill it, just before stumbling, again, this time across the Great Wall of China. It turns out the wall was built to protect North China from an alien species that crashed to Earth thousands of years earlier. It also turns out that every 60 odd years this alien horde led by their Queen surge across the landscape in their millions looking for food and the only thing standing in their way are the secret Unnamed Order of the Great Wall - a super-trained army of incredible warriors.

Although initially mistrusted and taken prisoner by the Unnamed Order, our plucky heroes soon prove their valour during an astonishing assault by the monsters upon the wall. Not only do we see the sheer scale of the horror our heroes are fighting against but also the sheer ingenuity of the Unknown Order and their dazzling, bungee-jumping, all-female warriors known as the Crane Guard  led by Commander Lin (Jing Tian) who fearlessly dives off the top of the Wall to kill the monsters armed with nothing more than spears.

After that it's a breakneck battle of attrition as our heroes fight again and again against the monsters leading up to an exciting and thrilling climax in the walled capital city of Bianliang.

Cards on table. I went into this movie expecting a disaster. It's never a good sign when a movie has its previews one day before its due to open and the odds seemed to be stacked against it. Plus it's clearly been cast with the American market in its sights and it just felt like a train crash waiting to happen.

Well, I have to say I bloody loved it! First off all, by using China as its backdrop and location, we get to see vistas and landscapes like nothing we've ever seen before. There's a scale, and not just the size of the Great Wall, to the proceedings that makes it vastly more interesting than if it had been a western movies set in China. The sets are massive and filled hundreds of extras and the action is exciting and thrilling. Not everything works, some of the CGI is a bit ropey and some of the acting is a bit panto-like and Matt Damon's accent slips out of its soft Irish brogue in every other scene. However,  on the other hand, the design and feel of the proceedings are fresh and original and the scenery breath-taking. I loved the action, the silliness of the whole thing had a real sheer sense of genuine energy, if there's any faults it's the films strict adherence to the classic 3 act structure and the it does lose momentum in the third act when a subplot is finally resolved. But it's a minor quibble.

This was a fun, action-packed and downright silly adventure and I loved it.

7/10

Sunday, 12 February 2017

#16 & 23 JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2


Starring Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Lequizamo and Ian McShane. Written by Derek Kolstad and directed by Chad Stahelski. Budget $40 million. Runnng time 122 minutes. Certificate 12A.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is the retired super assassin once known as the Boogey Man, still grieving for the death of the woman who saved his soul. Last time out the son of Wick's ex Russian Mafia boss stole his muscle car and killed his dog, a gift from his wife. This time round, Italian crime lord Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to whom John Wick gave his Marker to some years earlier comes a calling. And in this insane world of the ultra assassin the Marker is a debt that when called for must be honoured without exception. However,  when D'Antonio asks Wick to kill sister so that he can take her place at the High Table, a council of high-level crime lords Wick refuses, he wants to retire, but his old life just won't let him. Instead his beloved house is destroyed as an intensive. Wick travels back to New York and the Continental hotel, where he seeks advice from Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the hotel. He convinces Wick to take the job or else face having a bounty placed on his head and so, once again, Wick comes out of retirement, travels to Rome to kill his friend's sister only to have a bounty placed on his head of $7 millions by D'Antonio once the job is done. Poor Wick then spends the rest of the movie in one continuous, gun battle and fist fight, stopping only for a brief chat with the New York underground crime Lord Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and to trade endless battles with mute hitwoman Ares (Ruby Rose) and Cassian (Common).

As with the first film the plot isn't really as important as the action which as with the first film is just as relentless, although this time round it gets a little wearisome and, sorry to say, repetitive, particularly one gun battle that takes in a huge tunnel complex beneath Rome. There's also an attempt to expand upon the world hinted at in the first film, with the discovery of another Continental hotel in Rome with its own manger, Franco Nero and there a glimpse behind the scenes as we watch various contracts issued.

The action sequences are well staged, the choreography is good and the editing fast and furious but not horrifically shaky, but sadly the one thing lacking from this is uniqueness and originality.

But that aside, Keanu is just as awesome as before, his athleticism and gun skills are extraordinary as too are the hand-to-hand fights, one in particular that includes a very long stone staircase that looks genuinely bone crunching. The also a great scene between him and Fishburne that seem packed with subtle nods and winks to that franchise they both appeared in. Although in the case of this sequel it knocks spots off that other one's second part.

This is by no means a disaster, but alas it's not as inspired as the original. If you liked the first film, you should enjoy this outing and the ending which sees Wick and his dog, Dog on the run, sets the scene nicely for one final chapter.

This is a solid, fun Saturday night special!

8/10

Saturday, 11 February 2017

#15 THE FOUNDER


Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellinei, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak and Laura Dern. Written by Robert D. Siegel, directed by John Lee Hancock. Running time 115 minutes. Budget $7 million. Certificate 12A.

The true life story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a near bankrupt, traveling milkshake-maker sales-man became the founder of the MacDonald's burger empire and all it took him was to steal the idea from the MacDonald brothers and franchise the crap out of it and to ride rough shod over all those who stand in his way.

Giving a superb performance and single single-handedly carrying the entire movie, Michael Keaton is the human face of Ray Kroc, the 52 year-old traveling sales man who stumbled across MacDonald's and saw the ultimate get rich scheme and all it cost him was his wife, friends and buisness partners. This shows a fascinating glimpse into the history of the world's biggest fast food empire, which supplies 1% of the world's population with food each and every day. It's a wonderfully satisfying movie, just like a bacon double cheese burger from Burger King or a large Five Guys with bacon and cheese. Solid, meaty and satisfying, which half an hour after eating will leave you feeling wishing for more, just so with the film.

Keaton is mesmerising and strangely despite the, at times, dreadful business things he does, is oddly and hypnotically likeable. The art direction is terrific, the direction clever and well construced and the film as a whole easily captures the feel of the early 1960s its set in. With a brilliant cast of co-stars like Offerman, Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak and Dern to bounce off this was a thoroughly enjoyable movie and well worth seeing.

8/10

#14 GOLD


Starring Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson and Bruce Greenwood. Written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman. Directed by Stephen Gaghan. Running time 121 minutes. Budget unknown. Certificate 15.

Based on the Bre-X scandal of the 1990s, this film follows prospector Kenny Welles, a man once riding high, now running his mining company out of a bar. Following a dream where he finds gold in the rain forests of Indonesia, Kenny (Matthew McConaughey) pawns the last few things of value he has and jets off to convince visionary geologist, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) to help him find the gold he dreamed of. When the pair strike it big the film follows their rollercoaster rise to fame and fortune, while their inevitable fall lurks in the shadows like a foul fart in an elevator.

Matthew is an impressive actor and I've always liked him and his GIGANTIC, HUGE, MASSIVE SQUARE HEAD but alas the fact that in this new film it fills almost every scene is part of the problem with it. You see normally Matt's head is quite lovely to look at, but in this it's massive, sweaty, topped with a hideous bald spot and blotchy. Plus he spends every second he's on screen sucking on cigarettes and supping huge tumblers filled with whisky, to remind us each and every second that his character, Kenny is a smoker and alcoholic. After awhile it becomes not only jarring but downright distracting. You find yourself wondering how much he's spending on booze and fags. And what he could afford if only he'd stop. But this film isn't about people stopping, it's about excess, it's about greed, it's about little people getting fucked over by corporate American and in that respect it's like Wolf of Wall St., which it so wants to be compared with. Alas this isn't a patch on that far better film.

While McConaughey brings his AAA+++ acting game to the table the other actors try for a naturalistic approach and both schools sort of clash, with McConaughey blasting everyone off the screen with his INTENSE method school approach and it's frankly exhausting to watch, it's just relentless, overwhelming and just too damn much.

That coupled with the story which just isn't really that great, it sort of skims on stuff and finally ends up being a boardroom squabble as super rich buisness men argue and bitch. And it's hard to truly connect with a film where the lead character's only ambition is to be rich. When the inevitable collapse happens and the little investors are robbed of all their savings and we discover that the mining company that Kenny set up has been plundered by his partner and that billions of dollars have been lost there's never any sense that we should feel sorry for the little man, only in Kenny.

The film has one final, rather offensive little sting in its tail which it can only get away with because it's based on truth and not a telling of the true story of Bre-X. When Kenny discovers that his ex partner has absconded with over hundred million dollars he is interviewed by the FBI and found to have nothing to do with what happened and released. The film ends with him reunited with his ex girlfriend, whom he dumped because she didn't want to share in his dreams of greed, and opening up an airmail letter from Acosta containing a check for tens of millions of dollars. The film ends with  Kenny smiling, because he's achieved his goal of striking it rich.

You'll come for McConaughey and stay to count the fags he smokes and the booze he consumes. but sadly this film is all bluster and bullshit, it's like a chocolate coin, wrapped in gold foil, once you've eaten the coin all you're left with is the gold foil, there's no substance, a bit like Kenny and Acosta's gold claim.

6/10

Sunday, 5 February 2017

#13 THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE


Starring the vocal talents of: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington. Directed by Chris McKay.  Budget $TBC million. Running time 104 minutes. Certificate U.

Batman (Will Arnett) thwarts the Joker's (Zach Galifianakis) latest madcap scheme to destroy Gotham City and sets in motion a madcap plot that will ultimately see Gotham City threatened by an army of unbelievable evil with the Crown Prince of Crime at its head. It will also see Batman learn the value of family and teamwork and adopt a young orphan who will grow up to be Robin.

Que a relentlessly silly film filled with some genuinely batty gags, some lovely sight gags (check out the movies on show at the cinema) and some lovely animation and tricks, check out the motes of dust, Will Arnett does a perfect Batman voice and the whole voice cast, especially Ralph Fiennes and Zach Galifianakis are great. There are some lovely sequences which show that the writers have a true love of the titular character and a deep knowledge of his mythology and referencing the entire movie career. The energy of this busy, frenetic and genuinely silly film is infectious -  the highlight being a fantastically funny Batman sung song about how great he is. Yet despite all of this, the film never really matches the same levels of genius as the LEGO movie that inspired it. Sure it's very funny but not brilliant and it feels a little bit generic, particularly since the main theme of it seems to be the idea of Batman learning a valuable life lesson about family and friendship. All that said, it feels a lot more Batman than the last four Batman films.

Finally, for all the comic fans out there this Batman film does something I don't remember seeing before it gives credit to the late, great Bill Finger the original writer and co-creator of Batman along side Bob Kane. It also gives over a long list of cartoonists and writers whose work has helped to inspire this movie.

A very enjoyable animated film that should entertain most kids of a certain age, say 6 - 60, it will be interesting to see if it can match the boxoffice take of the behemoth that was the LEGO Movie.

8/10



Saturday, 4 February 2017

#12 TRAINSPOTTING 2


Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremmer, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Anjela Nedyalkova. Written by John Hodge, directed by Danny Boyle. Budget $18 million. Running time 117 minutes long. Certificate 18.

It's been 20 years since the first Trainspotting film, which is handy because this belated sequel is set 20 years after the original movie, what an amazing and happy co-incidence. The film follows Ewan McGregor's Mark Renton, who one day with no explanation,  leaves behind his life in Amsterdam to travel back to his childhood home of Edingbourgh. There, determined to make amends for the fact that 20 years earlier he stole £4000 from each of his friends, Mark tries his best to reconcile himself with his old best friends. But life hasn't been as kind to those he left behind. First there's Ewan Bremmer's Spud, still a hopeless smack head, but now estranged from his ex-girlfriend and son, jobless and suicidal. Then there's his old best friend Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) who now runs his dead Aunt's old run-down pub and dreams of turning it into a brothel with his girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). And last, but by no means least, there's the still psycho, but far slower, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who breaks out of prison and tries to reconnect with his wife and grown up son unaware that Mark has returned. The film follows Mark as he tries to re-unite with his old friends, helping Spud to break his drug habit and, after a violent showdown, agreeing to help Simon raise £100,000 to build his massage parlor. Meanwhile, Mark falls for Simon's girlfriend, Spud starts to write stories based on his life and Begbie spirals out of control and fate conspires to bring them altogether for one final brutal showdown...

This is a surprisingly funny film, which despite lacking the savage energy of the original movie is still highly entertaining and enjoyable. Although it's hardly surprising that it's a slower and less frenetic than that first movie, especially since everybody involved is 20 years older, much like it core audience, and indeed that's part of the charm of the film, it's good to meet these characters again after so long. They've all aged, which is strangely satisfying. Spud is well on his way to going bald, so is  Simon and Mark has a heart condition and Begbie has lost that lethal Whippet thinness and become rather stocky. You find yourself wanting to see how their lives have developed, you want Mark and Simon to become friends again, you realise you've missed Spud and you find yourself dreading what will happen when Begbie finally gets his hands on Renton.

Danny Boyle's direction feels a little like he's on auto pilot, as his little tricks and ticks stutter their way through movie, not because it feels organic but because it's his schtick. The songtrack is simply superb and the nods and winks to the original film are almost legion in number and trigger fond memories. However as a movie, this isn't a total success. It builds wonderfully and for the most part feels almost plot-free as it just follows the old friends refinding themselves. But then the plot sort of slides into view and the scene is set for the final showdown and the film sort of loses it's aimless charm. And there's a distinct lack of chemistry between Miller and McGregor, mostly because Miller never loses his angry scowl.

Nevertheless this was an enjoyable and very entertaining film and I can't wait to buy the soundtrack.

8/10