Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup.

 

aliencovenantneoxeno

“I am NOT Groot!”

The colony ship Covenant is en route to the planet Origae-6. It carries a crew of fifteen plus 2000 colonists and 1000 embryos in stasis. Acting as caretaker is a synthetic named Walter (Fassbender). Disaster strikes during a routine maintenance stop and Walter is forced to awaken the crew, with tragic consequence. In the aftermath the ship picks up a strange transmission coming from an unexplored planet nearby. Further investigation shows a planet with a lush, earth-like environment and the ship’s acting captain, Christopher Oram (Crudup), decides that the colony has a better chance of survival there than in continuing on to Origae-6. Daniels “Dany” Branson (Waterston), the ship’s terraforming expert feels it isn’t worth the risk, but Oram overrules her.

Most of the crew take a shuttle to the surface and find that the planet is indeed inhabitable. All too quickly several crewmembers are exposed to alien spores that gestate inside them, eventually releasing vicious creatures that wreak havoc with the landing party. The survivors encounter another synthetic named David (Fassbender again) who arrived on this planet in the aftermath of the previous film with Dr Elizabeth Shaw. David can fend off the vicious neomorphs, but is there a deadlier monster still to make an appearance?

 

As anyone who’s read my review will know, I wasn’t enthusiastic about Prometheus, so I was initially hopeful about a new Alien film that promised to get back to basics. After I saw the trailer I started to worry again, and I’ll be honest I expected Covenant to be bad. The odd thing is whilst it is bad, it isn’t necessarily bad for the reasons I expected it to be bad.

Prometheus wasn’t enough like an Alien film (though that was hardly its sole flaw) and to be honest I thought Covenant would go too far the other way and be too much like an Alien film (I know, some people are never happy, right?) and whilst it is guilty of this, it’s Alien greatest hits medley is accompanied by a side order of “You know, Prometheus wasn’t that terrible, we should do some of that again” ensuring this is a film that’s never quite sure what it wants to be.

For all its failings at least Prometheus had a clear tone, whereas Covenant is just a messy mashup of B-movie monster flick and pretentious “thoughtful” sci-fi.

Ridley Scott provides fair warning of what’s to come in a 2001-A space Odyssey inspired flashback where Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce sans makeup this time) has a conversation with a newly online David. They talk about creators, the nature of God, and immorality and…the whole thing is about as subtle as a brick that has BRICK written on the side in neon green paint.

The film then segues into something more reminiscent of the older films, with a space ship and a crew in hibernation. And then there’s a mysterious signal from a nearby planet. If this all sounds familiar it’s clearly supposed to because the call-backs in this film are not subtle. Now don’t get me wrong, harking back to previous films in and of itself doesn’t make a film terrible. I’m a huge fan of The Force Awakens but I can see it’s blatantly riffing on A New Hope. Thing is with TFA it works because what’s new is so well done that you just enjoy the call-backs. Covenant fails so badly on its own merits that the call-backs just seem really jarring. And there are a lot of call-backs. Crew of grousing space jockeys? check; express elevator to hell, going down? Check. Fight in a cargo bay: Check…and I haven’t even listed them all because some would be blatant spoilers. And when the film isn’t harking back to Alien films, it seems intent on stealing from others. The opening space scenes feel like Sunshine, there are some echoes of Blade Runner here, and even Covenant flying through the clouds whilst a storm rages just made me think of Event Horizon. Pretty much everything in this film will make you think of something else. Probably something better.

alien-covenant-trailer-breakdown14

“Where we’re going we don’t need quarantine procedures.”

The script is flimsy, and whilst Scott is clearly still a great director (The Martian was just a few years ago) he seems incapable of being able to salvage a ropey script, and the pacing is off throughout. Using a Goldilocks metaphor, when it’s slow it’s too slow, and when it’s quick it’s too quick (seriously, if you thought AVP sped up the Alien Lifecyle you ain’t seen nothing yet!).

v1.bjsxNTM1OTU2O2o7MTczNDI7MTIwMDszMDc1OzIwNTI

“Don’t call me Ripley. You wouldn’t like me when I’m Ripley.”

Cast wise there are a lot of people in the ship and down on the planet, but most of them are cardboard cut-outs and they’re stupid in much the same way most everyone in Prometheus was stupid, and they’ll be dead soon so you don’t have to worry too much. Part of what made both Alien and Aliens good was a cast of easily identifiable characters, but here the cannon fodder just merge into the background. Initially Waterston is very good as Dany. She makes for an engaging protagonist. Until the midway point of the film where she’s shunted to one side so that Fassbender can have pretentious existential chats with himself about Shelley and Byron and talk about flute playing in a way that’ll make your adolescent-self snigger. Don’t worry, Ripley will come back to the fore in time for the finale. Sorry, I meant Dany. It’s shame as when she has something distinct to do she’s very good. Fassbender is always a joy to watch, and seeing David and Walter interact is nicely done, it’s just that their conversations are a trifle ponderous to say the least. Crudup’s acting captain is given a potentially interesting character trait as it’s awkwardly shoehorned in that he’s a man of faith. Once done this will barely be referenced again and certainly won’t seem to inform many of his actions. Of the rest only Danny McBride makes any impression as (do you) Tennessee (what they did there?) but this might be down to him wearing a cowboy hat.

One of the things I found so annoying about Prometheus was it’s need to explain where the Xenomorphs come from, completely missing the point that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re terrifying and unstoppable (mostly). They work best as creatures of mystery lurking in the shadows. Explaining their origins is like pulling the curtain away from the great and powerful Oz, and when you have them leaping around in broad daylight they’re just another CGI monster. Captain America could have turned up at the end and wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

If you found the Engineer origin of the Xenomorphs annoying, prepare for that annoyance to be dialled up to eleven as the franchise lurches in a new direction that makes little sense, and frankly I have no idea how they’ll get from this point to the beginning of Alien.

Oh, and if you don’t twig a certain plot point early on, well I envy you your cinematic naiveite!

After The Martian I thought Scott was back on form, but it seems he is only as good as the script. Covenant looks good, has a few nice ideas bubbling around, and features good performances from Waterston and Fassbender, but in the end it’s a dull mess, and whilst I was always slightly wary of the idea, I really want to see Neill Blomkamp do Alien 5 now, because it just has to be better than what we’re getting from Scott and co.

d-UeyZkd4kU

I guess he didn’t like the cornbread either.

 

Directed by James Gunn. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Kurt Russell.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-trailer-breakdown-69

Warning: no spoilers for Vol.2, but by necessity I will give away bits about vol.1 (if you’re one of the small number of people never to have seen it).

 

Its just a few months after the Guardians saved Xandar from the threat posed by Ronan, and the group of renegades have become famous. They’re hired by the golden hued Sovereign Race led by Ayesha (a wonderful turn by Elizabeth Debicki) to protect her planet’s precious batteries from an interdimensional beast. The team prevail and in return Ayesha turns Nebula (Karen Gillan) over to the team so they can take her back to Xandar to stand trial. Unfortunately Rocket (the genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) decides to pocket some of the precious batteries, leading to a Sovereign battle fleet hunting the group down.

In the short term they’re saved by a mysterious stranger named Ego (Kurt Russell) who explains he has a link to Peter Quill (Pratt) Whilst Quill returns to Ego’s planet, along with Gamora (Saldana) and Drax (Bautista), Rocket stays behind with Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and Nebula while he repairs their ship.

With the group divided, threats come at them from multiple directions, and if they’re going to prevail they’ll need to work as a team, and possibly even co-opt the odd enemy into becoming an ally if they want to save the galaxy for a second time.

 

It’s fair to say that Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit back in 2014. It was heralded way in advance as the Marvel film that’d be the first to fail. It didn’t, quite the reverse, becoming one of the brand’s major successes. There’s no hint of surprise with volume 2, this film comes with a whole heap of preconceptions and expectations, which is a lot to live up to.

With this in mind I have to state an opinion that might go somewhat against the grain. You see I think I enjoyed volume 2 more than the original film, and I really like the original.

In an era of generic/interchangeable blockbusters there’s something very different about both Guardians films. It’s a perfect storm of talents, both in front of and behind the camera.

As writer and director James Gunn seems to understand the balance between action and character perfectly, and its testament to his skill that he juggles such a large cast so effortlessly, giving everyone their moment, and even elevating secondary characters from the first film into something approaching main cast members, with both Gillan and Michael Rooker (as ravager captain Yondu) getting a lot of meat to sink their teeth into, and Rooker in particular threatens to steal the show on occasion.

The thing is though, quite a few characters threaten to steal the show on occasion, testament to a wonderful cast. As Peter Quill/Star-Lord Pratt is effortless. I’d still like to see him add some strings to his bow, but there’s no denying he has the cocky pirate with a heart of gold shtick down pat, and he utterly convinces as the groups de-facto leader. Zoe Saldana has a tougher job as Gamora, and she gets less to do than the others, which isn’t to denigrate her skills, because she has the hard job of being the sensible straight woman surrounded by idiots, and much like a tough defensive midfielder who does the hard work so others can play pretty football, she’s more important than you realise, and the films would be lessened by her absence.

guardianes_de_la_galaxia_MILIMA20161019_0280_11

Don’t rile the raccoon!

The partnership of a superb CGI realisation and Bradley Cooper’s snarky delivery again pays dividends in the form of Rocket, and not once do you ever doubt that he isn’t a real, fully formed character, hell I believe in Rocket more than I believe in most human characters in many films!

Almost the star of the show however is Bautista, and Drax gets the lion’s share of great lines, with Gunn supplying the ammo and Bautista hitting the bullseyes with practically every shot. It still annoys me that the Bond producers hired a guy with such great comic timing, then turned him into a mute, but here the ex-wrestler shows yet again that, given the right role, he has genuine star quality.

Baby-Groot.jpg

“I am Groot?”

I say almost star of the show because we really need to talk about Baby Groot. The sapling, all that remained of Groot after he sacrificed himself last time out, has grown into a small child who, let’s be honest, doesn’t appear to be the sharpest tool in the box, but this naiveite, married to an adorable character design, makes Baby Groot incredibly loveable. Seriously, if you don’t instantly fall in love with Baby Groot then you need to seek professional help, and he provides many of the film’s funniest bits, from the opening titles through to that scene with the bomb you probably saw in the trailer. Once again Vin Diesel manages to imbue each recitation of ‘I am Groot’ with subtle differences in inflection so you know he’s saying something different every time.

And I haven’t even mentioned Kurt Frikken Russell yet, an actor who was doing the kind of effortless cool Pratt does when Pratt was in nappies. In the unlikely event that I ever meet Mr Russell, rest assured my reaction will be something akin to Wayne meeting Alice Cooper.

The only real bum note acting wise is probably Stallone, who feels oddly out of place, but he isn’t in it much so don’t worry.

If I had to pick a flaw with the film, then I’d say the retro soundtrack isn’t quite as instantly cool as vol.1’s, but that’s about it. Funny, exciting, heart-breaking, with a cast to die for and a an ethos of family that’s even better than the Fast & furious franchise, this is a damn fine follow up to a damn fine original and I can’t wait to see it again!

Final tip, stay right to the end of the credits. It’s worth it!

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-kurt-russell-chris-pratt

“And then I had to go into New York to rescue the President…”

Fast & Furious 8

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by  F. Gary Gray. Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron.

landscape-1492100402-furious-8-poster

Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez) are on honeymoon in Cuba. Of course, this being a Fast & Furious film said honeymoon entails a road race around Havana in an exploding car but, you know, never let it be said Dom doesn’t understand the concept of romance…

Everything is hunky-dory, until Dom is approached by a mysterious cyberhacker named Cypher (Theron) who wants him to come work for her. Dom refuses, but Cypher shows him a photo and suggests he changes his mind.

Meanwhile Secret Service agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) has been given an assignment to steal an Electromagnetic pulse device from a terrorist group in Berlin. It’s an off the books job and if he’s caught the American government will disavow him and he’ll end up in prison. Hobbs quickly recruits Dom and the rest of his team/family.

In Berlin things don’t go to plan. Suddenly Dom’s switched sides, the team are on the run, and Hobbs is banged up in prison sharing a cell block with his old adversary Deckard Shaw (Statham).

But, as the true extent of Cypher’s plan becomes clear, secretive intelligence guru Mr Nobody (the always excellent Kurt Russell) decides Hobbs and the team are the only ones who can stop Cypher and Dom… but given they’re a man down he suggests a new recruit that nobody is particularly happy about.

As the countdown to Armageddon draws closer, the team must battle incredible (some might say ludicrous) odds in order to stop Cypher. But just what has made Dom betray his family?

 

It’s hard to remember that when this franchise started it was a down and dirty, not to mention grounded, series. When the fifth instalment semi-rebooted the franchise back in 2011 a scene involving fast cars dragging a bank vault through the streets of Rio suggested the franchise had left it’s roots well and truly behind and embraced a blockbuster future.

Fast & Furious 8 makes Fast Five look like a Mike Leigh film.

Be under no illusions if you go see this. It’s utterly preposterous. People and cars do things that people and cars really can’t ever do. The soundtrack is dialled up to eleven but it has to be to compete with the revving engines, gunfire and explosions which are its near constant companions, and you’ll rarely find a film more loaded with testosterone than this outside of the 1980s action movie heyday.

This film is not remotely subtle.

This film is also fantastically enjoyable. From its Cuban set piece preamble to its ice floe denouement this film doesn’t let up for a minute; fast cars, pretty girls, bald handsome men, guns, fights, jokes…it’s like a two and a half hour roller coaster that somehow never seems to need to climb before it hits you with another drop.

Yes the plot is ropey, and though Theron exudes menace her characterisation is wafer thin and it’s hard to decide just what she wants. Shaw isn’t the first bad guy to turn anti-hero but it is only a film ago that he wanted to kill everyone (and only two films ago that he succeeded in killing one of the group) but if this seems a misstep it’s not, thanks in no small part to Statham’s ebullient charm, and make no mistake the Stath threatens to steal the whole damn movie at times, and he has the best set piece in the film involving a…well, that’d be telling. Suffice to say that with his blend of charisma, comic timing and fighting skills it’s amazing he doesn’t have an action franchise all to himself, and if the rumours about a Shaw/Hobbs spin off are correct I will most assuredly buy that for a dollar.

nintchdbpict0002884371681

Jason and Dwayne’s game of Rock, Paper, Scissors got a little out of hand.

Talking of Hobbs, Johnson rarely gives a poor performance, and like Statham has so much natural charm it’d be irritating if only he wasn’t so damn charming. Whilst he’s the beating heart of the franchise it has to be said that Diesel pales somewhat in comparison to his co-stars. He still has a natural swagger, but he’s showing his age somewhat, and he’s never going to win an Oscar, and he spends most of the film looking conflicted (or trying to). There’s also a touch of narcissistic wish fulfilment going on, given his character can seemingly outwit all of the others put together.

Rodriguez is reliable as ever, and for a film that does tend to focus on blokes—and spends perhaps a trifle too long at the start leering at women’s bottoms—she more than holds her own. Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are another double act who could probably pull off their own spin off, and newcomer Scott (you might know his dad) Eastwood impresses as the newbie and semi-replacement for the deceased Paul Walker. Really the only dud is Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel  who never remotely convinces as a computer hacker, though her GoT co-star Kristofer Hivju does make for an impressive heavy.

Special mention for Helen Mirren’s EastEnders audition as well…

Yes it’s dumb, yes it has too much cgi and yes it’s hard to know where the hell they go from here (though I seem to recall saying the same after 7) but for all its flaws it’s the kind of film most other blockbusters should pay attention to, well paced and, most of all, enjoyable. I’m not saying I want the Bond franchise to go all Fast & Furious, but they could do worse than take a few of the less ridiculous leaves out of its book when it comes to pacing and set pieces.

Utterly stupid. Utterly enjoyable.

fast-furious-8-cipher-featurette-680x330

Both Charlize and Vin wondered who’d farted?

Raw

Posted: April 14, 2017 in Film reviews, horror
Tags: ,

Directed by Julia Ducournau. Starring Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf.

raw-film-image

And this is what happens when you stick Lego up your nose.

Justine (Marillier) is on her way to college to train as a vet. Her parents attended the same college, and her older sister Alexia (Rumpf) is already partway through her studies there. Justine and Alexia were raised as vegetarians by their parents, but when Justine arrives she finds that an intense hazing ritual awaits all new students, or rookies as they’re known, and part of this involves the initiates having to eat raw rabbit kidneys. Justine initially refuses, but Alexia persuades her to do it.

Soon after Justine begins to feel unwell, she develops a rash which she presumes is an allergic reaction to eating meat. A little while later and she starts to develop an unusual craving…

 

Up until about a week ago I had no idea this film existed, and in a world of franchise blockbusters it’s a pleasant surprise that this did actually make it to my local multiplex given its a/subtitled and b/is a female skewed cannibal film.

Although the first thing to make clear is that ‘French cannibal film’ really doesn’t do this justice. Exceptionally well directed its truly mesmerising to watch, and acting wise both Marillier and Rumpf are superb. In particular Marillier gives one heck of a performance, switching from virginal and timid to sexy and confident and then back again, and the shifts in her personality never seen forced.

Setting aside the more lurid elements of the film, this is a story about finding your place in the world, about growing up and discovering just what kind of person you want to be. It’s about those first painful days at university when you’re alone, trying to make new friends and trying not to miss home. It’s about being out of your comfort zone, about exploring your sexuality and about fitting in, or choosing not to fit in.

The easiest point of reference I can make to this film is the Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps (which if you haven’t seen you should really see!) which again featured sisters coming of age, and again featured appetites that are, shall we say not the norm. Just imagine Ginger Snaps without the werewolves, which is something of a recurring motif for Raw, because in many ways it’s a zombie film that features no zombies, a vampire film sans bloodsuckers.

170310_MOV_Raw.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2.jpg

The first rule of Bite Club is, you don’t talk about Bite Club!

Which isn’t to suggest Raw is a strictly speaking a horror film, although obviously in many ways it is, but like the best horror films it’s more than just a scary movie, and it has something to say. It’s exceptionally dark, evocative, disturbing, sexy, funny, and shocking. At times you want to look away, not because something is happening on screen, but because of what you imagine could happen at any moment. It’s an unsettling film because you’re always on edge, and in part this is why it’s so enthralling (along with the performances).

Rumours abound that, much like the Exorcist or Robocop when they first came out, people were fainting/vomiting in the aisles. I can’t say I ever quite felt like doing either, but at times this is a wince inducing film, and not always in the moments you might imagine. The bit where Justine scratches her rash is one of the most grimace inducing bits of the film, as is a waxing scene. There’s disturbing imagery at play outside of the more horrific elements. The scene with students crawling through an underground carpark is genuinely unsettling, and with this being a veterinary school there are a lot of scenes featuring animals which again put you on edge without you knowing why.

If it has a flaw I’d say it was a touch impenetrable at first, it did take me a little while to get into it, but that might be more to do with me acclimatising to the subtitles rather than anything the film does or doesn’t do. Suffice to say that after a while I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, which given what was often happening on screen says a lot for how enthralling it is.

Proving yet again (if it even needed proving) that women can make films that are every bit as unsettling (if not more so) as blokes, this is a treat. Oh, and it has a great soundtrack too.

It isn’t a film for everyone, but I really, really liked it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m feeling a trifle peckish all of a sudden…

raw_01

It’s going to take more than Persil to get these stains out…

Directed by Rupert Sanders. Starring Scarlett Johansson, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Juliette Binoche and Michael Pitt.

ghost-in-the-shell-scarlett-johansson.jpg

Cue bionic woman theme tune…

It is the near future and the majority of humans have been enhanced with cybernetics. The leading cybernetic company is Hanka Robotics, and they have taken such augmentation one step further by placing the brain of a human inside a completely mechanical body, or shell. The test subject is a young woman who is apparently the sole survivor of a terrorist attack. With little memory of her life before the new hybrid (Johansson) is renamed Mira Killian and assigned to Section 9, an anti-terrorism organisation led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Beat Takeshi).

A year after her rebirth Killian is now a Major in Section 9 and a trusted, if sometimes unpredictable, officer. She has been experiencing glitches however, flashbacks from her previous life. Dr Ouelet (Binoche) one of the team who created the Major, assures Killian that these are nothing to worry about, and with the Major’s consent she deletes them.

When a mysterious hacker known as Kuze (Pitt) begins killing Hanka scientists Major and her partner Batou (Asbæk) begin an investigation, but the closer Major gets to Kuze, the more and more Major learns about her past life, and realises that not everything she was told was true…

 

The first thing to say about Ghost in the Shell is that I’ve never seen the original, so I have no Amine axe to grind. The second thing to say is that the film looks gorgeous, but I’ll come on to that later.

As I said, never read the Manga or seen any of the Anime but one can only hope it’s better than this. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible film, it’s just very forgettable.

I don’t want to get into the issues around whitewashing, about why Hollywood felt this needed Scarlett Johansson rather than a Japanese actress, frankly I’m not sure that would have made it any better as the problems are in the script and realisation rather than in the performances, which vary from very good to a trifle average but are never awful.

Johansson is a good actress who’s proven before (Under the Skin, Lucy) that she can convince as someone who’s not quite human (or in the case of Under the Skin someone who’s note remotely human!) I think she’s acted better than she does here, but I do think the material she had to work with didn’t help. The main problem with Ghost in the Shell, and it seems odd to say this given the increasing prevalence of the internet, of hacking and technological enhancements, is that it feels dated. We might be on the verge of a real-life cyberpunk world, but cyberpunk films have been around for quite some time now, and one can’t shake the feeling that this might have played better in the nineties. As it is it feels derivative of things like The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, Strange Days etc. Now you could argue a lot of those earlier cyberpunk films were themselves derivative of Japanese Manga and Anime, but that’s irrelevant when this film just brings nothing new, nothing interesting to the table.

Watching it you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve seen it done before, and done better. Want a better future city detective story, watch Blade Runner, want a better examination of what it means to be human/sentient, watch Ex Machina or Under the Skin, want a better action film, well watch quite a few things, several of them this year alone.

The storyline is pedestrian and the film provides zero surprises, if you haven’t figured out what’s going on inside the first ten minutes you need to see more films. Of course, plenty of films can make a predictable storyline work, and not every film needs twists and reveals, but likely those films would have had something else to say. For a film about a woman whose brain is stuck in a robot body the film doesn’t have enough to say about the nature of humanity. It tries, but for the most part attempts at addressing this are superficial at best, or speedily got past; classic example is when Major wakes up for the first time and Dr Ouelet just flat out tells her. “Hi there was an accident but we saved your brain and stuck it in a metal shell.” Way to break it to her gently!

Which is another thing, just how many times the words “Ghost” and “Shell” are used. Seriously, we get it Hollywood, no need to whack us over the head every ten minutes.

MV5BZDJjYzY1YTItMjA1MC00MTc5LWE5ZWYtODVmNjhlMGNmNzZmL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjMxMzM3NDI@._CR241,119,1067,800_UX614_UY460._SY230_SX307_AL_

Batou’s laser eye surgery wasn’t what he was expecting!

On the plus side the cast is good. Johansson imbues the role with a curiously appropriate physicality that takes a little getting used to, but Major isn’t remotely Black Widow. Asbæk makes a great foil for her, and their partnership is one of the best things about the film, and whilst he doesn’t do a whole lot, Beat Takeshi has an iconic cool about him, as if Dirty Harry got old and became the police chief.

Oh yes, and the film looks gorgeous. The cityscapes are magnificent and the costume and character designs are exceptional (you can see where the time and money went, and it wasn’t on the script) but even here the film is flawed. The city never feels real, it certainly doesn’t have that lived-in look that LA had in Blade Runner, and for a sprawling metropolis I kept wondering where all the people were? No street scene seems to have more than a handful of extras and the roads seem surprisingly clear. You could say the same about Blade Runner but at least there’s a reason for that, in that most people have buggered off off-world.

In the end this film is well named, because it’s a beautiful shell that, sadly, only contains the ghost of anything interesting.

Ghost-in-the-Shell-Movie-2017.jpg

“What did you just say? How very dare you!”

Get Out

Posted: March 31, 2017 in Film reviews, horror
Tags:

Directed by Jordan Peele. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener and Lil Rel Howery.

2017_2_28_06926adf-adbc-4c32-b2a8-45dc13825b04

Photographer Chris Washington (Kaluuya) is nervous about meeting the parents of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Williams) for the first time, especially when he discovers that they don’t know he is black. Rose assures him her parents will be cool about their interracial relationship. “My dad would’ve voted Obama a third time if he could have,” she assures him.  Leaving his pet dog in the safe hands of his best friend, and TSA officer, Rod (Howery) Chris sets off for the weekend with Rose.

En route they hit a deer. When a police officer arrives he insists on seeing Chris’s licence and registration, even after Rose assures the officer she was driving. Rose is outraged but Chris takes the encounter in his stride.

When they arrive at the palatial Armitage home Rose’s parents are welcoming, perhaps a little too welcoming, and Chris is disturbed to see they have two black servants. Rose’s father Dean (Whitford) advises Chris that the servants (Betty Gabriel’s Georgina and Marcus Henderson’s Walter) had been hired by his parents and he couldn’t bear to let them go. Meanwhile Rose’s mother Missy (an exceptionally creepy performance from Keener) offers to hypnotise Chris to help him quite smoking.

As the weekend proceeds, and more family members show up, Chris begins to feel increasingly uneasy, and begins to fear that he and Rose might not get out alive…

 

Get Out is a hard film to pin down, which accounts for some of its charm, but also ensures it’s something of a slow burn, but it’s a film that repays your efforts, and a film that very much plays with your expectations. Technically it’s a horror film, but it also functions as a comedy and, most of all, as satire. The ghost of The Stepford Wives looms overhead, and Peele has been very upfront about that film being a big inspiration. Whereas that film tackled gender roles, Get Out is quite patently about race, and however welcoming the Armitage clan are it’s clear from the start that something is slightly off kilter. It isn’t just that the Armitage family have black servants, as much that Georgina and Walter act so strangely, as does the sole black guest at the weekend garden party.

One of Peele’s triumphs is placing his lead in a situation where, theoretically he should be safe. This isn’t the deep south, he isn’t surrounded by good old boys waving confederate flags, or alt-right white supremacists. No, instead the racism he encounters is much more subtle and unconscious. Nobody outright says anything racist too him, yet the comments are increasingly close to the line, and the fact that the threat to Chris comes from white middle class liberals just makes it all the more uncomfortable.

I’ve been a fan of Kaluuya for some time. He was the best thing about BBC 3’s The Fades (which is saying something given the show had a strong cast) and was fantastic in the Black Mirror episode Fifteen Million Merits, and it was a pleasant surprise when he showed up with an American accent in Scicario. Hopefully Get Out will secure his leading man credentials because he’s very good, especially at portraying Chris’s helplessness at certain points. He’s a good actor and a strong screen presence, not to mention handsome, damn him! He makes Chris a likeable hero you want to root for, and you will want to root for him because he’s in over his head!

get-out-2017-movie-white-parents

Look out, she’s got a teacup!!

Williams makes for an engaging heroine, and the two make a likeable couple. As the elder Armitage Whitford plays the part to perfection, walking a delicate tightrope between friendly and threatening. As I’ve already said Keener is a trifle less subtle, but in many ways that makes her scarier.

Threatening to steal the show however, and providing some much needed laughs on occasion, is Howery as Chris’s best friend Rod, although I did find it a little odd that a film written and directed by a black man that tackled issues of race should feature such an obvious trope as the wisecracking comic relief black best friend, but then again as I said this is a film that plays with your expectations, and perhaps the use of such a well-worn cliché was intentional given how well put together this film is (though having said that having heard how the film was originally going to end I’m glad they changed their minds because I wouldn’t have liked the film half as much if it hadn’t ended the way it does.)

Peele is a solid director, and on occasion gives us something surreal amidst all the normalcy (which isn’t remotely normal). The film is painted with quite broad brushstrokes at times, and this did make it a hard film to get into, but, much like last year’s Arrival this allowed for my mind to be somewhat blown when the rug was very firmly tugged out from under me midway through. Like Arrival the film relies on certain contrivance and narrative tricks that mean a second viewing is going to be essential to determine whether it’s quite as good as I think it is now. Do the pieces fit neatly together, or is the puzzle a little too clever for its own good?

The best horror films are ones that have something to say beyond just wanting to scare you, and in this Get Out comes up trumps. It’s unsettling, scary, but also very funny in places and I urge people to get out and see it.

MV5BYmYxZDgxNzQtOGMyYy00YzY3LTk4OTctNDlkMzA2MTViM2Q2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ4ODY2NjA@._V1_

“I’m sure we’re going to have a nice relaxing weekend…”

Kong: Skull Island

Posted: March 25, 2017 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly.

Kong-Skull-Island-Full-Movie-Review-Showtimes-San-Francisco

Kong’s toy helicopter was his best Christmas present ever!

In 1944 an aerial duel ends with an American and a Japanese pilot having to bale out onto a nearby island. Initially they continue their battle on the ground, until interrupted by the arrival of an ape…a very BIG ape.

Flash forward to 1973 and satellites have recently begun to photograph every inch of the Earth’s surface, in the process they have discovered a hitherto unknown island which Bill Randa (Goodman) the head of an organization named Monarch believes is the mythical Skull Island. Persuading his bosses to let him tag along on a mission to the island Randa and his colleagues hire ex-SAS tracker James Conrad (Hiddleston) to accompany them. Also making the journey is Mason Weaver (Larson) a photojournalist who’s also managed to wrangle her way onto the trip.

Colonel Preston Packard (Jackson) is leader of a special helicopter unit of the US army, and he and his men are tasked with ferrying the scientists onto the island, and providing security for them whilst there. As the helicopters reach Skull Island however, and begin dropping seismic charges which are supposed to help in mapping the geology of the island, they attract the attention of an ape…a very BIG ape!

 

Since his first appearance in 1933, Kong has been a big (sorry) deal. His exploits in climbing the Empire State Building, Fay Wray in hand, and of swatting at attacking biplanes rank amongst the most iconic of movie images. It was never in doubt that Kong would return, but I wonder how many of those who saw that first film eighty plus years ago would imagine that King Kong would still be around today?

The last time we saw Kong was 12 years ago in Peter Jackson’s incredibly bloated 3 hour epic that managed to completely miss the point about what made the original such a hit, namely that it wasn’t some grand sweeping epic, it was, effectively, a B movie (even if that term probably didn’t exist back then). Thankfully Skull Island has no pretensions of being a ‘proper’ film. It knows it’s ridiculous, embraces this fact and rolls with it, and whilst I can see why some people haven’t enjoyed it, I think that if you switch off your brain and roll right along with it there’s plenty to enjoy here.

I’d have loved to have been at the pitch meeting where presumably someone uttered the phrase “It’s King Kong meets Apocalypse Now!” or something similar (surely no coincidence that Hiddleston’s character is named Conrad) , and the early seventies setting suits the film perfectly, giving us something different from the 1930s setting of both the original and Jackson’s reboot, whilst still putting the film into an historical context that allows for a degree of mystery that might be missing if the film had been set in today’s interconnected world where satellites can see every inch of the globe and everyone has a camera in their pocket.

The post-Vietnam setting also provides some interesting narrative hooks about the nature of war, the inability of some soldiers to accept defeat, and the folly of attacking an enemy fighting to defend its home, and whilst it isn’t exactly subtle, and perhaps doesn’t quite follow through on some of the interesting ideas it sparks, this isn’t quite the throwaway action/adventure film it might have been.

kong-skull-island-samuel-l-jackson-2-600x400

“You ever read the Bible, Kong?”

As leader of the army faction Jackson tones things down (just a fraction) to make Packard a relatable antagonist, he’s a man who was sent to fight a war then told he had to stop before he could win it. As he says on at least one occasion, “we’re going to win this war!” Less Colonel Kurtz than Captain Ahab he’s as almost as dangerous an enemy as the giant lizards that live under Skull Island.

As Weaver Larson acts her socks off, expressing wide eyed amazement at everything she sees. Though her billing doesn’t reflect it, in some ways she’s the film’s lead—at least the film’s human lead—providing an emotional core and, much like Wray in 1933 and Watts in 2005, being the one to forge a connection with Kong. She’s no damsel in distress however, and despite wielding a camera instead of a gun she’s no shrinking violet and has a lot of agency.

Some reviewers have taken umbrage with Reilly’s marooned aviator, but I really liked his character and I thought he, like Larson, added a lot of emotional heft to the film, some people have thought he didn’t fit tonally but, at the end of the day, it’s a film about a giant ape and an island full of monsters, and you need larger than life characters.

If there’s a weak link it’s oddly Hiddleston. He’s a good actor, and has proven he can convince as an action hero, but his former SAS captain feels a little too modern. He’s too smooth and too buff, and it doesn’t help that his character is wafer thin, and one can’t help but think someone a little earthier, Tom Hardy perhaps, might have been more convincing.

kong-skull-island1

Well Loki what we have here…

At its heart Skull Island is, in part, a war film, albeit one more like Predator than Saving Private Ryan, and part of its success is down to providing characters who could just be cannon fodder with personality. In fact some of the most amusing scenes in the film come courtesy of Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell’s sardonic double act.

Kong is the star of the show however. He might not be quite as expressive and emotional as the Kong from Jackson’s film, but he has less screen time to engage with the audience, yet still does. Which isn’t to say Kong is a shrinking violet the audience barely sees, in what some have cited as a brave move we see Kong very early on. I don’t see why this is a problem, we know what Kong looks like so let’s get him out there front and centre early on, it certainly helps make this a much more enjoyable experience than Gareth Edwards’ drab Godzilla, which featured a great creature we barely saw, and there are plenty of other creatures to sneak up on us.

The pacing is good, the cinematography superb, evoking films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon etc. and the effects are for the most part excellent, though in places a little shaky. It’s worth staying for the end of credits scene, although this does mean sitting through a lot of credits I’m afraid.

Maybe it’s a tad too throwaway, and time will tell how rewatchable it is, but for me it’s the most enjoyable monster movie in a long time. Long live Kong!

new-banner-art-for-kong-skull-island