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Author: David McIlroy

Freelance writer/contributor based in Northern Ireland. Degrees in English, Film and Youth Work. Married to the beautiful Christine. My main things: God, family, movies, reading, and Liverpool FC.
Reviews

Review: Captain Marvel [spoiler free]

March 16, 2019

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is winding down (well, until everything gets rebooted, anyway). The final Avengers movie hits the big screen next month, and soon we’ll discover just what exactly Steve Rogers and his depleted team of heroes plan on doing to resolve their little predicament.

With time running out for Disney to milk Marvel for all it’s worth (which is a lot, by the way), they’ve churned out one last origin story for us to feed on until Endgame is unleashed. The final piece in Stan Lee’s complex and colourful jigsaw.

Let’s talk about Captain Marvel.

Why now?

Captain Marvel was released on 27 February and is in cinemas in the UK.

In a nutshell

Captain Marvel is a Kree warrior caught up in an intergalactic battle between her people and the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifters aiming for universal conquest. She finds herself on Earth in the mid-90s 1995 and quickly discovers that she was once U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. Teaming up with a two-eyed Nick Fury, she sets about defeating the Skrulls and uncovering how she came to gain her incredible superpowers.

Who’s it for?

The movie is rated 12a, so some children may need an adult along. But apart from some mild Marvel-style violence, this one’s pretty tame.

Who’s in it?

Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

Brie Larson played Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and unsurprisingly, she’s very good. Danvers is actually not the easiest role to bring to life – her past is a bit complicated, and you’re not really sure if you’re supposed to be watching a human pilot with a penchant for karaoke or a battle-hardened alien being just trying to fulfil a mission. Either way, Larson pulls it off, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her in Endgame.

Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, but with a twist or two. He’s considerably younger here (via some clever CGI), still retains both eyes, and isn’t quite as cynical as we find him later in the MCU. It was a nice change seeing Fury being somewhat less furious than usual.

The film also stars Ben “bad-guy voice” Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls, Jude Law as Danvers’ Kree mentor and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson (again, de-aged marvellously). It’s a relatively small but strong cast.

The good stuff

The good aspects of this film are obvious from the get-go, as are its negative qualities.

The cast is great, especially Larson. As I said, I’m looking forward to seeing how she integrates into the final Avengers movie, particularly under the direction of the Russo brothers. I imagine there’ll be some nice banter between her and the other super-powered heroes we’ve come to love.

Technically, the film looks and sounds good. It’s competently directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck with some great action sequences and stunning visuals. When Danvers comes to realise the full extent of her power later in the film, you genuinely get the sense that she’s fairly unstoppable.

And as with all Marvel movies, there’s a great deal of humour interspersed with the more serious moments throughout. It’s a fun movie, and most Marvel fans will enjoy it well enough.

However…

The not so good stuff

Maybe it’s the onset of Marvel fatigue, but I felt like I’d seen this movie already. While the narrative starts off with Danvers already in possession of her powers, it quickly rolls back into the usual MCU origin story formula: gets powers, learns more about powers, beats the Big Bad in the final act with said powers. This has all been done before, and better in some cases, unfortunately.

Secondly, the writing is often sub-standard for a Marvel movie. Some of the lines spouted by characters felt lazy and too by-the-book, especially in the case of Nicky Fury, who swung too far towards Hollywood cliché at times.

The filmmakers’ desire to empower women with this film and its lead character, while definitely admirable, becomes more of a distraction at times from the actual plot. It felt like some lines had been shoehorned in just to give the audience and critics a few sound-bites to take home. Yes, this is a film that gives younger viewers a great female role-model to emulate, but a blatantly-obvious pointed line like “I have nothing to prove to you” (addressed to a man) actually detracts from the flow of the narrative, like a big diversion sign by the side of the road.

Captain Marvel shouldn’t be deemed an excellent MCU film simply because it has a strong female lead, in the same way Black Panther shouldn’t be elevated just because it debunks racial stereotypes in its genre. Those plaudits should be gained on the merits of good film-making, which I believe Black Panther achieved more successfully, though not as successfully as many others suggested (I’m one of the few Marvel fans who wouldn’t rank it in my top five MCU movies).

My own gripes aside, Captain Marvel is a bit of an ‘almost’ movie: the writing is almost good, the humour is almost funny, the plot is almost engaging. But I felt like I’d seen it all before, and the filmmakers were in too much of a hurry to bang out one more quick origin story before it all wraps up next month.   

The bottom line

Captain Marvel is another enjoyable instalment in the MCU. Brie Larson grabs the lead role by the horns and is well-supported by a strong cast. It’s a solid enough movie, but it suffers from an overbearing need for its agenda to be pushed – had it been handled with a little more care, it could have been fantastic.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Three [Marvel Cinematic Universe]

March 6, 2019

Marvel has come a long way since Robert Downey Jr first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008 and took on Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, with a wide range of villains coming and going throughout the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s realisation. Every protagonist needs a worthy antagonist, and many directors have tried (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing) to bring a comic book bad guy to life effectively on the big screen.

The MCU has gifted us some enduring villains (like the brilliant Loki) and completely forgettable ones (remember Whiplash in Iron Man 2? No?). Some of these bad guys were merely temporary foils for our favourite superheroes to gleefully slap around in a few big-budget action sequences and ultimately played a small role in any build-up before the film was released. Some, however, were absolutely critical to the plot and featured heavily in trailers and publicity material prior to making their anticipated appearance on screen.

As we complete our series on Villains, let’s take a look at two Big Bads in the MCU, one of whom hit the nail on the head, and one who ultimately proved to be a let-down.

Part Three: Marvel Villains

Ultron – so much potential, so little payoff

Ultron

Calm down, this is just my opinion.

When the first teaser trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped and I heard James Spader growl “I’m going to show you something beautiful”, my instant reaction was…..oh yes. Spader has one of the best voices in Hollywood, and I thought he was the perfect choice to play the evil, evolving robot hell-bent on destroying humanity and the Avengers. And of course, he delivered every line exquisitely – better, in fact, than some of his fellow actors in the movie.

There is, however, only one word to adequately describe what Age of Ultron turned out to be – meh.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I was disappointed with this movie in the end. The first Avengers is just so good, one of the most enjoyable Marvel movies by far, perhaps with the exception of Thor: Ragnarok. Joss Whedon had set the bar pretty high in 2012 and had a lot to live up to with his 2015 sequel. His previous villain had been Loki, after all – not an easy act to follow.

But Ultron, in spite of everything he appeared he would be in the trailers, was ultimately a pretty two-dimensional villain. Yes, he had some complex daddy issues with Tony Stark and his actions resulted in the necessity for the Sokovia Accords, which caused the fallout in Captain America: Civil War, and yes, he helped create Vision, but Ultron just didn’t do it for me in the end. Age of Ultron itself isn’t written as well as its predecessor either and becomes a bit muddled towards the end – maybe if the film as a whole had been more successfully executed, Ultron would have reached his full potential.

Thanos – well worth the decade of anticipation

Thanos

I’m a huge fan of how the Russo brothers brought Infinity War to life on the big screen. It was a monumental challenge given the sheer number of characters involved, all of whom had their own personal backstories, but they pulled it off. You can read my glowing review here.

And one of the primary reasons for the success of that film is, I believe, its antagonist.

Marvel had been building steadily towards the big reveal of Thanos since his first cameo appearance in Thor in 2011. And when the titan finally appeared, he did not disappoint. In his first scene, he bumps off two of those enduring MCU characters we talked about and beats Hulk in a fist fight, which very few others can claim to have done. And that’s just him getting started.

I was always a little worried that Thanos would be just another two-dimensional villain driven by an unwavering desire to take over the universe, and while cosmic annihilation is indeed on his agenda, there’s something that very clearly sets him apart from all other villains in the MCU – he actually achieves his goal and defeats the good guys.

There are some pretty great villains in Marvel’s grand project, but for me, Thanos is the one who absolutely nailed it and very much lived up to the hype.

The bottom line

So there we have it – the movie villains who were worth the wait, and those who ultimately let us down (or let me down, anyway). Hope you’ve enjoyed my little rants, even if your opinion differs completely. But I’m sure we can all agree on one thing: a really great villain can raise the bar for any film.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Two [James Bond]

Reviews

Review: The Cured [Spoiler Free]

February 22, 2019

A zombie movie set in Ireland. Straight away, what’s not to like?

As a native of this green island, I was immediately intrigued when I noticed The Cured pop up on Netflix recently. I’m a fan of zombie movies (much to my wife’s displeasure) and took the first available opportunity to gobble this one up. Pun intended.

Why now?

The Cured was released on January 25 on Netflix in the UK.

In a nutshell

A virus has devastated most of Europe, turning the infected into psychotic, bloodthirsty monsters, and Ireland has suffered heavily. However, a cure has been found which has been successful on 75% of the infected population, with the remaining 25% still quarantined for study. One young man called Senan, one of the cured, is released back into the care of his sister-in-law. However, the cured can remember what they did in their infected state, and it isn’t long before Senan and his fellow cured come into conflict with a society unwilling to accept them back.

Who’s it for?

The Cured is rated 15 for strong violence, gore, threat and language. It’s not quite as violent as most other zombie movies I’ve seen and much of the horror is implied. Fans of the genre will find the bloodiness satisfactory while newcomers shouldn’t be put off by it.

Ellen Page in The Cured

Who’s in it?

Sam Keeley plays protagonist Senan, while Ellen page takes the role of his sister-in-law Abbie. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Ebony Maw in Avengers: Infinity War, which was news to me) plays Conor, a fellow member of the Cured with an agenda. It’s a small but capable cast.

The good stuff

This is a smarter zombie movie than many others in the genre. Granted, most contemporary films about the brain-munchers usually try to put a fresh spin on things (unless it’s The Walking Dead) and some succeed, but I liked the fact that this one focused on an entirely new aspect of it all – what happens to those who are cured of the infection. I thought the whole concept of them actually remembering what they did in their zombie state was particularly chilling, and it’s a premise that becomes increasingly significant as the film goes on. This is a well-written, well-acted movie with shades of 28 Days Later and The Last of Us in there at times. Some scenes are genuinely scary, too. And if the writers didn’t intend for it to be an allegory of historical Irish political unrest, they certainly stumbled into it anyway.

The not so good stuff

There isn’t much to say about this movie that’s overly negative. It was clearly made on a smaller budget than other zombie movies (like the big-money World War Z, for instance) and so it doesn’t have very many big action sequences or huge amounts of zombie screen time. Some of the plot is quite predictable and the ending’s a bit of a let-down, but if you take it at face value and are happy with a slower-burning zombie flick, I doubt you’ll mind.

The bottom line

I enjoyed The Cured – it’s a good casual watch and perfect for Netflix viewing. It won’t win too many new fans to the zombie genre, but it’s a fresh enough twist on the long-running horror premise to merit a watch. Catch it while you can.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Cured – Official Trailer (YouTube)
Reviews

Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

February 14, 2019

Velvet Buzzsaw is a weird film.

I’ll say that now, right off the bat. It’s weird. However, I would have liked it to be just a little weirder. So let’s talk about it.

Why now?

Velvet Buzzsaw was released on February 1 on Netflix.

In a nutshell

The art circle of Miami Beach is turned on its head when a vast collection of pieces are discovered after a reclusive master artist called Vetril Dease dies and his works are claimed by an ambitious young woman seeking to climb the social and professional ladder. It isn’t long before those who purchase Dease’s works begin to experience disturbing events, some of which prove to be fatal.

Who’s it for?

Velvet Buzzsaw is rated 15 for strong bloody violence, language, and sex, and it certainly features plenty of that. However, while it’s gory in parts and the language is occasionally pretty bad, it’s tame enough compared to other movies in the supernatural horror genre. It’s not for kids, though.

Who’s in it?

There’s a strong cast in this one. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Mort Vandewalt, an art critic researching Vetril Dease after his works are discovered. He’s romantically involved with Josephina (Zawe Ashton), the lady who discovers Dease’s work; she’s employed by Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), owner of the art gallery where much of the film’s central plot points take place. The film also features Toni Collett, John Malkovich and a host of others you’ll definitely recognise. Like I said, strong cast.

The good stuff

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in Velvet Buzzsaw

Jake Gyllenhaal, for a start, is great. He plays the role of camp, snooty art critic to perfection, managing to be annoyingly arrogant while remaining relatable enough throughout. His performance largely carries the film at times. The setting is interesting, and I was intrigued with the premise from the start. The film is genuinely scary at times, too, and it’s directed fairly well.

The not so good stuff

However, like I said at the start of this review, it’s a weird film. I don’t think the writers 100% knew what they wanted it to be. It starts as some sort of satirical drama and ends as a full-on supernatural horror without being either consistently throughout its runtime. It ends up as a kind of twist on Final Destination, with characters bumped off by some unseen vengeful force in a variety of ways. It felt to me like the makers of Velvet Buzzsaw got off to a solid start and then ran out of ideas about halfway through.

Like so many Netflix films, this one could have been so much more than it ended up as. Had the writers pushed the premise just a bit more, or sent it in another direction (it would have worked as a pure comedy – if it was supposed to be a pure comedy, I didn’t get it), this may have been a five-star review.

The bottom line

I was ultimately left disappointed with Velvet Buzzsaw. It has its moments and it’s probably worth a watch if you’ve nothing better to do, but in the end, its style outweighs any real substance. What starts off strong and engaging peters out into something predictable that leaves you wondering if you should have watched something else instead.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Two [James Bond]

February 13, 2019

“Bond. James Bond.”

Famous words so often uttered not long before a villainous henchman-dispatching, cat-stroking maniac on a mission is thwarted once again by Her Majesty’s greatest double-O agent…after a few vodka martinis have been downed, of course.

James Bond has become one of the enduring symbols of heroism in cinema since his first big screen incarnation in Dr. No in 1962. As England’s most potent agent of espionage with a “licence to kill”, Bond has consistently overcome a variety of foes (ranging from the unnervingly-plausible to the downright ridiculous) while being played by a variety of actors (ranging across the same sort of spectrum). Some of his opponents have been largely forgettable (remember the antagonist in Quantum of Solace?), while others have undeniably left their mark on the Bond franchise.

Continuing with our theme from last time, let’s take a look at two villains in the Daniel Craig era, one of whom was disappointing, and another who was surprisingly effective.

Part two: James Bond villains

Ernst Stavro Blofeld – late and not worth the wait

Christoph Waltz as Blofeld

When I first heard that Christoph Waltz was playing the primary antagonist in Spectre, the 2015 follow-up to Skyfall, I was thrilled. I love Christoph Waltz. He’s spectacularly villainous without really having to try. And I was even more intrigued about how he would portray a classic Bond baddie – Ernst Stavro Blofeld (the inspiration for Mike Myers’ Dr Evil, no less) – in the sequel to 2012’s Skyfall, which is by all accounts one of the best movies in the series. Sam Mendes was set to return to the helm, with another outing for Daniel Craig as 007 on the cards. It all sounded too good to be true.

And, alas, it was.

Spectre is a good Bond film, but it fails to hit the heights of its predecessor. And I believe the main reason for that unsatisfactory outcome was because of a misfire in the villain department.

Waltz is an Oscar-winning actor with incredible talent. His portrayal of Blofeld should have been scintillating, mesmerising, captivating…totally unforgettable and worthy of Bond himself. But it just wasn’t. Waltz’s considerable powers were horribly underused. His first real appearance in the film was hiked up and up and up, and while some of his lines were certainly chilling (“It was me James, it’s always been me – the author of all your pain”), he was easily beaten in the first instance, and easily captured by Bond in the second.

Having an actor like Christoph Waltz in your movie and simply not using him to anywhere near his full potential is the equivalent of getting behind the wheel of a Formula One car and driving it at 20mph to the shop for milk and teabags.

Yes, he’ll be back of course, but for a villain who essentially orchestrated every negative experience for Craig’s Bond since Casino Royale, Waltz’s Blofield was woefully underwhelming when he finally stepped out of the shadows.

Raoul Silva – a fitting nemesis

Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva

Skyfall was a far superior Bond movie to Spectre, and a significant aspect of what made it great was its antagonist – Raoul Silva.

Played by the always-brilliant Javier Bardem, Silva was a disillusioned former MI6 agent with a penchant for cyberterrorism and an unwavering desire to get revenge on Judi Dench’s ‘M’, with whom Bond had a love-hate, quasi mother-son relationship since well before the Daniel Craig era. Silva blames M for disavowing him to the Chinese government and will stop at nothing to kill her.

Like Christoph Waltz, Javier Bardem is fantastic at embodying pure evil in his portrayal of a villain (think Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men) and really makes the character he takes on his own. Silva is wonderfully weird, irreverent and, at times, actually quite funny, all the while poised on the cusp of maniacal wickedness. He’s an actor from whom you can’t look away when he’s on screen, and as a Bond villain, he achieves something very few manage to do – he matches 007.

The bottom line

In pretty much every respect, Bardem succeeds where Waltz fails. Or rather, Sam Mendes unlocks the potential of the former and leaves the latter largely dormant. I’m a huge fan of both actors and was so disappointed to see how bland and two-dimensional Waltz was in Spectre, especially after Mendes had so successfully tapped into Bardem’s ability in Skyfall.

In the final instalment of this little series on villains, we’ll take a look at Marvel and discuss which Big Bad was exactly what we hoped for, and which one should have been left on the shelf at the comic-book store.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part One [Harry Potter]

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part One [Harry Potter]

January 27, 2019

This week I’ve taken it upon myself to start putting a few movie villains under the microscope. This isn’t so much a review of a single movie as the first instalment of a collective character study (a very brief one) of some of the baddies of the big screen. I’ll highlight a few villains along the way that I think were bang on the money, and a few that fell short of our considerable expectations as film lovers. This is part one of three, and just to forewarn you, it’s all very subjective!

Why now?

My wife and I recently watched several of the Harry Potter films on TV. She’s a huge fan and I’ve come to enjoy them a lot, minus the obsession. And after taking in several chapters of the magical series that’s delighted children and adults for years now, I came to the conclusion that Harry Potter has an underwhelming central antagonist, while another lesser villain in the series is actually much more effective. So let’s start there, shall we?

Lord Voldemort – lost a bit of magic in the end

Lord Voldemont

Ralph Fiennes’s Dark Lord was built up progressively for three movies before finally making his appearance proper in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which he was suitably snake-like and pretty much how we expected him to be. And we could forgive him for allowing Harry to slip through his fingers so early after his return to embodiment…right? Put it down to jetlag, or some equivalent.

However, by the time the last chapter of the saga rolls around and Voldemort is finally undone for the last time by Harry and friends, I was left with a sense of disappointment, more than anything. This was a villain whose name people were too afraid to even speak, who in the end was bested at every turn by a teenager (albeit the Chosen One) without ever appearing to be in control at any point. Some fans of the series are also particularly scathing of the final few minutes of The Deathly Hallows Part Two, which differs considerably from the far-superior novel and seems to render much of what went before null and void (and nobody even witnesses Harry defeating old no-nose, either!).

I couldn’t help but compare Voldemort with other great movie villains while watching the two-part finale of the film series. Play out the Death Eaters’ attack on Hogwarts alongside, for instance, the Empire’s assault on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back; compare Vader with Voldemort, two Dark Lords who strike fear into the hearts of the respective universes they inhabit; decide which of the two is ultimately more menacing and effective as a cinematic villain, and who is finally beaten more easily, and by which character.

In the end, Lord Voldemort was the equivalent of a piranha popping out of the sea at the climax of the famous Jaws score – we expected a ferocious and unstoppable Great White shark, and instead we got an ugly little fish with a bad reputation who gets reeled in by a boy. 

Dolores Umbridge – had us under her spell

Dolores Umbridge leads The Inquisitorial Squad

In sharp contrast, the greatest villain in the entire Harry Potter series (in MY opinion, don’t forget) was one who was quickly brushed under the rug after the fifth film, and only appeared again in little more than a cameo role towards the end – Dolores Umbridge.

Where Ralph Fiennes was a bit creepy as He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Imelda Staunton was excruciating as Umbridge. Reading about Harry’s interactions with her character in The Order of the Phoenix will leave you wanting to rip pages from the book and throw them straight in the fire. She’s the personification of every young person’s worst teacher, multiplied by several hundred degrees and surrounded by an impenetrable force field of pink fluff and kittens. What’s more, she consistently gets away with her villainous actions unopposed for large portions of the film, and even makes an unwelcome return in The Deathly Hallows Part One, just when you thought she was finally gone. And she’s the only character in the series other than Voldemort who actually leaves a scar on Harry.

For me, Umbridge was the one who left a bad taste in my mouth, which is exactly what a good villain should do. Unlike other antihero-type antagonists who you kinda root for (more on them soon enough), there is simply nothing about Umbridge that’s redeemable. Even moreso, I would venture, than Voldemort himself.

The bottom line

Maybe you’ve got to this point and heartily disagree with my conclusion, and that’s ok – it’s just food for thought, and movies are meant to be discussed, after all. I really like the Harry Potter series, so most of my frustration stems from disappointment rather than just plain old criticism. I simply wanted Voldemort to be worthy of his reputation, and in the end, he fell short.

Next time, we’ll turn our attention to James Bond and the bad guys who weren’t nearly as bad as we’d hoped they’d be (and those who were more so!).

Reviews

Retro Review: The Witches

January 17, 2019
The Witches

This week, we’re hopping on our broomsticks and whizzing back in time (they’re special time-travelling broomsticks, you see) to 1990, when life was simpler and selfies hadn’t been formally acknowledged as a thing yet.

Let’s take a retrospective look at Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

Why now?

The Witches was made available on Netflix during the first week of 2019.

In a nutshell

A young boy and his grandmother, who has a rather in-depth knowledge of witches, travel to a seaside hotel for the summer, where they inadvertently encounter a convention of the cackly old crones presided over by the Grand High Witch herself. Cue plenty of classic nineties OTT acting, white mice, and absolutely terrifying Jim Henson makeup effects.

Who’s it for?

Children…and also, not for children at all, sometimes. The Witches is one of those anomalous films that’s aimed at kids but is at times disturbing enough to leave parents with a few bad dreams of their own. Much like Gremlims, for instance. I wouldn’t recommend letting very young children watch it.

Who’s in it?

Luke and his grandmother Helga are played by Jasen Fisher and Mai Zetterling respectively, while Anjelica Huston owns the role of the Grand High Witch. Rowan Atkinson, right at the beginning of his Mr Bean days, plays the hotel manager.

The good stuff

If you like a good dose of nineties nostalgia and don’t mind a few slightly cringe-worthy moments, you’ll like this. This is Roald Dahl story-telling at its best: funny, satirical, mesmerising in its simplicity and horrific in equal measure. It’s wonderfully over-the-top at times, and the makeup effects for the witches are unforgettable (no matter how hard you try). Huston is superb as the Grand High Witch, genuinely scary even without her grotesque prosthetics and mechanised claws, and Atkinson is, well, Mr Bean incarnate. It’s a fun, silly film to watch, with or without the kids.

The not so good stuff

Like many nineties or late eighties movies viewed from the vantage point of Generation Z, The Witches will have aged considerably in its look, pacing and cinematography. Contemporary viewers may find themselves rolling their eyes at points or wondering where the CGI dragons are, but if you go into it understanding the context of the time and the source material from which it’s drawn, you won’t be too disappointed. It’s hard to be too critical of anything inspired by Dahl, even if the man himself hated the film’s ending.

The bottom line

The Witches is an enjoyable watch, and worth it just to see Anjelica Huston in one of her most celebrated roles. It’s funny, weird, disturbing and scary, and came along at a time when computer-generated images weren’t quite there yet, so puppetry was used instead to great effect.

Flick it on some evening and lose yourself in Roald Dahl’s brilliance for ninety minutes.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Editorials

Three franchises ending soon: my hopes and fears for each

January 13, 2019
Avengers, Star Wars & Jurassic World

Good things come in threes (unless you’re an only child like me, in which case the BEST things come in ones), so this week I’ve picked out three film series that are coming to an end in the near future – one of which will wrap up in the very near future, I might add – and have laid out some of my hopes and fears for each.

Full disclosure: these are three film franchises that I adore, so apologies in advance if this gets emotional.

Let’s do them chronologically, just to keep things simple.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame (Teaser)

The Endgame title was revealed just last month, along with a decidedly threadbare teaser trailer. We saw Tony Stark saying his goodbyes to his beloved, a clean-shaven Captain America concocting a plan, and the reappearance of some faces notably absent from Infinity War. This next (and very much not final) entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be the 21st in the series since Iron Man kicked it all off in 2008, which is in itself a remarkable achievement.

Hopes and fears:

The Avengers find themselves in a sticky situation, with a significant portion of their team (along with half of all beings in existence) wiped out by the jolly purple giant Thanos at the end of Infinity War. Plenty have speculated, but no-one really knows exactly how everything’s going to work out fine in the end for our superheroes, though Ant-Man and his quantum tunnel machine thing surely have something to do with it…right?

Personally, I’m excited to see how Captain Marvel fits into this increasingly-complex puzzle – is she the key to defeating Thanos? More importantly, just where did everyone go after The Snap? I hope the Russo brothers can deliver another perfectly-balanced visual spectacle to follow on from the first film, with solid performances from a very talented cast and plenty more breath-taking MCU action. My only fear is that Endgame won’t live up to expectations, and that the weight of eleven years-worth of interwoven narratives and characterisation finally collapses in on itself.

Fingers crossed we can make it beyond April without that happening…

Star Wars Episode IX

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Trailer)

The as-yet-untitled final episode in the new trilogy is perfectly poised to surprise, I believe. The Resistance has been reduced to a handful of rebels stuffed into the Millennium Falcon, with the ever-angry Kylo Ren now the Supreme Leader of the First Order hell-bent on wiping them out. Han’s gone, Luke’s gone, and, as a result of tragic real-life circumstances, Leia probably won’t feature for long in the new movie. That leaves us solely with the new cast, as well as Lando Calrissian, who is due to make another appearance in that galaxy far, far away.

Hopes and fears:

I’m pretty hopeful for the final act in the Skywalker saga since J.J.Abrams retook the reins. The Force Awakens was excellent, while The Last Jedi was marmite (I loved it, for what it’s worth). Abrams is one of the best currently in the business, and with the story right on the brink of something truly special, I’m already getting excited about seeing how the inevitable Kylo-Rey-Finn love triangle pans out (don’t lie, you were thinking it too).

My fears for Star Wars always stem from Disney’s control over the final product. The worst part of The Last Jedi (ie. the middle bit at the casino) had clearly come about based on the advice of executives who wanted to retain a fun, child-friendly element in what was otherwise a darker and more interesting storyline. If Abrams and his writing team can keep the pesky Mickey Mouse meddlers out of production, we could have an epic space opera on our hands that’s worthy of George Lucas’s original vision, before pod-racing and Jar Jar Binks.

Jurassic World 3

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Trailer)

I know a lot of people didn’t like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and I understand why. I also know that, as a long-time fan with rose-tinted glasses fused to my face, I will always find a silver lining in every velociraptor-shaped cloud that floats my way, so I’ll do my best to be objective here.

The Jurassic World movies, though clearly not as expertly-crafted as the original movie, are fun to watch, and have introduced a whole new generation of movie-goers to the classic cloned reptiles. And I think that’s great.

Hopes and fears:

My hope for the final movie in the new trilogy, which hits the big screen in 2021, is that all of the potential that’s been simmering under the surface throughout the first two instalments comes together in the way I’ve always hoped it would. No more weak writing, no more ‘filler’ characters, and no more sauropods left behind on lava-soaked docks as I try not to die inside.

Colin Trevorrow, who did a fine job of resurrecting the series back in 2015, has returned to the director’s chair after being let go by Disney (“creative differences”, and all that jazz), and I think that might be enough to get the trilogy over the line in a satisfactory way – while Fallen Kingdom was often preoccupied with trying to either scare or sadden us, Trevorrow leans more towards giving JP fans what they always wanted to see.

The bottom line

Of the three series in question, Jurassic World 3 has the most potential to crash and burn, which I desperately hope it doesn’t. I think Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars Episode IX are both in great hands and stand a much better chance of delivering, especially since both franchises are guaranteed to carry on beyond 2019 with plenty more Marvel movies in the works and an entirely new Star Wars trilogy reportedly under development.

Fingers crossed for satisfying conclusions featuring copious amounts of Hulk smashing, lightsabre clashing, and T-rex jaws gnashing.

Reviews

Review: Bird Box

January 5, 2019

This week’s review sees us drifting downriver with a blindfolded Sandra Bullock and two scared kids as we take a look at another Netflix original: Bird Box.

Why now?

Bird Box began streaming (no pun intended) worldwide on 21 December 2018.

In a nutshell

The film starts off with Bullock’s character Malorie telling a young boy and girl that they’ll be taking a boat down river, and not to remove their blindfolds for the duration of the journey, otherwise they’ll die. Skip back five years and we see why, as supernatural entities begin appearing around the world, causing anyone who looks at them to immediately commit suicide.

Who’s it for?

Anyone over the age of 15, if the certification people are to be obeyed. There isn’t a whole lot of anything in this movie other than violent death scenes that would require a viewer to be a bit older, but it’s certainly not for children or those of a nervous disposition.

Who’s in it?

Bird Box has a nice little cast. Sandra Bullock is the protagonist supported by Trevante Rhodes, BD Wong, Tom Hollander, Jacki Weaver and John Malkovich, among others.

Bullock is, as you might expect, as strong as ever in the lead role – assured, funny, empathetic and believable playing Malorie, a character who’s well capable of preserving herself and others while remaining vulnerable enough in the midst of an apocalyptic situation for us to relate to her as a person (not that we’ve been in too many end-of-the-world scenarios, but you know what I mean).

Malkovich puts in a notable performance as Douglas (are we supposed to hate him or like him?) while Rhodes is a strong support for Bullock’s lead. Hollander is sufficiently creepy in his role, too.

The good stuff

I’ve recently acquired an inexplicable taste for horror movies, so I couldn’t resist flicking this one on as soon as I watched the trailer. And it didn’t disappoint – it is scary, and it is a relatively-fresh breath of air in its genre. And it’s another bull’s-eye for Netflix’s efforts in horror after the superb Annihilation.

I enjoy movies where a group of random strangers are thrust together and have to collectively figure out how to survive. I wouldn’t do so well in that scenario myself, but it’s fun watching others have a go at it. The plot of the movie, which cuts back and forth between the river journey and how it all kicked off five years prior, is engaging enough to keep you hooked in without giving you too much of a chance to dig any deeper into potential plot-holes; the tension is pumped steadily into the house where much of the retrospective action takes place and when the scares do come, they’re worth the wait.

The filmmakers also employed a clever trick to maintain the suspense, one that directors have used countless times in the past to great effect – you don’t see the monsters for a very long time (or in this instance, technically not at all). Think of the shark in Jaws, the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, or Norma Bates in Psycho. The suggestion of horror in Bird Box is often greater than what’s actually seen, and that makes it all the more powerful.

The not so good stuff

As mentioned previously, Bird Box is a relatively-fresh idea, but it’s not totally original. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (which is a terrible movie) was centred on the same idea of people committing suicide under the influence of some invisible entity, so I felt like this one was a slight rip-off. Indeed, Josh Malerman, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, feared that his rough draft (written prior to The Happening) was too similar to Shyamalan’s idea and would be passed over. This is a much better take on the idea, though, so he needn’t worry.

My only other gripe was the ending, which was a bit of a come-down after all the tension leading up to it – it’s not the worst, but a little more closure would have helped.

The bottom line

Bird Box is another solid horror showing from Netflix, and well worth a watch. It’s plenty scary and intelligently executed by the filmmakers and cast. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely give it a second viewing at some stage.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp [spoiler-free]

December 15, 2018

In an unprecedented turn of events, I’ve written not one, but TWO reviews in a single week.

[sound of crowd gasping]

Let’s take a look at Ant-Man and the Wasp, that delicious filling squeezed between two chunky slices of epic Avengers action.

Why now?

Ant-Man and the Wasp was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK on 3rd December.

In a nutshell

Scott Lang has been on house arrest for two years following the events of Captain America: Civil War. He’s just days away from freedom when Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne get in contact – they’ve realised that Lang may hold the key to rescuing Hank’s wife Janet from the Quantum Realm, which Lang had entered towards the end of the first film. It isn’t long before trouble arises in the form of Ghost (a spectral villain with an unwavering agenda, also involving Janet) and Lang dons his Ant-Man suit again alongside his new-found partner, the Wasp.

Who’s it for?

Like almost all Marvel movies up to this point (with the exception of a certain Deadpool), this film is perfectly suitable for kids and adults alike. No sex, no bad language, and only superhero-film violence on the table here.

Who’s in it?

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly reprise their roles as Ant-Man and the Wasp (can you even believe it?), while Michael Douglas also returns as Hank Pym. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Janet, and Michael Peña provides a substantial amount of the film’s already substantial comic relief. Hannah John-Kamen plays Ghost, and Laurence Fishburne (the man is EVERYWHERE) comes on board as an old friend of Pym’s.

The good stuff

As with the first Ant-Man and Thor Ragnarok, this movie is decidedly lighter and more humorous than many of the other offerings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Obviously, the likes of Rudd and Peña excel in this environment, playing to their strengths, though the chemistry and easiness shared by every actor you see on screen is palpable, especially between Rudd and Lilly. It’s a fun movie to watch, and though I adored Infinity War, it’s a refreshing change from the heaviness of the Thanos-centred narrative. As you might expect from a Marvel movie, the SFX and fight sequences are all top notch, and the shrink/growth technology employed by the two primary heroes is utilised to great effect. Even the other fairly ridiculous aspects of the Ant-Man universe, such as giant ants playing electric drums (oh yes), are perfectly passable in this movie, in keeping with its tone.

The not so good stuff

My only criticism of Ant-Man and the Wasp centres on something that, to be honest, its makers can’t really do very much about, and that my extraordinarily clever analogy in the opening paragraph referred to: it’s a filler movie.

I actually missed seeing it in the cinema during its release because it didn’t feel like a huge priority at the time – I was still digesting the epic blockbuster that was Infinity War and didn’t fancy going to see a movie that seemed to have no real bearing on Avengers: Endgame. Maybe I’m not as hardcore as I thought.

However, don’t be fooled – the whole premise of this seemingly-small Marvel offering may actually have huge implications for the final act in the Avengers story. You may be able to piece together a few theories before even watching the movie (assuming you’ve seen the first one), and the teaser trailer for Endgame was noticeably Ant-Man-centric towards the end. I may be wrong, but I’d be surprised if what happens in Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t inform the plotline of Endgamein some significant way.

The bottom line

I suggest you grab this one on DVD or Blu Ray soon and enjoy a quiet night in front of the fire with this small but potentially-crucial cog in the big MCU machine. It’s a solid movie with a good cast and a decent storyline that may not leave you quite as thrilled as other Marvel flicks, but should keep you ticking over until Captain Marvelarrives in the spring.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Reviews

Review: Creed II

December 11, 2018

This week, we’re stepping into the ring as we go toe-to-toe with yet another instalment in the Rocky series (or at least, inspired by the Rocky series) in Creed II. This review is spoiler-rific by the way – you have been warned.

Flying high now…

Why now?

Creed II was released on 21 November and is still in cinemas now (quick, go see it!).

In a nutshell

Three years after the events of the first film, Adonis Creed has become heavyweight champion of the World and a household name. He’s with the girl of his dreams, has achieved his ultimate career ambition and seems to have finally moved outof the shadow of his mentor, Rocky Balboa.

However, Ivan Drago suddenly resurfaces from the bleak depths of the Ukraine (sorry if you’re from there, it’s just the way it’s portrayed in the movie) with his son Viktor to challenge Creed to a long-awaited ‘rematch’ of sorts. Ivan Drago is hell-bent on getting his revenge on Rocky by taking down the son of the man hekilled in the ring all those years ago (the great Apollo Creed), whose deathdrove Rocky to defeat him and, it seems, ruin his life; Viktor Drago – whowould, by the way, give the Incredible Hulk a run for his money – just wants tofinally get daddy’s approval by pummelling the living daylights out of Adonis.

Naturally, this macho match up culminates in a brutal clash between Creed and Drago, with afew pumping training montages thrown in along the way. Plenty of spoilers inthere maybe, but I doubt anything you wouldn’t have guessed yourself.

Who’s it for?

If you like Rocky movies – and the first Creed film, of course – you’ll love this. There’s almost nothing in it in the way of bad language or sex, but if youdon’t like violence, I would steer clear. There’s a fair bit.

Who’s in it?

MichaelB. Jordan reprises his role as Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed, while Sylvester Stallone makes what is rumoured to be one final appearance as the Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa. Tessa Thompson plays Bianca, girlfriend and eventual fiancée of Adonis, whose music career takes off in correlation with Creed’s boxing rise to fame. Dolph Lundgren returns as the infamous Ivan Drago, with Florian Munteanu playing Viktor.

The good stuff

This is another solid instalment in this long-running and much-loved series of boxing movies, but like all other Rocky films, it’s so much more than what the cover poster suggests. The direction and acting are top-notch with Jordan putting in another quality performance as Adonis. Stallone is basically Rockyat this point, and slips effortlessly back into the character he’s beennurturing since 1976 – I think it’s also his most assured and emotionalperformance to date (Stallone’s a better actor than people give him creditfor).

The boxing sequences, like the first Creed movie, are fantastic, and even if you pretty much know what’s going to happen, you’ll still be on the edge of your seat from the first ding of the bell. You’ll also feel every single punch – I flinched constantly during the two fights between Creed and Drago (whoops, spoiler!).

The not so good stuff

There’s not a lot about this movie that I didn’t like. I wasn’t entirely convinced at the start that Michael B. Jordan would ever make it as a heavyweight boxer in real life, but actually, I found myself convinced by the end of the film (through powerful acting and a decent storyline) that he could overcome bigger opponents through speed and technique.

There’s a rather tragic storyline running parallel with the main Creed v Drago plot involving Adonis, Bianca and their little baby (whoops, spoiler!) that, while obviously very sad, I wasn’t entirely sure was necessary. I think the strain put on their relationship by Creed’s fame and/or desire to beat Drago couldhave done the trick just as well, but I understand why the writers did it. Veryminor gripes, as you can tell.

The bottom line

Creed II is predictable, but you won’t care. It’s an engaging, well-written and expertly-crafted film boasting solid performances simultaneously from fading stars and those on the rise.Certainly if you’re a fan of previous Rocky movies you won’t be remotelydisappointed (you may even feel a little thrilled), and if you’re in any wayinclined towards boxing or big guys beating each other to a pulp, you’ll likethis show.

For me, the whole shebang was summed up perfectly in one final shot towards the end of the film: Rocky sitting in the shadows outside the ring wearing a Team Creed jacket while Adonis celebrates his victory amidst the media furore (whoops, another spoiler!). It’s a perfect way to call time on one classic movie character while another steps up for his own time in the limelight.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Reviews

Passengers V Arrival: A Comparative Review

December 4, 2018

This week I’m trying something different…

I’ve just watched two films that recently appeared on Netflix, both in the same genre, both released in late 2016. Both are big-budget Hollywood productions with A-list leads and quite original scripts. Both are films you’ll have heard of and have probably seen.

I really liked one and strongly disliked the other.

The two films in question are Passengers, starring Christ Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, and Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.

I found Arrival to be a smart, well-written and superbly-acted movie that asked challenging questions – I very much enjoyed watching it and highly recommend giving it a viewing if you haven’t already seen it.

And I can tell you right off the bat that I didn’t think much of Passengers, at all. I wanted to, of course – I think Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are awesome, and the premise of the movie is strong – but ultimately, it doesn’t succeed.

So let’s break it down, shall we?

Writing

Arrival works because it’s an intelligent spin on an old premise. Aliens arrive on earth, everybody loses their marbles, and no-one knows how to handle the situation – however, the focus is on communication, an aspect of sci-fi movies so basic that it’s almost always overlooked. Not only that, but the story flashes back and forth between two periods, never quite allowing you to settle, or fully understand what’s going on until the climax. And when it all comes together, it makes sense and leaves you profoundly impacted on an emotional level.

Passengers doesn’t work because, while the idea behind it all is intriguing, it doesn’t make the most of its undoubted potential. What starts off as a strong story very quickly tails off into a very standard sci-fi narrative, complete with lots of things blowing up and inexplicable resolutions. I think it could have worked better as a horror, perhaps.

Acting

Arrival works because Amy Adams nails it, and her supporting cast compliment her beautifully. She’s believable and relatable as the lead; her decisions make sense, and her reactions draw empathy. Undoubtedly one of her strongest performances to date.

Passengers doesn’t work because, once again, its potential is not maximised. Chris Pratt is a wonderfully-charismatic actor with great comedic timing, and while this is a very different role for him, he’s very bland. Similarly, Jennifer Lawrence is one of the best actresses in Hollywood and apart from one or two scenes in the movie, you simply wouldn’t know it. It may be sceptical of me to say, but I fear these two leads were chosen based more on their star power and looks (I haven’t seen Chris Pratt’s butt as often in one movie before) than on their fit for the roles.

Direction

Arrival works because it’s understated and toned perfectly to match its weighty subject matter. Denis Villeneuve received a Best Director nomination for Arrival, with the film also nominated for Best Picture, and it’s easy to see why. This film is masterfully made without being too flashy – unusual for an alien movie.

Passengers doesn’t work because it tries to do big things without addressing the small things first. Morten Tyldum is also an Oscar-nominated director, but Passengers is a shallow, predictable, and ultimately quite boring film which could have been incredibly engaging had a little more thought gone into making it. Maybe that’s harsh, but it frustrates me to see a movie miss the mark like this.

The bottom line

Arrival and Passengers are cut from the same cloth, but they’re executed in very different ways. Where one succeeds by doing something different (and doing it expertly), the other follows a very safe path towards mediocrity, when it could have been equally excellent.

They’re both on Netflix now, so watch them and see what you think!

Verdict

Arrival: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Passengers: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)