Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Image is property of Working Title, Focus Features, and Universal Studios

Mary Queen of Scots – Film Review

Cast: Saorise Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Gemma Chan

Director: Josie Rourke

Synopsis: After the death of her first husband, Mary Stuart returns to her Scotland where she is crowned Queen,  posing a threat to the crown of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I…

Review: The time of the Tudors was, as perhaps its most well known ruler Henry VIII is any example, an interesting period in history. Squabbles with the Pope and the Catholic Church, half a dozen different wives for one particular monarch, a few hundred Protestants being burnt at the stake for another, and quite a few people literally losing their heads. An interesting period then for a director who has a wealth of theatre experience, Josie Rourke to make her cinematic debut, and it’s a transition one she makes remarkably well.

In this period piece however, we focus on the final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I and specifically her struggles that she endured when a younger Queen, namely Mary Stuart, arrives in Scotland and poses a very serious challenge to the English throne. Mary, meanwhile has her own problems to deal with as being a Catholic, some do not approve of her religion and hence do not see her as being the rightful ruler. And so begins a power struggle, with the two Queens competing to rule.

Being the regal women that they are (both in life and in this film), Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie are both on excellent form as Mary and Elizabeth respectively. Ronan brings a real fiery feminist nature to her portrayal of Mary, fierce but determined to succeed when there are men, such as John Knox (an excellent David Tennant) who view her with pure contempt due to her Catholic faith, not to mention her gender. For Robbie, she is not quite as fierce as her Scottish counterpart, but she possesses some steely determination when, with the years passing, her inability to produce an heir to her throne, start to take their toll.

The screenplay by Beau Willimon of House of Cards fame does take a little bit of time to get going in the initial stages, but when it gets going, it successfully weaves politically scheming and conniving, mixed in with some romantic drama and political squabbling. That being said, what with there being so much history in the period of Elizabeth I alone, the film tries to cram a substantial amount into its run time, which can leave things feeling a little uneven in terms of its story. Rourke’s direction is remarkably confident for someone making their cinematic debut, and she clearly shows that she has the talent to further her career as a film director.

When bringing any period piece to the screen, it’s imperative that the costumes and production design are resplendent and both are equally so, with Alexandra Byrne’s costumes especially going some way to add that extra layer of authenticity. Their brilliant work is complimented by the gorgeous cinematography provided by two time Oscar nominee John Mathison. For sure the film takes some liberties with its source material, but so long as it serves the story, which in this case it does, then all the better for it. Given the times we are living in, the film reminds its audience, that women, no matter who they are, where they come from or what time they lived in, deserve to have their voices heard.

Offering an intriguing look at the workings of Tudor politics, mixed in with two excellent performances from its leading ladies, ensures that this biopic packs some royal ferocity.

Advertisements
Posted in 2010-2019, Ranking

Best Films of 2018

Another twelve months of film (or so) have whizzed by, and with that turn of the Earth’s cycle has come another plethora of exciting films. The culmination of the MCU, a fascinatingly beautiful love story, a black and white masterpiece, some incredible true stories, the sixth entry of a franchise that continues to deliver the thrills and excitement, a remake done good, and another Pixar masterpiece. It was quite the year for cinema in 2018, and it is time for me to give you my opinion as to what was the best of the best. Much as I would want to, I have not seen every film that came out this year, so if your favourite isn’t on here, I might not have seen it.

Now, to explain my somewhat unusual method of ranking these films. Rather than going by UK release date, I try to rank these films per their IMDB date. So if a film is marketed as a 2018 release, I strive to include it here. This gives me the chance to catch some 2018 films that are released in the early weeks of the year, so that they can be eligible for this list. However, some 2017 films were not released in the UK till later on in the year, hence why why some films that are 2017 films per IMDB are included here, as they came to UK cinemas well into 2018.  Similarly, the UK doesn’t get some films that are marketed as 2018 releases until well into 2019. Hence, anything that is released and reviewed after this post, will be deferred for the best of 2019.

Second, the grade that these films received does not dictate where they will rank. One film may get a higher grade or the perfect grade, it will not necessarily mean that film will be the best film of the year. This is, as is the case for all of us who review films, our one chance to be completely biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2018.  Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films were very enjoyable that didn’t quite make the list, but were still very good that you should check out. First up…

The Favourite [review] Yorgos Lanthimos makes peculiar films, and he continues that trend with his latest film that fuses a period piece drama with some very black comedy about a frail Queen and the two women who are competing for her affection. The trio of mesmerising performances from the leading ladies, namely Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, makes for some fascinating dialogue and a vast of amount of conniving and backstabbing.

First Man [review] First came Whiplash, then La La Land, and now this superb film telling the true story of how Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, Damien Chazelle completed his hat-trick in quite some style. On a technical film, the work that Chazelle accomplishes with the space scenes, especially the all important moon landing scene is simply breath-taking. Ryan Gosling is on excellent form as Armstrong, but it’s Claire Foy who steals the show as his wife Janet.

Creed II [review], After Ryan Coogler came in and produced an absolute belter with the first Creed film, following in the wake of that was always going to be tough. But new director Steven Caple Jr does a sterling job to deliver a worthy sequel that focuses on Adonis’s deeply personal battle with Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father. For sure, it is a little by-the-numbers in terms of its plot, but the trio of performances from Sly Stallone, Michael B Jordan and Tessa Thompson ensure that it retains the heart of its predecessor.

Bumblebee [review] After five films directed by Michael Bay, things were starting to get a bit stale (or should that be rusty?) for this franchise. An injection of new blood and metal was needed, and that’s what we got with this film courtesy of Travis Knight, and in so doing gave us the best film of the series. Knight significantly dialled back the action, instead going for more emotion and 80s nostalgia, and combined that with an excellent performance from Hailee Steinfield.

Roma [review] As I mentioned, though I gave this film the highest grade I can give it, it just doesn’t quite get a spot on this list. Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film is a very personal one, that in part examines the director’s early years growing up in the Roma district of Mexico City. Though it is shot in black and white, Cuaron’s cinematography just feels so colourful and his direction is nothing short of exquisite. This film did pretty much everything it could have done perfectly, but (for me at least) it has a lack of rewatchability that just holds it back. But this is a wonderful, technically magnificent piece of cinema that I encourage you to visit if you haven’t already.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, time to crack on with the main list and we begin with…

10. Widows

Widows review

When you combine the talents of Academy Award winners Steve McQueen and Viola Davis, the chances of producing something pretty special are pretty much nailed on. When a heist goes awry, a group of women are left widowed and in a precarious predicament and must carry out their own heist to secure their own futures. In what is perhaps the best ensemble cast of the year, Viola Davis is unsurprisingly excellent but the performances of Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki deserve special mention. In this era of Me Too and Time’s Up, this story of some powerful women taking control of their own destinies is timely, and absolutely thrilling to watch, just as a heist film should be.

9. Black Panther

Black Panther review

The first (and not the last) MCU entry to make this list, and a landmark moment for the MCU and for superhero films in general as this was the first superhero film to feature a predominantly Black cast. Director Ryan Coogler brought the world of Wakanda to life in incredible fashion. From the costumes, to the production design, it all made Wakanda feel like a place that exists on this planet. Coogler stamps his own style firmly on this story, with themes of family, country, pride beating at the core of this emotional and personal journey for our titular hero.

Chadwick Boseman continued where he left off from Civil War, excelling once again as the titular hero. It is though the supporting cast, especially the ladies that end up stealing the show. Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Guira as the whizzkid Shuri, the fearless Nakia and Okoye, the absolute badass General of the Dora Milaje respectively. And once again, Michael B Jordan delivering an excellent performance as Killmonger, a villain you can really sympathise with.

8. A Star is Born

A Star is Born review

A remake, of a remake, of a remake. One would wonder if this latest edition of this story had anything new to really say, but Bradley Cooper’s work with this latest adaptation wonderfully hits all the right notes, and makes it extremely relevant for modern audiences. Telling the story of Cooper’s rock star whose career is winding down, while he meets Lady Gaga’s up and coming singer, whose career is rapidly on the rise.

How Cooper writes, directs, produces, stars in and sings all in one film is quite remarkable, but he does all so well that you just have got to take your hat off to him. The chemistry between these two is excellent, and both give extremely emotional and powerful performances, and yes the music involved is absolutely wonderful with arguably the best soundtrack of the year, and maybe, just maybe (read probably) the next Best Original Song winner in “Shallow.”

7. A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place review

A world in which if you make even the slightest peep, and you’re more than likely doomed is the fascinating premise of this directorial debut from John Krasinski. The film zeroes in on the lives of the Abbott family with Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt as his on screen wife and mother to their children, who must live in absolute silence in order not to become food for the terrifying creatures that have caused society to collapse.

Much like Cooper, Krasinski’s direction for his debut film is excellent. There’s barely a line of dialogue in the first half of the film, and there’s not much more in the second half too. Within the first ten minutes, the audience is immersed in the harshness and brutality of this world. Furthermore, to say this is tense would be something of an understatement, as this family desperately try to stay alive whilst these ruthless creatures are hunting them. If ever there was a film that compelled you to keep your mouth shut while the film was playing, this would be that film.

6. Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs review

No one really makes films like Wes Anderson. After he made Fantastic Mr Fox back in 2009, the eccentric director goes back into the world of stop motion animation to tell a story about man’s best friend(s). In a futuristic Japan, the anti-dog mayor has banished our canine friends to a remote island. However, until a boy rocks up looking for his beloved mutt, and an intriguing adventure unfolds.

Packed with an excellent voice cast including some of Anderson’s regular collaborators, the story is smart and humorous, and the animation is just exquisite in its detail. For all those who love our canine friends, this is one to definitely get your paws into, and even if you’re not a dog person, you will fall in love with this particular group of canines.

With these next five, they all could honestly be #1, but as this is a top 10 list, there must be an order and so, on we go with…

 

5. BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman review

It is hard to get away from the fact that right now in the USA, there is something of a problem with race, which is no small part due to the current White House incumbent. That fact makes this astonishingly true story about a black police officer infiltrating the KKK in the 1970s feel so relevant to today’s society, and all the more frightening. But that’s exactly what the latest film from Spike Lee is, a man who is not afraid to let the world know what he really thinks of the current US President. With this film he unleashes that anger, which when you see some of the stuff we have seen in the USA, is understandable rage.

Anchored by a remarkable lead performance from John David Washington, with an equally terrific turn from Adam Driver as the duo who make up the combined policeman who bravely infiltrates the KKK. It seems unlikely that a film like this would find room for any humour, but Lee manages to weave it into this powerful drama tremendously well. This is until what is undoubtedly the most powerful ending of 2018, that holds nothing back drawing a comparison between the events depicted in the film, and some of the horrific events of recent times.

 

4. Coco

Coco review

When it comes to making animated movies that really pull hard on your heartstrings, there isn’t really anyone who does it better than Pixar. And with their 19th feature, they produced yet another animated masterpiece. Telling the story of an aspiring musician, who, in spite of his family banning music, desperately wants to pursue it. This desire takes him to the Land of the Dead, in search of his ancestor who was himself a musician. This film ventures into territory that could very easily be just a bit too macabre for kids, but as they so often do, Pixar just make it work an absolute treat.

Pixar so often fill their films with wonderful animation, however the detail in the animation is quite simply extraordinary particularly when it comes to the Land of the Dead. Themes of family, pursuing of one’s dreams, and the sheer power that music has on our lives are themes we can all relate to. The characters, whether they’re living or dead, are wonderfully brought to life. If by the time all that emotion comes to the fore in the closing moments of this wonderful work of art, you are not sobbing your eyes out, please check to see if you still have a pulse/soul.

 

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout review

Tom Cruise at the age of 56, is somehow still working wonders in a franchise that with its sixth entry now is finding new ways to blow audiences away with some truly breath-taking stunts and action scenes. With the severe threat of global nuclear devastation hanging over the world, the IMF must stop the impending catastrophe. That plot is familiar yes but Christopher McQuarrie once again directs this film to absolute perfection with absolutely brilliant work done on the numerous action scenes that just leave the audience breathless.

Of course the action is just one facet of what makes this film, and indeed this franchise so great, it marries that up with intriguing political and social subtext, and agendas flying back and forth. Cruise once again leads the way in an excellent cast, with able support from the usual crew of Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, with Rebecca Ferguson once again on top form as Ilsa. It is however Henry Cavill and his well publicised moustache that generated the most headlines. ‘Tache and all, Cavill’s performance alongside Cruise is just one of the many aspects that make this exhilarating mission one that you should definitely accept. One of the best action films ever made.

 

2. Avengers: Infinity War 

Avengers: Infinity War review

10 years in the making, it was all building towards this. The expectations were sky high, and the Russo brothers definitely did not disappoint in delivering a grand spectacle that features just about every MCU hero we have met so far go up against the formidable Thanos and to stop him getting his hands on the Infinity Stones. There were fears before hand that with so many characters that it would just be too crowded. Fortunately all those fears were put to rest once the film finally arrived, and the fact that it does all flow together pretty seamlessly is something of a miracle. However, the film does a tremendous job of giving everyone a stand out moment, though some of those moments are more epic than others (looking at you God of Thunder.)

However the real revelation of this film was Josh Brolin’s brilliant work as Thanos. Though the MCU has certainly suffered from its fair share of poor villains, Thanos was anything but. You understood where he was coming from, and he proved to be a truly formidable foe, with one or two moments in particular that fleshed out his character perfectly. And yes, that ending, oh that ending that left audiences stunned into just utter shock at what just happened. Fans of the MCU couldn’t have asked for much more, and yes as Dr Strange said, we are most definitely in the endgame now.

And so my #1 film of 2018 is

.

.

.

.

.

.

1. The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water review

The Best Picture winner at last year’s 90th Academy Awards, and fully deserving of the accolade, which also saw Guillermo del Toro nab the Best Director gong (also very well deserved). He dips back into the realm of fantasy with this gorgeous tale of a mute woman who falls in love with an Amphibian God being held at a covert US facility. The word beautiful really doesn’t quite do it justice but it with absolutely wonderful cinematography, the film is just awash with gorgeous visuals that just leap off the screen, combined with a moving screenplay that goes deep with its social commentary on a number of different subjects, there is so much more to the film than just “woman falls in love with a fish.”

Led by an astonishing performance from Sally Hawkins who, without saying a word, captures such raw emotion with her performance. She leads an impeccably acted cast including the likes of Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg, as well as Doug Jones as the mysterious creature, all of whom are equally magnificent in their performances. Alexandre Desplat’s Oscar winning score only adds to the sheer beauty and romance of the story. A very different kind of fairytale, but one that just as majestic and magical as anything that the fine folks at the Mouse House have produced in recent years. A worthy film to claim the title of my favourite film of 2018.

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

Well there you have it my picks for the best films of 2018. Thank you for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What were your favourite films of 2018. Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on the following platforms: TwitterFacebook or Letterbox’d.

For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2019, please click here!  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Favourite (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

The Favourite – Film Review

Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: In 18th Century England, with the country at war with France, a frail Queen (Colman) relies on her confidante (Weisz) to run the country. However when a new woman (Stone) arrives at court, a battle for the Queen’s attention ensues.

Review: If you encounter someone who complains about Hollywood becoming too dominated by superheroes, reboots , prequels etc., you should encourage them to seek out the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos. If you are after something unconventional, he is your man. Eccentric to the extreme, having dabbled in a dark love story, and a wholly unique spin on the classic revenge tale. Now Lanthimos takes his idiosyncratic style to the realm of period dramas, and combines it with some very dark comedy, and a riotous romp ensues.

At the centre of this royal feud is Queen Anne, who is in rather poor health at this moment in time that means she finds it difficult in terms of being the Queen and governing her country. Instead, the Queen likes to fill her time with some rather obscure past-times so her confidante Lady Sarah is effectively ruling in her stead. This is until a new arrival at court, Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives seeking employment to turn around her own fortunes, and gain favour with the Queen, giving rise to a feisty battle between the two women to be the Queen’s “Favourite.”

Though not written by him, this feels of similar ilk to Lanthimos’s previous filmography, simple because of how out of the ordinary it is, Downton Abbey this most certainly isn’t. Telling a story in chapters is nothing new, but it’s done in a manner that feels extremely innovative. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara packs in a copious amount of expletives which go hand in hand with some very sharp and witty dialogue that just works so fluently between these engaging characters who seem to be continuously scheming. There are more than a few extremely humorous exchanges that should get those laughter muscles moving.

Though every member of this cast are on top form, including a brilliant turn from Nicholas Hoult, it is the performances of the three central women that are by far the standouts. Colman as Queen Anne is delightful when she wants to be, screaming at those who dare look at her. Yet she is at other times melancholic, given the tragic nature of her past. As the Queen’s confidante/lover, Sarah can be a bit bossy when push comes to shove, but Weisz plays her so brilliantly that you sympathise with her in what she is trying to do. It is however the fierce rivalry that ensues between Lady Sarah and Emma Stone’s Abigail that is the driving force of this story. This is a far cry from her work in La La Land, but Stone takes to this role like a duck to water, and just bosses it from the moment we are first introduced to her, after she has fallen face first into a pile of mud.

As he demonstrated with his previous films, Lanthimos brings a very unique visual style to this film which includes a considerable use of wide shots. The gorgeous cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan only adds to the visual flair of the film. No expense was spared when it came to the production design or the costumes as both are just absolutely exquisite, very befitting for a Queen mind you. Though the film does start to lose its way a little bit in and around the third act, it is only dips momentarily. Lanthimos is certainly different in terms of what he brings to the big screen. While different doesn’t always mean great, it has just the right amount of idiosyncrasy that makes it such a riot to watch.

Raunchy to the maximum, but an extremely witty screenplay with a trio of terrific performances from its leading ladies cement this as a period drama that revels in its eccentricity. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Roma (2018)

Image is property of Netflix, Participant Media and Esperanto Filmoj

Roma – Film Review

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira , Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Synopsis: Charting the life of a middle class family and their two maids, living in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City in the 1970s, as social turmoil threatens to tear their peaceful lives apart…

Review: The name Alfonso Cuarón, much like his other two compatriots Alejandro G Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, is so synonymous with the big budget Hollywood productions. This particular side of Hollywood is one that all of the three Amigos have dabbled in at one point in their careers,a nd all have achieved remarkable success in doing so, with some remarkable films. However, rather than continue on that trajectory for his next film, Cuarón goes much more personal and humane in his latest feature film, and once again, he has made something rather special.

There is a beating heart at the centre of the latest film, but it is not Cuarón’s, it is that of his main character Cleo (Aparicio), a character loosely based on Cuaron’s own nanny as a child. In many respects, this is a film is very much autobiographical as the events seen on screen are based on Cuaron’s own experiences growing up in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo’s life is very much grounded in the routine of her job, looking after the children of a wealthy middle class family, tending to the kids’ needs, and being that figure of support in . This is until a dramatic change of events turns Cleo’s life upside down, and ensuing turmoil in the area runs the risk of tearing her life, and the lives of this family apart.

For someone who has never acted before, Yalitza Aparicio is nothing short of astonishing as Cleo. Her performance is so raw and emotional (as is just about every performance) that it feels like you are not watching a film, but real life, which in many ways you kind of are. With each scene, the work that must have gone on behind the scenes to recreate 1970s Mexico, and the way that Cuarón shoots these scenes brings such authenticity, as well as incredible humanity to this film. Granted, the pacing of the film can be a little sluggish at times, but there is a moment when everything changes. You will know it when it happens.

Shooting entirely in black and white enables Cuarón to add a layer of authenticity to the events on screen, again capturing that affectionate feel to them, and grounding them in reality. Cuarón served as both cinematographer and director, and through it, his skills in both crafts to really come to the fore. It feels as though every frame here was worked on intensely like a rare exquisite piece of artwork, and it pays serious dividends. His direction is breath-taking, with a couple of one take moments in a few scenes that will just leave you speechless in shock, and will also likely to reduce you to a blubbering wreck.

There are certain moments in life that just make you stop and think about the things that are most important to you, and Cuarón captures these moments with so much emotional weight. Going on this extremely emotional journey with these characters is one that everyone should experience, simply due to the profound impact that it should have on the audience. With Hollywood awash with prequels, sequels and the like, such rare and outstandingly beautiful pieces of art like this need to be watched, and above all, they need to be celebrated for what they bring to the medium of film.

With an outstanding central performance at its core, Cuaron has crafted one of his finest films and something truly special in Roma. A personal and profound masterpiece.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bumblebee (2018)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures and Allspark Pictures

Bumblebee – Film Review

Cast:  Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux

Director: Travis Knight

Synopsis: With war ravaging Cybertron, the Autobot Bumblebee arrives on Earth in 1987, where he comes into contact with Charlie (Steinfeld) a young woman who is desperately to adapt and find her place in the world in the wake of personal tragedy….

Review: Flash your minds back to 2007, when for the very first time, a film that featured cars transforming into giant robots ready to do battle, made its way onto the big screen. The expectation was sky high, and though it started out fairly promisingly, the live action Transformers franchise quickly deteriorated. With each new entry, it was starting to feel this series had run out of fuel (and ideas). It was time for some much needed new blood and metal.

For as long as he was in charge of these films, Michael Bay certainly knew one thing, how to blow a lot of shit up. Though there were some undeniably entertaining moments, the familiarity with which Bay told each of his films became extremely tiresome. Thankfully, new director Travis Knight of Kubo and the Two Strings fame comes in , making his first foray into live action film-making. Right from the opening moments of this prequel, you just know that this is going to be a completely different and refreshing experience when compared to the previous films.

For one thing, Knight has significantly dialled back the action scenes (and the explosions) in favour of more heart and character. For a bot that cannot talk Bumblebee certainly showed plenty of heart, and here once again he is brimming with that friendly personality that makes Bumblebee the lovable Autobot that he is. Right in the middle of all this is Charlie, a teenager trying to get her life together and in desperate need of a car. When she stumbles across what she suspects is your run of the mill VW Beetle, she gets caught up in a devastating and deadly conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

Since this is before the time of Samuel Witwicky and his annoying parents, Steinfeld as Charlie is a very warm and welcome presence. She isn’t exactly in the most comfortable or easiest of places in her life but with Bee by her side, he is there to be a figure of support for her when she needs it most. Christina Hodson’s screenplay gives plenty of time for their relationship to develop and to grow into something truly unique that the previous movies really struggled to capture. Though her parents and brother can get marginally annoying at times, John Cena’s portrayal as a Sector 7 gives him a chance to flex his military tough guy muscles, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun with this role.

Though of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers film if there wasn’t a scrap between Autobots and Decepticons and we get a much more in depth look at that conflict, with Peter Cullen once again voicing Optimus Prime in all of his Generation 1 glory. As usual there are a few up-to-no-good Decepticons seeking to hunt down and destroy Bumblebee and put an end to the Cybertronian Civil War. Knight’s direction is a lot more refined, choosing his moments when it comes to the action, which is a refreshing change from Bay’s wanton appetite to just blow everything to smithereens, whilst giving little thought to anything else.

By adding a plethora of 80s pop culture references into the mix, Knight and Hodson have hit upon a winning formula that provides the franchise with the CPR it needed to ensure it didn’t end up on the scrapheap. This is the film that the long time fans of the series have been wanting to see. The “Bayhem” of the previous five films are hopefully now consigned to the past, the future of the franchise now looks a lot more promising, and hopefully more films of this calibre will be transforming and rolling out in the not too distant future.

Full to the brim with heart and emotion, and a superb performance from Steinfeld ensures gives this franchise a much need course correction, whilst ensuring it is the best film in the series by a considerable margin.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Aquaman (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Aquaman – Film Review

Cast:  Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison

Directors: James Wan

Synopsis: When the world of Atlantis seeks to declare war on the surface, the half human/half Atlantean Arthur Curry (Momoa) must confront his half-brother King Orm (Wilson) to save humanity…

Review: It would be far to say that it has not been plain sailing for the DC Extended Universe up until this point. Though it started promisingly, their big budget flagship team-ups ultimately fizzled into mediocrity and disappointment. If a certain Amazonian Warrior hadn’t restored some pride, this fledgling universe might have been perilously close to suffering from an early demise. However, the DCEU is here to stay at least for now, and it is the turn of  Khal Drogo Arthur Curry to get the solo movie treatment.

Much like Wonder Woman before him, Aquaman’s solo film jumps about in time as we watch the meeting of his parents, Queen Atlanna (Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father Thomas (Morrison), and how two beings of two separate worlds brought Arthur into existence. In the wake of the events of Justice League, a visit from Mera (Heard) a resident of Atlantis informs Arthur of his half brother’s plan to bring a war to those of us who dwell on the surface, and how Arthur must take his place as King in order to prevent this coming conflict. If this sounds kinda familiar, it might be because a little film called Black Panther had a strikingly similar plot, except this time around, the hero and the antagonist have swapped roles.

Brothers (and tridents) in arms…

Carrying on from where he left off in Justice League, Momoa is excellent as Aquaman. His charisma and just sheer badassery just makes watching him so effortlessly enjoyable. Amber Heard as Mera also gets a lot more screen time as both she and Aquaman go on their merry adventure to retrieve something that they believe will be of immense importance for the upcoming conflict. Try as they might, unfortunately their chemistry just doesn’t flow. The screenplay is scattershot and completely all over the place, with some very wishy-washy dialogue. With so many different subplots going on, keeping up with it all can feel a bit exhausting, a little bit of refining would have been most welcome. Furthermore, while certain arcs are interesting enough, they definitely could have been removed from the film.

The film’s strengths really lie in the action scenes. Director James Wan brings a real visual swagger to them, and Rupert Gregson Williams’s score helps keep the film moving briskly along. For all the criticisms that have been hurled at previous DCEU films for being devoid of colour, Wan and his DP Don Burgess don’t hold back, ensuring that each frame is truly awash with colour and vibrancy. As well as being awash with colour, there’s a fair bit of CGI, which considering half the film takes place in a world under the see, isn’t that surprising. But damn, if Atlantis was a real place, you know you would just want to visit it.

The battle scenes feel a bit ridiculous at times, but sometimes you just gotta let it slide and sit back and enjoy the ride. Also, this is the second superhero film this year, featuring an animal performing a drum solo. Not sure when, or if this has become a thing, but if it has, then absolutely no arguments. For all the dour of some of the previous instalments, the fun factor is turned up to the maximum right from the off, and just about manages to keep that going right throughout its somewhat bloated run time. The DCEU hasn’t quite been the tidal wave of success the studio, and the fans would have wanted, but with this solid entry under its trident, the tide could hopefully be turning for DC.

Beset by a messy screenplay that could have sunk the whole project, Wan’s confident direction, a reliable lead performance from Momoa, and some bonkers action keeps it all afloat.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mortal Engines (2018)

Image is property of Universal Pictures, Media Rights Capital and WingNut Films

Mortal Engines – Film Review

Cast: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Director: Christian Rivers

Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic world, society as we know it has fallen into ruin. Cities that have become civilisations on wheels, utilising smaller civilisations for their resources in order to survive…

Review: If you are looking to adapt a fantasy novel to the big screen, one man who would be extremely helpful to have on your team, would be visionary director Peter Jackson. The man who of course brilliantly brought the world of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies to the big screen is once again behind the wheels of another dip into the world of fantasy of sorts, except this time, there’s no magic rings, elves or goblins to be found. This time around, it’s a bit more closer to home, sort of.

Set a thousand years into our future, in this time frame civilisation as we know it has collapsed. Resources are scarce, and cities have become meals-on-wheels that roam around the terrain, looking to prey on smaller territories. The leader, or Prime Minister if you will, of what has become London, is Valentine (Weaving) who is looking to establish London’s domination over all of the other territories. In his path, however stands Hester Shaw (Hilmar) a woman who is on her own mission, a deeply personal one at that, against Valentine.

For a directorial debut, Rivers’s direction shows signs of promise as he packs in some exhilarating action sequences, including one right from the opening moments of the film. Having worked extensively with Jackson crafting the magnificent visual effects for both his Middle Earth trilogies, it should come as little surprise that the visual effects are excellent. When it comes to these cities, you really feel the scale of them and just how absolutely enormous they are. The excellent production design also helps to provide a really futuristic feel to these cities.

Lovely scenery….

As the most well known name in this cast, Weaving as the lead antagonist is sadly functional at best. Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw is the most compelling of the bunch as our main heroine. The film really strives to give her a compelling backstory to make you care about her. Unfortunately though, it’s just not as exciting as it wants to be, as there is a real dearth of personality on just about every character that you see on screen. Except for Stephen Lang’s character, who despite his nature, might just have more humanity than everyone else in the film, which is really saying a lot.

Given that the series of novels that the film is based on compromised of four novels, you would think that there is more than enough source material for the screenwriters to work with. Furthermore, when you have Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens writing the screenplay, you would think that there’s enough talent there to craft something compelling, but there is so much in this screenplay that is missing, most notably some heart.

Furthermore, it feels as though there is so more backstory that is just breezed over and barely explained just to squeeze into a two hour film. It feels that feels as though this, could and should, have been a TV show instead. There was a chance to craft the next big franchise, but alas, too many similarities to superior properties meant that the wheels came off, and that opportunity was completely squandered.

Visually impressive with some superb production design, but a pretty weak screenplay that overall fails to give its characters the charisma it needs to really give this story some momentum.  

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Ralph Breaks the Internet – Film Review

Cast:  John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Directors: Rich Moore and Phil Johnston

Synopsis: When her game Sugar Rush becomes at risk of being unplugged, Vanellope and her best friend Ralph must journey to the vast world of the internet in order to save her game…

Review: The great wonder of film-making, particularly when it comes to animation is that the possibilities are endless. There is no limit to what you can or cannot do, this is also very much applicable to this rather marvellous invention known as the internet. It is also a world of endless possibilities and a place where you can do literally just about anything you so desire. It seems fitting then that after a film that explored what video game characters get up to after their games close for the day, to go up a notch for the sequel and explore the crazy world that is the internet.

A few years have passed since the events of the first film, with Ralph (Reilly) and Vanellope (Silverman) enjoying a solid friendship hanging out together when their gaming duties for the day are done. However, for Vanellope, something is just not fulfilling enough, she strives for something more. When her game suffers a malfunction that puts its immediate future at risk, she and Ralph must journey to the centre of the conglomerate of the internet in order to save her game.

Sequels should always aim to broaden the scope of their predecessor, and so to make the jump from the inner workings of something as small as an arcade, to the never-ending maze that is the internet is a bold move on the part of Disney, but it turns out to be an inspired one as it makes for a very intriguing adventure. Given that the world of the internet offers users so much to explore, the way that the filmmakers concoct the internet is really quite clever. To be expected, there are a fair number of jokes centred around the internet and various phenomenons that have gone viral because of the internet, which provide plenty of humourous moments.

Furthermore, given the vast array of properties that Disney now owns, there’s a vast array of Disney “Easter Eggs” to be found. The most notable example of this would be the appearances of all Disney’s most popular princesses. This could be problematic as it could have come across as egotistical on the studio’s part. However, their appearances provide the film with some of its best moments (including a rather ingenious Brave gag).

The voice work of Reilly and Silverman in particular once again shines brightest as we watch these two, who seem the unlikeliest of friends, try to make their friendship work. Which, while heart-warming to see given how likeable they both are, is a very familiar premise and therefore doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of story-telling. Gal Gadot, though not herself a Disney Princess, is also a welcome addition to the cast. Despite that, you cannot help but feel, though her character and world are interesting, that the themes explored are somewhat clichéd and could have been a bit more innovative in light of the brilliantly clever concept of exploring the world-wide web.

Though the film is somewhat lacking in terms of a fulfilling narrative, some choices in particular do really feel completely out of the blue. It makes up for this with plenty of heart and (to be expected) some marvellous animation. However, the inevitability of sequels is they are going to be compared to their predecessors, and unfortunately Ralph Breaks the Internet is just not as clever as its predecessor. What’s more, the filmmakers really missed a trick with the title of the film, surely Ralph Wrecks the Internet would have been better?

Retaining the heart and vibrancy of its predecessor, Ralph Breaks the Internet offers up an imaginative look at the Internet, but doesn’t use the cleverness of its concept in a completely fulfilling manner. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Creed II (2018)

Image is property of MGM and Warner Bros

Creed II – Film Review

Cast:  Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

Director: Steven Caple Jr

Synopsis: With the World Heavyweight Championship title now under his belt, Adonis Creed faces a new threat to his title, in the form of Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father Apollo…

Review: Every so often, a film comes almost completely out of nowhere, with little fanfare and just absolutely blows audiences away. An example of this would be 2015’s Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise. It reinvigorated a series that hadn’t had an entry for almost a decade. As such many might have assumed that it had fought its last fight and was out for the count, this is until one Ryan Coogler came along, and a new champion of the franchise was born.

That champion is Adonis Creed, who has in the wake of his bout with Ricky Conlan, has gone on to enjoy a tremendous run of success that leads him to the World Heavyweight Championship title. However trouble is brewing as Viktor Drago the son of Ivan Drago, is emerging as a very credible threat to his newly won title. Complications further arise when after Adonis proposes to Bianca (Thompson), she becomes pregnant with their first child, leaving Adonis with a dilemma as to whether he should take this challenge on, given what happened the last time a Creed faced off against a Drago. To say there’s history and bad blood between the Creeds and the Dragos would be putting it mildly.

One significant factor that made the first film such the knockout success it was, was the trio of terrific performances from its three leads and the chemistry that they had with each other. Michael B Jordan is once again terrific in the lead role, with excellent support from the great Sly Stallone once more. Likewise for Tessa Thompson, although she is an integral figure in Adonis’s life, as they are both about to go on the most personal of journeys together. There is considerably less development on her own life and career when compared to the first film.  Though this is understandable considering the challenge Creed is facing from Viktor Drago, who is desperate to prove himself to his father, and as a fighter. There is an attempt to develop his character, but it falls short of making him a truly compelling character. He is built like a tank though, and that doesn’t bode well for Adonis.

Due to his involvement with some rather obscure Marvel property called Black Panther, Coogler stepped down from directing duties. Now merely on board as executive producer, with those gloves were passed to Steven Caple Jr. Though not as visually as impressive as the work that was accomplished with the first film (there’s no masterful one take fight scene), Caple fills his shoes admirably well, as the fight scenes are once again very raw and rough in their execution. The camerawork really makes you feel those punches as they fly in, though some more footage of the fights would have been most welcome as some fights are montage-d through rather quickly.

This being the eight film in this franchise, it does follow similar paths that previous films in the franchise have, which may lead to criticism from some quarters. However, if you walk into a Rocky/Creed film, or indeed almost any boxing film, the chances of seeing a good training montage, some well executed fight scenes, mixed in with some deeply moving and personal family drama, are quite high. What matters is if the film is done with care and continues the story in a compelling manner that was brought to life so effectively with Creed, which this film does like a champ.

Though not as impactful as its predecessor, this second round of a revitalised franchise continues to bring that heart and emotion, boosted by three superb performances from its three leads, and some well executed fight scenes. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Image is property of Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Film Review

Cast:  Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Waits

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A collection of six unique short stories, telling the plights of various people in very different situations in the West after the Civil War.

Review: Beginning, middle and end, a structure that films tend to adhere to. However, every once in a while, a film will come along that deviates from this structure. It may choose to tell the story in reverse order or to jump back and forth.  Hence this latest venture from Joel and Ethan Coen is unique in this respect, as instead of telling one story across two hours and ten minutes to be precise, they fill this by choosing to tell six unique stories charting the lives of a handful of different folk, each of whom are in a variety of different situations in the wake of the Civil War.

To tell six miniaturised stories as opposed to your more traditional three-structured film is an unconventional choice to say the least, but under the assured direction of the Coen brothers, it for the most part works a treat. Though some are much stronger than others, there is enjoyment to be hand in each of the stories that the Coens bring to life. Telling each story through the perspective of a storybook, we jump in with funnily enough Mr Buster Scruggs himself (Blake Nelson) a tootin’ cowboy who likes to play his guitar and sing a song for y’all. But, he is also a dab hand with a pistol, which inevitably leads to some trouble down the line.

Next we move onto ‘Near Algodones’ a nameless-up-to-no-good cowboy (Franco) who finds himself in a tricky predicament when he tries to rob a bank, with some hilarious results. “Meal Ticket’ features Liam Neeson and Harry Melling as a theatre double act, the latter of whom has no arms or legs. Despite putting on a good show, they find their numbers and income decreasing, which puts Neeson’s character in a tricky situation as to what to do with his companion. While there is some intriguing moments with both of these two segments, they do end somewhat abruptly, which is frustrating, particularly in the case of the latter, it really would have benefited with a bit more closure to the story.

The next two stories are where the film really starts to shine. ‘All Gold Canyon’ features Tom Waits as a prospector seeking the fortune of a rather large collection of gold located in an absolutely beautiful valley. Now would be a good time to mention Bruno Delbonnel’s superb cinematography which is on point across every story, but it is here especially is where it shines brightest. Waits is great as this wacky prospector seeking this fortune that, perhaps unsurprisingly has attracted the attention of some other folk looking for this fortune for themselves. ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled features Zoe Kazan as a young woman who after a family tragedy is seeking a new opportunity. It’s more dialogue heavy than the preceding stories, but Kazan’s excellent performance makes it extremely compelling to watch.

Finally, the last segment  ‘The Mortal Remains’ retains the intrigue but being the most dialogue heavy of all the stories, it is considerably not as interesting as the preceding stories. Though the dialogue is well written once again, it is really quite underwhelming as a final chapter to a rather fascinating collection of short stories. All six stories do explore similar themes about the human struggle as we all navigate this small little thing called life that we as human beings all negotiate, and the rather significant matter of death. However, to ensure that it is not all doom and gloom, The Coens, much like we all do with our own lives, fill each of these segments with their signature style of comedy that, for the most part, serves each story really rather well.

The short nature of each story will undoubtedly leave some viewers unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the thought provoking themes that beat at the heart of all six of the stories, plus some exquisite work in the cinematography, production design and costume department give this anthology film some mighty visual splendour. Though this is not on the level of say a No Country for Old Men or True Grit, given the rambling mess that was Hail! Caesar, a return to the Wild West, and indeed a much more coherent film from the duo is a darn good thing y’all.

Combining comedy and some very dark and dramatic moments, with some strong themes that beat at the heart of all six stories, this is a most welcome to return to form for the Coen brothers.