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.

19 September 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings review

The opening act of Kubo and the Two Strings is some of the finest film making I've ever seen, truly transcendent cinema that holds your attention in a vice like grip throughout, bursting at the seams with the kind of imagination and beauty and craftsmanship that you rarely get to see. From an awe-inspiring sequence that sees Kubo's mother sailing through impossibly rough seas, to a charming scene that sees Kubo using his magic, his music and his origami to tell tales to an enraptured village, Kubo and the Two Strings instantly marks itself out as something different in the best possible way, all before the plot is even set in motion.

We follow Kubo, a young boy with one eye who is living in hiding with his mother after his grandfather tried to blind him as a baby. Kubo, like his mother and the rest of her family, has magical powers - his are best expressed through his instrument, a three stringed guitar that he uses to stage small street performances that tell the story of a great warrior named Hanzo using magically animated origami. However, after the rest of his mothers family find him, Kubo must travel far and wide to locate and unite three mystical artifacts that will give him the power to defeat his grandfather.

13 September 2016

Don't Breathe review

2016 may have been a terrible year for blockbuster entertainment so far, but it's been a great one for horror, to the point where I've started to come around on a genre I previously had little time for. Films like Bone Tomahawk, The Witch and Green Room have all offered unique, exhilarating experiences with a real sense of craft behind them - and now Don't Breathe has done much the same, although admittedly to a lesser degree.

Set in Detroit, we follow a trio of young adults - Alex, the son of a security system installer; Rocky, a young mother looking to leave Detroit; and Money, Rocky's boyfriend - as they break into a blind veterans house in order to steal the large payout he received when his daughter was killed in a hit and run incident. Unfortunately for them, the man they are robbing is far more capable than they initially anticipated in spite of his blindness, and before long they are trapped in the house that he knows like the back of his hand.

8 September 2016

Sausage Party review

Imagine if Pixar, the people behind films such as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up and Wall-E, decided to make an adult comedy. Imagine if they gathered together a who's who of funny people, including most of the cast of Superbad alongside actors like Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd and even Edward Norton. Imagine if they made a movie specifically dealing with the concept of religion, and that the world would be a better place without it.

Now imagine that Pixar were also really, really bad at making movies. Imagine that they lost their ability to effectively tell a story, to create interesting characters, to make movies that resonant with their audience. Imagine if everyone working for Pixar suffered a severe head trauma immediately before putting pen to paper, instantly putting their mental age back by decades.

The result is Sausage Party, a film that means well.

30 August 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping review

If you ever needed definitive proof that general audiences are terrible at deciding what films are worth spending their money on, look no further than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Here's a film that audiences should have flocked to see - interesting premise, recognisable stars, and most importantly, genuinely hilarious - and yet there were just seven people in the showing I attended. Four, if you don't include myself and the two people who came with me.

That's the second emptiest showing of a film I've ever sat in, a frustrating reminder that general audiences seem to refuse to see anything that isn't based on a pre-existing intellectual property anymore. Still, a lack of interest from the population at large doesn't stop Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping from being quite easily the best comedy film of the year, a satirical look at the music industry and celebrity culture that leans hard into the over-exaggerated, almost surreal sense of humour that The Lonely Island are known for.

25 August 2016

Pete's Dragon review

In a time when studio interference seems more common than ever, it isn't difficult to appreciate what Disney have given us in Pete's Dragon. Here is a film noticeably lacking the hallmarks of a troubled production, one that isn't plagued by the kind of issues that often come from executive meddling. Instead, Pete's Dragon really feels like an example of a studio having complete faith in a directors vision, and the result of that is a wonderful little film that probably couldn't exist under any other circumstances - a film that a number of big studios could learn a great deal from.

We follow Pete, a young boy who has been living in a vast woodland with a friendly dragon named Elliot since his parents were killed in a car accident six years ago. However, as loggers cut deeper into the woodlands, Pete ends up being discovered and "rescued" by local park ranger Grace, and Elliot starts being hunted by a group of loggers led by Grace's soon-to-be brother-in-law, Gavin.