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.

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.