Month: September 2017

Free Fire – review

Free Fire is a crime drama directed by Ben Wheatley, set in in 1978 Boston, as two gangs show up to a warehouse for an arms deal, the film stars Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley and Cillian Murphy.

One of the most positively any fims I’ve seen in a while, Free Fire is actually a breath of fresh air for the somewhat tired crime genre, the final result is something expected but still enjoyable nonetheless and with a pretty great cast to kick things into gear, you know you’re in for a bit of a ride. The films set up feels very familiar with gangs meeting for an arms deal and what could possibly go wrong…. well things would be a bit dull with a familiar set up and generic by the numbers plot but what makes the film in essence, is its strong, distinct characters. Helmed by some quite good writing and that quirky, late 70s aesthetic to the characters outfits.

Said characters are played well by character actors like Sharlto Copley, hamming it up as a short tempered South African arms dealer, he feels very natural in the role as a mouthy yet prim and proper individual and it makes for some great scenes playing off other characters like Ord (Armie Hammer) who is every bit the suave, confident and assured straight dealer with Hammer seemingly enjoying himself quite a bit. Meanwhile characters in the Irish gang are themselves distinct and strong willed, especially with the foul tempered Frank (Michael Smiley), the performances actually surprised me to be honest as I wasn’t expecting anything outstanding from the story but there were some fairly strong performances present.

The action is gritty, a tad gory but never needlessly so I feel, not to the level of say Green Room or Reservoir Dogs (the film Free Fire) will naturally be compared to but make no mistake, the film is fairly bloody and that may be one of the weaker points of the film for me, only because the over the top, extended action ends up making the film feel like an extended Family guy sket. And the final third is definitely the weakest part to the film in my opinion. Indeed the film ends up like a family guy sket or a Tarantino lite film. It’s Tarantino lite because it’s nowhere near as heavy on the extended dialogue or references or as well written but similar in terms of the single setting, long takes and over the top action, this may prove a joy to watch for some or a poor homage for others – namely an homage to Tarantino films.

But for what it’s worth, the film does what it does fairly well, it’s entertaining, engaging and chock full of strong, interesting characters fun, wacky interactions and a plot that keeps you on your toes, simplicity is the key here and it works for the most part, though if you’re expecting any depth or a heavy amount of story, you’ll probably be disappointed.

7/10

. Well shot action

. Strong performances, engaging characters

. Final third may feel a bit too over the top

The Lego Batman movie – review

The caped crusader gets his latest outing.. now in Lego form, in The Lego Batman Movie, direted by Chris Mckay, Batman, Gothams protector tackles a new issue, among others after accidentally adopting a son (Robin), the film stars Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Susan Benett, Zach Galifinakis, Jenny Slate, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson and Billy Dee Williams.

Who would have thought that in 2017 we’d have lego films… no less Lego Batman films but here we are and it’s actually not a bad thing as things turn out, following the critical success of the Lego Movie which also featured Batman in and with the just released Lego Ninjago movie, Lego Batman retains much of the same irreverence and sense of humour from the first film in this series. With quirky, fast paced action that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which works to great comedic effect with the ever serious and introspective Batman, we see sides to the character we’ve never really seen with sides of Batman being exaggerated for humour, Will Arnetts’ Batman is arrogant, obsessed with abs and quick to disregard others.

This is obviously at odds with Batmans traditional selflessness, humility and so on but this is a comedy film and it does comedy well, anyway among the numerous good things the film does, the voice acting is a great feature, with a truly A-star cast, the actors really bring a high amount of enthusiasm to the role, with added gravitas with the likes of Billy Dee Williams and Ralph Fiennes who makes for an excellent Alfred. Arnett is great again as Batman, with the deep, gravelly voice we’ve come to know for modern depictions of Batman, coupled with bro humour and quirkyness, the film is great because it doesn’t take itself seriously and never tries to, despite some dramatic and emotional moments thrown in. It’s great to see several of the Bat family and Batman characters in general thrown into the mix and interacting with this version of Batman as well and it makes for good viewing because we’re seeing a very different depiction of Batman interact with said characters.

There’s also a great meta aspect to the story, as with The Lego Movie, referencing characters from other films even, as well as storylines and characters from Batmans universe, all down to the most ridiculous ones, to previous incarnations of Batman across the big screen, which was one of the funniest scenes in the film imo. It’s great to see the film both pay homage and reference Batmans history, acknowledging the ridiculous sides to the character and its mythos while stile praising and honouring him, y’know, because he’s Batman. The story also has a great flow to it, positively zipping by even at 104 minutes of runtime, the pacing is great and the action sequences are evenly spaed out, with well done dramatic moments to boot.

Believe it or not, The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best Batman films, being entertaining, engaging and an interesting study of Batmans psyche, it’s also just really funny and that’s probably why you saw it or will see it in the future, if you haven’t yet. (But trust me see it.)

7/10

. Brilliant voice acting, especially Ralph Fiennes, Will Arnett and Rosario Dawson

. Clever, funny referencing to Batmans history

. Great pacing, engaging story

The Hitmans’ Bodyguard – review

The Hitmans’ Bodyguard is a comedy action film directed by Patrick Hughes, as we follow Michael Bryce, professional bodyguard who’s tasked with escorting a notorious hitman to the Hague for a trial, the film stars Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Elodie Young and Gary Oldman.

Ah the good old buddy cop, well buddy hitman film in this case, a tried and true sub-genre that has seen mixed success over the years, we clearly get a lot less of them these days though and I think I know why, the straight man – crazy man pairing is played for the film with Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson) as the notorious, foul mouthed hitman while Ryan Reynolds is possibly playing against type as Michael Bryce, the straightman.

It’s an interesting mix of roles, though Sam Jackson is no stranger to action, gun slinging roles and though Reynolds is playing against type a bit, both lead actors roles feel very familiar and Reynolds essentially plays Ryan Reynolds, the same sort of quippy, fast talking dude which usually works but this time around fell a bit flat, not because Reynolds is bad in the film – he’s serviceable but the film just felt a bit by the numbers. I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular of course and anticipated a fairly cliché, silly plot but I was expecting some better, well worked humour, there’s a lot of action but unfortunately not a lot of good humour which did take my by surprise, especially with the two lead actors. That being said, there are some funny moments and Reynolds/Jacksons pairing in the way its presented is fairly funy to me

Anyway the action present is decent, a bit cartoony in actual fact but nothing spectacular, with mostly forgettable set pieces that act like bridging sequences between scenes, the story is naturally a bit action focused but doesn’t really make action the highlight, despite some fairly intense show downs. That hyper realistic, cartoony tone to the story is actually a bit of a downer in the long run, not allowing you to take the film seriously when it comes to the slower, more dramatic moments, knowing there’s a joke probably just around the corner.

Utimately the film is a bit of a wet blanket, not particularly that entertaining or funny, which were the main selling points of it I feel, with very familiar feeling roles for the lead actors but unfortunately not enough humorous moments for what could have been a funnier film.

6/10

. Plot is by the numbers, dull

. Film just isn’t that funny, though Reynolds and Jackson are great

. Action feels weightless, lacks impact

It Comes At Night – review

Trey Edward Shults directs It Comes At Night, a film centred on a small family living in the middle of the woods, trying to keep themselves safe from a mysterious illness, their equilibrium is disrupted by the appearance of another man and his family, the film stars Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Cerebral, psychological horror in the vein of Z for Zachariah, this film follows a similar set up but with a somewhat paranoid family living in a remote cabin in the woods, which is the set up for so many horror films in days gone by. Anyway the film works with simplicity and implied, insinuated horror, less can sometimes can be more and in this case, it works but doing it is risky as the simplistic approach to storytelling and world building can be either be an abject failure or a big success, with not many films falling in between.

What works for It Comes At Night is its components, with a very small, intimate cast, the performances needed to be on point and they are, the stalwart Joel Edgerton is utterly convincing in his role as Paul, a paranoid but caring father who is wary of anything from the outside world, he’s married to Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and they have one child Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr), who’s a teenager, a bit more trusting of the outside world and clearly wanting for a bit of fun and to possibly get outside. Meanwhile the side characters give some pretty great, naturalistic performances from bonding to arguing, they feel like very real people and it’s a credit to the good writing.

Going outside is the problem however, with an unknown threat lurking outside the cabin and seemingly causing a mysterious illness, somewhat frustratingly we don’t necessarily get all questions answered and the story is really kept between the small, main cast but without really getting to see the threat explicitly, we’re forced to use our imagination.

This is where a film and director will either lose their audience or keep them engaged but I remain engaged, how much of the events are ambiguous, are certain characters just overly paranoid? The questions are all interesting and they’re carried by an engaging plot that’s filled with a lot more drama and action than I anticipated actually and while there are some slower moments, they don’t take up huge swathes of the plot and the visceral nature of the story has events happening that are enthralling and gripping. Simply enough, not knowing the full details keeps the mysterious outside pretty terrifying and you put yourself in the shoes of the characters inside, you don’t know what’s out there and fear of the unknown remains a key, primal human fear. With the great cinematography in the film helping to emphasize tension in certain scenes, from giving us character perspectives to using long shots for scenes with extended dialogue for example. Ultimately It Comes At Night isn’t for everyone but for what it does, it does well, remaining a psychologically teasing horror film with some great acting and just as good cinematography, all of your questions about the story won’t be answered but the journey is well worth it.

7/10

. Has some strong performances, great writing to make naturalistic dialogue and interactions

. Great cinematography

The Dark Tower – review

Nikolaj Arcel directs The Dark Tower, an adaptation of a story from Stephen Kings famous series of the same name, set in modern day New York and also in an alternate reality, plagued by The Man In Black who wants to bring down an important tower to wreak havoc on both worlds, the only thing in his way is the last Gunslinger, the film stars Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haysbert.

On the face of it, The Dark Tower sounds pretty intriguing, dark towers, a man in black, magical powers, the trailer really sold the film imo but upon execution, you realise that a lot more effort probably should have gone into its production and for a quick summary, the film feels a lot more like either an entry point to a series/trilogy or a TV film to be honest, with a lot of story being crammed into a tiny 90 minute runtime. And funnily enough, this is a time for a big blockbuster film that exposition was badly needed, for people unfamiliar with The Dark Tower which is quite a lot of people as it turns out, without any real explanation aside from a few lines thrown loosely, who were the gunslingers? What is the man in black, why does he have powers? What is the dark tower?

And that’s just off the top of my head, I’m sure more questions came to mind for viewers while watching and frustratingly not a lot of them really get addressed, you’re thrust into the story as a viewer and things just are, which is a shame because the world itself is interesting but could have used more context, oh there are just portals to the alternate reality that has existed alongside Earth in random places, okay….. how? Where did they come from? Who are these people who work for the Man in Black? The lack of context also doesn’t help with how the film comes across, with everything just feeling a bit rushed with a lot of story crammed into the allocated runtime,

Anyway, annoyances aside, the film is ambitious, to take on this story for a 90 minute runtime for one and the performances are good, Idris Elbra is good as Roland, a stoic, heroic protagonist who faces off against McConaughey the menacing Man in black, who does carry genuine menace about him I feel and the action, while nothing spectacular is bit cool with some inventive set pieces in the plot. But ultimately The Dark tower is just a bit of a wet blanket, not making much of an impact and nowhere near the impact it could and really should have made, with an inherently rushed plot that would have worked logically far better as TV series or a trilogy and not a standalone film.

6/10

. Lack of context for the world or plot points makes the world seem poorly constructed

. Plot feels way too rushed

King Arthur: Legend of the sword – review

Guy Ritchie directs his take on the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur, set around Arthur, a slum dweller in medieval England who is unaware of his birthright as true heir to the throne of England, though he is forced to face the truth after he pulls Excalibur from a stone, the film stars Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Honsou, Eric Bana, Aiden Gillen, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Freddie Fox and Tom Wu.

Guy Ritchie brings his signature flare and style to the middle ages in an interesting turn, mixing sword and sands with fast talking dialogue, lad-ish banter and bravado which makes for a fairly fun portrayal but a portrayal that just feels at odd with the history of the legend of King Arthur, the gritty depiction of Arthur is something different and that’s a good thing but different isn’t always better as the film clearly shows. I feel like the films tone, writing and style is just a bit all over the place and fair play to Ritchie for trying his hand at a completely different genre but the result feels really shoe horned in and falls way wide of the mark, quite a bit worse than the initial trailer made the film out to be in my opinion.

The performances are well…. decent, with nothing spectacular, Jude Law plays a convincingly evil usurper to the throne in the menacing Vortigern, who is decidedly one note, while Charlie Hunnam is again good in a leading role, charismatic and charming to a degree – though I’m sure many critics will disagree and mark this as another bad Hunnam performance, I think he was far from the worst thing about the film. I enjoy the squad vibe to the story which is something that underpins King Arthurs legend in a way, with the camaraderie around the Knights of the round table and Ritchie gives it a bit of a modern spin, imagining the knights as a group of mates just sticking out for each other sans armour and their ‘Sir’ titles.

But for all Ritchies stylization and differentiation with the film, he goes full Guy Ritchie and you never go full Guy Ritchie. Action sequences in the film look like scenes from a video game, with barely explained plot points that will leave you scratching your head while you watch certain sequences happening (a little exposition never hurt!) while a lot of fantasy elements are thrown into the story amd make things a bit ridiculous. I know giant elephants are cool but what does that have to do with King Arthur? I get that Merlin and magic is a bit part of the legend itself but these random elements thrown in make no sense, add nothing to the story and feel like a weird mish mash of things Ritchie though would look cool on screen but ultimately they make the film hard to follow and even harder to take seriously when it comes to the more dramatic moments.

And that’s a shame because King Arthur had potential, with an interesting take on the Arthurian legend, the result is a barely comprehensible mess of random fantasy, with Guy Ritchie-isms throughout.

5/10

. Lazy, generic action sequences

. Plot points aren’t explained at all, feel random

. Story feels rushed, especially in final third

Is JJ Abrams a good choice for Star Wars Episode 9?

So this isn’t exactly breaking news any more but as you may know, Colin Trevorrow left the directors seat for Episode 9 just a few days ago (by mutual consent we hear) and everyone was wondering what was going on and who would replace him.. and we found out who rather quickly, the somewhat divisive but generally liked JJ Abrams.

An interesting but not hugely surprising choice, a lot of people were pulling for Rian Johnson to continue to direct Episode 9 after The Last Jedi but alas, JJ is Disneys choice, the next question being, is he the best choice for the job? My initial reaction to the decision was a mix of being taken aback a bit to seeing JJ return but also a bit of disappointment, not because Abrams isn’t a good director but I was looking forward to see a relatively new directors (like Colin Trevorrow) take on a big blockbuster film like Star Wars, which is part of why I’m so excited for The Last Jedi.

Abrams knows how to do a good, exciting film that keeps you hooked, just look at Cloverfield and Star Trek 09 but a valid criticism of his directing and writing is that he sets up things brilliantly but doesn’t always execute his ideas that well, evidenced by the lacklustre Super 8 for example.

I just don’t know, Abrams is a safe choice as an established director, he along with others brought Star Wars back into public consciousness with Force Awakens, the 2nd highest grossing film of all time and a film that still holds several box office records that probably won’t be broken for some time to come but admittedly, the films story was a re-hash of A New Hope and while it brought some new elements, it felt far too familiar. The fear is that Episode 9 will do the same and re-tread ground that Return Of The Jedi already walked but who knows, things are very up in the air at the moment, Episode 9 was recently just delayed 9 months and everything’s falling apart!? Okay, maybe not but please JJ, no more Death Stars, no more generically evil villains and re-treading the same plot points from the original trilogy, sure you can pay homage but make the story your own, be creative and don’t be afraid to buck the trend.

I don’t mean go full Lord and Miller a la The Han Solo film and go fully off script (like JJ would even do that) but I don’t want safe and samey for Star Wars, I want innovation, nuance and something different – which is what we may get with The Last Jedi and interestingly, we’ll see how Episode 9 under JJ shapes up at the tail end of this trilogy, with two JJ film and one Rian Johnson films, will one seem drastically different to the other two? Better or worse than them? These are interesting things to think about and we’ll find out in just a bit over 2 years now, with that extra seven months giving JJ and Disney more time to re-think, plan and knock the trilogy out of the park, I hope!

What should Christopher Nolans next film be?

So hi, I’m still here, apologies for the lack of posts recently as I’ve been a bit busy but I want to bring some more varied posts to the blog, some more opinions and discussions, I suppose. And Christopher Nolan came to mind, with the iconic director having his most recent film out in war drama Dunkirk, a bona fide hit I think it’s fair to say but anyway I was wondering what his next film would be before it was announced he was doing Dunkirk and I’m again thinking forward to what Mr Golden touch may stray into next in terms of his film projects.

Here are a few options on what I think he could do.

A Western 

Alright so bear with me here… this idea might be the most left of field and out there for Nolan, though he’s already done a period piece in The Prestige, taking things a bit further back in time could be cool and with his dedication to production, use of sets and practical effects, it’d probably be one of the best looking westerns at least. I really like Nolan adding his own touches and ideas to film plots and I’d be interested to see what he adds to the setting of the wild west.

And with a great cast and a great story an emotional heart to it as Nolan tends to go for, I think a spin on the traditional Western lawman archetype could work, center the story on a former bandit/cowboy going good or against his gang for the greater good or something along those lines, there’s great potential for an engaging story here, whether it’s based on real history or a fictional story. Plus we all know Nolan can direct some frenetic, visceral action, which could result in some pretty epic, excellent shoot outs.

 

Another crime drama (no sci-fi)

Nolan has sort of done the crime thing with Memento, Inception (sort of) and The Dark Knight trilogy but what about another modern crime drama with an added angle to it, Nolan is brilliant at crafting character you can get emotionally invested in and care about, giving them strong motivations and that sort of characterization would be perfect for a crime drama. And maybe rather than focusing on just on a single protagonist, focus on two sides of the law/morality like Heat did perhaps, on top of this Nolan would for sure add some great spectacle, action and something extra that motivates character action, so I think this would be a great idea overall.

 

A psychological thriller 

Memento is more or less a thriller, mystery/psychological but I’m thinking more out and out horror, this would be the biggest step away from the norm for Nolan and I’d love to see what he could do with that genre, I don’t think Nolan would ever go full horror but maybe he could play with the idea and with audience expectations. I’m thinking along the lines of a main character questioning and wondering what’s real and what’s not and yes this has been done a few times before but with Nolans directing. It could be something interesting, beyond the “you thought it was X but it was possibly Y the whole time!” twist, what’s great about Nolans twists is that some are subtle and reference the entire plot before, making you question everything without un-ravelling the entire plot.

So yeah I think this idea would me an ambitious effort but when has ambition ever been something that hindered Nolan.

There you go, just a few thoughts on what I think Nolan could direct/dive into next, thoughts, opinions? Feel free to comment.

Sucker Punch – review

Zack Snyder crafts a visual feast in Sucker Punch, an adventure fantasy movie about a young girl who is institutionalized by her abusive step father, she escapes to fantastical worlds to escape her grim reality, the film stars Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, John Hamm.

The film centres on both the real and escapist worlds that the characters occupy, though the fantasy worlds that Babydoll (Emily Browning) creates are essentially in her head, Snyder is brilliant at crafting visually packed, loaded films and Sucker Punch is possibly the example to use if you wanted to highlight how he uses stylized visuals heavily in his films, which work well to serve the plot in this case. From the faceless institution that the characters occupy in the real world which is dark, cold and unwelcoming, the film as a whole has a lifeless, almost black and white colour tone to it, this is also reflected in the fantasy worlds, though they look more colourful and ‘alive’.

The plot is an interesting one and a different idea, a character escaping into fantasy to escape reality is a story that has been done a few times and definitely done better but the story does get you engaged in what’s going on, knowing what’s supposed to happen to the characters in the real world, namely to Baby Doll. Her desire to be free and triumph over the evil keeping her and the other girls captive is represented in them being a fighting force of heroes in her fantasies, a pretty creative element of the story I have to say and this does give it some nuance.

These fantasies are great spectacle with some wildly imaginative settings, giant samurai warriors, a world war I era type battle and so on, all shot very well and stylistically they’re great to watch, the fantasy elements n the film are great but the real world ones, not so much, Sucker Punch practically looks and feels like a comic book and equally has some black and white characterization to it. Not that Snyder doesn’t know how to write good, interesting characters but they’re absent from this film, the bad guys are bad and we don’t see any depth to them and the girls are clearly the oppressed, moral characters which is fair enough, but more depth to the main characters could really have helped elevate the story.

That being said, the performances in the film are okay, albeit a bit cheesy and cardboard cut out stereotypes for the characters, though Emily Browning works well with what she has though and is one of the better parts of the film. I suppose that tonal balance between the good and evil works for the story but it also stops it from being a great story and makes it just a cool looking film without much substance to it in the end and ultimately the film works better as a fantasy action film and maybe it should have just been that.

6.5/10

. Fantastic, creative visuals

. Strong albeit one dimensional characters

. Plot events may feel a bit futile by the end