Posted in Film

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Review.

The third entry in the rebooted Apes series is a phenomenal showcase of CGI and dark story-telling.  

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Andy Serkis reprises his role as Caesar. (Image Credit: IMDB via. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3450958/mediaviewer/rm3971885568)

*****

The rebooted Apes prequel series has been without doubt one of the most surprising successes of modern cinema.

2011’s Rise of and 2014’s Dawn of  were both met with critical acclaim, as both films raked in over £1 billion at the box office.

Now we have War for the Planet of the Apes, the darkest and bleakest of the three movies, but arguably the best.

The film picks up where the last ends. The army that was said to be coming at the end of Dawn is now here, and the opening scene is all-out warfare between the humans and the apes.

Caesar (another champion performance from Andy Serkis) is once again the ape at the helm of the colony, but when he suffers a horrendous loss at the hands of the Colonel (an excellent Woody Harrelson), he sets off on a revenge path with a thirst for blood.

This movie, directed once again by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), is a fantastic blend of western and Vietnamese war-epic. But unlike the title may suggest, this isn’t just an action movie.

Many themes are thrown into the mix. Morality and slavery are two of the biggest factors that are examined in great depth. Michael Giacchino’s score perfectly builds the tension levels during the action scenes, but also makes the mood delightful sombre in heart-warming ones.

Once again, the CGI is mesmerising, but beautifully you forget to notice it after the opening 15 minutes. Serkis – the king of motion capture – stands out for his performance as the notorious leader of the apes.

15 years on from his debut as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, the 53-year old has become a legend of this breath-taking method of film-making. The emotion he captures and portrays is exhilarating, and this is a major reason in why audiences have grown a bond with Caesar throughout these movies.

Some characters return such as Maurice the orangutan, but we are also introduced to new apes, including Bad Ape. Together they go on a journey that tests every emotion they have, and it is scintillating stuff.

The biggest reason for the success of these movies is the decision to make them ape-centric. The original Planet of the Apes (1968) was looked at from a human perspective, whereas this trilogy casts the humans as the enemies. It’s clever, as it makes you wonder whether anyone is exactly in the wrong when you consider what it is both sides are fighting for.

A masterpiece.

12A, 140 mins 

 

 

 

Posted in Film

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Review.

Even Tom Holland and Michael Keaton can’t save this from being the weakest Marvel movie since Thor: The Dark World. 

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Tom Holland stars at Peter Parker/Spider-Man. (Image Credit: CHUCK ZLOTNICK/IMDB via. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2250912/mediaviewer/rm1521101312

**

Spider-Man was a favourite of mine growing up. Everyone I knew wanted to be the famous web-slinger and have the ability to climb walls and shoot webbing out their wrists. Sometimes I think studios realise just how big a hero Spider-Man is to the world.

There is more pressure on making a Spidey film than say an Iron Man or X-Men film. Stan Lee’s teenage hero is the most relatable to many, which is one of the major reasons he is so adored. His alter-ego – Peter Parker – is a kid in high school, showing that you don’t have to be rich, or scientifically tested, or a god from another world in order to be a hero.

Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ (2002) and ‘Spider-Man 2′ (2004), which starred Tobey Maguire as our hero, are without doubt the best superhero movies of their time- before the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with Iron Man.

Since then though, no has managed to capture what made the teenage hero so great in the comics on the big screen. Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was a disaster. Then came ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (2011) and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ (2014), which starred Andrew Garfield in the title role. These films were full of action, but they failed to really capture Peter Parker.

Marvel managed to strike a deal with Sony to bring Spidey to the MCU; much to the delight of fans. Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea) was cast in the role and made his debut appearance in ‘Captain America: Civil War’, which was met with applause and cheers.

Now we have ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming‘, the first of a planned trilogy starring Holland.

The concept of this movie is to see Peter Parker struggle at balancing his heroic antics with everyday school-life. Unfortunately, the heroic action doesn’t look authentic and the school-life scenes are like watching paint dry.

Holland puts in an accomplished performance, as does Micheal Keaton (Birdman) as Adrian Toomes aka. The Vulture. But they can’t save this film on their own, and are let down by the supporting cast.

Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Michelle (former Disney star Zendaya) are hardly used, whilst Ned (Jacob Batalon) becomes increasingly like the friend that follows you around and never leaves you alone. The relationship between Holland and Batalon again seems staged and just wants to be more than it should be. The humour between the two failed to spark any kind of laughs.

On the bright side, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was used sparingly throughout the film, which worked well. We have had so many collaborative movies recently in the Marvel Universe it’s seemed a lifetime ago since we had a standalone caper.

But there is one big issue that can’t be ignored. Director Jon Watts (Cop Car) has decided to take the movie and aim it at teenagers. It is a high-school movie and unless you are a die-hard Spider-Man fan, there is nothing to appeal to anyone over 25 years of age.

This adaptation is the best for 13 years since Raimi’s delicious sequel, but on the Marvel chain it slides down even below ‘Thor: The Dark World’.

 

Posted in Film

Split (2017) Review.

M. Night Shyamalan may have gone back to basics with this psychological horror-thriller, but he is back to his best as a result. 

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James McAvoy in Split. (Image Credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES/IMDB via. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4972582/mediaviewer/rm2471049728)

****

Sometimes people wish they could be somebody different: a scientist, a doctor, a sportsman, a gardener or a plumber.

But what if all of those people are you stuck in one body?

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), is a mental health condition which affects people with multiple personalities.

With it’s complexity, DID comes with a number of legal issues. Court cases have become far more complicated because of it. Can you convict someone of a crime who claims it was someone else?

Whilst it is still a relatively rare disease, it has been portrayed in books, television programmes and movies with a remarkable frequency- M. Night Shyamalan (Signs) examines it in fine detail in Split; which is written, produced and directed by the 46-year-old.

James McAvoy (Filth) produces one of his most stellar performances as Kevin, who has 23 different personalities within his mind, and a 24th beginning to emerge.

The 38-year-old portrays each personality very distinctly. Just through his facial mannerisms and body language you can clearly distinguish each one- a skill most actors find incredibly difficult.

From the artistic Barry, to the gentle-speaking Miss Patricia, to the creepy Dennis, and then nine-year old Hedwig, McAvoy is frighteningly good at shifting in and out of personalities throughout the first two acts.

After kidnapping three teenage girls and keeping them in his underground hideout, Dennis warns them that identity 24 aka “The Beast” is coming.

As the girls try to find a way to escape, Barry goes to see Dr. Karen Fletcher, a psychologist who is helping Kevin through his DID. It’s evident that each personality is struggling to cope with something, but as we see this one man begin to lose control, we begin to realise the bigger picture. It’s clever storytelling from Shyamalan.

There are terrific performances in this movie besides McAvoy. Following her fantastic outing in The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy once again puts in a strong display as Casey Cooke (one of the three teenagers kidnapped) whose suffered a traumatic past. Betty Buckley (The Happening) also deserves praise as Dr. Fletcher.

However the film does have it’s flaws. This movie is driven by McAvoy. When he isn’t on-screen, the scenes begin to slow down to walking pace. The use of flashbacks also seem to have an uncertain feel about them. It’s like editor Luke Franco Ciarrocchi has just thrown in at different points of the film for the sake of it.

But they are only small issues in what is overall a very good movie. This does feel like a return to Shyamalan’s old ways of filmmaking. The tense score (by West Dylan Thordson) that plays so very subtly in the background, the lighting of all the shots (cinematography by Mike Gioulakis), the way the film starts as a slow burner but increases the intensity as it progresses towards it’s final act. It is edge-of-your-seat stuff!

Then there is, like in most early Shyamalan films, a twist that comes out of nowhere which is particularly pleasing. What works about this movie is that the director has gone back to basics and is doing what he does best. It’s up there with his best work: Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. It’s been a decade of chomping and changing his technique, which came with little success. But without doubt, Shyamalan is most definitely back to his best.

15, 117 mins

Posted in Film

Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 (2017) Review

The hotly anticipated sequel to James Gunn’s 2014 intergalactic classic almost ticks all the boxes.

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The guardians are back in a new adventure. (Image Credit: IMDB via. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3896198/mediaviewer/rm4191960064.

***

Coming out of the cinema like a herd of zombies at 3:00am last night, initial reactions to the newest chapter in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise were mixed.

That has been the worldwide reception to James Gunn’s latest work, which sees the original team return for an all new adventure in what is the 15th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Whilst this latest entry doesn’t reach the same level as Captain America: The Winter Soldier nor the original Guardians of the Galaxy, it is still an enjoyable, funny, action-packed thrill-ride which almost ticks all the boxes.

Chris Pratt is excellent once again as Peter Quill aka. Star-lord, who along with green mean machine Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a very comedic Drax (a fine performance by Dave Bautista, space racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the adorable Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), find themselves in trouble with ‘The Sovereign’, a community of gold people after a mission goes south.

During their run-in with ‘The Sovereign’ they meet Ego (played by Kurt Russell) who claims to be Peter’s father. From there we are taken on a story which delves into the complexity of what a family is and what it means to be one.

It is a very clever script written by director Gunn, who is able to use the wonders of the universe to his advantage.

There’s colour, wonder, and an amazing use of CGI to create worlds that the creative teams of the Captain America movies can only dream of. Of all the Avengers, only the Thor movies have the power to match the wonders on screen.

A special mention has to go to Michael Rooker, who returns to play Yondu the blue faced space pirate. Rooker’s performance outshines the rest of the cast by a country mile. Yondu’s storyline goes in so many different directions, which allows him to showcase his ability as a actor, an opportunity grabbed with both hands.

Also returning from the original is Karen Gillian’s Nebula, sister of Gamora, whilst there are cameo appearances left, right and centre.

Once again the soundtrack is out of this world. Nothing Marvel produces in the future will outshine the opening credits to this movie. Fred Raskin and Craig Wood’s editing is superb, the music choice is perfect, Henry Braham’s cinematography is amazing. It all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle.

The issue this film will inevitably face however is something that is out of their control. It’s how it coincides with the public’s expectations. The original was smothered with so much critical acclaim that perhaps following it up with a sequel that was just as good was always going to be a tough job. It’s obvious Gunn made a decision on where to take the franchise in order to push it forward, but it isn’t one that will please everybody.

In a nutshell, if you were hoping for a distinct sequel to the first, then you’ll probably come away from this movie disappointed.

The title itself tells us what to expect. The use of  ‘Vol.2’ shows that this is a brand new story – like picking up the next comic book off the shelf – with no major links to the original. It works as a standalone as well as a sequel, kind of like how Star Trek Beyond fitted into that franchise.

The movie also reminds everyone that Guardians isn’t closely connected like the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where Avengers: Age of Ultron ties in with Captain America: Civil War, which subsequently then ties in with the upcoming Spider-Man and Black Panther movies, the Guardians still seem lightyears away in their own world despite sharing it with all these other superheroes.

However, that will surely change soon. For the first time we get a first hand account of just how awful Marvel’s big baddy Thanos really is from daughter Nebula. This could be the link where our heroes on Earth and the Guardians cross ahead of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, which is penciled in for a May 2018 release. It will be then that the main villain will finally get the screen time Marvel fans have been aching to see for the past 10 years.

12A, 138 mins 

 

 

Posted in Film

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Disney have converted their 1991 classic animation into a live-action, visual wonder. 

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Image Credit: WALT DISNEY MOTION PICTURES via. IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2771200/mediaviewer/rm2593665792

***

Since French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont wrote Beauty and the Beast, it has been made for TV and the cinema on numerous occasions, with slight differences. In 1961, the beast was a prince who turned into a werewolf each night. The 1987 TV series starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton and executively produced by Game of Thrones‘ George R. R. Martin was hit and miss.

But nothing beat the 1991 Disney animation, of which this new live-action remake is based upon. It was the first animation to ever be nominated for an Oscar best picture and won. No pressure then.

The trailer for this new film mirror imaged that of the old shot by shot. If you are hoping for that throughout the movie, then you’re in for a treat.

Beauty and the Beast follows in the footsteps of Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016) as another classic animation that’s been re-worked in a modern-day way.

Bill Condon’s adaptation, starring Emma Watson (Harry Potter) as Belle and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as The Beast/The Prince is a visual wonder, but the film itself isn’t without minor flaws.

With the running time for Condon’s musical, romantic, fantasy  film being 45 minutes longer than the animated version, it was going to be interesting how they filled the extra space.

In some places it worked. The prologue at the start of the film helped audiences understand the origins of the curse in greater detail. A look into Belle’s life back in Paris added to her and her father’s story arc.

But in other places it didn’t, most notably the additional music. The extra songs composed by Alan Menken seemed a little unnecessary. The music from the 1991 hit made the film unique and captured audiences, there was little need for any more.

We were also left to admire Tobias Schliessler’s cinematography a little too long. The first act ultimately dragged out far more than one would like. Yes it’s a castle, but we don’t need to spend almost 45 minutes exploring it.

Saying that, the casting could not have been better picked.

Watson charms as the farm girl looking for a way out of her boring life in Villeneuve, and Stevens produces a stellar display as the Beast looking for love to break his dreadful curse.

Ewan McGregor is almost unrecognisable as Lumière but steals the show with his wit and determination. Sir Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson are also excellent as Cogsworth and Mrs Potts respectively.

Kevin Kline (Pink Panther) as Maurice is the typical father figure you’d expect him to be- caring, noble and overprotective. Luke Evans (The Hobbit) is a perfectly sinister Gaston, wishing for Belle’s hand in marriage.

Josh Gad’s LeFou has caused plenty of controversy in the build-up to the films release, but he is as flamboyant as one hopes him to be. The ‘Openly-Gay’ moment in the movie’s climatic scene shouldn’t really have sparked so much aggravation. Why can’t two guys have a dance together?

Also, the CGI of the famous talking furniture and crockery is again another example of just how far technology has come in the last few years. Go back a decade, and some would have said it would have been very tricky to convert this film into a live-action movie.

If only the film wasn’t as long then we would’ve been onto a winner. If grown adults were struggling towards the end, imagine the children who this film is most certainly aimed for trying to keep up.

(PG, 129 minutes) 

 

 

Posted in Film

La La Land (2017) Review

This has all the glitz and glamour of old-style Hollywood, and is a Oscars front-runner for sure.

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IMAGE CREDIT: DALE ROBINETTE via. IMDB. http://m.imdb.com/title/tt3783958/mediaviewer/rm2541358848

 

****

It’s hard not to feel just that little bit jealous of Ryan Gosling. The Canadian is a massive hit with the ladies, and has got everything going for him- his physique, his hair and his smile all seem disturbingly perfect. So, when given the opportunity to exploit his musical talents in Damien Chazelle’s romantic La La Land, it’s no wonder he took the gig. Men up and down the country will groan at the sight of him swashbuckling the streets of Los Angeles in tight-fitted shirts whilst jazzing up the screen.

The 36-year old plays Sebastian, a pianist who is broke and living in a world of nostalgia. He owns an old Buick Riviera Convertible, and has a love for the old-style, improvised jazz. Seb’s dream is to own a club which will enable him to save his beloved music from the modern, electronic-styled sounds of today.

Whilst playing at a rundown bar, Gosling bumps into wannabe-actress Mia, played fabulously by Emma Stone. After failing audition after audition, the young hopeful has to instead deal with a day job working as a barista at the coffee shop inside Warner Bros. As they continue to bump into each other, they begin to fall for one another.

This isn’t the first time Gosling and Stone have worked alongside one-another. The pair were both in Romantic-Comedy ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ in 2011, and then ‘Gangster Squad’ two years later. Their on-screen bond seems at it’s strongest in this movie. The two compliment each other, and both sparkle and shine throughout. 

As Seb and Mia grow closer to both each other and achieving their dreams, each has to make difficult choices for the sake of their relationship and careers.

But we can’t forget this is a musical. From the outset we are thrown straight into a song, with people dancing along to a catchy tune on car bonnets during a traffic jam. But Chazelle’s script provides us with an excellent romantic drama that coincides perfectly with the music. This, to put it in its simplest terms, is a story of romance and never giving up on your dreams.

Making this movie was always going to be a gamble. Not just for the director, but also for the actors and actress’s. We haven’t seen a musical in the cinema since Les Miserables in 2012. Questions have been asked whether the genre can still fit into 21st century cinema and society- would it still be enjoyed and adored like in previous times? This fortunately, was a gamble that paid off. 

The bright costumes and primary colours which fill the screen make it a joy to watch. It was like being transported back to the 1950s and old-style Hollywood. A time when such classics as Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ were the talk of the town. Almost 70 years later, and La La Land is getting that exact same hype.

The lyrics may not be as catchy as musicals such as ‘Grease’- but the music itself makes you want to get up and jive at times. ‘City of Stars’- performed by Gosling and then again in a duet with Stone, is a beautiful song which many will be humming after viewing.

And as the credits roll, you can be sure some will leave in tears, and others will applaud it. But everyone will leave happy. This is a film that could inspire children, a film men will enjoy and a film women will love.

More importantly, it’s a film filled with a sense of happiness which everyone could do with. For two hours our minds drift into a land of glitz and glamour, song and dance, love and friendship. It will leave you smiling. An Oscars front-runner for sure.

(12A) 132 mins. 

Posted in Film

Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the arrogant neurologist turned powerful sorcerer in the majestic, visually-stunning superhero origin movie ‘Doctor Strange’.

The latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) moves away from the blockbuster action genre we are accustom to seeing, and instead go down a path of magic and illusion.

Directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) and produced by Marvel’s ever present Kevin Feige, we meet the amazing yet self-indulgent Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) who is more interested in his own ego then other people’s lives.

This is a role in which we have never seen Cumberbatch like this on screen before. His adaptation of Sherlock Holmes likes to show off, but at least he shows his compassionate side. Strange in comparison can only be described as an a****** who is good at his job and has a lot of money, a bit like a certain Tony Stark (better watch your back Robert Downey Jr).

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange.

When we see him involved in a horrific car accident which shatters the nerves in his beloved hands and ends his neurology career; he only wants one thing, to get healed and return to work, even if that means pushing away co-worker and former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

Our injured yet ignorant hero embarks on a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal and meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

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Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. (Image Credit: indiewire.com)

Swinton delights as the bald-headed sorceress, and after showing Strange the power she possesses, she agrees to teach him, despite his apparent ego that casts a forever growing shadow.

Strange’s allies on screen also add to the many positives of the movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong as (coincidentally) Wong bring heart and humour to the story.

It’s like a 15th century temple full of meditating butt-kicking monks, who read ancient books, and use staffs as weapons. But with wifi! Like Mordo says”We aren’t savages!”

About a third into the film we are all exposed to a extremely trippy trip through the multiverse, in a scene we can only kinda compare to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is really something to behold and admire.

Then there’s the folding of the buildings, which instantly makes one think Inception, the 2010 thriller by Christopher Nolan. Again, it’s impressive but not original.

Mads Mikkelsen does his best to be the threatening Kaecilius. 10 years ago he was playing cards with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale as Le Chiffre, where he also tried his best to be a menacing bad guy. But in both movies he gets underused. More screen-time and character development could have really made him a menacing marvel villain.

The action sequences are, as is the norm with Marvel blockbusters, big and explosive. Buildings are turned and twisted inside out, with New York City turning into what can only be described as a giant monopoly board at one point.

Strange’s two weapons are the Cloak of Levitation, a garment with a mind of its own, and the Eye of Agamotto, a medallion that allows him to reverse time. Not quite the hammer of Asgard or a shield made out of Vibranium, but definitely affective. 

Overall, Doctor Strange is arguably the strongest origin movie in the 14-strong film franchise since Captain America: The First Avenger. It more importantly adds a new dimension to what is already a much widened MCU. It’s almost been a decade since Iron Man came out in cinemas, and since then we already have had the Avengers, space pirates (Guardians of the Galaxy) and now magic sorcerers.

Where does this behemoth of a franchise go from here?

Rating: ****