Month: October 2017

Atomic Blonde – review

Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller set in late 1980s Berlin during the Cold War, as tension remains high between West and East (in Berlin alone), a British agent is sent into the field to investigate the death of an agent and the potential release and exposure of a list of secret agents, the film stars Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones and Sofia Boutella.

On the face of it, Atomic Blonde is a breath of fresh air, a cold war spy thriller centred around a female protagonist, it’s something seemingly different and new and despite being touted as the ‘female John Wick‘, it’s not quite up to that level. First of all, if you love the 80s, you may get a kick out of the films setting and soundtrack with some classic tunes being played pretty much throughout, to a somewhat stereotypical but humorous depiction of late 80s Berlin but you didn’t want to watch the film purely for some 80s nostalgia I’m sure.

What the film does do it right is its action for one, it’s clearly shot, frenetic and very intense, with every blow, punch and hit feeling ‘real’ and impactful, the film also doesn’t shy away from showing some fairly graphic injuries as a result of fights and again this helps to make the world feel a bit more realistic, though it does seem a bit cartoony when the main character Lorraine is head-shotting 4 dudes in a row. Though to be fair, making the hand to hand fights a bit more of a level playing field does work and Lorraine doesn’t leave every fight unscathed, which tends to be the new normal for modern spy films to evoke realism, also Charlize Theron is pretty solid in the role and comes across well as the rather cold but efficient spy.

She’s actually a likeable character to a degree and doesn’t conform to the sexy femme fatale trope, not relying on her sexuality and doing her job in a fairly non chalant manner which again, goes against the norm for a spy thriller, the rest of the cast does a decent job, namely with James McAvoy as British agent David Percival who puts in a spirited performance that may keep you more engaged with the plot. The plot in general however is the films low point for me, a rather generic story with the cliché, “list of our spies is going to be revealed” trope that just feels all too familiar an aside from the film going against type with the characterization of Lorraine, the rest of the story just feels by the numbers and a bit bland.

The plot just doesn’t go to anywhere really interesting, a shortcoming of a lot of spy thrillers in my view, starting with interesting premises and attractive locales, shots and actors, they fail to keep you engaged and almost always end up ending on a whimper. Much of the same can be said for Atomic Blonde, with an interesting setting and some fun characters, the plot just isn’t that engaging and follows more of the same in terms of spy thriller plots.

6/10

. Strong performances from Theron and McAvoy

. Well done action scenes

. Plot is a bit generic, bland

Are audiences sick of Marvels formula?

So this might seem a bit out of the blue but it’s something I’ve been wondering for most of 2017 and hell, 2016 with the releases of Civil War and Doctor Strange, is the Marvel money making machine slowing down? Are people finally getting a bit sick of the MCU? People getting sick of Marvel?! Perish the thought, I mean Marvel’s cultivated the most successful cinematic universe in film history in 9 years but seriously, what if people are getting bored? And okay, Marvels films are still highly regarded and critically well received but that definitely doesn’t tell the full story.

I’ll start off more with anecdotal points, from seeing peoples initial thoughts on new Marvel films that they see, namely on Spiderman: Homecoming, which did get near universal praise but I saw quite a few people complaining about the ‘marvel formula’ and the samey feel to it, which at this point is somewhat understandable. And this isn’t to say that Spiderman’s bad, a lot of people regard it at the best Spiderman film and almost everyone likes Tom Hollands Spidey and the fact that the beloved character is in the MCU, but the film did fall on familiar trope and the Marvel formula that’s made the MCU so successful.

And okay maybe Homecoming isn’t the best example but let’s look at Doctor Strange, a well liked film and good entry into the MCU but something that not that many people would point to as a great Marvel film and in fact I’d argue it’s a film a lot of comic book film fans have barely thought about in the almost 12 months that it’s been out for now. We may be reaching a point of saturation more than anything and 2 Marvel films a year for the past 6/7 years or so may just be wearing people out. (I’m advocating for both sides here a bit) But people love the look of Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, people are as excited as ever for Marvel films… and that may be a fair point but okay let’s look at some numbers.

Generally speaking, the MCU has been doing fantastically of course and each new installment is pretty much always a hit, with no Marvel film exactly being a bomb by any means but in broad terms, though the more recent films have done well, with Guardians 2 and Spiderman: Homecoming slotting into the top 6 of MCU films overall grosses, said films aren’t hitting the astronomical heights that previous films like the two Avengers did. Not even Spiderman: Homecoming for whatever reason, with an impressive $879,598,965 at the global box office to date, it’s only fourth in the list for Spiderman films by adjusted ticket price inflation, yes fourth. And it’s second to Spiderman 3 by unadjusted worldwide gross. And you can in part blame this on overall franchise fatigue and Spiderman fatigue with a 2nd reboot in just 5 years but you would have expected the film to have done a fair bit better.

Guardians 2 also didn’t crack the billion dollar club for Marvel or films in general but nevertheless has an impressive $863,556,079, up a bit from Guardians actually but interestingly the last MCU film to cross the billion dollar mark was…. you guessed it, Captain America: Civil War which is sitting pretty at $1.15 billion and while films have come close since, nothing it seems has been able to get those extra few butts in seats for whatever reason. I also highly doubt Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther will reach $1 billion, as well as they do. But sure, just looking at box office returns also doesn’t tell the full story, you have to look at reviews and general word of mouth and the trend I’ve seen tends to be that people are getting a bit tired of the familiar formula that Marvel is churning out. The DCEU and DCs encroaching film universe is also a major factor with the hit that was Wonder Woman, proving Warner Bros knows what they’re doing and can make a solid film, people have been left clamoring for more of the same and anticipation for Justice League does seem quite high, what DC brings with films like Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman is just something different. Film about a group of super villains teaming up to work together for the government? Check, first (good) female superhero film? Check, DC is bringing nuance and it’s something the comic book film industry has needed quite desperately I feel and audiences seem to be positively responding to the alternative choices.

So, are people fed up completely of the MCU? No of course not, each and every film grosses hundreds of millions of dollars and trailers for their new entries get huge traction online, the anticipation and hype is always there but after 9 years, you have to wonder and with anecdotal evidence – simply from hearing friends or people are people talk about new MCU films. You may now be wondering yourself if people are getting a bit tired of Marvel?

Bladerunner 2049 – review

Denis Vilenueve directs the sort of long awaited sequel to Ridley Scotts Bladerunner, set around 30 years after the first film in a futuristic L.A, we follow a new blade runner whose job tasks him with tracking down a former blade runner who has been missing for 30 years, the film stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks and Edward James Olmos.

Bladerunner 2049 is a bit of a special film for quite a few people, the film that long running Bladerunner fans have been clamoring for, a return to the sort of dystopic, film noir universe the film inhabits and with Vilenueve at the helm, the project seemed like a match made in heaven and I understand that viewpoint. What I’ll say off the bat is that the film is very well produced and put together, much like Vilenueves’ previous films, with a brilliant, impactful soundtrack that helps to emphasize drama and tension and it’s really something you need to hear in a big theatre in my opinion, for that extra atmosphere.

The visuals as well are pretty fantastic, something the film has been understandably praised for, with some great cinematography and brilliant framing that evokes film noir films of old and brings the film in line with the original Bladerunner in terms of tone and style, the films are very similar but this new update does feel a bit more ‘modern’, though both films are supposed to be far future visions of modern city life. This is achieved with much better visuals with a 30 year update of course and some new elements to the story like an advanced A.I. called JOI played in the story by Ana de Armas who brings a touch of brightness and enthusiasm to a fairly bleak, dark story. And importantly she plays off well with Ryan Goslings’ ‘k’.

Gosling as a whole does give off a good, albeit unremarkable Gosling performance that again sees him staring off into seemingly nothing and not speaking much but he does bring some emotional touches and surprising intensity at moments, as do a few other actors like Harrison Ford, Jared Leto also does a commendable job with his role and really takes the method acting to Jared Leto levels as he tends to. Unfortunately the films’ story didn’t quite resonate with me and I did find a few negatives with the film as a whole, with a very long run time at around 2 hour and 49 minutes, parts did drag for me and feel like a bit of a slog and if people don’t like the film because they feel the plot took to long to go anywhere interesting, I fully understand that criticism.

You could also say that the story is deliberately vague and cryptic as well, not explaining away everything or giving context for new characters or the world of Bladerunner as it is now, things just are the way they are and the story is thus and this may be a bit frustrating for fans of the original, though things from that film are touched on directly (namely with Deckard). I wouldn’t say that the story is boring but it is a bit meandering and it does take its time to really get to the meat of the plot, it’s definitely not a film for everyone as seen by its box office returns but if you’re a fan of the original and of the slow burn drama, you may find it a treat. And while I enjoy a few elements of the final product, the story didn’t really draw me in.

6.5/10

. great soundtrack and fantastic visuals

. Plot is a bit overly long

. Runtime feels a bit stretched, drags in the latter parts of the plot

Death Note – review

Death Note is a live action adaptation of a Japanese manga and anime series of the same name, which sees  American teenager Light, fall in possession of a Death note, a book with powers to kill anyone whose name is written down in it, leading Light on an intriguing path, the film stars Nat Wolf, Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley and Shea Wigham.

Ah Death Note, it’s an… interesting one, very divisive to say the least and an abomination to say the most (to most fans of the anime anyway), it’s one of two Western adaptation of anime this year – the other being Ghost In The Shell and I think it’s fair to say both have been flops but Death Note has received far more heavy criticism I feel. And there are reasons for this but I actually don’t agree the film is absolute garbage and one of the worst films of the year, it’s a bit misguided and falls short of being a good adaptation.

The production value is there, with this being a Netflix film and some decent actors are present, Nat Wolf is ever the great fit for a quirky teenager who goes on a bit of a roller coaster ride in a plot, while Lakeith Stanfield is actually pretty good as the mysterious L, the strange detective determined to stop Light and his actions, while Willem Dafoe is also good as Death God Ryuk. The performances aren’t necessarily the problem but the plot, storytelling and pacing is and to be fair, I’m judging the film just as a standalone film, not as a straight adaptation (because it isn’t) though I will make comparisons to the anime series in relation to why it’s so good and highly acclaimed.

From the offset, there’s just a very rushed feeling to the story, as if Wingard is trying to rush into the concept of the Death Note and have Light immediately set about using it with no trepidation and to be fair, he is a bit reluctant to use it at first but it’s hard to believe a high school kid would so wistfully dive head in to killing masses of people, we don’t really get much backstory to Light or his personality, aside from him hating bullies and being a bit of a loner. And that’s a shame because Lights personality should be a big part of the story, defining why he uses the Death Note and how he justifies using it and while it’s touched on, we never delve into Lights psyche or get any moralization for what he’s doing, right or wrong. And that’s where Mia comes in, sort of, Lights more deranged other half who feels every bit the psychopath when it comes to the Death Note, their relationship is strange to say the least and again, with little to no explanation they get together which is hard to believe.

The film does explain the Death Note, its rules and so on but it gets a bit lost in some of the melodrama from the series, with some of the more dramatic moments coming across as unintentionally funny, admittedly due to some awkward acting mainly from Nat Wolf and again, the actual series is very dark and some moments are played deliberately for humorous effect but they feel a bit at odd in live action with the films tone. And very importantly and I have to go back to the series for this, half of what made Death Note the series so thrilling is the game of cat and mouse between Light and L, two super smart individuals set in their ways that can’t see eye to eye, think of Brody in Homeland for the first 3 seasons trying to keep his identity secret and that’s more in line with how it felt to watch Death Note. However what we get in the film is a rushed, relationship between the two with characters jumping to strange conclusion that make no sense in the context of the film.

All in all, Death Note isn’t a complete failure but it falls wide of the mark with a rushed plot and little of what made the actual series such a gripping, engaging watch, the performances are alright but with some silly moments and over the top twists, you might find yourself not being able to take the film remotely seriously.

6/10

. Some good peformances

. Not enough delving into Light or Ls’ psyche and their back and forth

. Pacing of the film is odd, scenes transition very quickly and the plot feels rushed

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – official trailer reaction

So sort of surprisingly, we got a new Last Jedi trailer following New York Comic Con and well hey, a new Star Wars trailer is always welcome, anyway let’s get right in. We open to Supreme leader snoke talking about someone (probably…. Kylo Ren I imagine), as he and the first order march into somewhere, that looks quite like the Jedi hideout place look was in.

Rey utilises Lukes lightsaber and hands it to him, doing some training of her own with Luke by her side and she’s powerful all right, enough to sort of surprise Luke it seems (maybe Snoke was talking about Rey?) but what do you know, Luke is a bit scared of her because of her power and potential to go the Dark side and with Vaders and Kylo Rens pasts, who would blame him. Is this Luke turning his back on Rey already? The First Order attacks a rebel fleet and Kylo Ren seemingly is about to out General Leia.

War and conflict seem to be major themes here and speaking of returning characters, Finn and the Chrometrooper are both back and they duke it out, while some new weird but cool looking aliens debut, including a plushy thing and some ice wolves (on the planet the AT-ATs are attacking maybe). And finally we do see Lord Snoke up close and he is talking to an incapacitated Rey as he does some force stuff on her, maybe he’s trying to influence her or something along those lines…. And the final shot is Rey asking for guidance on what she needs to do, sure she’s talking to Luke right…. Nope, she’s talking to Kylo Ren, wait what? Is she going to the dark side just like that? All because Luke rejected her in a way?

It’s very strange but intriguing, I think Rey isn’t straight up evil but she’s a bit confused and just wants guidance from somewhere, Luke being reluctant makes sense but if he abandons Rey altogether, it seems a bit out of character (though he is thinking of Kylo Ren), so yeah interesting stuff, a pretty dark trailer for what is set to be a dark but intriguing film. Luke wants the Jedi to end and won’t train Rey seemingly, Rey seems to want to join with Kylo Ren and the First Order is back. I can’t wait to see it!

War For The Planet Of The Apes – review

Matt Reeves directs the third and final instalment in the new Apes franchise as we follow Caesar and his followers as they contend to survive against an encroaching human army, set on wiping them out for good, the film stars Any Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Tery Notary and Toby Kebell.

I’ve always found the Apes films an intriguing premise and idea, though my levels of interest in specific films hasn’t been that high. this recent trilogy has gotten my interest and I’ve followed the series with a fair level of engagement, the final entry in the trilogy understandably looked a bit darker, with a sense of finality about it and Matt Reeves brings a mature, dark themed touch to it. Much in line with the themes present in Rise and Dawn preceding War and that’s no easy feat, having to sort of humanise a film with half of its cast being motion capture CGI and having to empathise with apes is a hard task but it is quite effectively achieved.

In a big way due to some stellar CG, with the most photo realistic apes/primates I’ve seen on the big screen and in part due to some of the Apes characterization, namely in the moral but conflicted Caesar, very human in his actions and persona and played excellently by the stalwart Andy Serkis. The film generally has strong performances and Caesars moral, stoic leadership is brought into stark contrast with the brutal, dogmatic Colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is a great fit for the role and brings into question humanity in general with some of the things he does and this further brings conflicting views as you watch in terms of who you should be rooting for, though I don’t think that’s the point of the film and you’ve probably made up your mind on whose side your own by this point in the trilogy.

More to the point is just the sheer portrayal of war and its brutality in this case, the apes representing the less technologically advanced ‘people’ at war with a superior power, though the Apes have intelligence, can ride horses and use weapons, they’re obviously still up against it but they soldier on and try to survive. This makes their plight easy to empathise with, though it’s interesting to see that not even all of the apes are necessarily on Caesars side as we know with the now dead Koba, prime antagonist to Caesar in previous films and still, some apes choose to side with humans, which makes for interesting moral choices that Caesar and his followers have to follow. Choices that I didn’t expect to see but choices that are present in war itself, highlighting how ugly and dark it can be. Ultimately War for the planet of the apes is an engaging  and emotionally gripping ride both for the remaining humans and for Caesar, with well done dramatic moments, tense action and an intriguing look at the morality and driving force for fighting on either side of the war.

7/10

. Well done dramatic moments

. Strong performances

.

Life – review

So it’s finally come to this, I’m reviewing Life, no not the abstract concept but the sci-fi thriller film that came out a few months ago, directed by Daniel Espinosa, the story following a select crew aboard the ISS who come into contact with the first alien life form discovered, though they discover that may not be a great thing, the film stars Jake Gylenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds and Hiroyuki Sanada.

Ah the classic cautrionary tale about Alien life, it feels so familiar now that the average person would probably be a bit scared if we ever did find alien life in real life but this is a fictional story so *phew*. Anyway Life takes a pretty modern approach to things in the way it presents its story, aboard the ISS and with not too many straight up sci-fi  aspects, the story isn’t really set too far in the future (if at all) and feels almost believable, aside the crew discovering an alien life form so conveniently. What I do like about the film is it’s no holds barred approach to things, it’s quite raw and more science heavy than science fiction and that made for a nice change to the alien Vs space crew trope, so no laser pistols here (though lasers are always cool).

This strong science approach has its limits though and without spoiling things further, let’s just say the plot gets progressively sillier in my view, despite the writing generally being decent as things devolve into generic space thriller territory, the film doesn’t really try to d anything different, new or exciting which is why you probably never saw it or completely forgot about it if you did. But another positive is the acting, it’s actually pretty good to be fair with some cop class actors in the evergreen Jake Gylenhaal and the brilliant Rebecca Ferguson, arguably both of them being a bit wasted on a pretty lackluster film, they still do give a good effort and help elevate a pretty bland story.

The problem with Life is that it rushes into generic thriller territory all too comfortably without trying any attempt at nuance or standing out and fair enough, maybe there wasn’t any intention to make a point or be thought provoking with the story and that’s okay but a little more time to build suspense around the alien would have been welcome. The result is a pretty generic story that feels all too familiar, with predictable plot points and a plot that gets worse as it goes along.

5.5/10

. Plot is by the numbers, predictable

. Story feels weirdly rushed

. Has some decent performances

Kingsman: The Golden Circle – review

Matthew Vaughn directs the return to the world of Kingsman, as we follow Eggsy and Merlin, out of resources and seemingly allies after their headquarters is destroyed by a mysterious attack, they head to the USA to team up with the Statesmen, their American counterparts to take on a megalomaniac with nefarious plans. The film stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Hannah Alstrom, Sophie Cookson and Elton John.

Often lewd, unapologetic-ly brash but unrelentingly entertaining, Kingsman makes its return with very familiar style and this time around, everything is turned up to 100, the action is fast and furious and right away you’re thrown into the tone and pace of the plot, which is a tad frantic but the good kind of frantic, with the sort of borderline cartoony action style that Matthew Vaugh shoots in for some scenes. This may be off putting to some in terms of the frequency of such scenes in the film but if makes for some pretty flashy set pieces with great choreography.

And make no mistake, the film is big and bold – it is set mostly in America after all and with the Statesmen comes new gadgets, new characters and new threats of course and while it would normally feel cliché to shoehorn in more characters to expand the world in a sequel, the new characters introduced from the Statesmen are great, namely Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), each spy being named after alcohol. They’re both pretty great in their roles but Pascal especially is pretty memorable as the Lasso twirling Whiskey and to expand on the performances a bit more, everyone’s quite good in fact, Mark Strong is again brilliant as the ever calm and collected Merlin, meanwhile Taron Egerton brings another strong performance as Eggsy, while the returning Colin Firth is fantastic as Harry but going into more details would spoil things a bit too much.

That being said, the characters interactions are great, especially between the Kingsman and Statesemen, culutral differences and all and there are some pretty fantastic dramatic moments peppered through the story, making for great bridging scenes and slowing the often frantic pacing down but not to a crawl as important plot points keep things moving in an interesting way, the film still has its lewd moments for sure but it feels a bit more mature at the same time. Touching on issues like mental health and drug use, with an often repeated line narrative about illegal drugs and the war on drugs being a major plot point and a well worked in one I feel, the argument actually sort of makes sense and it also feels very relevant and current in relation to real society, so touché writers. Another thing I really enjoyed about the film apart from the great action is the irreverence again present in the film, Eggsy is the street kid turned gentlemen spy but he’s still a street kid at heart and he shows it in how he talks to people and reacts to situations that he’s in. And being confronted with hard to deal with situations, he reacts like any normal person would and not like a ruthless, clinocal spy *Cough*James Bond* and these qualities further endear him and make him easy to sympathise with.

Ultimately Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a tad ridiculous, over the top, frantic but still just very entertaining at its score, being the bigger, bolder sequel in a few regards but still retaining the quirky, irreverent humour that made the first film such a hit, the plot may not be as tight as The Secret Service but it’s still a thrilling, engaging romp of a film nonetheless with a nice touch of well done dramatic moments.

7/10

. Great action set pieces

. Intriguing plot points, twists and turns

. Certain lewd moments may turn viewers off

October film preview

So here we are, getting into the nitty gritty of 2017, with 3 months of the year remaining now as we get into the build up to awards season, there are few big ‘uns on the way and here are a few:

Blade Runner 2049 – released on the 6th of October

Directed by Denis Vilenuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas.

Sequel to the iconic Bladerunner, sees a new young new blade runner track down the infamous Rick Deckard who has not been seen for 30 years.

 

Happy Death Day – released on the 13th of OCtober

Directed by Christopher Landon

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews.

Mystery thriller following a college student who must relive the terrifying day of her murder, finding out new details until she finds out who the killer is.

 

The Foreigner – released on the 13th of October

Directed by Martin Campbell

Starring: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Murphy and Michael McElHatton.

A humble man unrelentingly seeks revenge and justice after his daughter is killed in a terrorist attack, seeking information on the bombers identity, he engages with a government worker in an intricate back and forth game as he hunts for the truth.

 

The Snowman – released on the 13th of October

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Chloe Sevigny.

Mystery crime thriller set around a detective investigating a disappearance of a woman which saw her scarf tied mysteriously around a snowman, as well as other murders again tied to the use of snowmen.

 

Jigsaw – released on the 27th of October

Directed by Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Starring: Laura Vandervoort, Tobin Bell, Brittanny Allen.

After bodies turn up in cities with gruesome murders tied to them, investigating takes place, tying them to John Kramer however the Jigsaw killer has been dead for 10 years…. or so we think.