Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Posted: February 15, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart.

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A gentle Sunday afternoon orienteering was about to get a whole lot more exciting!

When four high school students are placed in detention and tasked with clearing out the school cellar, they discover a strange old-fashioned games console. It’s twenty years since the magical board game Jumanji wreaked havoc. The world has moved on, but so has Jumanji, sensing that people no longer play board games its redesigned itself as a computer game.

The four students grab a controller and choose a cheesy character to play in the game. Before you can say “Jumanji!” they’re sucked into the game and find themselves in another world, and that’s not the only change, because they’ve each become their own avatar. So nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin is now a musclebound explorer named Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) whilst Spencer’s former best friend, a jock nicknamed ‘Fridge’ is now a weedy zoologist nicknamed ‘Mouse’ (Hart). Cynical loner Martha has become a scantily clad kung-fu expert named Ruby Roundhouse, and most shockingly of all, selfie obsessed Bethany is now an overweight cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Black)

The only way to escape the game is to return a fabulous jewel to it’s resting place in the eye of a statue, but whilst the group have heaps of special skills to call upon they’re facing an army of bad guys. They each have three lives to help them along, but once they expend them death might just get a lot more permanent!

When four high school students are placed in detention and tasked with clearing out the school cellar, they discover a strange old-fashioned games console. It’s twenty years since the magical board game Jumanji wreaked havoc. The world has moved on, but so has Jumanji, sensing that people no longer play board games its redesigned itself as a computer game.

The four students grab a controller and choose a cheesy character to play in the game. Before you can say “Jumanji!” they’re sucked into the game and find themselves in another world, and that’s not the only change, because they’ve each become their own avatar. So nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin is now a musclebound explorer named Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) whilst Spencer’s former best friend, a jock nicknamed ‘Fridge’ is now a weedy zoologist nicknamed ‘Mouse’ (Hart). Cynical loner Martha has become a scantily clad kung-fu expert named Ruby Roundhouse, and most shockingly of all, selfie obsessed Bethany is now an overweight cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Black)

The only way to escape the game is to return a fabulous jewel to it’s resting place in the eye of a statue, but whilst the group have heaps of special skills to call upon they’re facing an army of bad guys. They each have three lives to help them along, but once they expend them death might just get a lot more permanant!

 

Though it came out in December, the fact that Jumanji was still in cinemas way into February finally gave me to time to catch up with it. With a great cast and an amusing trailer I’d been tempted, but something held me back. Having finally gone to see the film all I can say is, I was a fool! If I’d gone to seen this in December I might have got a second viewing in!

‘cos Jumanji is very enjoyable, in fact it’s ridiculously enjoyable. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it won’t win any Oscars, and it’s not really deep and meaningful (though there’s some nice morals hiding in there) but sometimes it’s just enough for a film to entertain, and Jumanji entertained me a whole lot.

It’s been a while since I saw Jumanji, but aside from a few call-backs you don’t need to have seen the 1995 Robin Williams’ vehicle to enjoy this one, and the premise is a straightforward fantasy quest. It pretty much takes the route you expect it to. What makes the film so fun is the script, the performances and its sheer energy. I was never bored, I laughed a whole lot, and I may have even inched my bottom towards the edge of my seat on occasion.

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“Hey, where’d my hair go?”

Dwayne Johnson is a man with enough natural charisma to power a city. His imposing physique is allied with great comic timing, and a dash of old school Hollywood charm; the fact that he has no qualms about taking the mickey out of himself is just icing on the cake. Is he the greatest actor in the world? Not remotely. Does it matter? See previous answer. He has a lot of fun playing the nerd who’s afraid of everything, and his special skill of being able to ‘smoulder’ to order is used to great comic effect.

Jack Black’s had a varied career. For every High Fidelity or School of Rock there’s a King Kong or The Holiday, but given the right material he’s a hoot, and boy does he get the right material here. Tasked with playing a self-obsessed teenage girl he throws himself into the part with vigour. It would have been so easy to overplay this, to camp it up into caricature, but for the most part he keeps it just the right side of too much, and along with Gillan he has the funniest scene in the film as Shelley has to teach Ruby Roundhouse how to flirt, and both actors completely nail it.

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Gratuitous Karen Gillan picture.

Karen Gillan’s come a long way since Amy Pond, and as a big fan it’s no surprise that I loved her in this. Yes she’s dressed a little too revealingly (words I never thought I’d say), but thankfully her character has enough agency that you just go with the flow. She’s brave and kicks ass with the best of them, and just when you think the film’s going to go down the route of her learning to be womanly…well…you’ll see. Plus, as stressed above her skit with Black is pretty much worth the price of admission alone.

Rounding out the team Kevin Hart is amusing as the high school jock trapped in the body of a nerd. He has great chemistry with Johnson and you can see why they’ve made several films together. He too has good comic timing, but thankfully gets his share of heroic moments, in fact each of the ensemble gets their chance to shine.

Bobby Cannavale’s villain is a little lacking, but in the main it’s because he isn’t given much to get his teeth into, and given he’s a virtual character I guess that makes sense, but Nick Jonas rounds out the in-game characters nicely with an intriguing role. Outside of the game I give props to the four actors tasked with playing the teen (and in fact real) versions of our heroes. It’s testament to their performances that despite limited screen time I’d have happily seen more of them.

Well acted and directed, with laughs and thrills aplenty, you can argue Jumanji is a trifle lightweight, but when a film is this entertaining that hardly seems to matter. I’m not sure how they can wangle a sequel, but I really hope they do.

Jumanji!

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Hopefully these guys are back in any sequel too!

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Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

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Just when would the costume designer pay for their crimes against fashion?

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is angry. It’s been seven months since her daughter was raped and murdered, and the police in Ebbing seem no closer to finding out who killed her. Consumed by rage and grief Mildred rents three abandoned billboards and uses them to very pointedly ask why the police haven’t solved the case.

The appearance of the billboards upsets the local sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Harrelson) who feels Mildred’s ire is unfair. He feels there’s a limit to what the police can do when there’s no evidence and no witnesses. Though he tries to assure Mildred that they haven’t given up on the case she is not to be dissuaded and has no intention of bringing the billboards down.

The locals are sympathetic to Mildred’s loss, but they’re more sympathetic to their sheriff, and as time passes the locals become more and more angry at Mildred, none more so than Officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell) an angry, racist cop who idolises Sheriff Willoughby.

As tragedy strikes Mildred finds an increasing array of obstacles in her path; is there any hope of getting justice for her daughter?

 

It’s hard to believe that Three Billboards (yeah I’m not gonna type the whole title each time, so sue me) is only the third full length film written and directed by McDonagh in almost ten years. He burst onto the scene with In Bruges in 2008, a wonderfully spiky gangster film that established him as a man who could make even the coarsest curses sound almost poetic and who could marry humour and extreme violence seamlessly. He followed In Bruges up four years later with Seven Psychopaths. Whilst not up to the standard of In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths was an enjoyable film that followed a similar path to McDonagh’s first work; it was spiky, foul mothed, violenct and a lot of fun.

Now three years later we have Three Billboards. In many respects it follows the pattern of the first two films, it’s a film that bristles, it deals with a cast of engaging characters, it’s a drama that revolves around a violent crime and, of course, it’s incredibly funny and foul mouthed. In all other respects however, Three Billboards is very different, this is a more grown up affair.

It’s a difficult film to pigeonhole. Yes it’s a very black comedy, but beyond this it’s a tale of grief and the extremes it will push people too, and it’s a story about how nobody is all good, nobody all bad, and how some people can surprise you.

McDonagh’s script is excellent, every word seeming chosen with meticulous care, and his overarching message that violence begets violence is never far away. In his casting he has actors each of whom is able to take those words and do something wonderful with them, and it’s in the dialogue and acting that the film primarily succeeds.

McDormand is a great actor, and she will forever be Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Mildred is about as far away from Marge as you can get, where Marge was innocent, Mildred is anything but, and McDormand wrings every drop of emotion from the role, swaggering around town like a female John Wayne (a metaphor ably supported by her own twangy Western theme) she’s angry, grief-stricken, tough as nails and yet also incredibly fragile. I don’t think there are many actors who could have pulled this off without either making Mildred too sympathetic, or making her too unlikable, and however much we might be rooting for Mildred, the film never shies away from the fact that she’s going too far. I won’t be at all surprised if McDormand ends up with another Gold statue in a few weeks’ time.

 

Harrelson imbues Willoughby with a huge amount of humanity, and in many respects he’s the most sympathetic character in the film—though special mention must be made of Peter Dinklage who excels in a cameo role as the local car salesman with something of a crush on Mildred—and Harrelson’s performance helps the film enormously, he’s so darn nice that it makes Mildred seem all the more extreme.

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“I’m telling you, sheriff, she’s that pregnant cop from up north!”

Rounding out the main case is Rockwell, who I’ve been a fan of since Galaxy Quest. He has great comic timing, but also essays Dixon’s anger management issues to a tee, and it says something about Rockwell as an actor that he can make Dixon sympathetic.

You can probably tell I enjoyed this film, but that said I don’t think it’s quite as fantastic as a lot of critics would have you believe. There are plot contrivances that are a little too convenient, one of which relates to the Ebbing police station’s opening hours, and whilst many have singled out the reading of some letters as a masterful scene, I’m not so sure. They seemed a little too eloquent, and though the character’s voice is heard I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was really hearing McDonagh. There’s also the small matter of one character’s evolution, they’re overplayed as an idiot to begin with, which makes where they eventually end up stretch credulity a little, although the actor’s so good they manage to pull it off. I also found the eclectic soundtrack jarring, skipping from Spaghetti western to classical, to showtunes and pop; who knows, perhaps that was supposed to be jarring?

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You shouldn’t need a magnifying class to see what’s great about this film.

Overall the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, though it won’t be a film for everyone. The language is beyond fruity, and the lack of a neat resolution will infuriate some. Me, I loved the cursing, and as for the moral ambiguity, that was another one of the strengths of the film, and for me the final scene as one of the most note perfect endings I’ve seen, for some reason evoking the end of John Carpenter’s The Thing (from the perspective of a weary “Let’s see what happens” kind of way, I’m not suggesting anyone in this is an alien shapeshifter!)

Sharp, funny, heartrending and incredibly foul mouthed, it’s not perfect by any means but I will certainly be paying another visit to Ebbing soon.

 

2017: A Year in Film

Posted: January 21, 2018 in Film reviews
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So I’ve now seen my first film of 2018, but before I publish that review I thought it might be nice to list the films I saw in 2017 and place them in some kind of order. So here it is, all 29 films I saw at the cinema last year, ranked from the best to the worst.

A couple of points to make clear, the first is that all placings are, of course, subjective, and I know not everyone will agree with me, they’re also quite fluid, so whilst it’s unlikely Blade Runner will plummet too far in my affections, obviously in most cases I’ve only seen each film once, and a second viewing may alter my perception, so no positioning is fixed.

And finally, it has to be said that I enjoyed the vast majority of the films listed here on some level, so don’t take Logan at 18, for example, to mean I hated it, far from it. In fact realistically I can safely say it’s only the bottom three that I actively hated. I mean the Mummy is terrible, but Russell Crowe’s ridiculous accent alone almost makes seeing it worthwhile.

Anyway, goodbye 2017, hello 2018 so watch this space because reviews are coming!

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Ryan Gosling rocking that General Leia look!

1              Blade Runner 2049

2              Dunkirk

3              La La Land

4              Paddington 2

5              Thor Ragnarok

6              Raw

7              Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

8              Star Wars: The Last Jedi

9              John Wick Chapter 2

10           The Death of Stalin

11           The Lego Batman Movie

12           T2 Trainspotting

13           Get Out

14           Wonder Woman

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And yes, she was indeed a Wonder!

15           Fast and Furious 8

16           Baby Driver

17           Spider-Man: Homecoming

18           Logan

19           Kong Skull Island

20           Kingsman: The Golden Circle

21           Atomic Blonde

22           Victoria and Abdul

23           Wind River

24           Split

25           Justice League

26           The Mummy

27           Ghost in the Shell

28           Assassin’s Creed

29           Alien Covenant

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I guess he didn’t like Covenant either…

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisey Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac.

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“This week on homes under the hammer, retired Jedi Luke Skywalker is looking for a new hovel, will Rey be able to find something to suit him?”

We pick up the story not long after the end of The Force Awakens. On a remote planet Rey (Ridley) has finally found Luke Skywalker (Hamill) who she hopes can be persuaded to re-join his sister, General Leia Organa (Fisher) and help the Resistance defeat the First Order. Meanwhile the Resistance must evacuate their base after the First Order arrive. Poe Dameron (Isaac) leads an attack to buy time for the Resistance fleet to escape but victory comes at a cost.

With the Resistance unable to elude the First Order former Stormtrooper Finn(Boyega) joins forces with a Resistance mechanic named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to attempt a dangerous mission that, if they’re successful, could see the Resistance fleet finally able to give the First Order the slip. Meanwhile Kylo Ren (Driver) struggles to find his place in the Universe after killing his father in The Force Awakens. Is he a truly powerful warrior in his own right, or just a wannabe Lord Vader?

And manipulating events throughout the universe is the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) the overlord of the First Order who wants to crush the Resistance, and destroy Luke, the last Jedi…

First a quick note to point out that this review contains only the vaguest of spoilers!

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And so we come to our third Star Wars film in three years, an amazing sequence and not one I’d have ever imagined happening ten years ago. In 2015 we had The Force Awakens, a shockingly good Star Wars film and arguably now one of my favourite in the franchise. Then last year we got Rogue One, a prequel set just prior to A New Hope. Now a lot of people really loved Rogue One, but it was a film I struggled with. I liked it, I just couldn’t bring myself to love it.

And now we have The Last Jedi, the direct sequel to The Force Awakens, so where does it sit in relation to the last two Star Wars films, and in the franchise overall? Well deciding where it slots into the franchise is not a question I really feel I can answer. I’d need to see it again, maybe even more than once (and truth be told I need to see Rogue One again as well) in order to make a judgement call.

What I can do is give you my emotional gut reaction to The Last Jedi. It didn’t grab me the way The Force Awakens did, but by the same token it gripped me emotionally far more than Rogue One, and it has to be said that it has a harder job as the third film in three years, lacking the shock value of The Force Awakens.

There is a lot to enjoy in The Last Jedi; great performances, great battles, and, more importantly, having the rug pulled out from under you again and again regarding the expectations you walked in with. But for all it’s good points it’s a film that infuriates. The longest Star Wars film to date it’s too long by half an hour at least, but the length would be more acceptable if the pacing was better. It’s worrying when a film seems to come to a natural end and then proceeds to go on for another half an hour or so and give us another big battle. Watching this film again will be interesting with hindsight, knowing what’s to come I might be more relaxed about the pacing and enjoy it more.

On the plus side, as long and uneven as it is, the film never bores, although during the quieter moments you might find yourself questioning certain things and spotting plot holes. By contrast The Force Awakens was a film that just didn’t let up, and didn’t give you the chance to ask “Hang on. what about…” type questions.

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Kylo Ren was a bit embarrassed after cutting himself shaving.

But it’s good that TLJ isn’t just a copy of TFA, instead it charts its own path, and on writing and directing duties Johnson has done a good job, and he’s aided by some great performances. The central quartet of Ridley, Boyega, Driver and Isaac are as good here as they were in TFA. In particular Driver and Ridley share some great scenes and both play being conflicted very well. In particular whilst Kylo Ren still hasn’t quite lost that whiny teenager edge, Adam Driver gives us a villain with more nuance than the average bad guy, and yet again Daisy Ridley completely convinces as Rey, tough as nails but as desperate as Kylo Ren to find her place in the universe.

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“Does anyone know how I turn this off?”

And this is a film where several characters develop over the course of the movie. Boyega continues to be a joy to watch, a cocky sureness married with superb comic timing, if I have a problem with his role it’s that he doesn’t seem to get enough to do and he seems a little relegated by his side mission. As Poe Dameron Isaac gives it his all as the uber brash X-Wing pilot, and he has one of my favourite lines from the film. He’s also good butting heads with Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and he too has something of a learning curve.

In many respects however this is Hamill and Fisher’s film. Hamill is just wonderful in this, essaying Luke as a somewhat broken, very grumpy old man, who made a mistake with Ben Solo and fears making another with Rey. It was worth his absence from TFA to have him here, older, wiser, yet still that young man looking to the horizon. And of course this film packs the additional emotional wallop of giving us Carrie Fisher’s last performance, though no one realised it when they were filming, and as melancholic as it is to see her on the big screen, I’m glad to say that Leia gets way more to do here than she did in TFA; barking orders, making big decisions, and generally putting a certain flyboy in his place. It’s a joy to see and just a damn shame that we won’t see it again.

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“No, you’re a scruffy looking nerf herder!”

The newer characters don’t fare as well. Tran is the best of the bunch as Rose, an ordinary Resistance fighter who proves anything but, and she and Boyega have some nice chemistry. Laura Dern doesn’t really convince as Holdo though, and Benicio del Toro doesn’t get nearly enough to sink his teeth into as codebreaker DJ.

Everyone’s new favourite droid BB8 is back, and he’s as cool as he was in TFA. Poor old R2D2 doesn’t get much of a look in however, and though they get a bit more screen time, C3PO and Chewbacca feel similarly side-lined, as does Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma who’s barely in it, though at least she fares better than Maz, whose return basically happens via Skype (it is very funny though). Rounding out the cast is the ever reliable Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux (and yes folks, his aide who looks a bit like Vivian from the Young Ones is actually Vivian from the Young Ones!)

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Chewie really wasn’t sure about his new co-pilot…

There are some great effects and some great set pieces, and plenty of weird and wonderful new creatures to populate the Star Wars universe, including the adorable (but essentially pointless) Porgs. I can’t shake the feeling however that this was a film that had one too many characters, one too many crazy cgi aliens, and one too many set pieces (in particular Finn and Rose’s trip to a casino planet, whilst hardly superfluous, is a weak point).

I’m being picky of course, because this is a great film, with great character moments, a huge amount of humour, and some genuinely unexpected plot skews, it’s just that (at the moment) it doesn’t quite break into my Star Wars top three, but as I say, I suspect repeat viewings may change this.

Anyway, go see it, and May the Force be With You!

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Things suddenly felt a touch Rogue One, which didn’t fill Finn with hope for a long life!

Justice League

Posted: December 4, 2017 in Film reviews
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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.

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“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?

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“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!

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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.

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

Paddington 2

Posted: November 21, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Paul King. Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters and Hugh Grant.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eventually Paddington realised he was naked!

The Death of Stalin.

Posted: November 4, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Armando Iannucci. Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko and Rupert Friend.

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“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…

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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“I can see my house from up here!”