Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Mulan (2020)

Image is property of Disney

Mulan (2020) – Film Review

Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma

Director: Niki Caro

Synopsis: Following an enemy invasion, the Emperor decrees that one man from every family must fight in the Chinese Imperial army. Disguising herself as a man, a young woman rides off to war, taking her ailing father’s place…

Review: It is hard to look past the fact that since Disney started to up the ante with their live action remakes, it has been a lucrative venture. From 2015’s Cinderella to last year’s The Lion King, these six films combined have brought home a near total of six billion dollars in box office receipts. However for all that success, one could make the case that these films have (admittedly some more than others) done very little to justify their existence. It comes a relief to say, that after some utterly soulless adaptations, Mulan brings the honour back to these live action remakes.

When an invasion from Northern invaders, the Rourans, threatens the safety of the country and its people, the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family is to be conscripted into the Imperial Army, to stand and fight. With her father’s health in decline after spending many years of his life fighting for his country, Mulan bravely decides to take a stand. In order to save his life, she disguises herself as a man and takes his place in the army, knowing that if her true identity is revealed, it would have deadly ramifications.

When looking at these live action remakes, it’s next to impossible to not compare them to their animated predecessors. Furthermore, it’s probably an understatement to say that the 1998 animated adaptation would have been an important film for anyone growing up in the 1990s. At its core, there was an empowering message for girls and women everywhere: to not let societal constraints restrict them from being who they want to be. Yet, for all the wonderful things about the animated adaptation of this classic tale of a legendary Chinese warrior, historical inaccuracies meant its reception in China was far from the one Disney would have hoped. Hence for this new adaptation, much has been changed as it strives for a more realistic, gritty tone that honours the tale of the legendary figure it depicts.

For starters, there are no spontaneous moments where a character bursts into song, and the comic relief that was Mushu is also nowhere to be seen. Instead, the intent is clearly there to faithfully depict the story of this legendary figure as accurately as possible. Liu Yifei gives a sincere performance in the titular role. She imbues her with the three characteristic traits that ultimately define who she is a person: loyalty, bravery, and being true to who she is. She also has the added bonus of being an extremely skilled warrior. Unlike the animated film, the majority of her fellow recruits are barely given any development, save for Honghui (Yoson An) and her commander General Tung (Yen), both of whom serve as replacements for General Shang: her love interest in the the animated adaptation.

The 1998 film’s villain Shan Yu, was a suitably ominous and terrifying foe that you would not want to cross paths with. In his place comes Bori Khan, who in spite of a concerted effort to give him some backstory and flesh out his motivations, is a very one dimensional antagonist. His severe lack of charisma and screen presence prevents means he is nowhere nearly as intimidating as his animated counterpart. A completely new presence in this version, Gong Li’s Xian Jang, a witch who fights alongside Bori Khan, had potential to be an exciting antagonist. Though her presence here feels completely unnecessary, as her role is underwritten, consequently taking the spotlight away from Bori Khan.

The film’s battle sequences are breath-taking to watch. The assured direction from Niki Caro, combined with the use of stunning practical, mountainous sets, provides rich visual majesty to Mandy Walker’s cinematography. With Mulan marking only the second time being the second time Disney has backed a female directed project with a budget of over 100 million dollars, the studio has put their money where their mouth is. Instead of using the nostalgia of these animated classics, as an excuse to merely print money, they have delivered a live action re-imagining that actually justifies its existence. Though in a year where cinema releases have been severely blighted, it’s a real shame that the film didn’t get the big screen treatment it deserved.

It may not quite live up to its animated predecessor. However, this adaptation gets down to business and honours the Hua Mulan legend, whilst simultaneously setting to set the benchmark for future live action adaptations.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Tenet (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Tenet – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson,

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A CIA Agent is recruited into a top secret program of international espionage on the trail of the possession of technology that can invert time…

Review: 2020 will certainly go down as one of the most unprecedented years in recent memory, as cinemas and many other businesses lay empty for many months. However, in those long months that the projectors were switched off and the screens remained dark, there was one film that was continuously being talked about as the film that would trigger a revival for the cinema industry. The new film, from a director who is a firm champion of the big screen, was being pitched as the film to goad audiences back to the cinema. While its taken its time to arrive, with a few shuffled release dates en route, in a world that will remain uncertain for the foreseeable future, one thing remains abundantly clear. Christopher Nolan hasn’t lost his ability to create a completely unique piece of cinema.

In a world of international espionage, the Protagonist (Washington), armed with only the use of a single word “Tenet”, must venture into this dangerous and complex world, with the goal of preventing a global catastrophe from occurring. While this sounds like your typical spy/espionage thriller, but in Nolan’s hands this is anything but. The key twist is that in this world, it’s one where cutting edge technology to invert objects through time has been invented, threatening the world with as one character says “something worse” than a nuclear Armageddon.

With Nolan’s previous filmography, he has shown a liking for dabbling with the concept of time and all of the mind-bending possibilities that these offer. Memento was his original head-scratching masterpiece, and amid further exploration of time with the ambitious Interstellar, and the ingenious inter-weaving of three inter-connected events of Dunkirk. Though with Tenet, this is perhaps is most ambitious exploration of time to date, if this was somehow even possible. Packing a lot into its running time, the plot keeps things moving at a fairly brisk pace. However, there are times when so much happening at once that the audience barely has time to stop for breath. Hence, keeping up with the film’s super complex time-bending narrative will almost certainly be a challenge.

Yet, for all the complexities that Nolan’s script throws at the audience, it is a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. The director’s previous films have certainly gone ambitious with many of its action set pieces, and Nolan does his best to outdo himself with a number of extremely ambitious, and well-directed set pieces that’s certainly going to get the pulses racing, and make the audiences’ brains go haywire. In terms of his cast, Nolan has once again delivered an exquisite collection of characters. Following his star turn in BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington delivers another excellent leading performance as the film’s Protagonist. Possessing his father’s charisma in abundance, he brings his own suave almost 007-esque charm to this leading role in a tentpole blockbuster, that will only further his reputation as a leading man. Alongside him, Robert Pattinson continues to forge his own exciting career path. Much like Washington’s Protagonist, he carries a likeable presence, whilst boasting charisma and charm to boot.

While the protagonists certainly carry likeable auras, Kenneth Branagh’s turn as the intimidating Russian oligarch who’s seeking the time-twisting technology, is anything but likeable. His performance is fittingly ominous and menacing, there’s a dark and scary history to this man, which is substantially explored in his abusive relationship with his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). On paper, This is a role that could have been extremely problematic, as it runs the risk of making her into a tired and cliched damsel-in-distress. However, with an actor of Debicki’s immense talent, she gives an excellent performance. There’s no shortage of substance to her character and she’s thankfully given enough material so that she has doesn’t fall into that damsel-in-distress cliche.

With long time collaborator Hans Zimmer unavailable, Ludwig Goransson steps in to fill that void, and he does so in spectacular style with a score that fits the fast paced nature of the film. Though impressive as it maybe, it can at times be almost too overpowering, making the dialogue difficult to understand in places. While its plot is undeniably complex, with a lot to digest, there’s no denying that Christopher Nolan remains one of the most unique and visionary directors working today. When the day comes that we’re all freely able to go back to the cinema without any risk, the work of these visionaries must be supported and championed. We’ll just need to make sure we don’t run into any time inverted traps along the way.

It wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan film if it wasn’t mind-bendingly complex. Yet through it all, the visionary director has once again crafted something extremely unique and compelling. The film industry is certainly a much more interesting place with directors like Nolan in the business.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Sega

Sonic the Hedgehog – Film Review

Cast: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey

Director: Jeff Fowler

Synopsis: When a police offer finds a small, speedy blue hedgehog, he must do all he can to prevent him from falling into the hands of the nefarious Dr Robotnik..

Review: For anyone who grew up in the 90s, the video gaming industry was, by and large, dominated by two very prominent characters, that of an Italian plumber with a red hat, and a super-fast blue hedgehog. While the former has been brought to the big screen once before, albeit not very successfully, the latter’s journey to the big screen has at last arrived, and while it has been far from the speedy one he would have liked, it’s one that has defied the odds and delivered the goods.

When Sonic is forced to flee his home world, using the power of his magical rings, he arrives on Earth. Initially, his existence is completely unknown to everyone for a significant period of time. Though, when Sonic accidentally reveals his presence to local police officer Tom Wachowski (Marsden), the pair strike up a friendship. This puts Tom on a collision course with the Government, as they recruit the dastardly Dr Robotnik (Carrey), to pursue and capture Sonic for experimentation, which forces the two of them to flee for their lives.

Catch him if you can…

It’s no secret that when the first trailer for the film came out and the design of this iconic character was unveiled, it was to put it mildly, not well received at all. Fans gawped in horror at the design of Sonic. Hence, the film’s release was delayed so the design of Sonic could be re-jigged. A decision that paid dividends, as the revamped design of the titular character feels much more authentic, and less like some ungodly abomination that would have given viewers endless nightmares. Voiced and motion captured by Ben Schwartz, this redesign has the personality and the traits that make him feel like a version of the character that has been drawn from the games.

It wouldn’t be a Sonic film without his classic nemesis, and Jim Carrey gives everything he has into the role of Dr. Robotnik. This works a treat as he’s clearly having a tonne of fun playing such an eccentric antagonist, especially one that that enjoys twirling his moustache in the most hilarious cartoonishly evil manner. Carrey goes all in with his performance and it ensures that every moment he’s on screen is delightfully entertaining, and he’s easily the best aspect of the human cast. Aside from Carrey, Marsden is solid as the cop who must do all he can to prevent Sonic from falling into Robotnik’s hands. While the accompanying story of two unlikely individuals forming a friendship is nothing new, it serves the story of this little Blue ball of energy and how he strives to find his place on our world, very effectively.

While the action scenes are nothing particularly ground-breaking, seeing Sonic whizz across the globe duelling with Robotnik, with the iconic sound of Sonic’s rings as the perfect nostalgia boost for good measure, is undeniably entertaining. Though, there is one scene that, while you can understand why they would use a scene like it, feels like it’s a bit too similar to the iconic Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past. Films based off video game franchises have often struggled to deliver the goods, and while it took time, eventually this adaptation has delivered a film worthy of bearing the name of one of the most beloved characters in video game history.

The story is cliched, but with a thankfully re-designed titular character and a pitch perfect villain, the film collects all the rings to deliver a worthwhile adaptation of a much beloved video game franchise.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Aeronauts (2019)

Image is property of Amazon Studios

The Aeronauts – Film Review

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Rebecca Front

Director: Tom Harper

Synopsis: Using a only a hot air balloon, a pilot and a meteorologist attempt to go higher than anyone in history, in the pursuit of making groundbreaking discoveries….

Review: Every day, our daily lives can be dictated by this unpredictable phenomenon known as the weather. Though we now have the capabilities to predict the weather, it was not always so.  As a species humanity is on a seemingly never expanding quest for scientific knowledge and truth. But, how far does one go to make new scientific discoveries? The answer for two people, is to hop on a hot air balloon and go to unprecedented, exceedingly dangerous heights, higher than anyone in history.

Meteorologist James Glaisher (Redmayne) is convinced that humanity has the capability to predict the weather. The only problem is, none of his peers see this as even remotely possible. Determined to prove his theory, whilst simultaneously making ground-breaking scientific discoveries, he seeks a hot air balloon to go into the heavens and to confirm his theories. However, the person capable of taking him to such heights is Amelia Rennes (Jones), a woman who due to a tragic incident in her past, is initially, a little reluctant to get back into a hot air balloon.

Having proved that they have wonderful chemistry together in The Theory of Everything, it’s a pleasure to see Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne back on screen together. Once again, they make a very effective on screen duo. Redmayne is no stranger to playing a man with a brilliant scientific mind and once again, he does an admirable job portraying a scientist who is driven to make new discoveries. However, his ambition is just not possible without Amelia Rennes. Due to that horrible moment in her past, she very much represents the heart and soul of the film. In that situation, it takes incredible courage to take that step back into a balloon, and thanks to Jones’s fantastic performance, her journey is a critical component of their daring feat.

Lovely view up here, just don’t look down…

Visually, as the pair of them make their ascent through the sky to frightening heights, every technical aspect of the film-making soars. From the breathtaking visuals, to the phenomenal cinematography combined with Harper’s meticulous direction, and a superb score from Steven Price. It’s all executed perfectly, and it puts the audience right in the basket of the balloon with these two people direction, going to heights that you could never have even imagined, all while maybe raising the heart-rate especially if you have a fear of heights. However, the tension begins to build as the risk of catastrophe striking rises the higher up into the atmosphere they go.

What frustratingly threatens to burst the balloon of this story is the film’s narrative structure. It chooses to jumps backwards and forwards between their pulsating balloon adventure, and events in the past that led the pair of them to attempt this daring feat.  Though the flashbacks are not without moments of intrigue and drama, such as the tragic incident in Amelia’s past. The decision to tell the story in this manner, hampers the the film’s ability to build and maintain the enthralling momentum that their journey generates. Though when it is focused on the balloon’s ascent, descent, and the subsequent fight for survival, is when the film soars the highest.

Like with any film that is based on a true story, certain liberties are taken with the true to life events. The most notable being, that Amelia Wren as a character is fictitious and has been incorporated into this story. While this could be problematic for some viewers, it does not serve as an overwhelmingly troublesome distraction. Principally because, at a time when women were seldom involved in the world of science, to have a strong female who takes charge in such an escapade sends a positive message. Even in today’s society, the sky is the limit and nothing should stop any woman from wanting to pursue a career in science.

Breathtaking visuals and a solid pair of performances from Redmayne, and especially Jones, is when the films soars the highest. However, it’s prevented from reaching the spectacular heights it was aiming for due to its problematic narrative structure.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Men in Black International (2019)

Image is property of Sony, Columbia Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Men in Black International – Film Review

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson,

Director: F. Gary Gray

Synopsis: When Earth comes under attack from an unknown hostile alien force, rookie agent M (Thompson) gets partnered up with the brash Agent H (Hemsworth) and together they must stop the impending attack…

Review: There comes a point in a franchise’s life when after a very successful first entry, the studio then decides to seize on that success and make one or two sequels. Though since it has been seven years since the last film in this franchise, it begs the question, was anyone asking for another Men in Black film? If a decision is going to be made to reboot or spin-off a franchise, give the audience a story worth telling. Because, once again, we have another film in a franchise that barely has a reason for justifying its existence.

As this is a spin-off, Will Smith’s and Tommy Lee Jones’s Agents J and K are now consigned to legend, and in their places come Chris Hemsworth Agent H (for hothead) and Tessa Thompson’s M (for marvellous). These two are recruited by the MiB London division to investigate some mysterious extraterrestrial occurrings, and the usual shenanigans involving aliens and men (and this time) women suiting up to take down these extraterrestrial nefarious evil doers.

By far and away, the best thing about this film is Tessa Thompson’s performance as Agent M, she is the most fleshed out person in the film and she adds some much needed charisma, something that is severely lacking in many of the other characters. Hemsworth is enjoyable as H, though this is far from his best work. These two have  proven themselves to have good chemistry due to their work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the camaraderie and banter between the two is one of the few delightful elements of the film. In addition, Kumail Nanjiani has a small but brilliant part that gives the movie the majority of its laughter.

For such an exciting cast, there’s barely an ounce of charisma on anyone else, save for Emma Thompson’s Head of the New York division of the MiB, who is not given enough screen time. On a similar note, in what could have been a very intriguing role, Rebecca Ferguson, who is sporting a very interesting wig, is reduced to a glorified cameo. The script from Iron Man duo Art Marcum and Matt Holloway gives them such inadequate material to work with, it’s a frustrating waste of the talents of these two fantastic actresses. It definitely doesn’t help that for the first act or so, the film is completely bereft of a discernible plot or a sense of direction that its moving in.

Though once things start to gather some pace, there are some exciting moments but these are really few and far between, and the addition of F Gary Gray as director adds nothing new. Don’t be surprised if after coming out of the film, you feel as though you yourself have been neuralised because there is nothing in this film that remotely stands out as memorable or exciting. The attachment of some new blood and a new director offered an opportunity for this franchise to start afresh and blast off in exciting new directions, but it’s an opportunity missed. No need to get suited and booted for this one, as those suits should have been left in the wardrobe, and hopefully the sunglasses and the neuralisers will be put into the drawer and never be seen again.

Hemsworth and Thompson’s are welcome additions to the cast, but an uninspired plot, bland storytelling and completely forgettable action scenes render this a complete damp (alien) squib.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Thunder Road Pictures

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Film Review

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston

Director: Chad Stahelski

Synopsis: With a $14million bounty now on his head after breaking Continental rules, John Wick is on the run with nowhere to go, and in the crosshairs of every hit-man and woman in the world….

Review: There’s a moment early on in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum where a character seethes at John Wick for the hell his actions have wrought, “all of this for what?! Because of a puppy?!” “It wasn’t just a puppy,” Wick retorts back. The aforementioned “this” refers to the carnage that has followed since a bunch of ill-judged thugs killed the dog bequeathed to John Wick upon the death of his wife. An event that sent the legendary hitman on a furious rampage of revenge. After said rampage ended, a commitment to a contract once again landed Wick in another spot of bother, and now all hell is about to break loose.

Set immediately in the wake of the previous film, John has been declared “ex-communicado” from the Continental after he violated one of the unbreakable rules of the Continental, by murdering someone on company grounds. Consequently, the High Table has placed a 14 million dollar open contract on John’s head, that soon has every deadly assassin in the world on his trail. The hunter has become the hunted, but God help anyone that does decide to try their hand at taking down Baba Yaga himself.

Neigh chance that the bad guys are living through this one…

Keanu Reeves has made his name as an action star, and once again, he excels in this role. It is undoubtedly one of the key appeals of these films is to see an action star like him, commit to doing some jaw dropping stunts, whilst also getting to see him kill folks, via any means necessary. In this instance, given that he has quite a few people who are out for his blood in a bid to land that 14million dollar jackpot, it gives returning director Chad Stahelski scope to once again gleefully find ways for Wick to creatively finish off his pursuers. The direction is once again imperious and in a series that has already produced mesmerising action scenes, fights involving dogs, horses and other methods ensure that the bonkers factor has been turned up to eleven.

Alongside Reeves, the familiar presence of Ian McShane’s Winston, is suave as ever. The real scene stealers in this new instalment are the women. Halle Berry, who leapt at the opportunity to be a part of the franchise, plays Sofia, a femme fatale with a connection to Wick’s past. Though she frustratingly doesn’t have a great deal of screen-time, when she is on screen, she damn well makes her presence known. Likewise for Asia Kate Dillion, a cold and ruthless representative of the High Table, who’s there to ensure that John Wick pays the penalty for his actions.  Unfortunately, as the film is so top heavy with action, that the surrounding story lacks the deeply personal element that the first two films had in abundance. As such, the moments in between the enthralling actions scenes where the bullets/knives aren’t raining down on the bad guys, do feel a little tedious.

The lack of real emotional drama gives the other two films the edge over Parabellum. However, in spite of this being not as strong as the other two films, you have got to give the plaudits to Stahelski and the stunt teams of these films. The action scenes have been its big selling point from the very first film, and in this respect, they have consistently delivered. Furthermore, for an actor who is now well into his fifties, you’ve also got to hand it to Reeves for committing himself to the role that has reaffirmed him as one of the best action stars working today. If you want peace, prepare for war, or at least some bloody good action scenes, because that’s what Mr Wick, suited, booted, significantly bloodied and bruised, will give to you.

Packed to the brim with thrilling action scenes, but a significantly weaker story bereft of the emotional drama of the previous films prevents this sequel from firing on all cylinders. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who for a time, boasted the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Image is property of Paramount, Bad Robot Productions and Skydance Media

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Film Review

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby Michelle Monaghan, Henry Cavill, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Synopsis: When the IMF learns of an organisation in possession of some deadly nuclear weapons, they face a race against time in order to prevent global catastrophe…

Review: Though the word Impossible is in the title, the Mission Impossible franchise continues to prove that nothing is impossible when it comes to creating mind boggling stunts, and combining that with very well crafted and compelling stories. The remarkable stunts however are in no small part down to the incredible work of Tom Cruise who goes all out in terms of giving the audience the perfect, adrenaline fuelled thrill ride. And with each new entry into this franchise, it continues to offer that, and in jaw-dropping and spectacular fashion.

With this being the sixth entry into the franchise, this can be the point where things start to run out of steam, but this can definitely not be said for Mr Cruise who is showing no signs of slowing down even well into his fifties, and long may that continue. In the wake of the events of Rogue Nation, after a mission goes awry, a sinister group threatens to unleash global nuclear catastrophe. Consequently, the IMF once again finds itself in a desperate mission to save the world once more. However, it wouldn’t be a MI film if there weren’t some solid characters, a bunch of agendas flying around, people being double-crossed, and some people with some sinister motivations.

Bit high up here, isn’t it?

Cruise, as he has been across all 6 films, is once again terrific as Ethan Hunt, likewise for his IMF companions in Luther (Rhames) and the tech wizard Benji (Pegg). Though the absence of Jeremy Renner’s Brandt is never really explained. Also making her return is Ilsa (Ferguson), mysterious as ever, and out on her own mission that threatens to get in the way of Hunt’s. This in turn drags Sean Harris’s nefarious Solomon Lane back into the picture, which isn’t really good news for anyone. As for the newbies, Henry Cavill, and his well publicised moustache, certainly gives Hunt another headache that he could really do without. Fresh from her work on The Crown, Vanessa Kirby’s mysterious role was an interesting one, but sadly she is somewhat underused as is Angela Bassett as the new director of the CIA.

For each new entry into the franchise, a new director accepted the mission to helm the project. However, this time McQuarrie is once again writing and directing.  Given the slick style of action that he brought to the table, it is a welcome one to see him return. This film has almost every action set piece you can think of, and it’s just absolutely glorious to watch. There are some necessary breathers, which is helpful because by the time we reach the final action set piece, it really goes up a notch. The word tense REALLY just doesn’t do it justice, especially if you are afraid of heights. Sometimes you do wonder how on earth they accomplished what they did, this is action film-making at its absolute best.

The franchise has certainly seen absolutely batshit stunts like the thrilling Burj Khalifa scene in Ghost Protocol, but here Cruise might have just outdone himself with some of the stunts that are on show here, particularly in that enthralling final action scene. With each entry, this franchise just continues to just be a source of spectacular and electrifying entertainment, and arguably getting better with each instalment. The fallout of the film-making brilliance that you see on screen here means that should anyone choose to accept the mission to direct any future instalments, that itself is going to be its very own impossible mission. Good luck to whomever decides to take that challenge on.

A very well crafted and engaging story, fused with excellent action set pieces and some absolutely jaw-dropping stunts once more. Please fasten your seat-belts, you’re in for a pulsating ride. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Sicario 2: Soldado (2018)

Image is property of Lionsgate

Sicario 2: Soldado – Film Review

Cast: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Isabela Moner

Director:  Stefano Sollima

Synopsis: As the drug war at the US-Mexico border rages on, and with the cartels now transporting terrorists across the border, the US government recruits Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro (del Toro) to fuel tensions between rival cartels…

Review:  Every once in a while, a film comes along that is so gritty and grounded in terms of its execution, that you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a real life drama that was unfolding in front of you. One such film that falls into this category is 2015’s Sicario. The scope of this film focused on the battle on the drug trafficking across the US-Mexico border, and the murky boots-on-the-ground mission that ensued. It was a simple story, but one that was told magnificently through superb cinematography and directing, and a compelling lead performance from Emily Blunt.

So for this next mission, unfortunately all of those three aforementioned components are gone. Blunt’s Kate Macer is out of the picture and out go Denis Villenueve and Roger Deakins as director and cinematographer, and in come Stefano Sollima and Dariusz Wolski respectively. Brolin and del Toro return as does Taylor Sheridan on screenplay duties. This particular story is one that feels very timely as the cartels are smuggling terrorists across the border and so in an attempt to retaliate, the US Government wants to put petrol on the fire and ignite a war amongst the cartels.

Taking the reins from Villeneuve is a big ask, but Sollima’s direction is assured and retains that gritiness and horrifying realism that the first film captured. In addition, with Brolin and del Toro, you know you’re going to get confident performances from these two. However, as good as these guys are, the absence of Blunt feels like a missed opportunity as no one really steps up to fill that important moral compass role that she represented, even in such a murky and dangerous world. Because these guys are not heroes, not in a million years.

And it’s good night for this person…

With the high of his directorial debut Wind River, Taylor Sheridan again pens the script. Though he has written four stellar screenplays, this is his first major misstep. Though this film is a lot more complex than the first film as it tries to weave several different strands together, but this results in a very messy and meandering story that just does not mesh those strands together well enough, and is really unfocused. What’s more the characters of Matt and Alejandro are barely developed from the first film, which is a real shame as for Alejandro especially, given the enthralling and deeply personal arc that his character went on in the first film. There is an attempt to expand on that arc, but it is minimal at best.

That is not to say, there are one or two moments in the film that really ground the film in reality, especially a scene near the beginning that bluntly remind the viewer that this is a dangerous conflict that we face in the world today. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is assured, but nowhere near on the level of the brilliant, incredibly tense score that Johann Johannsson (RIP) provided for the first film. There is an argument to be made that a sequel was certainly not needed for this film, and when you take away the elements that made that first film great, it should come as no surprise that you’re going to get a film that despite the best efforts of everyone involved, is really lacking the quality that made its predecessor such a riveting piece of cinema.

Retaining the dark and gritty nature of Sicario, Soldado tries to deliver a more complex story, but its messy screenplay severely lacks the spark and emotional punch that its predecessor delivered. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Tomb Raider (2018)

Image is property of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. Pictures

Tomb Raider (2018) – Film Review

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas

Director: Roar Uthaug

Synopsis: After an explorer vanishes without a trace, his fearless daughter Lara Croft sets out on a mission to his last known location, and to discover what exactly was the true purpose of her father’s venture…

Review: It seems as though there is one genre of films that whenever a new one is announced, that said film is doomed to be a failure before it is even released to the general public. This genre is of course films adapted from popular video games. It is fair to say that over the years, they have gained a reputation for being, simply put, not very good. Two such examples, would the two Tomb Raider films that starred Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s. Though they did not enjoy the best of receptions, the legacy of Lara Croft as an iconic video game character remains very much intact, so much so that another attempt at bringing perhaps the most iconic video game character of the 90s to the big screen was almost inevitable.

Indeed, a good decade and a half later, and here we are. In terms of our badass heroine, it is out with Jolie, and in with recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander who works in a pretty much dead end job in present day London, though questions still remain her regarding her long lost father. When she stumbles upon a clue that links to his last known location, she decides to set out in search of what it was her father was investigating. Of course it would not be a Tomb Raider film if Lara doesn’t find herself in a spot of bother when she lands on this island and must use all of her skills to negotiate the obstacles she finds in her path.

A badass with a bow, watch out Katniss…

For this film to really stand any chance of being a success, it was essential that they cast a capable actress in the lead role. Though casting an Oscar winner is by no means a guaranteed recipe for success, Alicia Vikander brought charisma and personality to the role. She compliments this the physical attributes that are key traits of what makes Lara Croft, well Lara Croft. Vikander gives a committed performance and showed herself to be more than capable of handling the physicality of the role and the demanding action scenes. Though there is nothing ground-breaking about the, these scenes are for the most part fairly well handled by director Roar Uthaug.

It is essential in a film like this that your main character is well fleshed out, and this screenplay does just that. It gives Lara a backstory that explores her origins principally  her relationship with her father and how that has had an influence on her and her tomb raiding adventures. Though it sometimes comes across as a bit soppy, as it is an integral to who Lara is as a character, it does its job. Once we get to the crux of the adventure though is where things start to get really interesting. The plot, certainly recaptures that gritty nature of the games, and while it is entertaining, could be deemed to be a little bit by the numbers.

Yet, for what it is worth, this lays the foundations for the start of what could well turn out to be a franchise. There isn’t a great deal of character development for some of the other characters, most notably Kristin Scott Thomas and Walton Goggins. Nevertheless, the film achieves its goal of delivering a solid adventure for the legend that is Lara Croft, with plenty of visual nods to the franchise that die hard fans are undoubtedly going to appreciate.

The story treads familiar ground, but a strong capable performance from Vikander anchors the film and proves that adaptations of video games aren’t all bad.