Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Midsommar

Posted: July 20, 2019 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Ari Aster. Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Wilhelm Blomgren and Will Poulter.

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After tragedy strikes her family, college student Dani (Pugh) is traumatised and becomes ever more reliant on her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian has been considering ending their relationship for a year, egged on by his friends Josh (Harper) and Mark (Poulter) who see Dani as too needy. Given her current emotional state Christian doesn’t think he can finish things just yet.

When Dani learns that the three men are due to attend a midsummer festival in Sweden at the invitation of another student— Pelle (Blomgren) who originates from the remote community— she is annoyed and in trying to placate her Christian invites her along, not expecting her to accept the invitation.

She does accept and the four of them, plus Pelle, venture to the remote commune where they are welcomed as honoured guests and partake of hallucinogens. The locals seem a bit odd, but they’re very friendly.

As the festival continues however, things start to shift, and this might not be the relaxing academic experience any of them expected!

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And so after last year’s Hereditary comes Aster’s sophomore effort, on one level a very different film to his first, yet in some respects very similar and whether you like it or not will probably depend on your willingness to go with it, and your patience for arthouse.

The first thing to say is that whilst this is a horror movie, it’s a very different kind of film to Hereditary, a film which did at times disturb and, quite frankly, shit me up. Midsommar isn’t remotely as scary, and oddly given its subject matter, it isn’t remotely as disturbing.

With Hereditary a certain fatalistic inevitability hung over the film. Characters had no escape. The same is true of Midommar to a certain extent, and yet it never quite unsettles as much as it should. In part this is down to the cinematography, everything is so bright and colourful that it’s hard to feel threatened (which I appreciate is kinda the point), but it’s also in part down to the script and the pacing.

If I was asked to identify the biggest flaw with the film, I’d say the length. There’s really nothing gained from the near two and a half hour running time (and rumours suggest there may be a 3 hour director’s cut in the works!) and after I came out it wasn’t long before I exclaimed on Twitter that this was a film that takes 147 minutes to tell the same story The Wicker Man told better in less than 90.

Which isn’t to suggest it drags, I checked my watch a few times but overall despite its slow pace it’s rarely boring. In part this is down to Aster’s inventive direction and Pawel Pogorzelski’s glorious cinematography. This is a film that looks gorgeous, especially during some of the trippier scenes, with flowers breathing and hands and feet being overtaken by nature itself.

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Chidi had a sneaking suspicion this might not be the Good Place

It just feels indulgent, as if Aster’s success with Hereditary has given him carte blanche to make the film he wants to make, and bugger the consequences. He isn’t alone in this, most successful directors suddenly lose the ability to edit once they have complete creative control.

The other problem is that for the most part it doesn’t surprise.

There’s a scene midway through that’s a master class in suspense, but in part this is down to the fact that you can see what’s coming, it just takes an agonizing age to get there. But this is probably the most affecting part of the film. Similarly, whilst for one character the film doesn’t end how you might imagine, on the whole you could probably guess roughly what’s going to happen to everyone else.

It’s also one of those films where you find yourself screaming at the characters. A couple do decide to leave after the shocking event in the middle of the film, but most don’t, and whilst I accept they’re anthropology students, it beggars belief than more of them don’t decide to get out of Dodge, and as their numbers dwindle the lack of threat perception just gets sillier.

The script is genuinely, and intentionally funny in places, which again undercuts the overarching menace, and much like Us from earlier in the year at times I couldn’t help feeling this worked better as a comedy than a horror, but a certain scene involving Will Poulter and a tree is bloody hilarious.

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Aside from the look of the film, its other positive is in the performances. Pugh is astonishing. Creating a character wracked with grief, and clearly suffering PTSD (and there’s a slight suggestion of wider mental health issues). Her screams of anguish are genuinely heart-breaking, and in this Midsommar does mirror Hereditary in that both films revolve around a central woman who’s suffered a traumatic loss and is consumed by anguish. Toni Collette should have been up for awards and was overlooked, I fear Pugh will suffer a similar fate, which is a shame.

As Christian Reynor does a good job of making him a dick, and he increasingly becomes more dickish as the film goes alone, though as much as several characters are inherently unlikeable, none of them deserves their fate, and another slight quibble for me would be the way, at times, it almost feels like Aster believes the community members are nominally the good guys in all of this.

As a fan of The Good Place it’s great to see Harper getting film roles, and as Mark Poulter is great and gets many of the films laughs.

Sadly aside from Pelle most of the cultists are a tad interchangeable.

This is a film full of wonderful performances and its gorgeous to look at, yet it’s also overly pretentious and self-indulgent. As a study in grief it works, as a folk horror perhaps less well.

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Yesterday

Posted: July 11, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

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Jack Malik (Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter who’s reached the end of his rope, with no one interested in hearing him play, except for his manager and friend Ellie (James) he’s decided to quit music and give up his dreams.

But then, during a worldwide blackout, he’s hit by a car. He’s badly injured but make a full recovery. There’s just one problem, he now seems to be the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles. With a whole lot of classic songs rattling around inside his head, and in a world without John, Paul, George and Ringo, Jack becomes an overnight success, but is fame all it’s cracked up to be?

Yesterday has a lot of problems, which doesn’t mean it’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just incredibly lazy. A film that relies on a hackneyed plot that rarely scratches the surface of its high concept premise.

The plot collapses if you think about it for more than 5 seconds, and it undercuts its own point almost immediately. It wants us to believe the Beatles are important, that their music is special and makes the world a better place, yet the Beatles’less world is objectively no different to our own, even before you get to all the other things that no longer exist (mild spoiler; it’s not just the Beatles).

The whole point of a “what if” tale is that the world should be very different. What if Hitler died in World War 1? What if Penicillin was never invented? What if JFK survived Dallas? All of these things would make the world manifestly different, but we seem to be getting along just fine without the Fab Four, so what’s the point?

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The original script was by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook and was called Cover Version, but when they dropped out Richard Curtis took over and rewrote it. The original sounds more interesting, because the protagonist doesn’t become a worldwide hit, he archives only moderate success. It was also Curtis’ decision to make it a romcom, which I have no problem with, and I like a lot of Curtis films, but if you’re going to use a high concept like the Beatles ceasing to exist as mere window dressing for a love story, you could at least come up with something more than the by the numbers “He doesn’t know she exists” story we get here.

Back to the plot anyway. There’s a writing axiom that suggests you can get the audience to buy one contrivance, one fantastical moment, per film, but Yesterday just keeps piling them on. First the Beatles vanish, then we’re expected to believe that this ordinary young man becomes an overnight sensation playing random Beatles’ songs, never mind that the Beatles success was in part down to their place in time, four young lads from Liverpool who exploded onto the scene in the early 60s, a time very different from now, and never mind that their style evolved from rock and roll to folk, country and eventually psychedelia, apparently their songs are so good that the world will lap them up out of order and played by a nervous young man from Suffolk rather than four likely lads from Liverpool.

That Yesterday is inoffensively enjoyable is down to other factors. An engaging cast for starters. Patel makes for a likable lead, and I suspect the former EastEnders star will go on to bigger and better things. Lily James is a great actress, but her movie choices are a tad erratic at times. She does her best here with a drippy character, but she deserves better.

Joel Fry as Jack’s roadie Rocky is a hoot, and Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal, are great as Jack’s parents.

Ed Sheeran as, er, Ed Sheeran, is nowhere near as annoying as you might expect him to be but his appearance is a trifle jarring (and the appearance of one particular character later on is a wince inducing misstep in my opinion).

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Finally we get Kate McKinnon. She’s a great comic actor, but her money obsessed music producer is straight out of central casting.

As well as the cast, we have Boyle who directs with enough verve and style that I was never bored, and finally we have the Beatles themselves, or rather their music, and the film leans heavily on their catchy tunes, even if it never tries to dig into what makes them so wonderful, it’s content to just love you do.

And Curtis’ script does have its moments, in particular as Jack struggles to remember as many lyrics as he can.

Maybe I’ve just thought about it too much rather than buying into the premise, but as enjoyable as this fluff is, with a cast like that, a top draw director, and the music of the Beatles to draw on, this could have been so much more than a predictable there’s more to life than fame rom com.

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Spider-Man: Far from Home

Posted: July 9, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by: Jon Watts. Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.

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Okay first things first. This is going to be, as far as possible, a spoiler free review of Spider-Man; but, in talking about this film I will need to reveal things about Avengers: Endgame, so if you haven’t seen that yet, for goodness sake why not?

Seriously I’m going to spoil Endgame so don’t scroll past thus picture of a warm and cuddly Sam Jackson unless you’ve A/ already seen it or B/ really don’t care.

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Still will me?

Thanos has been defeated, and the Snap has been undone. The 50% of people who vanished five years ago have returned in what’s being termed The Blip. The downside is that they’re the same age they were when they were snapped out of existence. Which is how come Peter’s still 16 while a weedy kid from several years below him is now a buff teenager with designs on MJ.

The world is also getting used to the fact that Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow are no more, and in particular the loss of Tony Stark cuts deep, especially for Peter Parker (Holland) who idolised the man. Struggling with trying to live a double life as a normal kid and a friendly neighbourhood webslinger, and wanting more than anything to enjoy a school trip to Europe so he can finally tell MJ (Zendaya) how he feels about her, Peter ignores a call from Nick Fury (Jackson) much to the astonishment of Happy (Favreau) who advises; “You don’t ghost Nick Fury.”

Once in Europe Peter finds that Fury isn’t so easily dissuaded, especially not when the world is in peril thanks to elemental creatures that have already destroyed the Earth of Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal) a man with amazing powers who soon garners the name Mysterio.

Peter really doesn’t want to step into Iron Man’s shoes, but with great power…ah you know the rest. Will Spidey step up, and can he defeat the Elementals with Mysterio’s help?

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And so our seventh standalone Spider-Man film in less than 20 years, arrives, featuring our third Spider-Man in that time, and whatever your view of the films (and I wasn’t totally sold on Homecoming) there’s a strong argument that Tom Holland is the closest fit to the comic book webslinger we’ve ever had, but much as filling Iron Man’s shoes is a big ask, being the first post Endgame MCU film equates to pretty big shoes to fill as well, especially so soon, but thankfully Holland and co fill them well, and this is perhaps the perfect film to follow the end of phase whatever, much as Ant-Man 2 was a nice palate cleanser to follow Infinity War.

Not that Far from Home is a lightweight knockabout comedy by any means. I mean, well it is those things, but there’s deeper, darker things afoot, but Watts directs so effortlessly that you don’t realise it, at first at least.

But whilst on the face of it this is a teen comedy that sees Peter Parker and chums decamp to Europe for all manner of japes, it’s also a tale about responsibility. For all his power, Spidey doesn’t want to save the world, as he tells an audience early on who start badgering him about whether he’s now an Avenger and whether he can take Tony Stark’s place, “Don’t you guys have any neighbourhood questions?”

But whilst Peter might want to keep things lowkey, Fury needs his help to battle the extra dimensional elementals, and he isn’t above semi kidnapping Peter, or using emotional blackmail to get the job done, and Jackson is at his gruff best here.

Playing good cop to Fury’s bad is Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, a man who watched his own world burn and who understands about responsibility, and a man who’s more than happy to fill the void left by Tony’s passing.

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And whilst Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t appear here outside of flashbacks, the absence of Tony Stark looms large, and whether intentional or not it’s a neat trick to be able focus on the guilt and loss that have always been part of Spider-Man’s emotional makeup, whilst managing not to focus on Uncle Ben for the umpteenth time (Though Ben Parker does get a nice call back if you spot it).

Gyllenhaal is excellent here, playing the melancholy of Beck well, and coming across like a friendly uncle, or big brother, and it’s no wonder Peter bonds with him, and Gyllenhaal and Holland have great chemistry. Gyllenhaal genuinely looks the part of the chisel jawed superhero as well.

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As MJ thankfully we get a lot more of Zendaya this time out, and she’s excellent as a very different kind of MJ, spiky and playful, and thankfully not falling into the trap of being a smart cookie who’s an idiot when it comes to one specific thing. Again she and Holland have nice chemistry (I think it’s fair for say Holland works well with everyone in this.)

Jacob Batalon is back as Peter’s best buddy and ‘man in the chair’ Ned, and he’s as much a joy to watch as he was in Homecoming. In particular he and Angourie Rice as Betty have an amusing plotline running through the film. I do hope we get to see more from Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson next time out, the repurposing of the comic book jock as a social media obsessed rich kid is an interesting one, they just need to make more of it.

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Marisa Tomei is back as, let’s face it, possibly the hottest Aunt May, and she gets a bit more to do, plus some nice scenes with Favreau, and it’s nice to see more of Happy, who provides some nice humour and backup to Spidey.

The comedy is excellent throughout, with lots of plumb lines like “I can help, I’m really strong and I’m sticky!” and the film really does work as well as a teen comedy as it does a superhero film, even if the two teachers are played a little too broadly at times.

The action set pieces are awesome, especially the finale in London, and whilst the cgi does look a trifle ropey at times for the most part the fights look good. The Elementals aren’t the greatest villains ever, but what are you going to do, eh?

Humorous and exciting, and managing to walk a tightrope between lightweight comedy and coming of age drama, this really is a top-notch Marvel film, and a hugely enjoyable Spider-Man film in its own right, and one can only hope Marvel have Holland locked in for more films, because I could watch him as Peter Parker all day.

Oh, and a VERY IMPORTANT tip here. Stay right to the end of the credits. Forget your disappointment at the lack of anything in Endgame, or little snippets that barely seemed worth the wait, because Far from Home has arguably two of the most jaw dropping end credits scenes in the whole damn Marvel Universe, and as eek inducing as that first one is, I did almost cheer when…well, go see the film, you’ll understand why!

More Spidey soon please Mr Marvel!

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Posted: June 29, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Simon Kinberg. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Jessica Chastain.

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It is 1992, nine years following the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, and the X-Men are now well established as heroes. Mutants are no longer hunted, and even Magneto (Fassbender) has stopped fighting, concentrating instead on founding a home for mutants on a remote island. Meanwhile Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is enjoying the adoration that the X-Men bring and has no compunction in sending them on increasingly dangerous missions despite the warnings of Mystique (Lawrence, doing the minimum amount to fulfil her contract). When a space shuttle is threatened by what seems to be a solar flare, Xavier insists the X-Men travel into orbit, despite the misgivings of Beast (Hoult). When disaster strikes Jean Grey (Turner) saves the day, but also absorbs a significant amount of energy.

Back on Earth Jean finds her telekinetic powers have become much stronger, and she’s also begun to remember her past, and a tragedy that Xavier forced her to forget. Increasingly belligerent Jean’s powers, and her rage, grow exponentially, with tragic results for the X-Men. As she goes on the run her exploits make humankind fear mutants again. Hunted by human and mutant alike Jean’s only ally is Vuk  (Chastain) and alien who understands the power Jean now wields, but does Vuk really want to help Jean or does she have an ulterior motive and can the X-Men bring themselves to take down one of their own?

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It’s scary to realise that it’s almost 20 years since X-Men first hit our screens. No one could have guessed the film could be a success, and no one could have guessed how huge a star a certain Mr Jackman would go on to be. There have been 12 films in the X-Men universe so far, and to say their quality has been variable is an understatement. X2 was a rare sequel better than the original, but the follow up (which also featured the Jean Grey/ Phoenix story and was also written by Kinberg) Last Stand was awful, and the Wolverine film that followed was possibly worse. The franchise was reinvigorated by the superb First Class, slipping back in time and recasting the actors, bringing in the likes of McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence, but the franchise has struggled to come close to that highpoint again. Days of Future Past was enjoyable, thanks in no small part to Jackman, but Apocalypse was mediocre at best, not terrible but not exactly exciting.

And so we come to Fox’s penultimate film in the franchise before they had it all over to Disney, and whilst not unenjoyable, the X-Men exit with a whimper rather than a bang.

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Part of the problem is the story, and however much Kinberg wanted a chance to do the Dark Phoenix idea better (a chance afforded by Days of Future Past rewriting the timeline) it’s still a story we saw not that long ago. The story veers all over the place, and whilst Chastain is eerily alien, Vuk never feels like enough of a threat. The dialogue is clunky, and the “maybe we should be the X-Women” line is well intentioned but seems like a sop, especially when for large portions of the film it’s male characters doing much of the heavy lifting.

Lawrence doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort, and some of the younger cast do seem a trifle overawed or side-lined, take Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, though it is hard to express much emotion when your eyes are constantly covered up, or Shipp as Storm who doesn’t get nearly enough to do. Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler is good fun however.

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Turner is good, and gets to show quite a range, but for saying the film is about her, at times the focus shifts too far away from her and she becomes less a character than a plot point. Still the Queen of the North continues to impress as an actor, though the accent takes a little getting used to.

McAvoy, Fassbender (as Magneto) and Hoult are all great actors, and not a one of them feels like they’re phoning it in, but they can only do so much with the material at hand, and the film, like many X-Men films, is kinda hamstrung by feeling the need to be an allegory of the civil rights movement, all the time, and I’m not sure how many times Magneto can flit between sides in the conflict, it all starts becoming a trifle samey.

I wasn’t bored, there’s some neat humour, some good performances, and some enjoyable set pieces—especially the fight on the train—but every time you think the film is going to spring into life it backs down or diverts down a narrative alley.

An enjoyable but in the end eminently forgettable superhero film, but it is at least better than Last Stand (and probably Apocolypse). I guess we wait now to see what Disney will do with Professor X and co, but I can’t help thinking whatever that is, they’ll do it better.

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“I think I can see Micky Mouse from here!”

 

Rocketman

Posted: June 1, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard.

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Crippled by a morass of addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping!) Elton John (Egerton) checks himself into rehab and looks back on the events that have brought him to this point, from his childhood (when he was still Reginald Dwight) as a boy with cold parents, his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) and his mother Sheila (Howard), where he first showed an aptitude for the piano, to the formation of a song writing duo with Bernie Taupin (Bell) and his troubled relationship with music producer John Reid (Madden). Despite his success Elton has to keep his sexuality a secret, which puts more pressure on him. As he spirals down into drug fuelled depression can he find salvation?

 

There’s a curious sense of déjà vu in many respects when it comes to Rocketman. An unconventional looking rock star who has to hide his true sexuality, a man incredibly successful yet perhaps doomed to a life of loneliness, a world of excess; drugs, sex, booze etc. A manipulative lover/manager who takes advantage of our hero, and the true friends he comes to realise he needs after all.

So far so Bohemian Rhapsody (throw in the fact that Madden’s character features in BR too, and that Fletcher finished off the directing on the Freddie Mercury biopic and you’ve pretty much got a full house) yet curiously these films are chalk and cheese in every other respect once you scratch beneath the surface. While BR was a pretty straightforward biography of Mercury, Rocketman is something altogether more, if you’ll pardon the pun, mercurial. It’s hard to say for sure but it feels like with this film Fletcher had far more freedom, which is odd in some respects given the subject of this film is still very much alive and involved in the production, but this isn’t some vanity project, or at least if it is it’s quite clearly of the warts and all variety, because Elton doesn’t necessarily come out of it as a virtuous hero, quite the reverse. Yes he’s manipulated, and yes he’s forced to live a lie, but he’s also something of a dick, and he freely admits it when he gleefully tells his rehab group that he’s been a C***T

Central to the film is the casting. Curious to consider that, originally and many moons ago, Justin Timberlake was in line to play the part, but that does make a bit more sense than Tom Hardy who was attached more recently. I like Hardy, but I can’t see him as Elton John.

Egerton on the other hand is perfect. He looks the part, and he bloody acts the socks off the part but, maybe more importantly, he sings the part too, so really, if Remi Malek got an Oscar and mimed, shouldn’t Taron be up for a statuette himself next year? He’s got a great voice, and he plays the two sides to Elton perfectly (the brash showman and the lonely, insecure man behind the huge glasses). From wowing them on stage, to crying his eyes out alone, Egerton is never less than perfect.

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But the casting is spot on throughout. As Elton’s long-time collaborator Taupin, Bell is astonishing, even more so given of the three male leads he’s the most understated. That Bell makes the impression he does despite sharing the screen with two men who get to chew the scenery tells you all you need to know about his acting ability. Apparently Barbara Broccoli has considered him for Bond—now I can see why (though he’s probably not tall enough).

On the subject of Bond let’s talk Madden. It’s weird but when the Bodyguard was on so many people were suggesting he could be 007, but I didn’t see it. Oh, lordy I see it now. Odd given in the Bodyguard he was a straight close protection officer, and here he’s a gay music producer, but he owns the screen, displaying more presence than I’ve seen from him before. With dark hair and smart suits he prowls the screen, a dangerous, incredibly masculine predator. John Reid is not a nice man, but Madden keeps it just the right side of moustache twirling. I hope Barbara was watching!

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Which brings us to the fourth major cast member. Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mum. I spent the whole film wondering where I knew her from, then I saw her name come up at the end and had a genuine “No Freaking Way!” moment. As with the three leads Howard is perfect, and you wouldn’t know she wasn’t British. She also, in some respects, has the hardest job because of all the characters she has to play the widest range in terms of her age, and she does it well. She also manages to make an unlikeable character at least somewhat empathetic. She might be cold, but she isn’t inhuman.

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Special mention for national treasure Gemma Jones as Elton’s loving gran, and Stephen Graham as foul mouthed empresario Dick James.

Fletcher’s direction is excellent, and the film plays like a musical at times, with characters bursting into song and the sudden appearance of a troupe of dancers. This melding of the real and the fantastical works wonderfully, and is probably the perfect evocation of the duality of Elton John’s life.

I’ve probably never considered myself a huge John fan, but it’s only when you hear the songs that you realise, oh he did that one, and that one, and that one…and even the tunes I didn’t recognise I liked.

On the story side it’s hard to know what is true and what, perhaps, is exaggeration, but this is clearly no whitewash at the end of the day, despite John and husband Furnish’s presence behind the scenes.

Funny, sad, joyous, colourful, dramatic; this is a gem of a film that’s meticulously directed and wonderfully acted. I liked, and still like Bohemian Rhapsody, but Rocketman blows it out of the water on every single level.

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Directed by: Chad Stahelski. Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston and Ian McShane.

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Former assassin John Wick has been declared excommunicado by the shadowy criminal organisation known as the High Table. On the run he has one hour before every hitman in the city, if not the world, is after the $14 million dollar bounty on his head, and this time his friends Winston (McShane) and Charon (Reddick) can’t help him, and nor can the Bowery King (Fishburne). With only his wits and his skills to rely on John travels from New York to Casablanca, and seeks grudging assistance from the mysterious Director (Huston) and Sofia (Berry) another former assassin who’s now running her own Continental hotel in Morocco. Meanwhile the Adjudicator (Dillon) exacts justice from those who’ve foolishly aided John in his actions.

Can John stay alive long enough to reach the one man who might be able to call the High Table off, and if he does, will he be willing the pay the price of forgiveness?

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I’ve probably said this before, but when word of the original John Wick leaked people weren’t overly excited, so the notion that we’re now into the third instalment of a franchise that seems as unstoppable as Wick himself, with likely a fourth on the way, is amusing. But then John Wick was so good there had to be a sequel, and when the world that was created was expanded in the second film, a film that ended on a cliff-hanger, a third instalment was always on the cards.

And they say films named after their characters can’t be successful.

Parabellum is an exquisitely shot, balletically choreographed action film filled with interesting characters, let down only by a slight hint of repetitiveness, because there are only so many fights you can see before they all start to blend into one another, and though the makers of the film seem endlessly inventive when it comes to devising new ways for Wick to kill people (and the stable and library fights are a delight) in the end there are too many interchangeable skirmishes with guys in back alleys here.

That said the penultimate fight (between two assailants) in the Continental hotel is so good it’s practically worth the price of admission on its own, although it does kinda dilute the final mano-a-mano.

One of the things that’s always lifted these films above the average action fare is the wonderful world of the High Table and the Continental existing parallel with our own, like a kind of exceedingly violent Harry Potter universe, with payment in gold coins, and markers exchanged for favours, and an intriguing array of people (though sometimes you have to wonder if maybe everyone’s on the High Table pay-packet). Having had the cast expanded in the last film, here we get Huston vamping it up to eleven as a Roma gang boss/artistic director at a very extreme ballet/wrestling school, and Berry as a female Wick, complete with a canine fixation and a natty talent for killing an exceptional number of people as easily as you or I might prune some roses.

In particular Berry shines here. I’ve not always been her greatest fan, and I don’t think she was a great Bond Girl, but Sofia’s so awesome that I wouldn’t be averse to a spin off.

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It’s nice to see Reddick get more to do than just stand behind a desk here, and McShane is always a joy to watch. We don’t get much of Fishburne but maybe that’ll change in 4. Dacascos’ fanboy admiration of Wick elevates what could have been a stock bad guy role, and Dillon is wonderfully aloof as the adjudicator.

Plot wise the film isn’t very inventive, with the story existing on rails; John goes to Point A so he can then go to Point B and then back to Point A, but I guess plot was never the selling point of the franchise so much as watching Keanu despatch a whole lot of bad guys. There is the addition of a lot of humour this time, even if you do feel slightly guilty for laughing as various people are horribly maimed/killed!

The choreography and cinematography are where the film really shines, although again the neon lit finale does feel a tad repetitive of the second film.

This film is still a step above the standard action fare. It’s Funny, action packed and gorgeous to look it, but I really hope they try and do something a little different in 4 rather than sticking to the formula of 2 and 3, because there is a law of diminishing returns here. More please, but also, maybe, less?

On a final note, given one of the baddies in the original film was Theon from Game of Thrones, it was amusing to see another GoT alumni show up! Always nice to see a former stalwart of British TV doing well for himself, and this is a film featuring two of them!

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Avengers: Endgame

Posted: April 29, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by:  Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

Okay, let’s be very clear here, it’s my intention to make the following review as spoiler free as possible but obviously I may reveal snippets (nothing major) that you didn’t know, and I will talk about Infinity War, so if you want to remain completely spoiler free why not check back after seeing it.

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So here we are. More than ten years since Robert Downey Jr. first donned the mantle of Iron Man, with 21 films leading up to this one. That’s a heck of a lead in to a finale. Forget Return of the Jedi, you can even forget 007 given Marvel have given us almost as many films in 11 years as the Bond franchise has in 57. There was a heck of a lot riding on this, not least after last year’s Infinity War saw Earth’s* greatest heroes (* not all from Earth) battle Thanos and lose, allowing him to snap his fingers and eliminate half the population of the Universe.

It was one hell of a cliff-hanger, and people have spent the last year speculating how Thanos’ act will be undone, I mean it has to be undone, right? Spider-Man’s got a film coming out soon, so he has to come back, doesn’t he?

In the aftermath of Thanos’ snap, Earth is a very different place, a sombre planet where millions struggle to put their lives back together. Some of the Avengers had retired (Iron Man, Thor) whilst others struggle to keep things together (Black Widow, War Machine). Steve Rogers (Captain America) meanwhile is running support groups to help those affected by the loss of loved ones.

When one of the heroes thought lost makes a miraculous reappearance however, it seems there might be a way to save almost everyone after all, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t be without cost…

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Let’s get this out of the way early. I loved Endgame. Don’t get me wrong, I worried that the obvious reset that was coming might annoy me, but it didn’t, and yes the opening thirty minutes or so are slower than you might expect, but this is important to show us where our heroes are, and to show them grieving, because they lost people too. Once the film slips into high gear however, it barely lets up. Yes it’s three hours long (but it didn’t feel like it) and yes the Russo brothers have to juggle a huge cast, and keep multiple plates spinning at all times (which they do) and yes the mechanics of the plot might prompt a few “but what about?”s (and I think it will) but I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) won’t love this. Sure, there might be minor annoyances over how certain characters are treated, but on the whole Endgame is a wonderful resolution to a story over ten years in the making.

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I’ll get onto the spectacle, but first I want to talk about the actors, because each and every one of them has made these characters their own, and it’s in no small part down to each of them that we care so much about Cap, or Iron Man, or Hulk, or Black Widow, and what Endgame does do, perhaps surprisingly, is give some of these actors some actual acting to undertake, and there’s some lovely stuff, especially from Evans, Downy Jr. and Johansson, and from some characters you might not expect (Karen Gillan’s Nebula gets quite a lot to do here, hurrah!) and I’d like to offer a big shout out to the ever infuriating (in a good way) Chris Hemsworth whose comic timing and ability to send himself up are second to none. Thor alone makes this film watchable.

And despite the sombre tone there is a lot of humour here, as there’s always been in the MCU, but it doesn’t feel out of place, and Hemsworth is ably assisted by Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Gillan’s dry straight woman/cyborg act, plus a whole heap of others, and it really is amazing to consider just how big the cast of this film in, and there are all manner of cameos of people who’ve made a small or large contribution to the franchise. Some I was probably expecting but some were (very pleasant) surprises.

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I don’t want to talk about the plot too much, but have to say that the payoffs in this film work, both in the homages to the films that led up to this point and its resolution. Several character arcs reach very logical conclusions here (although there’s one plot point I sincerely hope is undone!) and I’m not necessarily talking about character’s dying. This is a film that makes you laugh and cry, a film that hit me hard once, then twice and then, just when I thought it was done, hit me a third time with the most beautiful of bittersweet endings. It will be very interesting to see where Marvel go from here, but they obviously still have a very strong roster. I do hope we haven’t seen the last of Thanos because yet again Brolin gives us a villain with more depth than most. He is clearly the villain, but yet again he’s also clearly the hero of his own story. The film is a trifle confusing at times, and I think it’ll take a couple of viewings to work out exactly what happens in every plot strand, but if there are plot holes the rest of the film’s so damn enjoyable, I think they can be forgiven!

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Anyway, that spectacle stuff. For me it’s the characters that really makes this film shine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy all the bangy crashy stuff, and there’s a heck of a lot of that here, scuffles, fights, skirmishes and god almighty battles, and they’re all exciting and none of them go on too long.

The sheer logistics of putting a film like this together are impressive enough, that it manages to also be wonderful into the bargain is nothing short of miraculous. Exciting, funny, touching, this film has everything and manages to be a very heartfelt love letter to the fans.

It’s a Marvel!

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