21 March 2017

Get Out review


It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but the best horror films aren't necessarily the scariest. Horror as a genre works best when it's married to the fears of its audience in a much broader sense, and for that reason the best horror films tend to be those tuned into the zeitgeist of the time, those willing to be about something in a way that a lot of modern horror rarely is. Whether it be the anti-consumerism of Dawn of the Dead, the red scare of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the technophobia of Black Mirror, social commentary and horror have always made for a great pairing - it's little surprise then that Get Out is no exception, commenting on race and culture in modern America and establishing itself as an instant classic in the process.

We follow Chris Washington as he and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, travel to her family home for the weekend in order for him to meet her parents for the first time. Rose has never had a black boyfriend before, and the fact that she hasn't yet told her parents about Chris being black has him concerned about their reaction. Fortunately for him, Rose's parents are liberal and tolerant to a fault, but that doesn't stop Chris from feeling uncomfortable and out of place - a feeling that only grows when he starts to notice the strange behaviour of the Armitage's black servants, and the eagerness of Rose's mother to place him under hypnosis and cure his smoking addiction.

16 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island review


As the second installment in Warner Bros' attempt at creating a coherent cinematic universe based on the monster movies of old, Kong: Skull Island is something of an oddity. Not only is it almost entirely unrelated to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla - a natural by-product of it being set a full four decades earlier - it's also radically different in both style and tone to the film that it is soon meant to crossover with, to the point where I struggle to see how the studio plan to bridge this pretty significant divide. And that's not to say that one is better than the other - I liked them both, for very different reasons - it's just that we haven't seen a cinematic universe that seems to give its directors this much creative freedom so far.

And if nothing else, that makes for a very interesting film indeed.

Set in 1973, we follow a ragtag expedition group made up of scientists, government employees, a photographer and a mercenary as they travel to Skull Island in order to explore what they believe to be the last uncharted territory on the planet. Accompanied by a US helicopter squadron for protection, they soon find that the island is infinitely more dangerous than most of them could have expected, and after the destruction of their helicopters have just three days to make their way to the Northern shore of the island for rescue.

6 March 2017

Logan review


Given the mediocre quality of the franchise at large, it's hardly the highest of praise to claim that Logan ranks amongst the best X-Men films to date, but that doesn't make it any less true. Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for a full 17 years now, and despite the less than stellar nature of some of those films I think we can all agree that he's often a highlight of the ones he's been in - what a relief it is then that Logan offers us not just the violent Wolverine solo film that many have been clamouring for since 2000, but also a movie that acts as a worthy, albeit imperfect, farewell to a character/actor combination that we've been watching for the best part of two decades.

Set in a not-so-distant, slightly dystopian future in which mutants are all but extinct, Logan follows our titular character as he attempts to care for an aging Charles Xavier just South of the US/Mexico border. Struggling to afford the medication that stops Xavier suffering from frequent seizures, Logan ends up accepting a contract to help smuggle a nurse and her "daughter" - secretly a mutant herself - across the US border and to a safe place for mutants called Eden, located in North Dakota.

17 February 2017

John Wick Chapter 2 review


I don't think it's all that unfair to say that American action films tend to suck, especially when it comes to a good old fashioned dust up. These days they're far too reliant on shaky-cam in order to mask the simple fact that their stars don't have the training required to make combat look good on screen, and there are very few films in recent years that have managed to overcome that in order to deliver a truly good fight scene. John Wick was one of the few, a film dedicated to practical action and real stunt work in a way that made it stand out amongst the crowd - and now John Wick Chapter 2 has done it again, full of the stylish action that made the first film such a breath of fresh air while also further exploring the heightened, pulpy world that these characters inhabit.

It's a blast.

We follow legendary hitman John Wick as he is once again dragged out of retirement, this time by Santino D'Antonio, an Italian mob boss to whom he swore a blood oath many years ago. The rules of the world John once inhabited means that refusal to honour this blood oath will cost him his life, forcing him to travel to Rome in order to carry out a hit that he doesn't want to.

8 February 2017

The Lego Batman Movie review


As a spin-off from 2014's surprisingly good The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie had a lot to live up to. The Lego Movie was in many ways a breath of fresh air, a funny, subversive, wholly original film that impressed not only because of how good it was for a branded product, but just how good it was as a movie full-stop. Following that up was always going to be a challenge, one only made all the more difficult by centring the movie around one of pop cultures most recognisable icons - and yet The Lego Batman Movie is by and large a success, albeit not quite to the same degree that The Lego Movie was.

The reason for that success is simple - much like The Lego Movie, there is a sense of purpose to The Lego Batman Movie that gives it a reason to exist beyond mere corporate interests. The Lego Batman Movie positions Lego Batman not as a distinct version of Batman but as an all-encompassing overview of the character as he has existed in pop-culture for the last eight decades, a conglomeration of all previous canon that allows the movie to act as both a cunning meta-commentary on the Batman franchise and a celebration of the character's many incarnations over the years.

3 February 2017

T2 Trainspotting review


It's weird that we don't talk about Danny Boyle more often. Few directors can boast a filmography as varied and consistently interesting as his, and yet in the grand scheme of things he's completely under-appreciated, only really taken note of when he's set to release a new film. Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Steve Jobs all showcase his many talents as a director - and now T2 Trainspotting can be added to that list, the long-awaited sequel to potentially his most well-regarded film and one that (thankfully) doesn't disappoint.

It's been twenty years since Renton ran off with the £16,000 at the end of Trainspotting, but when T2 Trainspotting starts not a lot has really changed. Our characters are older now, but they're still very much the same people they were two decades ago - Renton is still an addict, albeit to exercise rather than heroin; Sick Boy is still a schemer, coming up with any number of get rich quick schemes that ultimately fall apart; Spud is still a junkie, unable to get his life on track; Begbie is still very much Begbie, only made more bitter by his time in prison. That lack of development between films is very much deliberate - these characters are incapable of meaningful change thanks to their inability to let go of the past, whether that be through regret (Renton), anger (Sick Boy and Begbie) or just a vague sense that things were better back then (Spud).

1 February 2017

Hacksaw Ridge review


Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, Hacksaw Ridge isn't just a declaration that Mel Gibson is back in Hollywood's good books. It may be his first directorial effort in a decade, but it's clear that the time he's been away hasn't changed him - not only is Hacksaw Ridge a well-made film, but his choice to revisit themes that he's more than familiar with also serves as a notice that he's still very much Mel Gibson, with all that entails.

Set predominantly during the Second World War, Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Private Desmond Doss, a combat medic who refused to kill or even hold a gun due to his beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. Despite that, he still managed to save the lives of 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa, becoming the first conscientious objector (or conscientious cooperator, as Doss puts it) to receive the Medal of Honor.

27 January 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage review


It's been a couple of days since I saw xXx: Return of Xander Cage now, and I still can't decide if it's the most self-aware film I've ever seen, or the least. It's either a brilliant self-parody of a Vin Diesel movie or the ridiculous next step in what a Vin Diesel movie is, a knowing nod and wink to the audience or an earnest but horribly misguided attempt to give Vin Diesel a new ensemble action franchise to lead. You could quite easily walk away from xXx: Return of Xander Cage with either interpretation, and ultimately, which it is doesn't really matter - regardless of if xXx: Return of Xander Cage is so bad it's good or just good, it's still a lot of fun to sit through.

The story sees extreme sports enthusiast/spy Xander Cage come out of hiding in order to help the NSA retrieve a piece of technology called the Pandora's Box from a group of terrorists who are also all extreme sports enthusiasts. If that synopsis doesn't paint a pretty good picture of what to expect from xXx: Return of Xander Cage, how about this: the film opens with a scene that sees a footballer successfully stopping an armed robbery by kicking a napkin holder at the robber's head.

25 January 2017

Hands on with the Nintendo Switch


A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go down to the Switch launch event in London. Along with other members of the public I was lucky enough to try the few games that have been revealed for the console and get some hands on time with the unit itself. The potential it has and my excitement for the system were somewhat dampened by the big presentation Nintendo held a few days before the event. There were too many variables that weren't addressed and the lineup of games wasn't that big, especially the amount that are being released early on. I thought the overall concept of the Switch was still great but that was shown to us last year. Apart from information regarding HD rumble (of which they didn't really explain) and a few new games, there wasn't much content to back it all up. As a brand new home console from Nintendo they could have gone in a very different direction that I'm sure would greatly please more dedicated gamers.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the direction and quality of games they are showing off with a few niggling issues that are holding back my overall excitement levels. It was only on the train ride home from the Switch event where the true potential of the system hit me. Having those console experiences on the journey would be game changing. The quality of the screen and controllers. The ability to play multiplayer games with just the unit itself. The ease of popping off a controller and giving it to a friend.

But then of course my mind wanders to the questions of battery life, range of games and storage space and the doubts and issues build up again, but for a moment I saw the possibilities of what the Switch could open up. A handheld that happens to be a console is such a straightforward yet clever idea that it seems unbelievable that no-one has pulled it off yet. Along with the quality of Nintendo's first party games, it could take off with a whole different audience who weren't even aware of the Wii U's existence.

Let's get straight into the games along with a quick grade to see how they stack up against each other.

23 January 2017

Split review


M. Night Shyamalan is a difficult director to pin down. Neither the "next Spielberg" he was once touted as nor the entirely talentless hack he has often been painted as, he's a director whose wildly inconsistent filmography means that he's pretty much the definition of a "hit-and-miss" filmmaker. Fortunately, his latest movie Split is more hit than miss, a small scale horror/thriller that's fairly entertaining throughout, showing us a Shyamalan who is willing to embrace his genre roots in a way that plays to his strengths as both a writer and as a director - and something that I'd like to see more of in the future.

Split follows three teenage girls - Claire, Marcia and misfit Casey - as they are kidnapped and held prisoner by Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who suffers from severe Dissociative Identity Disorder due to childhood abuse. As the girls attempt to escape they meet a number of Kevin's personalities, including the obsessive compulsive Dennis and 9-year old Hedwig, and slowly learn that the reason they were taken was to witness the emergence of "The Beast" - the incredibly violent 24th personality in Kevin's body who aims to purge the world of the impure, starting with them.