14 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 review


How do you even begin to talk about a film like Blade Runner 2049? No matter which way you look at it, making a sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner was always going to be an enormous risk, whether that be the financial risk of creating a decades late, high profile, big budget sequel to a film that originally flopped at the box office or the creative risk of being responsible for a disappointing follow up to what is often considered to be the greatest science fiction movie ever made. Frankly, it's a miracle that Blade Runner 2049 even exists at all - the fact that it's actually ended up being a good film is really just the unlikely icing on this already incredibly implausible cake.

Because yes, Blade Runner 2049 is indeed a good film, occasionally veering into genuine greatness. But maybe more surprisingly, it's also a worthy follow up to the original, one that uses the story of Blade Runner as a stepping off point for its own exploration of this world, both narratively and thematically. We follow K, a Blade Runner for the LAPD, as he is tasked with secretly investigating a chest that was found buried under the farm of a Replicant that he recently retired.

28 September 2017

mother! review


"I feel like I've just been assaulted". That's the first thing a friend of mine had to say after leaving the cinema following mother!, and it's also as accurate a description of director Darren Aronofsky's latest as you're likely to read. It's a cruel and upsetting movie that the vast majority of people simply aren't going to enjoy, but for some, it's also going to be nothing short of one of the most powerful cinematic experiences they're likely to have this year. If you already intend to see mother!, please, stop reading this review right now and simply go see it - it's definitely a film that benefits from knowing as little as possible about it in advance, and I'd hate to colour your opinion about what mother! is actually about before you've even seen it.

Yes, it's one of those kinds of films. It's also, I think, a masterpiece.

mother! follows a young woman (not one of the characters in mother! has a name until the credits) who is living with her older husband in his house, one that she has rebuilt following a terrible fire. After a stranger claiming to be a doctor shows up at their door, the husband invites him to stay with them, much to the chagrin of the young woman. Not long afterwards, the stranger's wife shows up and starts living with them too, and before long any semblance of normalcy has been broken as the house becomes over run with people.

22 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle review


I'm a pretty big fan of director Matthew Vaughn, but one thing that has always frustrated me is his reluctance to make sequels to his films. Not because his films desperately need sequels, but because the sequels end up being made anyway and never live up to his original film - Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past manages to waste all the potential that Vaughn's X-Men: First Class left the franchise with, and the less said about the abortive Kick-Ass 2, the better. So when it was announced that Vaughn would be returning to the director's chair for the sequel to his brilliant Kingsman: The Secret Service, I was genuinely excited - even if the world doesn't strictly need a second Kingsman film, at least this sequel had a decent chance of being good.

Instead, Kingsman: The Golden Circle quite firmly answers the question of why Vaughn doesn't make sequels.

Following an attack from a powerful drug cartel that devastates the Kingsman organisation, Kingsman: The Golden Circle follows Eggsy and Merlin as they travel to America in order to team-up with their American counterparts, the Statesman. It turns out that the Statesman have been looking after a somehow still alive Harry Hart since he was shot in the previous film, but the retrograde amnesia he's suffering from means he remembers nothing from his life as a Kingsman. Around the same time, the leader of the aforementioned drug cartel, the Americana-obsessed Poppy Adams, announces to the world that she's been poisoning her product, and won't release the antidote to her hundreds of millions of users around the world until the President of the USA ends the War on Drugs once and for all.

19 September 2017

It review


Is it sacrilege for a film critic to admit that his only knowledge of Stephen King comes in the form of Frank Darabont's adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist? It certainly feels like it at the moment - every other review of Andy Muschietti's adaptation of It seems to be written by people well-acquainted with both the novel and the 1990 mini-series, and that can't help but paint me as at least somewhat ignorant when it comes to this film. That said, a fresh pair of eyes is often a useful perspective to have when it comes to adaptations of much beloved things, and from where I'm standing, It is nothing less than a damn fine horror movie, regardless of how much you do or don't know about the story beforehand.

Set over the course of roughly a year during the late 80's, It takes place in the small town of Derry, which despite looking like a fairly normal town has an unusually high rate of missing people cases, especially amongst children. After a young boy named Georgie goes missing during a rainstorm, his almost-teenage brother Bill becomes obsessed with finding him in the town's sewers - but soon discovers that there is something terrible lurking under the town, something that begins to hunt Bill and his group of friends by using their deepest, darkest fears against them.

23 August 2017

Atomic Blonde review


It might be tempting to call Atomic Blonde "the female John Wick" thanks to its stylish, well-choreographed action and the fact that the two share a director in David Leitch, but it's also a description that is going to see people entering the cinema wildly misled about what kind of film it really is. Yes, Atomic Blonde's particular brand of action can't help but feel reminiscent of that in John Wick - but where John Wick offers a lean, straightforward action flick, Atomic Blonde is instead a constantly twisting spy thriller focused more on the ever-increasing complexity of its plot than being an entertaining action film.

Set around the fall of the Berlin Wall, we follow MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton as she travels to Berlin in order to retrieve a microfilm that contains the details of all the spies working in Berlin at that time. The microfilm reportedly contains the identity of "Satchel", a mysterious double-agent who has been a thorn in the side of MI6 for years - naturally then, there are a great many people who want to use that information to their advantage, only making Lorraine's mission all the more dangerous.

12 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review


Now, look. It'd be easy for me to sit here and shit all over Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, because it's just that kind of movie. Big, bold, colourful, earnest and downright goofy is rarely a combination that results in critical success thanks to how easy it is to feel superior to the movie in question, and the dozens of articles written only to tear down Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in the most verbose, scathing way possible bear that out. But as entertaining as those articles are to read, director Luc Besson's latest is a film that while certainly not for everyone seemed to operating on my exact wavelength throughout - and try as I might, this big, bold, colourful, earnest and downright goofy film is one that I simply can't force myself to be cynical about. If enjoying Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is wrong, then buddy, I don't want to be right.

After a great little montage takes us from the modern day to the 28th Century, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows special agents Valerian and Laureline as they keep the peace on Alpha, the space-borne city that the ISS has morphed into over the best part of a millennium. It's inhabited by hundreds and hundreds of different alien species, all there to share their knowledge and expertise with the rest of the universe - but after Valerian receives a strange vision of a dying planet and the leaders of Alpha are attacked at a summit held to discuss a radiation leak at Alpha's center, Valerian and Laureline are forced to go off the grid in order to figure out what exactly is going on.

3 August 2017

Dunkirk review


Christopher Nolan is often accused of being an emotionless director, and while it's a criticism I've only ever half agreed with in the past, Dunkirk certainly doesn't provide much of a counter-argument. It's a movie he's been wanting to make for the last 25 years, one he deliberately put on the back-burner until he felt that he had enough experience directing blockbusters to do it justice - so why is it that Nolan's pet passion project a quarter of a century in the making feels so... well, passionless?

To be perfectly clear, it's not that Dunkirk is ever anything less than finely tuned and impeccably crafted, it's that there's simply not much more to it than that. By weaving through three overlapping time-frames that each follow a different part of the evacuation - land, sea and air - Nolan is able to ensure that the pace never dips for even a moment while also giving Dunkirk the ability to explore three very different types of action, and it is this variation that allows Dunkirk to remain spectacular throughout. It is, in effect, a roller-coaster, and as such its entertainment value comes far more from the up and downs along the way than than it does actually reaching its destination.

25 July 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes review


I can't help but feel that in ten years time, we're going to look back at the Planet of the Apes prequel/reboot trilogy and be amazed. Both Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offer smart, complex, emotionally engaging science fiction for adults on a blockbuster budget - frankly, it's a minor miracle that they even exist in a time when studios seem more risk averse than ever, never mind that they've somehow avoided the kind of interference that has hindered so many movies of late. It's that which has marked this franchise out as something truly different since the beginning, and War for the Planet of the Apes takes that to the next level by delivering not just one of the best, most satisfying conclusions to a trilogy I've ever seen, but also a genuinely brilliant and artistically uninhibited piece of cinema that is quite unlike any other big budget film you're likely to see this year.

Set a couple of years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar and his clan at war with a military faction that are obsessively hunting them. After a peace offering from Caesar to the Colonel leading the faction backfires, Caesar orders his clan out of the woods and across a desert in order to ensure their safety - but motivated by revenge, he chooses to enter the heart of darkness in order to find and kill the Colonel himself.

13 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming review


Between the love still held for Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy and the damage done to the brand by Marc Webb's abortive Amazing Spider-Man rebooted franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming was always going to find itself in something of a difficult position, culturally. Even ignoring how unlikely it was to live up to Raimi's Spider-Man 2, a film that's still arguably a genre high-point over a decade after release, Spider-Man: Homecoming is tasked with offering a fresh take on a character already well-established in pop culture while also delivering on the promise of finally seeing Peter Parker exist as part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe - maybe more than any other MCU film to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is burdened by some heavy expectations, to the point where it would have been far too easy for it to end up disappointing.

Fortunately, that simply isn't the case. It may not reach the dramatic or emotional heights of Spider-Man 2, but by giving us a Peter Parker who looks and acts like a genuine teenager, avoiding any hint of an origin story and maybe most importantly delivering hard on the comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to avoid retreading the same ground as previous films without leaning too heavily on its links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, in short, exactly what it needed to be, and the result is a film that's simply delightful.

30 June 2017

Baby Driver review


As far as elevator pitches go, "a car chase movie where the action is synced to its soundtrack" is a pretty great one, especially when it's coming from none other than Edgar Wright himself. As the man behind the brilliant Cornetto Trilogy and the still under-rated Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it's clear that Wright is maybe the most inventive and original writer/director working today, and with a pitch that great I was sure that as with his previous films, his latest would be another film I'd love dearly - so why is it that Baby Driver left me cold?

It's something I've been pondering since leaving the cinema, and ultimately I think it comes down to a question of individual taste rather than objective quality. Baby Driver is just as tightly-crafted as any of Wright's previous movies, utilising his almost trademark fast-paced editing style in combination with a non-stop soundtrack and some neat choreography to create something that feels totally unique, stylistically - unfortunately, it's all in service of characters and a story that I simply couldn't force myself care about, and all the style in the world can't make up for that.