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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: Chasing Shadows [Spoiler Free]

May 20, 2019
Chasing Shadows Poster

I was recently asked to take a look at a micro-budget British Crime Thriller called Chasing Shadows, written and directed by Aoun Khan. The movie’s currently in the final stages of post-production, so the version I saw is still some way off the finished article, but a few small tweaks aside and it was essentially all there. So I pulled up a chair and hunkered down for 84 minutes of gritty crime noir.

Here are my first impressions of Chasing Shadows.

Why now?

Chasing Shadows is set for a limited theatrical release in North America this summer, followed by a DVD and VOD release later in 2019.

In a nutshell

An inexperienced and already washed-up detective battles with a suppressed painkiller addiction while trying to track down a serial killer.

Who’s it for?

The movie is rated 15 and justifiably so as some scenes are fairly gruesome. Not one for the kids, anyway.

Kevin Golding in Chasing Shadows

Who’s in it?

Cengiz Dervis plays Henry, the aforementioned gloomy detective. Julie Rose Smith plays his wife Lyla, while the role of Max (why does nobody have a surname here) is taken on by Lloyd Sparsi. Faye Sewell, Kevin Golding and Alex Reece comprise the rest of the main cast.

The good stuff

For a “micro-budget” crime thriller, I think this film actually punches above its weight on plenty of occasions. Khan’s direction is largely quite accomplished, with effective use of light and camera work throughout. The film’s score is also strong and lends itself to the dark and brooding tone Khan was clearly shooting for.

Any more action-oriented sequences in the movie are executed well, with a foot-chase between two of the principal characters a particular technical highlight (though it very nearly goes on too long). Some shots were quite haunting, too, especially those centred on the serial-killer moments in the film – lots of deep red, shadows and unsettling angles.

In terms of acting, I found Sparsi’s portrayal of Max intriguing. I liked the idea of a serial killer who was devilishly handsome and charming (nothing new there, really) who lapses into moments of homicidal mania without ever really letting his mask slip. The film ends up poised for a potential sequel, which I’d be interested in seeing if Max remains the lead antagonist.

The not so good stuff

While I found Khan’s direction admirable, I was less enamoured with his writing ability. The story, firstly, is a pretty by-the-books serial killer narrative – if you haven’t figured out the entire plot within the first 15 minutes, you’re just not really trying. Nothing really jumped out at me as surprising, and each character fit far too comfortably into their respective stereotypes: Detective With Personal Demons, Nagging Wife, Charming Killer, Angry Cop Boss, etc. With the exception of Sergeant Emily Banks (who was just weird enough to be memorable) and Max in fits and bursts, the characterisation of the remaining players was fairly two-dimensional. I’d definitely seen that leading character detective before – I didn’t need to see him again, especially when he looked as though he’d just woken up in every scene. I also wasn’t sure if Max’s dual accounts of how he received his facial scar were a homage to The Dark Knight or just a casual rip-off.

The poor writing extended to (and was perhaps most glaringly obvious in) the dialogue. Some of the exchanges between characters were so painful I felt as though George Lucas had written them, and it was clear the actors were at times struggling to deliver their lines with any real conviction. On the flip side of that negative, however, was the positive that any scenes with little or no dialogue further amplified Khan’s good directorial skills.

I’ll aim a final criticism at some of the sound in the film, though I expect this will be improved before the final product is unveiled. Some of the off-screen characters sounded very muffled during conversations, and the final voiceover sequence was nearly incomprehensible at times. Again, though, I assume this will be rectified in post-production.

The bottom line

Chasing Shadows is an admirable first-time effort from Aoun Khan and certainly worth a watch, if you enjoy this genre. Any inadequacies in writing are largely balanced out with good direction and score, though as a writer myself, I struggle to look beyond the improper execution of words. I’d be interested to see what a film directed by Khan and written by someone else would turn out like, though – definitely one to watch in future.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Chasing Shadows (Trailer)
Reviews

Avengers: Endgame [Spoiler Free]

April 26, 2019

Another Avengers movie release, another midnight showing, another day as a work zombie…all totally worth it.

Avengers: Endgame finally hit the big screen on 25 April, and I was one of the hundreds of ecstatic movie-goers packing out one of several booked-out screens at our local cinema. I’ve been to a few midnight showings, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many super-enthusiastic fans gathered in one place. The atmosphere was electric – it’s the perfect way to enjoy a much-anticipated film, because everyone who’s there really has to want to be there at that time.

Anyway, on to the review. This one is SPOILER-FREE, but I’ll probably do a follow-up piece soon discussing the film in more depth.

For now, here are my initial impressions of the final Avengers movie.

Why now?

Endgame was released on 25 April and is in cinemas in the UK right now.

In a nutshell

With half of all life in the universe ‘snapped’ out of existence by the titan Thanos, the remaining handful of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes set about trying to find a way to reverse what their arch nemesis achieved at the end of Infinity War. I can’t say any more than that without dropping a spoiler, but from the trailers, you’ll know that Ant-Man and Captain Marvel play a part in it all.

Who’s it for?

The movie is rated 12a, so some children may need an adult along. It’s just Marvel-level violence for the most part though, so don’t worry too much about it.

Thanos armour

Who’s in it?

I’m not even going to touch this one because the cast of this film is freakin’ huge. If you’ve seen Captain America Civil War, Infinity War, Ant-Man and Captain Marvel, however, you’ll already be acquainted with the entire cast.

Really struggling to contain myself here…

The good stuff

Man, I wish I hadn’t set that no-spoilers rule at the start of this review!

If you’re a Marvel fan (and of course you are), this film is everything you’ll have wanted it to be. It is at least as good as Infinity War, if not a few shades better, and if you’ve read my review on it you’ll know that’s high praise indeed.

On every level – writing, direction, acting, special effects, etc – Endgame exceeds expectations. I went in having no real clue what was going to happen, as I think most fans did, but even if I’d formulated my own carefully-concocted version of the plot, it would never have come close to what actually happens in the film. Right from the start, the plot spins off in directions I could never have predicted. Characters die who I expected to live (that’s not a spoiler, you knew some of them would die), others survive who I assumed would be killed off at some stage; certain heroes play key roles while others sit a little further back, but every member of the cast gets their time to shine. How the Russo brothers managed to achieve that in such an effortless way, I’ll never know.

And that’s another awesome thing about this movie – the great moments you hoped would happen do happen, just not necessarily in the ways you anticipate. There are fantastic twists, set pieces, stunts and phenomenal cinematography throughout, and the final battle sequence tops anything ever played out in the history of action movies, let alone those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pretty sure that isn’t an exaggeration, either.

Finally, on an emotional level, Endgame trumps everything that’s come before it. There were plenty of tears in our screening towards the end, explosions of laughter all the way through, and spontaneous applause when the final credits rolled. Be warned – this is an emotional experience, and you will leave the cinema feeling very sad and very happy in equal measure.

The not so good stuff

There really isn’t much to say here. My only complaint, and it’s extremely minor, would be with some of the early sections of the film that seem a bit slow, but there’s a lot of character development going on here and numerous story arcs being concluded simultaneously, so I suppose that’s to be expected. I would have liked to have seen a few of the characters get slightly more screen time as well, but again, it’s a tall order getting everyone into a film that acts as the culmination of ten years’ worth of storytelling.

The bottom line

Avengers: Endgame is all that you hope it’ll be and a bag of chips. The Russo brothers hit all the right notes from start to finish, and the ending in particular is thoroughly satisfying.

Like I said, I’ll write a second review TEEMING with spoilers in the near future, but for now, just take my word for it that this film is incredible – see it as soon as possible on the biggest screen you can.

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

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Four [Star Wars]

April 21, 2019
Supreme Leader Snoke

Back by popular demand but better than the fourth Indiana Jones film is the next instalment in our ‘Villains’ series, where I share my thoughts on which movie bad guys have been worth the wait, and which have been a big ol’ let down.

So far, I’ve put villains from the Harry Potter, James Bond and Marvel series under the microscope – this time around, I’ll turn my attention to the glorious and often polarising space opera saga that is Star Wars (and I’ll do my level best not to geek out too much in the process).

Before I get into it, though, here’s an important disclaimer: there are a TON of heroes and villains in the Star Wars universe and while it would be fun to compare a baddie from the prequel trilogy with someone in Rogue One, it may not be entirely fair, especially if their character spans more than one trilogy and we have more time to love or hate them. So I’m going to stick with the new trilogy on this occasion. 

Also, the new trailer for The Rise of Skywalker dropped as I was writing this and almost made me go in a completely different direction on this one (that laugh…!), but I decided to stick with my original choice in the end.

Part four: Star Wars Villains (Sequel Trilogy)

Kylo Ren – heir apparent to Lord Vader indeed

Kylo Ren

I love Kylo Ren. I love Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. I love J.J. Abrams for making Kylo Ren such a badass in The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson for developing his character in the right way in The Last Jedi. He was probably the best thing about both movies.

Remember the first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens? Andy Serkis snarling “There has been an awakening…have you felt it? The Dark Side, and the Light.”

There’s a shot in that teaser that hit the cutting room floor of Kylo Ren igniting his crossguard lightsabre in the snowy woods on Starkiller Base. That was the beginning of the Kylo Ren hype that never really let up at all, even after he took off his mask to reveal the wavy dark locks of Adam Driver (I know a few people who hated that). Here was a villain deliberately modelled on Darth Vader, complete with his own distorted voice and hidden visage.

What I love about Kylo is the fact that we never really know just how good or bad he actually is, or whether or not he’s truly as powerful as other characters in the films keep telling us. At the end of The Force Awakens, he screams “TRAITOR!” at John Boyega’s Finn (something akin to Anakin’s “I HATE YOU!” shriek at Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith), reminding us that he’s still quite young and lacking in self-control – he’s also just murdered his own father at this point, so the capacity for evil is definitely there. And yet in The Last Jedi, he often seems just as conflicted as Rey, even veering tantalisingly towards the Light at times.

Ultimately, it’s all a mirroring of Vader, making Kylo Ren the first truly worthy successor to the heavy-breathing Dark Lord of the Sith. And like Vader, as The Rise of Skywalker approaches, we still have no real idea which way this particular Force-wielding villain is going to go in the end. As it should be.

Supreme Leader Snoke – just a red herring?

Supreme Leader Snoke
Supreme Leader Snoke

I thought Rian Johnson did a fantastic job with Snoke. Abrams hadn’t given us much to go on other than a gloomy-looking hologram with a booming voice, but Johnson wasted no time in revealing the First Order’s Big Bad shortly after the opening scene of The Last Jedi. Snoke’s fairly hideous appearance, given life by the brilliant Andy Serkis, was pretty much what I’d been hoping for. I also loved the fact that his throne room was mostly bright and red, and Snoke himself wore gold-coloured clothing instead of the usual black ensemble.

And I genuinely loved the moment when Kylo Ren sliced his master in two – it was totally unexpected and completely threw the audience at the time.

However, I was gutted that we never discovered who the heck the Supreme Leader actually was. Like many fans, I’d spent months trying to work out who he was: Palpatine? Darth Plagueis? Mace Windu (yes, someone actually suggested that!).

So when the credits finally rolled and we were no closer to finding out who he was or why he wanted to take over the galaxy, I felt a little cheated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the positive end of Star Wars fans regarding The Last Jedi, but I’d wanted some answers and hadn’t gotten anyway. Maybe we’ll find out in the final instalment who Snoke was, but I fear that ship has sailed.

The bottom line

I don’t think many Star Wars fans would argue that Kylo Ren isn’t a great villain. He has all the makings of a classic cinematic figure on the cusp of a satisfying character arc completion (I hope!), and the trailer shots of his mask being repaired got me even more excited for The Rise of Skywalker than I already had been (he’s cooler with the mask on, right?). On Snoke, I wanted some answers and Rian Johnson didn’t throw any my way, so I can never really feel at peace with that one.

Here’s to a satisfying end to the greatest movie saga of all time!

Read the rest of “The Movie Villains Who Nailed It” series:

Part 1: Harry Potter

Part 2: James Bond

Part 3: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Editorials

The Netflix Problem

March 27, 2019
Netlix Roma

Steven Spielberg caused controversy recently with his comments about streaming platform Netflix – the legendary director appeared to roundly condemn those who want to include films made directly for the media service provider in the list of Academy Award nominees, referring to their eligibility for the accolades as “token qualifications”.

And here we, as film enthusiasts, find ourselves trapped between a rock and a hard place: the rock being arguably the most famous movie director of all time, and the place being the Western culture of 2019, where content is consumed in a vastly different manner than it was when Spielberg first began his directorial career.

Director

Is this the opening skirmish of a war between the past and present? Are we supposed to pick a side?

Probably not.

When Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma won three Oscars at the Academy Awards (including, most significantly, Best Director) last month, it broke a taboo that perhaps none of us realised even existed.  Roma was put forward for ten awards by the Academy, and though it wasn’t the first streamed film to be nominated (that honour goes to Manchester By The Sea), it was the first to ever win in the Best Director category. That’s a major distinction.

And yet, Roma ruffled more than just Spielberg’s feathers. One of the reasons why the film was considered so contentious by those in the movie industry, in fact, was the way in which it was released. Netflix made the film available mid-December, around the time most Oscar-hopefuls will start distributing their work, and also released it in a few movie theatres at the same time, which was frowned-upon by some because it failed to stick by the 90-day cinema window.

In the run-up to the Oscars, Tom Rogers (former CEO of TiVo) explained why Roma could be a milestone in the history of cinema.

“It’s such a disruptive pick for the Academy to end up embracing something that’s really going to go to the heart of movie theatrical distribution and the whole windowing system it has,” he said. “Netflix came up with a better way to watch television. Consumers have voted. It’s a great way to get what you what, when you want, and how you want it. And they’re doing the same thing with movies.”

CNBC

So while Netflix is indeed breaking new ground, it isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong (in the eyes of most people, anyway).

However, Steven Spielberg wasn’t quite so accommodating, stating:

“I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

The Guardian

He went on to suggest that Netflix movies should be nominated for Emmy Awards as they’re technically made for television. The veteran director is expected to raise the issue at the next Academy board of governors meeting and argue for a rule change that would ensure Oscar-nominated films adhere to the traditional theatrical run format in order to be eligible for the awards.

So what’s the bottom line here?

Well, it depends what way you look at it. Peter Bradshaw writes:

“Those sympathetic to Netflix contest their opponents’ claim to be the defenders of decent celluloid values battling against an overweening corporate monster intent on crushing the community values of movie theatres. On the contrary, they say Netflix is challenging the privileges of entitled white males.”

The Guardian

Bradshaw does, however, go on to point out that Netflix relies heavily on subscriptions and is simultaneously engulfed in massive, crippling debt – a staggering $28billion – that could quite easily cause the platform to collapse, “leaving us to wonder how we could have been so naive and disloyal in relation to the workable theatrical release model.”

And for those who might try arguing that the current generation is transitioning away from traditional models of cinema towards instant content, it should be noted that just last year, attendance at UK theatres was at its highest since 1970, with 177million admissions.

Perhaps Spielberg has a point, and the purity of the Academy Awards should be preserved at all costs. Or maybe we’re simply in a new era of cinema, one in which we can watch Oscar-worthy films on both our television and theatre screens, depending on our preference.

Surely increased access to quality works like Roma can only be a good thing, after all? Certainly, Spielberg’s contemporary Martin Scorsese seems to think so, with his next film The Irishman set to debut on Netflix later this year.

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.