Archive for the ‘Film reviews’ Category

Justice League

Posted: December 4, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher.

Ok first a little spoiler warning. I’m going to talk openly about one element of Justice League. I doubt it’s a big secret giving the publicity and casting information that’s out there, but if you really want to go into JL completely blind you might want to skip this review until after you’ve seen the film.

6c8bac09d1009f63e3bdc530290b0c5818ec06a2

“I’m pretty sure Captain America dropped that shield.”

In the aftermath of Superman’s death the world is in mourning, and humanity seems to have lost hope. Into this void an ancient force of evil named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) returns. Steppenwolf was defeated and exiled from Earth thousands of years ago, but now has returned to gather three Mother Boxes, powerful artefacts that, if combined, will give him the power to take over the world.

Sensing the oncoming storm Bruce Wayne (Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gadot) try to form a team of superheroes to defeat Steppenwolf, but this proves easier said than done. Arthur Curry (Momoa), also known as the Aquaman, has no interest in the world of men. Barry Allen (Miller), the Flash, is only interested in proving his imprisoned father’s innocence and the Cyborg Victor Stone (Fisher) is struggling to adapt to his new powers after being cybernetically rebuilt following a car accident.

As Bruce and Diana struggle to put a team together, Steppenwolf begins acquiring the Mother Boxes. With the world on the brink of destruction Bruce Wayne suggests a controversial course of action that involves the return of Earth’s greatest hero, but will he be the man he used to be, or will he prove as much of a threat as Steppenwolf?

1280x720-Q_Z

“Put the trident down, all I said was that I thought something smelt fishy.”

And DC’s attempt to catch up with Marvel continues as they provide the DC version of Avengers Assemble only, and let’s get this out of the way right off the bat, nowhere near as good. This film had a troubled shoot, and when Snyder had to stand down due to truly horrible personal circumstances, Joss Whedon (who, remember, wrote and directed both Avengers films) came on board to finish off post production work, which entailed him acting as uncredited director on the reshoots. He’d already been working on the script to such an extent that he’d got a writing credit, being bought in to provide a touch of levity to Snyder’s darker tale. Looking at the finished film it’s often very easy to see the bits Snyder did and the bits Whedon did, and it looks like substantial work was done to the film during post production. $25 million was spent on reshoots (going by Wikipedia the average for this kind of film might be $6-10 million) and infamously because Henry Cavill was already working on another film and had a moustache they had to digitally remove it!

When remains is a film that tonally is inconstant to say the least, and let’s be clear it isn’t a good film, and yet by the end I was kinda enjoying it and, though hard to say for sure, I’m sure a lot of this was down to Whedon. It’s far from the best DC film—Wonder Woman is clearly the best by a mile and Man of Steel is second; in my opinion somewhat underrated—but by the same token compared to the godawful mess that Suicide Squad was, or the turgid drudge of Batman Vs Superman its ok. Damning with faint praise there.

It isn’t helped by the need for Bruce and Diana to search out each hero initially. Yet again you see the shortcuts DC have to make and realise how much grunt work was done by those end credit scenes were Sam Jackson would rock up and talk to a hero about The Avengers. Marvel’s wider storyline grew organically, DC’s feels incredibly forced.

A lame villain with an army of CGI insects doesn’t help. Which is no disrespect to Hinds whose voicework is good, but Steppenwolf is just another generic ancient evil with a turgid backstory, much like Apocalypse in the last X-Men movie. He just never comes across as a threat. Oh for a Loki!

5e9f57f9a33d6b1b9bfa272933c0d419

Everyone agreed the heroes didn’t look quite as cool and imposing in the daylight

The turning point for the film comes with (spoiler!) Superman’s resurrection, though if you imagined he wouldn’t be back almost immediately, well I have a bridge I’d like to sell you). Cavill has his detractors but I think he’s a great Superman, especially when given the chance to be noble and, well, super, and the film noticeably lifts when he arrives. The initial confrontation post his resurrection is probably the best part of the film, and there’s a wonderful visual gag featuring Superman and Flash that’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

As Diana Gadot feels extremely comfortable now, this is her third outing as Wonder Woman and one can see her in the role for years to come. Affleck for me is a good Batman and a good Bruce Wayne, and possibly the only actor to feel comfortable in both roles. Which doesn’t mean he’s the best Bruce or the Best Bats, just maybe the best Bruce and Bats. Thankfully he isn’t required to be as sociopathic here as he was in BvsS, and he gets some drily humorous lines. As Aquaman Momoa pretty much just has to look imposing and channel his inner surfer dude, but he comes into his own a little towards the end. Given I thought Cyborg might be the weak link Fisher brings enough to the role that he felt as much a member of the team as anyone else. Rounding out the league is Miller as Flash and I’m a little torn. On the one hand he gives a funny, engaging performance, I just felt that he was the butt of everyone’s jokes a little too often. Less might be more next time out because he is very good.

Completing the cast are some great actors who get somewhat short-changed. JK Simmonds as Jim Gordon never really connects, and Jeremy Irons as Alfred doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. The real waste however is Amy Adams. She’s a fab actor but she’s required to do very little here aside from look sad or lovingly at Clark. It’s a real shame given she’s probably the best actor in the damn movie and she’s laden with terrible dialogue.

As I say it’s easy to see where Whedon’s hand is at work (it’s the parts where people sound vaguely like human beings…er, or at least Kryptonians.)

Variable in tone, with lousy villains with a paint by numbers plot, far too much CGI and way, WAY too much slow motion, and, after the good work of Wonder Woman a return to a more lascivious take on the Amazonian superhero—at times the camera seems to be permanently attached to Gadot’s bum, although to be fair we do get gratuitous shots of Cavill and Momoa with their shirts off so fair’s fair I suppose and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Wonder Woman’s posterior, we just didn’t need to see quite so much of it.

The action swings from terrible to quite good, and the dialogue is similarly all over the place. There is a nice bit where Bruce points out the curious contrast between himself and Clark which probably deserves to be in a better film.

But again, I have to stress that the Justice League themselves are all engaging, it’s just a shame they’re stuck in a film that’s required to do so much heavy lifting because DC continue to play catch up. Hopefully the groundwork laid here will lead to a more enjoyable Justice League 2, let’s just hope it’s Whedon rather than Snyder who’s at the reins.

Justice-League-Ben-Affleck-Batman-Gal-Gadot-Wonder-Woman-F.jpg

Ben got a little miffed when Gal kept asking for Matt Damon’s phone number…

Advertisements

Paddington 2

Posted: November 21, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Paul King. Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters and Hugh Grant.

MV5BODdhZjAyYjktNDk1MS00YmE4LTgzOTQtYmE5ZWM5ODNiN2RmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_

What could possibly go wrong?

Paddington has now settled into life with the Brown family, and has become popular with all his neighbours, with the notable exception of Mr Curry (a returning Peter Capaldi at his most grumpy). With his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday on the horizon Paddington sets his sights on buying her a present and he’s seen just the thing, a popup book of London. The trouble is it’s expensive, so Paddington takes a series of jobs to save up what he needs.

Unfortunately someone else has taken a shine to the book, an egotistical and once famous actor named Phoenix Buchannan (Grant). When the book is stolen all the evidence points to a bear with a love of marmalade sandwiches. Can Paddington clear his name, and will he be able to get Aunt Lucy the birthday present she deserves?

 

When Paddington burst onto the scene in 2014 it took everyone by surprise. When talk of a live action Paddington film first appeared it was met with unease, we’d all seen too many beloved characters given the big budget movie treatment and sink without a trace to imagine Paddington would be any different. But of course the film blew everyone away with it’s wonderful casting, amazing special effects and a perfectly pitched family friendly tone. It was no surprise there’d be a sequel, but you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice, can you?

Well it turns out you can when it comes to small Peruvian bears with a taste for orange based preserves. In pretty much every way possible Paddington 2 is as good as Paddington was; that true rarity, a family film for all ages that doesn’t patronise a single member of its audience. This isn’t a film that throws in a few mature jokes for the adults, or dumbs down its plots for the little uns.

As before the living beating heart of the film is Paddington himself, a perfect combination of wonderful CGI and Ben Whishaw’s spot on characterisation. He plays Paddington like a child, only a child with an old soul, always seeing the good in people, always wanting to be kind, yet never remotely a fool. It’s a tough tightrope to walk but yet again the filmmakers manage it with ease.

241062214-4

If you think there’s a lot of people crammed in here, wait till you see the opposite booth!

Whishaw aside the film is a veritable who’s who of British light entertainment in minor roles, and once again Bonneville is more than happy to play the ever so slightly bumbling straight man to Paddington, his family, and much of the supporting cast. Sally Hawkins plays Mrs Brown with steely resolve, as Paddington’s most vocal supporter. It is a shame the Brown kids and Julie Walters as Mrs Bird don’t get a little more to do, but they do get their moments at least.

Hugh_Grant_character_c_PCO_LTD_SC_2017_v_2

Yes it’s a role he was born to play!

Threatening to steal the show are two newcomers in Gleeson as Nuckles McGinty, a crotchety prison cook whose menu is a crime against cuisine, and Grant, hamming it up for all he’s worth as the washed up Buchannan. Grant in particular is marvellous, and in many respects a more engaging villain than Nicole Kidman was first time around, if only by virtue of not being quite so villainous. (oh and a tip for you, please PLEASE stay for the end credits!)

The script is razor sharp, and the humour works on every level, from clever homages (The Untouchables and even Casino Royale) to broad slapstick worthy of Buster Keaton, which is saying something given much of the slapstick is computer generated, but then it never feels like it because Paddington feels so real, you kinda forget he’s not really there.

There’s action aplenty, and set pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond film, but at the centre of it all is a heart of pure gold and a lovely message about kindness and acceptance, and if it doesn’t remotely tug at your heartstrings then you must have a heart of stone, certainly I shed a tear or two at the end.

paddington_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqFe6QPTx-FvOrqrz8zF3FqkTIqMdNWAxTkGR_f8QiZdA

You don’t see many family friendly gritty prison dramas…

Oh and I almost forgot the wonderfully whimsical design of the film that blends live action with cartoons and a wonderful scene set entirely within a pop-up book. Setting aside everything the film does right, it looks bloody gorgeous into the bargain!

Beautiful to look at, action packed, laugh packed, with wonderful performances from all concerned and a strong central message about tolerance, Paddington 2 is the epitome of a film for all ages. Some may sneer at it faux multicultural and middle-class England where even hardened criminals are thoroughly nice chaps really, but you know what? with Brexit, Trump and all manner of other nastiness in the world, give me Paddington’s brand of niceness any day of the week.

Highly recommended! Now don’t tell me you hate it unless you want me to give you a very hard stare.

960x410_eca87f025fa916c27782db37e5ed2560

Eventually Paddington realised he was naked!

The Death of Stalin.

Posted: November 4, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Armando Iannucci. Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko and Rupert Friend.

deathofstalin_02.jpg

“Ok, who farted?”

The year is 1953 and the Soviet Union is ruled with an iron fist by Joseph Stalin (Adrian Mcloughlin). Within this world even Stalin’s inner circle live in constant fear of saying the wrong thing and being arrested by the NKVD (the infamous secret police)

When Stalin unexpectedly dies the senior most members of the Presidium begin jockeying for power, trying to determine who will replace Stalin.  Georgy Malenkov (Tambor) takes initial charge, but the real battle is between Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi) and Beria (Russell Beale) the feared head of the NKVD. For the victor ultimate power awaits, but for the loser a bullet may be the only prize…

maxresdefault

“Has anyone ever told you you’re kinda funny looking?”

The battle for power at the head of an evil regime notorious for the murder, rape and torture of millions, may not sound like the greatest premise for a comedy, but Iannucci’s film is genuinely laugh out loud funny at times and, based on a graphic novel of the same name, it provides a biting satire that is as chilling as it is hilarious.

Much of the humour arises out of how incompetent many of the conspirators are. These are not exactly Machiavellian geniuses, and yet their very ordinariness makes them all the more scary, and Iannucci provides a terrifying essay of the bureaucracy of evil, where even Khrushchev, one of the most powerful men in the country, is so paranoid of getting on Stalin’s bad side that he has his wife jot down which jokes Stalin found funny and which he didn’t during dinner, and for all the humour Iannucci never lets you forget the horrible things this regime is doing, and how the flick of a pen can find your name added to a list and make you the recipient of a late night knock at the door.

cap00131

No pithy comment because in truth there was nothing funny about Beria’s lists

This is an actors film and the casting is flawless. As Khrushchev Buscemi is superb, his innate likeability making you root for him in the ongoing power struggle, making you see him as the good guy, which is of course a fallacy, none of these men were good, but next to Beria of course, they’re all saints, and Russell Beale is also terrifyingly good as the head of the NKVD, a vicious sexual predator for whom no act is too heinous.

the-death-of-stalin

Zhukov gets serious

Almost stealing the show however is Jason Isaacs as Marshall Zhukov, playing the blustering war hero with a broad Yorkshire accent and a chest full of medals that would pull most men to the floor (and is accurate because Zhukov really did have chest full of medals.) Zhukov is larger than life and Isaacs eats up every scene he’s in.

Tambor is astonishing as Malenkov, made up to resemble nothing short of an embalmed corpse, and its testament to his acting ability that he eventually makes Malenkov someone to pity, despite his bumbling arrogance. At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Palin as Molotov, such a party man that he happily denounced his own wife as a traitor.

The-Death-of-Stalin-Film-4-675x400

You’re playing for Stalin. No pressure!

Whilst primarily a film centred around male performances, there are two female characters, each of whom get to play a substantial role in the story. As concert pianist Maria Yudina, Olga Kurylenko is ironically the only main cast member with a Russian accent, with Iannucci deciding early on to let the actors use their natural accents. Kurylenko is very good as the nearest thing to a conscience the film has, and if there’s a problem with her it’s only insofar as she disappears for a large chunk of the middle of the film.

Andrea Riseborough plays Stalin’s daughter Svetlana as a somewhat schizophrenic character, at times extremely cognisant of her precarious situation, at others a spoiled child who thinks she can have whatever she wants, even a former lover back from the dead. She’s very good and Rupert Friend also shines as her brother Vasily, a pompous drunk who thinks Stalin’s death was part of a plot to send his father’s brain to America!

The set and costume designs are excellent, evoking a very different time and a very different place, but it’s the script and the performances where The Death of Stalin really hits home. The script walks a tightrope with a confident ease that will have you chuckling one moment, and wincing the next.

Whether you view it as a satirical deconstruction of the Soviet Union and a saltatory warning against cults of personality, or simply a surreal 20th Century set, Monty Pythonesque version of Game of Thrones, there’s a lot to like here, and best of all; in a world of sequels and prequels, reboots and franchises, The Death of Stalin is that rarest of beasts.

Original.

So go see it, unless you’d rather end up on a list of course?

The-Death-of-Stalin-e1508508819621

“I can see my house from up here!”

 

Thor: Ragnarok

Posted: October 31, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo and SIR Anthony Hopkins.

CC6keoAvK0w

It’s clubbering time!

Following on from the end of Thor: The Dark World, and the God of Thunder has been searching without success for the Infinity Stones. After an encounter with a fire demon, and with visions of Ragnarok (the Asgard apocalypse myth) haunting him, Thor (Hemsworth) decides to go home, little realising that his adoptive brother Loki (Hiddleston) has deposed their father Odin (Hopkins) and is masquerading as the old man.

Thor quickly sees through Loki’s disguise, but when the brothers travel to Earth to find Odin, a tragic event has far reaching consequences as Hela (Blanchett) the goddess of death is released from her millennia of captivity and sets her sights on seizing the throne of Asgard. Thor tries to stop her but during battle he’s cast out into space and crashes on the planet Sakaar where the dictator Grandmaster (Goldblum) decides Thor’s future lies in the arena, and his first fight is scheduled against the Grandmaster’s champion, a large, angry green creature who Thor recognises…

Will Thor escape from the arena, and even if he does can he hope to stand against the Goddess of Death herself?

thor-ragnarok-trailer-comic-con-00

Everyone knew Hulk’s obsession with Roman cosplay had gone too far…but no one wanted to be the one to tell him!

If I’m honest Thor has never captured my attention in the way certain other Avengers have, and whilst the first Thor film was enjoyable enough (especially when Thor made it to Earth and went from pompous git to loveable fool) Thor: The Dark World was a major let-down. It’s pleasing to report therefore, that not only is Ragnarok the best Thor film of the three, but it might well be argued that it’s one of the better Marvel films altogether.

The problem has never been Hemsworth, who’s always played the God of Thunder with gusto, or Hiddleston who has Loki’s slithery nature down to a tee now, it’s just that neither of the previous Thor films quite did them justice, and probably the best Thor/Loki film before now was the first Avengers film.

It’s hard to argue that much of Ragnarok’s success is down to a change of tone, and some very assured direction by New Zealander Waititi, who not only does a bang-up job behind the camera, but also threatens to steal the show in front of it with his amusing turn as Korg, one of Thor’s fellow gladiators. It seems Waititi allowed for a lot of improvisation, and whilst this can work against a film, especially one aiming for a lot of laughs, in this case, and backed up by a witty script, it works wonders.

Remember I said there was a shift in tone? Well it basically comes down to Ragnarok being an awful lot funnier than previous Thor films. Which isn’t to suggest it doesn’t have its dark moments, there’s death and destruction aplenty, but this film feels more like another Guardians of the Galaxy  than Captain America: Civil War.

In some ways it’s surprising it’s taken them this long. For all his brooding muscled handsomeness, it’s easy to miss what wonderful comic timing Hemsworth has (see the Ghostbusters reboot for further details) and he’s always happy to have the Michael taken out of himself. Thor is kinda arrogant, but he also seems to realise he’s arrogant, and this never puts you off because any time it does Hemsworth will perform a slapstick pratfall worthy of Buster Keaton.

landscape-1500774948-thor3

I know at least one person who’d quite like to find Tom in this position!

Similarly Hiddleston gets to play, well if not the hero per se, then at least someone slightly less villainous than before, although the character is never diluted too far, and even in his more heroic moments its clear he’s only in it for himself…mostly.

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that Hulk is in the film, and once again Ruffalo proves (much like Scarlett Johansson) that it’s a crying shame he hasn’t had his own movie yet, and given Thor and Banner haven’t shared that much screen time together there’s an easy chemistry between them that’s wonderful to behold.

tessa-thompson-thor-ragnarok-trailer-01

Ok, Tessa, slow motion walk towards the camera please.

New to the party is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and she kicks some serious butt, both in her verbal and physical sparring and one hopes we’ll see a lot more of her. The trailer may have made it look like she was just a glorified extra added in to bulk up the numbers, but she’s anything but.

As Grandmaster, Goldblum is, well he’s Jeff Goldblum so you know what you’re going to get, and he has to be one of the most laidback evil dictators you’ll ever meet! As Hela, Blanchett is the complete opposite. Exuding deadliness and sexiness in equal measure she owns the screen every time she’s on it, it’s just a shame we don’t see more of her to be honest.

thor-ragnarok-hela-1024x492

Careful Karl, cos she’s horny; horny, horny, horny!

Karl Urban’s Skurge is a relatively minor character, but as he always does Urban wrings every last drop of charisma from his script and much like Hela it’s a shame we don’t see more of him. He also gets one of the standout moments of the film.

Somewhat less well served is Elba as Heimdall, although he does get more to do than just twirling a sword to open the Bifrost this time at least.

As sparkling as the characters and witticisms are, the design of the film is great too, from its somewhat eclectic soundtrack, which feels like a 1980s synth sci-fi film in places, to the spaceship designs, which look like they were ripped from the front covers of a whole heap of 1970s and 1980s classic science fiction novels, Thor is a visual and auditory wonder. It’s not Blade Runner 2049 by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still pretty glorious.

If I were to pick faults you can argue that however good Blanchett is, Hela always seems a bit of a two dimensional villain, and yes the cameo early on for another Marvel superhero does seem a trifle superfluous (though it is quite amusing) and I guess you could argue that for all that it’s a lot of fun there isn’t much behind that…but screw it, sometimes you don’t need anything more than a whole lot of fun, and Thor: Ragnarok is so darn enjoyable that you barely notice its flaws.

It was a curious, and possibly brave, choice by Marvel to essentially give us two Guardian of the Galaxy films in the same year, but you can’t argue it hasn’t paid dividends. Don’t ask me to decide which one I prefer however, because I think I’m going to need to see them both again before I can decide—if I even can!

So Ragnarok, Thor blimey its good!

DFaCXY2XsAIFlbV.jpg large.jpg

“Oh hey, look, it’s Paul’s readers. Hi Paul’s readers.” (You totally read that with Jeff’s voice in your head didn’t you?)

Blade Runner 2049

Posted: October 21, 2017 in Film reviews, science fiction
Tags:

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

blade3.jpg

“Aren’t you a little short for a Blade Runner?”

After concerns about Nexus 8 Replicants rebelling against their human masters, such artificial lifeforms were outlawed, only to be replaced by the far more compliant Nexus 9 models. Still many Nexus 8, and earlier models, still exist and must be hunted down. K (Gosling) is a Blade Runner working for the LAPD and specifically for Lt. Joshi (an excellent Robin Wright). After tracking down a rogue Nexus 8 named Sapper Morton (the always great Dave Bautista) K stumbles upon a thirty-year-old mystery, and investigating this mystery will lead him towards a former Blade Runner who’s been in hiding. A man named Rick Deckard…

Ok first things first. This will be, as much as possible, a spoiler free review.

Secondly. I found the first half an hour or so of this film hard going. On the up side this left another 2 ¼ hours that I loved (and I suspect on second viewing it’ll be the whole film I love.)

The notion of a sequel to 1982’s cult classic has always seemed a shaky proposition, especially once you factor in Ridley Scott’s involvement and the fact that his attempts to reinvigorate another film franchise he started have been somewhat ropey to say the least (the best things you can say about Prometheus and Covenant is that they look pretty, and that Michael Fassbender’s a good actor working with terrible material).

What gave me hope was the presence in the director’s chair of Villeneuve. His last two films were Scicario and Arrival, and if you’ve read my reviews you’ll know I loved ‘em both.  Villeneuve is a very good director, and in partnership once more with cinematographer Roger Deakins (whom he worked with on Scicario) and working with a script cowritten by Hampton Fancher (one of the original’s screenwriters) he has achieved that most rare of things, a decades later sequel that’s actually very good.

Be under no illusions, Blade Runner 2049 is better than it has any right to be. The filmmakers have crafted a visually stunning masterpiece here that feels utterly like a continuation of Blade Runner, whilst telling a much broader story.

The scope and attention to detail here are amazing. Earlier in the year Ghost in the Shell looked pretty, but it was hollow, little more than painted facade. Blade Runner 2049 is the real deal, portraying a fully rounded future world that utterly convinces as an evolution of LA in 2019.

Which is not to suggest that the film is all style and no substance. It’s true the script may not quite live up to the visuals, but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure, and the film has a lot to say about the nature of humanity, about belief, truth, memory, sacrifice and specifically about slavery.

160036

La La Land 2049 took everyone by surprise.

 

Ryan Gosling is superb, initially playing K very enigmatically (much like his eponymous Driver) gradually he lets the walls come down as time and truths break down K’s psyche. He’s a very different kind of Blade Runner to Deckard, although they share the same melancholic loneliness, only in K’s case it’s mitigated somewhat be his “relationship” with Joi (Ana de Armas) his holographic AI girlfriend. It’s testament to the script and de Armas’ performance that Joi feels more human than some of the human characters, but it’s never forgotten that she is as much a slave as any replicant.

Of course K isn’t the only Blade Runner here, because there’s the return of Harrison Ford (hardly a spoiler unless you’ve managed to avoid any poster or trailer in the last few months!). Harrison’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately is fair, and it is odd that he’s returning to franchises he had distanced himself from for so long, but it’s great to see him back here, even if it isn’t quite as lump in the throat inducing as his return as Han.

kc8j0axl57a8eslnswyc

“That’s not how replicants work!”

If there’s an issue with Ford it’s mainly down to him not being in the film as much as you might have hoped, although it’s way more than a fleeting cameo appearance and he is integral to the plot. He takes grizzled to a whole new level and he and Gosling bounce well off each other. He also gets the chance to properly act when…well, that’d be telling.

Rounding out the cast are Jered Leto, who isn’t terrible, but is saddled with a somewhat two-dimensional villain role. Thankfully he isn’t in it much. Much more present is Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) an unstoppable replicant enforcer who makes Roy Batty look like a fluffy bunny. Hoeks is superb, scary and menacing yet capable of charm as well, though it’s a shame a certain emotional affectation is never really explained.

MV5BZWQxNTdkOGUtMmMwMi00NmNmLTgzM2ItYmMyYWNhMGRmNmEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,993_AL_.jpg

“All right, Luv, no need to get angry. You can have another drink.”

I won’t go into the plot too much, except that to say this is a film that did manage to surprise me a couple of times, and one rug pull in particular I did not see coming.

There have been complaints that the film is misogynistic and objectifies women, and whilst I can see where these arguments are coming from, I think the film is far more nuanced than initial appearances suggest. There are multiple strong female characters, and whilst in many cases they’re slaves lacking true free will, it can be argued that pretty much every character in the film, from human to replicant to AI hologram, is a slave to something, be it only an idea, and even Leto’s Niander Wallace is enslaved to the idea of progress.

The notion of free will is prevalent throughout, and whilst the film obviously riffs on the original Blade Runner, these riffs are expertly done, and echo the past without plagiarising it. The film also owes a lot to other sources, from obvious ones like the story of Pinocchio, to more left field influences; there’s more than a passing nod to Dickens here, especially in the form of an orphanage owner played by Lennie James who evokes Oliver Twist’s Mr Bumble, even down to his outfit.

It’s a long film, but I can honestly say that I didn’t want it to end, so immersed in the world had I become. Quite possibly one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen, and the sound design is equally impressive, with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score again evoking Vangelis without copying him.

Beautiful and heartrending, Blade Runner is a triumph and easily one of my top three films of the year. Go see it!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wasp crawling on my arm…

Blade-Runner-2049.jpg

By 2049 you’ll have to go a long way to find a parking space.

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Posted: October 5, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Mark Strong.

Kingsman-Golden-Circle-Comic-Con-Panel-Details-Sdcc

It’s ok. I’ll take the next ski-lift.

It’s been a year since Eggsy (Egerton) saved the world and became a fully-fledged Kingsman, taking on the codename Galahad, which had been his mentor Harry (Firth) Hart’s. He’s now working full time as an agent, and is living with Tilde (Hanna Alström) the crown princess of Sweden who he rescued at the end of the first film (and who had a rather novel way of, ahem, rewarding him for saving the world!)

An encounter with an old foe at first seems like nothing more than a case of attempted revenge, but it soon becomes clear that a larger plot is at hand orchestrated by Poppy Adams (Moore) head of the Golden Circle, a huge drug cartel. All too soon the Kingsman suffer major losses, and for Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) the only hope lies in contacting a secret American intelligence agency known as Statesman, whose front is a whisky distillery in Kentucky. When Poppy’s diabolical scheme is revealed the head of Statesman, Champagne (Jeff Bridges) throws the full weight of his agency behind the Englishmen, including assigning agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) and tech specialist Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) to help. There’s also assistance to be had from an old friend that no one expected to see again.

But not everyone is eager to stop Poppy’s plan, so can Eggsy save the day again, and can he maintain a relationship with Tilde whilst still undertaking some of the dirtier aspects of his job as a spy?

 

First off let’s state the obvious. The Golden Circle is nowhere near as good a film as The Secret Service was. That said, this is nowhere near the disaster some critics have suggested it is, though it is amazing that a film with so many flaws can still be hugely enjoyable.

It’s a bloated film though, and riding on the back of the initial film’s huge 2015 success Vaughn has secured a bigger budget, and seems to have spent a lot of it on hiring a huge retinue of famous faces, many of whom feature prominently in the film’s marketing yet don’t feature so heavily in the actual film. The worst example of this is Tatum, and if you’re a fan of the guy (and I’ve liked him in most things I’ve seen him in) then prepare for disappointment because he’s barely in the film at all—though there is an interesting tease at the end which suggests we may see more of him next time out. Bridges and Berry get more screen time, but neither is exactly integral to the plot. Bridges just hams it up and basically just gives orders, and Berry gets little more to do than provide Merlin with someone to talk to.

3F60A52500000578-4424508-image-m-79_1492598476210

“Sorry, we’re in the film five minutes and get paid how much?”

Yes much as with the first film, the female characters do tend to come off badly, from Berry to poor old Roxy (shunted off on a weather balloon in the first film she fares even worse here) and though it’s nice to see some continuity with the return of Tilde, she doesn’t get much to do either.

Thankfully Julianne Moore gets much more to sink her teeth into as Poppy, a deranged mastermind with a penchant for 1950s Americana and a chip on her shoulder because drugs get a bum rap compared to booze and fags.

There’s a nice performance from Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell) as Statesman Whisky (who’s arguably the most prominent Statesman screen time wise) and though some have sneered, I found the low-key performance from newcomer Reginald Dwight quite fun.

ce88bfade7af9ded258737f9a5d42669aabeebb1

A gentleman always keeps his gun dry.

The heart of the film, as before is the relationship between Eggsy and Harry, and yes it’s a spoiler, but given they’ve plastered Colin Firth all over the trailers and the posters, I’d be amazed if anyone went in and was surprised to see Harry back from the dead. I won’t go into details about how he’s resurrected. Suffice to say it’s ridiculous, but Egerton, Firth and Strong collectively make it work, and frankly given how cool Harry Hart is, I’m tempted to give the filmmakers a bye.

Egerton continues to impress as Eggsy, switching effortlessly between working class kid from the wrong side of the tracks and debonair superspy with nary a missed beat. He has an effortless natural charm that makes him difficult not to root for. As for Firth his charm is far more practiced, but no less affecting, and I could watch the two of them all day.

Which is just as well given some of the places the film goes.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Glastonbury.

Anyone who’s seen the first film will remember the bit at the end, what was seen as an offensive misstep by many. Now I’ve gone out to bat for that scene a few times. It’s not that I think it’s funny, and it isn’t that I think the film needs it, but in what is essentially a Roger Moore Bond film turned up to eleven, there is a certain logic to the film finishing like a Moore Bond, only more so.

I have no desire to defend the Glastonbury scene. If the bum joke straddled the line then what happens in the yurt here crosses the line. As the wise philosopher Joey from Friends so eloquently put it. “You crossed the line, in fact you’re so far past the line you can’t even see it anymore. The line is a dot to you!” It’s gross and offensive and effectively features sexual assault. Of course, all the Bonds have seduced women to gain an edge over the years, but there’s something especially icky here, taking the juvenility of Austin Powers and turning it up to eleven, and if what happens in Glasto stays in Glasto, and I was able to set it aside and enjoy the remainder of the film, be under no illusions that this was down to masterful direction or nuanced writing. No, it was down to Egerton’s performance.

I look forward to Kingsman 3, I just hope Vaughn doesn’t feel the need to outdo himself once again, because he doesn’t need to do it. He has a great cast and a fun universe. Which doesn’t mean I want him to play it safe, he just needs someone to point out when he’s gone too far. Frankly I’d expect screenwriter Jane Goldman to do just that.

It’s too long and too baggy, and shoehorns way too many big names in to no great effect, but with Egerton and Firth on top form, and with a slew of exciting set pieces this is an enjoyable romp. I just hope Vaughn tones down the mysoginy, celeb cameos and too new the knuckle (literally) stuff next time out. I’m nowhere near being tired of Eggsy and Harry, but I might be a lot closer to being tired of Vaughn!

kingsman2

That’s not a Mark Strong. This is a Mark Strong.

Victoria & Abdul

Posted: September 22, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal and Eddie Izzard.

Victoria and Abdul

The James Bond reboot took a lot of people by surprise.

The year is 1887, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year, and as part of the celebrations two Indian servants, Abdul (Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) and chosen to travel to England to present the Queen with a ceremonial gold coin. It’s only supposed to be a brief trip, but after Abdul catches the eye of Victoria (Dench) he and Mohammed find themselves drawn into the royal household.

As time passes the Queen becomes more and more enamoured of Abdul, and as his star rises, so too does the ire of the members of the Royal household, and especially of Bertie, the Prince of Wales (Izzard) and plans are drawn up to turn the Queen against Abdul and send the upstart Indian back home.

 

Victoria and Abdul has come in for some stick, and whilst I can see where much of it is coming from, I think some of it is unfair. The film isn’t perfect, but it isn’t quite as lightweight as some critics have suggested.

For a long time the presence of Abdul Karim, a Muslim at the side of Queen Victoria, was a story that few people knew about, so vehemently had his presence been excised from history, and part of the film’s problem is that the story almost seems to fantastical to be true, which is a shame given much of what we see here is presented quite accurately. The producers don’t help matters by claiming it’s ‘mostly’ inspired by true events.

There’s a nice symmetry to Dench playing Victoria once more opposite a man who provided companionship to Victoria after the loss of Albert. In 1997 this was in Mrs Brown opposite Billy Connolly as John Brown but now the object of her affection is amiable Bollywood star Fazal.

The cast are uniformly good, but really it’s Dench’s film, as she plays a woman who is incredibly powerful, yet seems a prisoner of that power, an old woman who knows she is nearing the end of her life, and for whom every day is a mundane struggle, until she spots the handsome young Indian and a spark of life is reignited within her. It’s a great performance by a great actress.

As Abdul, Fazal is given less to work with beyond wide-eyed devotion, and whilst his naiveite is engaging to start with it grates after a while as he never quite seems to wise up to how he’s being perceived by those around him.

Still it’s to both his and Dench’s credit that they form such a convincing relationship, and whilst it might be a very platonic love story, the film very clearly plays like a romance.

victoria3

Eddie considered that he was going to have to run a few marathons when the shoot was over!

As the Prince of Wales (Dirty Bertie) Izzard is unrecognisable, having put on the pounds and gained a beard, and he’s very good as the irascible next in line to the throne, balancing comic buffoonery with genuine menace. Bertie isn’t portrayed as a nice man, but it’s to his credit that Izzard wrings every drop of humanity out of him that he can.

As Abdul’s long-suffering friend Mohammed, Akhtar swings between humour and pathos. For long stretches of the film he’s the comic relief, yet eventually he has one of the stand out moments in the film and he plays it perfectly.

In his last screen role Tim Pigott-Smith does a sterling job as the Queen’s put upon Private Secretary, and there’s good work from Michael Gambon as Disraeli, and Olivia Williams and Fenella Woolgar as ladies in waiting. A cameo by Simon Callow as Puccini does seem a step too far however.

Some have seen the film as showing a saccharine version of British Imperialism, but given that practically every white British character other than Victoria is shown to be a snobbish racialist at one point or another this seems unfair. It’s worth noting as well that because the film spends very little time in India we don’t get to see very much of what the Raj was like which is a shame. Still Abdul telling Victoria the history of his country, and by the by mentioning the priceless artefacts that the British Empire stole/smashed in the process, is incredibly poignant.

maxresdefault

Abdul had a sneaking suspicion that Victoria may have lied about her age on her Tinder profile…

Yes, Victoria is portrayed as the only progressive in the British Empire, and yes for all that Abdul is naïve so is she with regard to just what crimes her subjects are perpetrating in her name, but at no point does it seem that all is rosy for the colonial subjects of the Empire.

But whilst it doesn’t completely take a rose-tinted view of Victoria, Abdul and the Empire, one can’t help feeling that the film plays it safe too often, and this applies to both sides of the divide. It would have been nice to hear more about what life was like in a subjugated India, but by the same token there’s potential for an interesting discussion around Muslim attitudes to women that’s never taken. How does Abdul reconcile his love for subservient, burka wearing wife with his affection for the most powerful woman in the world?

Still, the story of a friendship between an old woman and a young man is a breath of fresh air, even before you factor in the fact that one is a Muslim and the other a monarch.

Frears’ direction is assured and the film is sumptuous to look at. It may be light and whimsical at times, and maybe it doesn’t spend quite enough time delving into the darkened corners of the story (was Victoria really that progressive? Was Abdul really that naïve?) but that doesn’t mean it lacks heft when it needs it.

Amusing, well-acted, touching and well-staged this was a far better film than I expected it to be. I don’t expect I’ll rush to watch it again in a hurry, but I still enjoyed it more than many films I’ve seen this year.

victoriaandabdul3

Unlike Vicky here this film didn’t remotely send me to sleep!