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.

18 January 2017

Live by Night review


I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed. Live by Night is the first film for a very long time that I've truly regretted seeing in the cinema, and although that sounds incredibly negative (especially considering some of the dross I've seen in recent years), you have to understand that statement is more due to my own personal feelings about Ben Affleck as a director than it is the quality of the film itself. I've greatly enjoyed all three of the films that Ben Affleck has previously directed, and have been rooting for him for some time now - something that only makes Live by Night all the more saddening, a black mark on an otherwise respectable directing career.

Based on the Dennis Lehane book of the same name, Live by Night tells the story of Bostonian bootlegger Joe Coughlin during the Prohibition era. Following hospitalisation and a three year prison sentence at the hands of Irish gangster Albert White, Joe starts to work for rival Italian Mafia boss Maso Pescatore in order to get his revenge, moving down to Tampa, Florida to run the Mafia's rum empire and coming into conflict with the KKK in the process.

11 January 2017

La La Land review


Despite having been looking forward to La La Land, the latest film from Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle, for some time now, the first two musical numbers had me more than a little worried that I wasn't going to enjoy it. The opening to the movie, a colourful, well-choreographed sequence on a gridlocked highway, felt entirely incidental even while it was happening; the follow-up to that, which sees Emma Stone's character Mia and her friends getting ready for and then attending a Hollywood party, was far too reminiscent of something like Hairspray or Grease for my tastes. It wasn't until the third number, a truly old-school song and dance titled "A Lovely Night", that La La Land really clicked with me - at which point I was completely hooked by a film every bit as good as you've probably already heard.

La La Land is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, a romantic musical that disproves the empty-headed sentiment of "they don't make them like they used to" with ease thanks not just to the songs, dances, structure and tone that makes La La Land completely unique in modern cinema, but also the sheer sense of craft on display throughout. There isn't an aspect of La La Land that isn't highly polished, from Justin Hurwitz's wonderful score to the dance choreography to the vivid cinematography, all of which help La La Land pop from the screen in a way few films manage to do even once, never mind multiple times.

6 January 2017

Assassin's Creed review


At this point, I can only conclude that there is an actual, honest-to-God curse on those who attempt to adapt video games into films. It's not a shock that there have been a lot of bad video game movies - most of them are relatively low-budget flicks designed to take advantage of the brand name and nothing more - but Assassin's Creed, much like last year's Warcraft: The Beginning, had real potential. Director Justin Kurzel had previously worked with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard on his very well thought of Macbeth, so seeing the three of them reunite for this felt like something of a statement, a declaration of intent - and yet somehow, Assassin's Creed has still ended up being an entirely terrible movie, one lacking even a single redeeming feature.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Assassin's Creed follows Callum Lynch, a death-row inmate who is the last descendant of 15th Century Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha. Following a fake execution, Callum is held against his will by the Abstergo Foundation and used as a test subject in a machine that allows people to tap into their "genetic memories" and relive the lives of their ancestors - something that the Abstergo Foundation hope will lead them to the Apple of Eden, an ancient artefact that would allow them to control free will and "cure violence".