10 December 2016

Moana review

Moana can't have been an easy film to make. Three years on and it has become all the more clear the kind of impact that Frozen really had - not only was it something of a cultural phenomenon, it was also a surprisingly subversive film that pretty much rebutted the very notion of the princess movie. Anything attempting to get away with a "one true love's kiss" is going to seem trite and old-fashioned after Frozen went about deconstructing many of the tropes most closely associated with these kind of films, and that puts Moana in a very odd position indeed. As a swansong to the genre at large, Frozen is hard to fault - but how on Earth does a princess movie follow up the film that killed the princess movie?

Moana's answer to that difficult question is a simple but effective one - move with the times. The cliches so expertly refuted by Frozen are instead ignored entirely by Moana, making it feel like just as much of an evolution of the princess movie as Frozen does, albeit in a quieter, less obvious way. Our main character is a princess in status only, and there isn't a romantic subplot or a damsel in distress to be found within throwing distance of the film - in fact, she may well be the single most capable female heroine Disney have ever created, a natural leader right from the start of the movie played perfectly by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho.

24 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was always going to face something of an uphill struggle. The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most successful of the 21st century so far, beloved by millions all over the world - a spin-off from that was always going to seem like something of a cash grab, regardless of J. K. Rowling's level of involvement. I'm pretty much as big a Harry Potter fan as you are likely to meet, and yet the possibility of a totally unnecessary spin-off coming along and damaging the property's well-earned reputation had me more than a little worried.

I shouldn't have been. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is by no means the perfect movie, but it still offers a good enough reason to revisit the magical world that J. K. Rowling created - and that's all it ever really need to do.

21 November 2016

Arrival review

Like all forms of entertainment, films matter. They may seem inconsequential at times, but they help inform how we think and what we think about, defining us as people even if we aren't always aware of the way they do that. 2016 has been a terrible year for a number of reasons (you know the ones), but Arrival's message of unity over division and the importance of international co-operation acts as a vital reminder that humanity is at its best when it puts the bullshit aside and strives for a common goal. Arrival is a really well-made film, one that was always going to be worth watching regardless of when it was released - but in coming out now, Arrival is transformed into something that feels like a downright necessity.

After 12 identical ships touch down in seemingly random locations over Earth, we follow linguist Louise Banks as she is hired by the US Army to communicate with the aliens, known as Heptapods for their seven legs. Deciding early on to focus on written communication over verbal, it's up to her to ensure that they have enough knowledge of the Heptapods' language to ask and understand the answer to "What is your purpose on Earth?" before one of the other nations - or even their own - allows their fear of the aliens to overcome them.

14 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals review

Nocturnal Animals, the second film from fashion designer/film-maker Tom Ford, isn't exactly an easy film to describe. An adaptation of Austin Wright's novel "Tony and Susan", it uses two distinct plots to tell one story, a narrative within a narrative in which information from one abstractly informs the other. Following the unexpected delivery of a manuscript, we follow art gallery owner Susan Morrow as she is drawn into the fictional story of Tony Hastings, whose traumatic experience forces her to recall painful memories of her past relationship with the manuscript's author.

1 November 2016

Doctor Strange review

As we neared the finale of Doctor Strange, I suddenly realised that I was more interested in seeing the after-credits scenes than I was in watching the film perform its conclusion. My investment in this movie rested more in seeing how this story and these character would go on to interact with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe than it did in the story and characters themselves, and although that's fantastic news as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned - a testament to how well these 14 movies have come together in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts - it's also a fairly good indication that Doctor Strange itself simply isn't all that engaging a movie.

Following a career-ending car crash, we follow talented ex-neurosurgeon Stephen Strange as he attempts to master the mystical arts in order to heal his hands back into the condition they once were. Travelling to a place called Kamar-Taj in Nepal, Strange starts to study and train under the guidance of The Ancient One, who eventually reveals to Strange that he now has a responsibility to protect the Earth from the kind of mystical threats that the Avengers cannot.

13 October 2016

Luke Cage season one review

There is a lot to like about Luke Cage, the latest Netflix series set in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. For a start, it's an unabashedly black TV show in a time when the default remains lily-white, and it's full of the kind of things that great TV relies on - interesting characters, a great cast, and a strong sense of style. Unfortunately, this is all undermined by a lack of direction that comes close to derailing the entire thing at times, which raises the questions - at what point does something stop being flawed and start being... simply not all that good?

Set in Harlem, we follow the super strong, bulletproof Luke Cage as he attempts to get his life back to normal after the events of Jessica Jones. He's working multiple jobs off-the-books, including sweeping hair at a local barbers and washing dishes at Harlem's Paradise, a club owned by gangster Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. But after three kids ruin a gun deal between the local gangs by stealing the money at gunpoint, Cottonmouth starts searching all of Harlem for them, bringing him to conflict with Luke.

8 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children review

Tim Burton has always been a director that I've never really been able to get on with. It's hard to deny that the man has a consistent sense of style, but you've got to remember that he hasn't released a truly good film in pretty much the entire time I've been alive, so it's difficult for me to see his shtick as anything other than a glossy cover for otherwise incredibly mediocre to downright bad movies. As such, I went into Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children assuming that it would be yet another poorly crafted movie coated in a thick veneer of Gothic wankery - but much to my surprise, it's actually... well, fairly enjoyable.

It's been described by many as Tim Burton's version of X-Men, and to be honest it's hard to argue with that. Miss Peregrine, like the children she cares for, is a Peculiar - that is, someone born with special powers and unique abilities that make living in human society difficult, if not entirely impossible. As such, she and other Peculiars like her look after young Peculiars by creating time loops in which they can live in peace.

1 October 2016

The Magnficent Seven review

Can a film really be praised just because it doesn't technically do anything wrong? Is it OK to criticise a film for simply being adequate? At what point does "purely acceptable" stop being good enough? These are the kind of questions posed by Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 film of the same name and one of the most staggeringly ordinary movies I've ever seen.

You know the drill. We follow Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter hired by the townspeople Rose Creek to protect them from Bartholomew Bogue, a businessman who is forcing them out of their homes in order to better capitalise on the nearby mines. Rounding up six unlikely allies, Chisolm and his motley crew travel to Rose Creek in order to liberate the town from Bogue's men and protect it and its people from the inevitable violent retaliation.

27 September 2016

Hands on with Dishonored 2

As with Just Cause 3 last year, Dishonored 2 pretty much single-handedly sold me on my ticket to attend this years EGX. I'm a big fan of Arkane Studios' Dishonored, the 2012 steampunk-esque (whalepunk?) stealth game that combined excellent world-building, satisfying mechanics and brilliant level design to deliver something that I've replayed more times that I care to admit, and the opportunity to play the sequel was simply too tempting to pass up.

The mission I played is one that takes place around about 4 hours into the game, tweaked slightly so that those unfamiliar with the first game still have a fighting chance of completing it. Choosing to play as either Corvo Atanno (the protagonist of Dishonored) or Emily Kaldwin (the now grown-up princess from the first game with abilities of her own), players are are tasked with infiltrating the mansion of genius inventor Kirin Jindosh in order to put a stop to the development of his automated clockwork soldiers, while also rescuing an old ally who is being held prisoner deep within the mansion.

26 September 2016

Hell or High Water review

Films are as much a product of the time they were made in as they are the product of those who made them, and Hell or High Water demonstrates that better than most. It's a film that could only really be created in today's climate, a modern Western with a strong anti-capitalist streak that's going to resonant with an awful lot of people. We follow brothers Toby and Tanner Howard as they rob a series of banks in order to pay off a reverse mortgage that their late mother took out on family land, and in doing so earn the ire of soon-to-be retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton.

The Texas presented to us in Hell or High Water is a thoroughly depressing place, one still struggling to recover from the effects of the financial crisis. The small towns we find ourselves in are virtually abandoned, strip-mined by banks that have successfully turned financial difficulties into easy profit, and that into the new norm. This is the environment created by the banks, which in turn creates people like the Howard brothers - regardless of the actions they take, Hell or High Water places the ultimate blame on the banks themselves for putting the brothers in a position where their actions are necessary. It ensures that we understand that the people are victims of the banks far more than the banks are victims of the people, and in doing so marks itself as one of the most anti-establishment films of the year.