19 June 2017

The Mummy review


Opening with a good 10 minutes or so of extended flashbacks and unengaging, blandly narrated exposition, The Mummy is a film that starts off badly and only goes downhill from there. That's probably not going to come as too much of a shock thanks to the laughably unimpressive trailers and the critical mauling that it's already received, but that doesn't make it any less true - The Mummy fails at pretty much everything that it attempts, whether that be simply entertaining its audience for 110 minutes or getting us excited about future films in what Universal were hoping would become a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque shared franchise. This is the studio's second attempt to revitalise their old Universal Monsters properties after Dracula Untold failed to set the world on fire three years ago, but already I think it's pretty safe to say that The Mummy's Dark Universe won't fare any better - it certainly doesn't deserve to, that's for sure.

The Mummy follows Tom Cruise's Nick Morton, a soldier/treasure hunter in modern day Iraq who accidentally unearths the tomb/prison of Ahmanet, a Princess who was kept hidden from history after selling her soul to the Egyptian god Set and attempting to give him a physical form. After freeing herself from her sarcophagus by causing the plane she's being transported in to crash, Ahmanet resumes her efforts to give Set a physical body, and decides that Nick is the perfect vessel for that.

6 June 2017

Wonder Woman review


There's a lot riding on Wonder Woman, the latest DC superhero film from Warner Bros, and not just because it's the first female led, female directed superhero film of the modern era. The previous three films in the DC Extended Universe have all underwhelmed to various degrees, either critically, financially, or both - all eyes are on Wonder Woman to prove that there is value to be found in this franchise yet, and while obviously imperfect at times, I'm pleased to say that it manages to do just that. It's taken far longer than it should have, but the DCEU has finally delivered a film that is genuinely worth seeing, flaws and all.

Told as an extended flashback framed around the photograph she was trying to reclaim in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman sees Diana Prince getting involved in the First World War after learning of its existence when American spy/pilot Steve Trevor crashes his plane into the sea surrounding her home, the island of Themyscira. Concluding that only Ares, the God of War, could be behind this madness, Diana travels to London and later the Front with Steve to kill Ares and put an end to the war once and for all.

27 May 2017

Colossal review


Colossal might have been advertised as a quirky, high concept indie comedy, but that's really not an accurate representation of it at all. It's funny at times, sure, but maybe not in the way that trailers would indicate, and comedy certainly isn't where the focus of Colossal lies. Instead, it's part relationship drama, part "emotionally stunted adult returns to their home town" film and, bizarrely, part monster movie, all of which is used to mediate on self-destructive behaviour and abusive relationships in a surprisingly earnest and sobering way.

Yes, it's an odd film. But importantly, it's also a very good one.

We follow Gloria, an alcoholic party girl who moves back to her home town following a bad break-up in New York. Living out of any empty house that her parents used to rent out, she soon runs into an old school-friend who offers her a job at his bar - but after a night of heavy drinking, Gloria begins to suspect that she might be in control of a gigantic, Kaiju-esque monster that, since she moved back home, has been periodically rampaging through Seoul, South Korea.

20 May 2017

Alien: Covenant review


To say that Ridley Scott's Prometheus didn't receive the warmest of receptions upon release would be something of an understatement - to this day it's considered to be a punchline amongst franchise fans, a reputation that has clearly influenced the development of its quasi-sequel to a large degree. Alien: Covenant is a film that feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a feature length piece of franchise course correction, and how much that works for you is likely going to depend on how much you like Prometheus - but as a newfound fan of Prometheus following a recent rewatch, I can't help but be conflicted by a film that while well-intentioned, seems all too happy to throw its predecessor under the proverbial bus.

Set a handful of years after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew of the colony ship Covenant as they travel through space on their way to a planet they are tasked with colonising. Awoken early from hypersleep by a neutrino shockwave that damages the ship, they stumble upon a nearby planet that would be even more suitable for colonisation than their current destination, and send a group down to investigate. It should probably go without saying that things go badly for the crew.

4 May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review


After just under a decade of consistently producing some of the best blockbuster entertainment each year, you can be pretty sure that you're in for a good time if you go to see a movie with the Marvel Studios title card in front of it, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - the fifteenth(!) film in the ever expanding franchise experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe - offers no exception to that. Fans of the first film are going to find a lot to enjoy here, and while this review may come across as very critical at times, it's important to take that alongside the knowledge that despite being noticeably more flawed than its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still an entertaining, engaging film in its own right, and one that I personally enjoyed very much.

The comparisons that you might have seen made between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back are apt, and not just thanks to this films status as a space opera sequel. It too makes the decision to split up its core characters for much of the film's running time, allowing it to tackle its two main threads at once - one following Peter Quill and some of the Guardians as they meet Peter's biological father for the first time, and the other following Yondu Udonta and the rest of the Guardians as he re-examines his life (and his relationship with Peter) following a chance encounter with an old ally.

25 April 2017

Raw review


It's been nearly a week since I saw Raw, the latest film from French director Julia Ducournau, and in truth I still feel just a little queasy when I think about it. From its opening scene, Raw is a film that maybe more than anything else seeks to provoke its audience, and regardless of what the intended reaction is - disgust, fear, horror or even laughter - it's very, very good at getting it. It's not going to be a film for everyone, or maybe even a film for most, but those able to stomach Raw's particular brand of horror will find a movie able to get under your skin and stay there in a way that very few can.

We follow lifelong vegetarian Justine as she begins her first year at the veterinary college that her older sister attends, and that her parents attended many years ago. After a bizarre hazing ritual forces Justine to eat meat for the first time in her life, she develops a horrific rash that once cured leaves her hungry for more.

20 April 2017

The Handmaiden review


Rightly or wrongly, revenge is a theme that has become almost synonymous with the filmography of South Korean director Park Chan-wook. Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Lady Vengeance and even Stoker are all films that are interested in the recurring motif of justice and retribution, and in that sense The Handmaiden is very much apiece with the rest of Chan-wook's filmography - it too is if not explicitly a film about vengeance, at least includes it as an important part of its story. But The Handmaiden also comes with a subtle shift in worldview that pushes Chan-wook into exploring new and interesting directions, which alongside an added layer of substance results in what may well be his best film to date - and as any film fan worth their salt should know, that's not nothing.

Based loosely on Sarah Waters' novel "Fingersmith", The Handmaiden tells the story of pickpocket Sook-hee as she works as a maid for wealthy heiress Lady Hideko in Japanese-controlled Korea. Sook-hee has only taken the job as part of a plan to scam Hideko out of her fortune by convincing her to marry an accomplice, but as she spends time with Hideko she begins to fall in love, putting the plan in jeopardy in the process.

16 April 2017

Fast & Furious 8 review


At this point, I feel like you're either on the same wavelength as the Fast and Furious franchise or you're not. When I saw Furious 7 two years ago, I most decidedly was not, and my review at the time reflected that - having since seen both Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, however, I'd now consider myself wholly on-board with the larger-than-life soap operatics that is core to the franchise. These films are big and broad and dumb, sure, but their willingness to earnestly embrace the recurring motif of family and the  ridiculous sense of canon built up over the last 16 years or so means that they work, often in spite of themselves - and Fast & Furious 8 (or to use its far superior title, The Fate of the Furious) offers no exception.

The plot this time sees international cyber-criminal Cypher forcing Dom to turn on his family in order to help her steal various pieces of technology, but despite the simplicity of that hook, newcomers to the Fast and Furious franchise are going to find themselves entirely lost here. So much of what makes Fast & Furious 8 work on anything beyond a purely visceral level is rooted in the work that previous films have done with the characters and their relationships to one another - anyone lacking that context is likely to miss out on the weight behind Dom's betrayal, Cypher's hold over him or the tension in bringing a Shaw brother onto the team. This over-the-top melodrama is ultimately where the heart of Fast & Furious 8 (and the franchise at large) lies, and as such those not attuned to that frequency simply won't find as much to enjoy here as those who are.

6 April 2017

Free Fire review


Ben Wheatley may not be the most easily digestible director making a name for himself today, but as the man behind movies as varied as Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England and High Rise, I'd find it hard to argue that he isn't one of the most interesting. His films are never short of originality, often bursting onto the scene less like a breath of fresh air and more like a hurricane of different, and Free Fire offers no exception - set almost entirely within the confines of an abandoned warehouse, we follow two groups of colourful, vibrant characters as they engage in an absurd shootout that, barring a short set-up, lasts for the films entire running time.

That set up sees a group of IRA members travelling to Boston in the 1970s to buy a bunch of assault rifles from South African arms dealer Verne, but the details of why this deal is happening are nothing more than set dressing for a film that really only exists to ask and answer the question of "can a single gunfight in one location really be turned into a feature length film?". In that respect, it could be argued that Free Fire is more interesting as an experiment in storytelling than it is as an actual movie - but that doesn't mean that it's ever less than a very entertaining film too.

4 April 2017

The Autopsy of Jane Doe review


The glut of great horror films we've had over the last few years have made it easy to forget, but horror is tricky. No other genre relies so heavily on all the individual pieces working together in harmony - if the audience aren't engaged or if suspension of disbelief is broken for even a second then the entire thing falls apart, sucking all the tension out of the film in one fell swoop. Horror is a careful tightrope walk that results in something wonderful when done properly - but one foot out of place at any point and regardless of how well things have been going until then, it's game over.

Unfortunately, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a great example of that principle. Set in a private morgue, we follow a father-son coroner team as they perform an autopsy on the titular Jane Doe, whose body was found at the site of a grisly homicide without a single mark on it. As they learn more about the mysterious corpse in front of them, the tension rises as the atmosphere builds - but The Autopsy of Jane Doe fails to sell a turn of events about halfway through, meaning that despite some decent jump scares and a very creepy atmosphere, the finale simply doesn't work.