Archive for May, 2018

Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo and Paul Bettany.

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Chewie had an awful feeling Han’s coat might have once been a relative.

On the planet Corellia Han (Ehrenreich) is part of a gang of youths forced into crime by an evil alien. He dreams of being a pilot however, and of escaping Corellia with his lover Qi’ra (Clarke) He manages to escape, but has to leave Qi’ra behind. Determined to make enough money that he can buy a ship and come back to rescue Qi’ra, Han enlists in the Imperial navy, imagining they’ll train him to be a pilot. Instead he winds up in the infantry where his path crosses that of a veteran criminal named Tobias Beckett (Harrelson), a somewhat disgruntled Wookie and a debonair gambler named Lando Calrissian who owns an incredibly fast ship…

In order to get vicious gangster Dryden Voss (Bettany) off their backs, Han and his newfound cohorts must pull off a daring robbery, and if successful Han might get enough money to buy his own ship, and finally be able to rescue Qi’ra from a life of crime, but in this Universe can things ever go to plan?

Do you remember that bit at the start of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where young Indy (played by River Phoenix) has his first adventure and every aspect of his adult personality is acquired in ten minutes (hat, whip, snakes, scar)? Well imagine that sequence stretched out for two hours and you have a pretty good idea what Solo: A Star Wars Story is like, and your enjoyment may, in many respects, depend on how you feel about this. Me, I found it interesting in places, dull in others, but for the most part downright painful. This is a film that’s so on the nose at times as to be wince inducing.

It falls into the trap of too many prequel/origin stories of feeling it has to explain every aspect of Han’s personality, even things that didn’t really need explaining (did you ever sit and ponder “I wonder why he’s called Han Solo?” No? Me neither!)

So be prepared for a list to be checked off. Meet Chewie, check. Meet Lando, check. Get iconic blaster, check. Get Falcon, check. Shoot first, check? And so on and so forth…

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Han and Chewie having way more fun than I was…

It could have worked, with a better script and, it has to be said, with a better Han. By all accounts they saw over 3000 people, which makes the decision to cast Ehrenreich all the stranger, because whilst he tries, he never comes anywhere near the natural cocky cool of Harrison Ford. Sure, this Han is younger, less sure of himself, more of a nice guy, but really the only link between the two men is the grin. There’s a difference between cocky and smug however, and the young man slips too often into the latter while Ford was effortlessly the former. It’s not that I think anyone is irreplaceable (Chris Pine proves this with his top draw Kirk performance), but I think they could have done better, perhaps with someone who looked less physically similar, but could play the role better. It’s also painfully obviously that Ehrenreich is a fair bit shorter than Ford.

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“Aren’t you a little short for a Han?”

I hope his height wasn’t the reason they cast the diminutive Emilia Clarke, just to make him look taller? Clarke is a strange one. As Daenerys on Game of Thrones she’s phenomenal, yet in other thing I’ve seen her in she’s struggled, and this is no exception. She never convinces as a young woman who’s had to do terrible things to survive. I didn’t detect much chemistry between her and Ehrenreich either.

Surrounding a weaker or inexperienced actor with better performers can work to a film’s advantage (take On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) but it can also backfire, which it does here really, because many of the supporting characters are, it pains me to say, way cooler than Han.

fpcztz5shdvxlzthxzhzAs Beckett Harrelson is effortlessly more interesting than Han, with his world-weary attitude and fancy blaster work, and more than once I wish I was watching a film centred on him and his partner Val (Thandie Newton, excellent in a minor role).

Donald Glover isn’t a perfect fit for Lando, and perhaps plays it a trifle too broad at times, but he makes up for any shortcomings with the kind of charisma I wish Ehrenreich had, and you really have to admire the man’s cape work.

Bettany is superb as the villain of the piece, and his performance is even better once you realise he was parachuted in at the last minute to replace the original actor who couldn’t commit to the reshoots. As Chewie Suotamo does a good job, and Waller-Bridge threatens to steal the film at times with her pithy one liners as droid L-3, but even this feel forced, and feels too much like they were trying to emulate K3 from Rogue One.

We’ll never know what Lord and Miller’s original version would have been like, maybe it would have been too comedic, maybe it would have been terrible, but I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have at least had more verve to it, because in the end part of Solo’s problem is that it plays it too safe. Howard does a solid, if uninspiring job directing, and it would be wrong to suggest some of the set pieces aren’t decent, and late on there’s some neat double and triple crosses but, to paraphrase Princess Leia, while Solo does have it’s moments, it doesn’t have nearly enough of them.

Not so much Solo as So-So.

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“Can I interest you in an honest game of chance?”

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Deadpool 2

Posted: May 24, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by David Leitch. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin and Morena Baccarin.

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“What the hell are you looking at?”

It’s two years since Wade Wilson (Reynolds) became super(anti)hero Deadpool, and life is good, he’s an unstoppable force for, well if not good then not really bad, and he has a loving relationship with his girlfriend Vanessa (Baccarin).

Soon the rug is pulled out from under him though, and tragedy pushes him to attempt suicide, which is easier said that done when your super power is accelerated healing, and when the X-Man Colossus (voiced again by Stefan Kapičić) is determined to save not only Deadpool’s body, but also his soul.

Co-opted into the X-Men, Deadpool’s path soon crosses that of a young mutant named Russell, who also goes by the name Firefist (played by New Zealander Julian Dennison). Russell is an angry young man, but maybe Deadpool can steer him onto the straight and narrow, if future cyborg Cable (Brolin) doesn’t kill them both first!

 

Two years ago Deadpool came out of nowhere to reinvigorate the superhero world, proving that not only could an R rated superhero film succeed, but could also do it making snide digs at the genre and breaking the fourth wall in every other scene. Now Deadpool 2 arrives with far more fanfare, double the budget and a heck of a lot more expectation. So, the question is, can DP2 live up to the hype?

And the answer is, in my opinion, yes it can…pretty much. Deadpool 2 maybe quite doesn’t live up to the shock value of the first film, but it comes damn close.

Once again Ryan Reynolds proves this was the role he was born to play, the merc with the mouth (and a pretty potty mouth it is too!) and he fires off one liners as speedily as Josh Brolin’s Cable fires off bullets. It’s a delicate balancing act to make Deadpool such a dick, only a likeable and empathetic dick, and just as he did first time around Reynolds walks that tightrope with nary a stumble and demonstrates a heck of a lot of charisma, even when he’s behind a mask.

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Thanos for the memories!

As Cable Brolin isn’t really given much to stretch his acting chops, and whilst Cable is pretty much just designed to be the straight man to Deadpool’s idiot, it’s somewhat ironic that Brolin gets to display less range here than he did as Thanos, but credit where it’s due, Brolin really looks the part, and he certainly makes for an imposing antagonist.

Baccarin is a good actress, but she’s somewhat side-lined here, or is she? I’m trying not to give too much away, or am I See even within this review I can break the fourth wall!

I’ve still yet to see Hunt for the Wilderpeaople, but considering this is only his fifth film, Dennison never seems overawed by the company he’s keeping, and it’s a nice touch in a film that (Baccarin aside) does well on the inclusivity front, that he’s not only of Maori descent but also, as referenced by the dialogue, not your usual svelte super hero/villain is an added bonus.

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Plot wise they’ve tried to beef up the emotional core of the film, to give Deadpool more of a journey, and whilst it doesn’t always work as well as it could have, the film manages to never get too bogged down in mawkishness, and the central story around family pretty much works.

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With the bigger budget comes much more expansive action sequences. I know some people have baulked at this, but given the action was probably the bit of the first film I found the weakest, I’m happy to roll with it. Maybe there’s a bit too much, but on the whole the set pieces are good.

Deadpool’s snide and sweary comments are still the same, and if they feel a little more polished this time, well that’s perhaps only to be expected given the increase in expectation. Yes, it all feels a little bit more corporate and a little bit less rebellious, but the character isn’t neutered, he’s still foul mouthed and he’s still disrespectful towards just about everyone else in the Marvel (and especially the X-Men) universe.

Maybe it’s a little baggy in the middle, and maybe it doesn’t quite have the punk irreverence of the first film, but it was exciting, and more importantly funny as hell, so roll on Deadpool 3 I say! Oh, and please, please, please stay for the credits. There’s an extra scene that’s practically worth the price of admission alone. Ryan Reynolds, a man not afraid to take the piss out of himself!

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I came here to praise Deadpool, not to bury him!

 

 

9781509833559the space between the stars_2_jpg_264_400.jpgby Anne Corlett

Jamie Allenby wakes from a fever to find she is one of the lucky few to have survived a virulent plague that has almost obliterated humanity. It’s fatal in 99.9999% of cases and so initially Jamie wonders if she might be the only survivor on this far flung colny world she’d travelled to in order to work as a vet, escaping from the pain of a miscarriage and the breakup of her relationship with her former partner Daniel.

She soon discovers she isn’t the only survivor on this planet, and it soon becomes apparent that there are survivors scatters across space. Soon Jamie is part of a disparate group of survivors aboard a battered freighter. They have no real plan, but Jamie wants to get back to Earth, certain that a garbled message she received is proof that Daniel has survived as well.

As the band make their way to Earth they will face dangers, and each group of survivors they encounter has their own ideas about the future of humanity, but the real danger might be closer to home.

 

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and I’d add that you should never judge a book by it’s blurb. The cover of this book is gorgeous, and the blurb is enticing, talking about a plague that has decimated humanity across dozens of colony worlds, and promising an exciting, and somewhat novel, tale of post-apocalyptic survival.

If only the book had lived up to it’s cover, or it’s premise. Even my synopsis above probably does the book more justice than it actually deserves.

First it needs to be stressed that this is science fiction only in the loosest possible sense. Of course sci-fi is a broad church, ranging from space opera to hard, ultra-realistic science fiction, but all share, to a greater or lesser extent, a speculative element. Aside from references to space ships, and colonies, there is very little here that qualifies. In fact from the way people dress, act and talk, and from the technology on display, this could just as easily been set on Earth today, with Jamie waking up on the Isle of Wight, for example, rather than a far flung world. In fact it’s almost a period piece because at times it feels dated even by today’s technology—see reference to the net for example.

Each of the colony worlds they visit seems indistinguishable from the last, and whilst not every science fiction novel needs to go into detail about the technology of space travel, Corlett doesn’t even make a sop to it. There’s no hint of how space travel works, how artificial gravity works, what kind of fuel the ship uses—they keep having to refuel but it’s just generic ‘fuel’—and worst of all no real attention given to the unfathomable distances between these worlds. They may as well be in a transit van driving from London to Newcastle and stopping off at various service stations along the way.

I’ve seen one reviewer say that it isn’t so much sci-fi as a melodrama, but even there I think it falls down, because few really dramatic things actually happen. In terms of the survivors they meet only a couple of groups who pose any threat, and even here the group evade them with relative ease. Every obstruction to their journey is avoided with the ease of that transit van swerving around potholes. Even the nature of the plague itself is curiously bloodless, you may have thought John Wyndham did cosy catastrophes, but you’ve seen nothing yet. The plague kills billions, but helpfully turns everyone to dust so the survivors rarely have to see any bodies.

I guess Corlett really just wanted to examine the human condition, and there is a lot of navel gazing going on, but if you’re going to view the apocalypse from this angle you need to have more meat to grab onto. Some well-rounded characters would be a start, but sadly there are none.

Did you ever see the TV show Firefly? I’m guessing Corlett must have given the similarities of certain characters. The battered freighter itself reminded me of Serenity with it’s big loading ramp, it’s captained by a taciturn cowboy type named Callan, who has a surly female second in command. Their group also contains a priest with a troubled past, a hooker with a heart of gold and a youngster who appears to have Asperger’s. Pretty much every character in the book comes straight out of central casting, take Rena the religious fanatic. As for Jamie, it’s hard to like her. She seems more concerned with her own troubles than the fact that the human race has been wiped out.

And I haven’t even got to how contrived the ‘plot’ is, especially in terms of who miraculously survives the plague. There was one surprise midway through, one curveball I didn’t see coming, but everything else was horribly predictable, even the romance seems perfunctory.

The worst of it is that it’s a really good premise, and Corlett can clearly write, I liked a lot of her prose, it’s just that she didn’t seem to have a whole lot to say with it.

A missed opportunity and I can’t really recommend it.

Directed by: Mike Newell. Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton.

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“Down it! down it! Down it!”

It’s 1946 and the war is over. Juliet Ashton (James) is an author who’s found success writing amusing tales under the pseudonym of Izzy Bickerstaff, but she yearns to write something with more substance. When she’s contacted by a pig farmer on Guernsey named Dawsey Adams (Huisman) she thinks she’s found the story she’s been looking for. Adams found her name and address in a book he liberated from a bookstore after he and a group of friends were forced to invent a book club to cover up for the fact that they were out after curfew.

Ashton is intrigued by the story of the society, and how they kept their morale up under German occupation by reading, and she persuades her long-suffering agent, and friend, Sidney Starke (Goode) to let her take a trip to the Channel Islands, but before she can leave her American boyfriend Mark (Glen Powell) proposes, and Juliet accepts.

On the island Juliet finds that the members of the society are not all pleased to see her, in particular Amelia (Wilton). She also discovers that the founder of the society, Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay (is mysteriously absent, leaving her young daughter Kit living with Dawsey, who Kit calls daddy. Fascinated by the mystery Juliet remains on Guernsey and becomes fast friends with the society members, in particular Isola (Parkinson) and Dawsey, but can she learn the secret of what really happened to Elizabeth during the occupation?

 

Few films have a title that’s as much of a mouthful as this one, but the film does at least hang a lantern on this by having a character refer to it as a bit of a mouthful. If it seems a whimsical title then fair warning, it’s kinda a whimsical film, and whilst not unenjoyable, it’s never as good as it should be given the experience of its director, its subject matter, and the talent of its cast.

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Part of the problem is down to a script that’s so on the nose at times as to be painful. As an example there’s a scene early on where Juliet has a flashback to her bomb damaged flat. We see her clutching a photo of herself with an older couple, and then see her terrified that a paperweight might fall and be destroyed. You’d think the meaning of this would be obvious, but apparently not because Juliet then exclaims “Father’s paperweight” which is the sort of expositional dialogue real people just don’t utter. Again and again Juliet verbalises her thoughts in this way and I found it jarring.

I’m not really the target audience for this film of course, and though it’s predictable that isn’t always a bad thing in itself, but given the subject matter it’s a shame the film didn’t take a few more risks. The occupation of the channel islands was a harsh time for those who lived there, but whilst the film does veer towards these darker elements at times—collaboration, slave labour, starvation—such detours are short lived, as if the film makers didn’t want to distract from the quaintness of the film, and too often it feels like the occupation was just an excuse for some jolly japes.

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It isn’t all bad. It looks gorgeous (even though not filmed in Guernsey) and the period detail is spot on. And whilst the script may offer no surprises, it’s hard not to be charmed by the easy chemistry of the talented cast (four of whom were in Downton!). James’ jolly hockey sticks demeanour annoys on occasion but on the whole she’s a solid lead, and Game of Throne alumnus Huisman similarly does the best he can in a sub-Heathcliffe role. Wilton proves yet again (if proof were needed) what a fine actress she is, and Powell does his very best to imbue Mark with enough pathos that we feel more than a little sorry for him. Courtenay is very amusing, but the standout is Parkinson who gets some of the best lines, and made me laugh out loud more than once.

For a film this lightweight the two-hour runtime feels a trifle excessive, but damn if the cast aren’t so good that I almost didn’t mind.

Avengers: Infinity War

Posted: May 1, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.  Starring: almost anyone who’s been in a Marvel film in the last ten years! Including Robert Downey Jr, Chrises Hemsworth/Evans/Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson and Josh Brolin.

**Spoiler Alert**

I’m going to go out of my way not to spoil the film, but obviously I may give some things away, so if you really want to see the film with zero preconceptions or knowledge why not come back here after you see it!

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I just realised what’s wrong with this picture!

 

Thanos (Brolin) is an unstoppable alien supervillain intent on acquiring the six infinity stones that will make him omnipotent and allow him to fulfil his dream of killing half the galaxy’s population. He’s already acquired several and will stop at nothing to complete his task.

Fresh from a devastating encounter with Thanos, Thor (Hemsworth) teams up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to try and find a weapon that could stop Thanos, meanwhile on Earth Iron Man (Downey Jr) Dr Strange (Cumberbatch) Spider Man (Tom Holland) and Wong (Benedict Wong) face off against one of Thanos’ minions, intent of reliving Dr Strange of the infinity stone he wears.

Strange isn’t the only superhero in possession of a stone, because Vision (Paul Bettany) has one embedded in his skull and more of Thanos’ goons go after this one.

As all out war with Thanos’ army draws ever closer, the disparate groups of heroes must try and find a way to defeat Thanos, but even if they can thwart his plans, the battle will not be without its casualties…

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Tony and Dr Strange were focused on Thanos, but Peter Parker had spotted a fly…

It’s hard to get your head around the fact that this is a film ten years in the making. When Iron Man first surprised everyone in 2008 by being actually really good, I doubt even it’s most ardent fan would have believed that a decade later Downey Jr would still be playing Tony Stark, and would team up with a cast of thousands (hey factor in the extras and I bet it comes close) and practically every other Marvel superhero (there are a couple of exceptions) to battle Thanos.

But here we are, and as far as I’m concerned Marvel’s long game pays off, and then some! Infinity War is superb. I can imagine it will probably be confusing for those poor souls who haven’t seen much of the Marvel oeuvre, but for anyone invested in the Marvel universe, and these characters, Infinity War is pretty much everything we could have hoped for, and compared to Justice League…well let’s just not ok, because it’s a fight more unfair than Thanos taking on Ant Man (which you won’t see in this film) suffice to say that DC’s best hope is to invent time travel and start making their films way sooner.

Back to Infinity War. It’s hard to talk about the plot (and I guess some critics may say “what plot” but it’s there all the same.) without giving stuff away. Suffice to say that, whilst at times simplistic, everything hangs together pretty damn well for a film that has this many characters and this many plot threads to juggle. In fact it’s amazing that any film made under those auspices can be this coherent, let alone this good.

I did mention Infinity War is freakin’ amazing, right?

I know I said we needed to move away from it, but damn let’s look back at Justice League again, a film with only a handful of heroes, and a run time only thirty minutes shorter than Infinity War, yet one with a shaky narrative and a villain who couldn’t be more two dimensional if he were a sheet of A4. By contrast Infinity War has, what three or four plots going on at any given time, and maybe 25 main characters (don’t believe me, count em!) and still manages to give us a three-dimensional villain who probably got more character development on his own than Bats and co put together.

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Cool story bro(lin)

Because make no mistake, from a certain perspective this is Thanos’ film. He might be a homicidal lunatic, but he’s a homicidal lunatic with a backstory, a homicidal lunatic who has a logical (if insane) reason for wanting to wipe out half the galaxy’s population, and a homicidal lunatic you almost feel sorry for on occasion. There are plenty of films made each year whose protagonists aren’t as developed as this film’s antagonist is.

Of course this isn’t really Thanos’ film, it’s the Avengers’ film, and the Guardians of the Galaxy’s film, and those other guys who aren’t either but will probably end up joining one or the other if they don’t die’s film!

Sure some of the characters feel a little short changed (as a Black Widow fan there isn’t nearly enough Scarlett Johansson here) but to a greater or lesser degree everyone gets their moment in the sun, and some of the characters who get a larger role will surprise you. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is pretty integral, and Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get an emotional subplot. There’s a lot of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the fact that the tone lifts when the Guardians turn up is testament to how loveable that bunch of idiots are, and I don’t care what anyone says, for me Drax (Dave Bautista) is the funniest character in the Marvel Universe.

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You’re supposed to go inside the bus, Peter!

Downey Jr, Hemsworth and Evans are as solid as always (Hemsworth in particular is a joy to watch) and is it just me, or is Cumberbatch more fun as Strange as part of an ensemble than he was when he had a whole film to himself?) Tom Holland also continues to impress as Peter Parker, and when Karen Gillan shaved her head people expected Nebula to be a one off character, now here she is for her third outing and with quite a character arc over those films.

I can’t mention everyone, but everyone is great. Seriously, no one puts a foot wrong.

The effects are great and the battles truly epic. I saw it in 3d IMAX which was intense, but I’m looking forward to a second viewing in 2D, because I think some of the fights may look a little less frantic.

Let’s come back to the plot though, or more specifically the narrative choices the writers/producers/directors have made. Remember how in The Last Jedi Luke says “This isn’t going to go the way you expect” well he could have been talking about Infinity War, because whatever you expect going in, whoever you think will die, I guarantee you’ll be surprised. They’ve made some bold and downright astonishing choices at times here. I mean sure, comic books are always bringing people back from the dead, but I have a hunch that in this case some of the dead are going to remain that way.

No film is perfect, and with so many characters and threads going on some are left dangling, or aren’t given enough prominence, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t seen certain characters in ages, and yes it’s a film made for those of us invested in the universe…

But for me it was pretty much everything I could have wanted (apart from more Black Widow obviously) Exciting, hilarious, heart-breaking; I loved it from start to finish and I didn’t want it to end, and it’s going to be a long year waiting for Avengers 4!

Make mine Marvel, to infinity (war) and beyond!

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