fbpx

Category: Reviews

Read the latest movie reviews.

Reviews

Review: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

May 21, 2019

Keanu Reeves’ action franchise returns for its third instalment and this time it has Latin in the title.

What’s Going On?

Super-assassin John Wick has a $14,000,000 bounty placed on his head after breaking one of the cardinal rules of the Continental Hotel – no business is conducted on hotel grounds. As this is a hotel for assassins, “business” means killing people. In the world of this film, assassins lurk around every corner and John is set upon by an endless array of killers. Eager to get out from under this death sentence, John delves deeper into the mysterious world of assassins to find a solution to his problem.

Behind The Scenes

John Wick was directed by Chad Stahelski who, famously, before that film had been a stunt co-ordinator and as such was incredibly focused on the fight scenes. Stahelski stayed on to direct Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 and the fight scenes are still amazing, at times truly dazzling and clearly directed by a world-class expert. I am something of a connoisseur of good fight scenes and I still winced at how real some of the blows felt while marvelling at the technical capabilities of all involved.

In Front Of The Camera

Keanu Reeves obviously dominates the film as he plays John Wick and continues to bring an almost stoic sensibility to non-stop life and death fights. Alongside Reeves’ acting talent is sheer ability to be in this film, I am unaware exactly how much of Reeves’ fighting is done by a double but he certainly seems to be taking on a lot. Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, manager of the Continental Hotel (the assassin hotel that has placed the bounty on Wick for breaking their rules) and with him also returns Lance Riddick as the ever helpful concierge, Charon. Lawrence Fishburne is also back as the unnamed Bowery King – the ruler of another mysterious group of criminals who pose as homeless New Yorkers. There are newcomers – the primary antagonist is the Adjuciator, a representative of the High Table, the rulers of this world of assassins played by Asia Kate Dillon, who not only wants Wick dead also wants New York shaken up a bit. Perhaps more important is the addition of Mark Dacascos, an assassin and sushi chef billed as someone actually capable of taking on John Wick. Real star power is brought by Oscar winner Halle Berry, who operates a similar hotel as that managed by Winston but in Casablanca. Angelica Houston pops up playing The Director, who doubles as ballet director and crimelord whose help John Wick seeks and provides a little more backstory to the character of John Wick.

Does It Work?

I consider John Wick a great action film, a twist on a simple revenge story, driven by Keanu Reeves’ performance and some of the best fight choreography ever. John Wick 2 was entertaining, and again, had amazing fight scenes, but it wasn’t quite the same and I feel much the same with John Wick 3. It’s certainly an enjoyable film and I was never bored but the more it’s delved into this world the less I get out of it. It somehow lacked the magic of the original and this might be as simple as I knew what to expect, whereas Chapter 1 was a surprise. I do think that there is a problem with John Wick’s motivation, in the first film it was revenge but in the other two there is something more complicated going on – debts owed, rules broken and the schemes of powerful people.

The more that is revealed about the Continental, the High Table, the Bowery and so on the more convoluted and less satisfying it becomes. The sheer number of assassins that exists not just in New York but seemingly any spot on the globe is astounding and stretches credulity. The thing that seems most unbelievable is that surely there aren’t this many assassinations to support such a huge number of assassins.

Whereas the first chapter was based entirely in New York, Chapter 2 took us to Rome and Chapter 3 continues with this international perspective. John Wick [Chapter 1] felt very contained, everything happened in a couple of days in a couple of locations but increasingly the franchise is eager to spread its wings. Doing this does allow for a bit of variety but personally, I would have preferred a more claustrophobic setting.

There was a cool touch in John Wick where after one fight scene early in the movie the police turn up. They know John who is, simply ask if he’s working again and then stay out of his way but you can’t help but think the level of carnage caused in this film would warrant some kind of police response. There are even suggestions of supernatural powers or mystical techniques possessed by some of the assassins, that to me, make John Wick’s phenomenal killing abilities less impressive.

Of course, John Wick was never supposed to be set in the real world, this hyper-violent world of secret assassins and globe-spanning criminal syndicates was supposed to be escapist fun but I think after the first film the balance between reality and fantasy has moved too far to the latter.

But really most of these complaints and minor gripes and is just what separates a good film from being a great film. If you enjoyed the previous John Wick films you will almost certainly love this. The fight scenes continue to offer something new, whether it’s drafting in Boban Marjanovic, a seven foot three inches tall basketball star, to serve as an early opponent or adding horses and dogs to the weapons John Wick utilises. While I feel the story has become a little bogged down with secret organisations the core of the film remains the same- John Wick having to fight a seemingly impossible number of people.

The biggest plus in the film is certainly Mark Dacascos. In the two previous chapters, there was no one who, individually, was thought to be John Wick’s equal when it came to killing people. There wasn’t one bad guy for him to fight there would be a couple of dozen. Of course, John Wick still has to fight through dozens of opponents but it all leads to a showdown with Dacascos.

Overall this is a very enjoyable action film that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first instalment but compared to other franchises on their second sequel this is amazing stuff.

Verdict 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

John Wick 3 (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Ten Movies Turning 20 in 2019!

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)

Reviews

Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

April 17, 2019

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most revered film directors of all time. His films were championed as art which displayed the power of cinema. And many are held as some of the greatest movies ever. However, his final film Eyes Wide Shut has often slipped through the cracks.

Many critics were left disappointed when the film came out. Which is understandable. When the film was released Kubrick hadn’t made a film in 12 years. And with his great track record, many were probably expecting a masterpiece. With such high expectations, it’s understandable why the film didn’t fare well upon initial viewing. But with the film celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary this year, today we will be looking back to see if Eyes Wide Shut deserves its reputation as Stanley Kubrick’s worst film.

The Story

Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are a well-regarded New York City couple. Bill has a good job as a doctor, the couple has a child together and is very active in high society. But after a series of intimate flirtations with other people at a Christmas party, they begin to have doubts about how secure their relationship is.

After Alice admits to having sexual fantasies about another man, Bill embarks on an odyssey around New York to find out more about himself. His curiosity leads him to several encounters that will test his commitment to his relationship. Eventually causing him to cross paths with a secret society who don’t take kindly to strangers.

What did I like?

If you are a fan of cinema Eyes Wide Shut delivers something truly unique. It uses its basis as an erotic thriller to ask some interesting questions about relationships. What does marriage mean to people? Is it possible to truly know someone? And does true love really exist? And these interesting thematic points are accompanied and conveyed through great performances and a confident script.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s performances are some of both actor’s best work. They have fantastic chemistry, which makes the films questions about relationships more impactful because theirs feels so genuine. They were of course dating at the time. Tom Cruise being Hollywood’s go to charming leads makes Bill easy to like. But he’s equally effective when the film shifts and shows him in more vulnerable or compromising positions. And he makes each character shift work by wholly committing to the emotion required from the role. And Kidman shows her strong dramatic capabilities and how committed she can be. She’s willing to commit to nudity and brings dramatic weight to her simplest actions. The scene where she and Cruise discuss their relationship is incredibly powerful, because of her performance. And all the supporting performers although given limited screen time, manage to make their characters feel like fully rounded people.

The script is also one of Kubrick’s best. It creates a seamless world that blends both the real and surreal perfectly. The dialogue between the characters all feels natural. It doesn’t seem pretentious or forced. It feels like these are characters voicing their opinions, and aren’t just actors reciting dialogue. Even the exposition, although there can sometimes be a lot, fits what the characters are going through. And it allows room for interpretation, with so much being left unexplained for the audience to interpret. While also being a complete narrative. With all of the major characters arcs completed in a natural way.

And the cinematography is some of the best of Kubrick’s career. Cinematographer Larry Smith makes every scene look like a painting come to life. The colourful lighting and smooth tracking shots make the film a joy to look at. And he creates a palpable atmosphere through adding a haziness to many of the shots. Making the film feel like a dream. Which makes the more surreal frightening parts of the film all the more plausible.

But there are still elements that may bother viewers especially those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s work.

What did I not like?

Firstly, the slow pace that favours character interaction, mood and visual metaphors over an efficient, traditional narrative can make the film a chore for people simply wanting to watch a story unfold rather than trying to decode what the movie means. Many will also be dissatisfied with the directions the story takes. The payoffs to many of the story’s arcs happen off-screen and are explained away in dialogue or favour intimate images over big spectacle, which can make some audience members feel cheated.

The direction doesn’t help. Kubrick’s films often lack intimacy. Favouring wider shots over close-ups and cold/washed out colours, which keeps the audience at a distance and inspires a depressing feeling. Coupled with the actors slower, more methodical delivery, this can make the film seem stagey and un-real. Which may keep you from becoming engaged with the drama.

Alternately there are times when some might feel that the movie is patronizing them. Some scenes literally vomit dialogue about what has occurred. Which is necessary for the characters but not for the audience. The pool scene being the worst offender.

Finally, it is easy to see some take against the portrayal of women in the film. Many may feel the film paints all women as being obsessed with sex and are portrayed in an enticing way for the male viewer. Which is not an inaccurate conclusion. Though it is worth pointing out that the film does hold Bill’s character accountable for his chauvinist views. And many of the films male characters are controlling, manipulative and driven by self-interest (though they have significantly less nude scenes).

Verdict  

Twenty years after it’s release, it’s easy to see why some audiences took against Eyes Wide Shut. Because it favours atmosphere over tight narrative structure. Goes in directions that many may not expect. While also offering up a possibly unflattering view of women and to those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s style it can seem alienating and hard to read.

However to those looking for something different or are familiar with the directors work the film delivers a one of a kind experience. It asks big philosophical questions in a way that allows the audience to think and come up with their own conclusions while still functioning as complete narrative. The characters are memorable and interesting. All of the actors commit themselves in ways that are very admirable and play to and against their strengths. And the film is a feast for the eyes with a vibrant colour scheme that attracts and repels at the same time.

It’s a hard nut to crack. But once you have, it is a rewarding experience and a worthy swan song for one of cinemas greatest voices.

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

Reviews

Review: Shazam!

April 4, 2019
Shazam Movie Screenshot

Comic book characters have been a staple of big Hollywood films for nearly twenty years now. But recently we have seen a growth in obscure and niche (by mainstream standards) comic book properties being used as inspirations for big box office hits. Guardians of the Galaxy, Aquaman and Captain Marvel have all scored big, using obscurer comic figures that many fans never thought would get their time to shine.

And now DC is trying their luck again, with the live-action feature debut of Shazam. But can the hero who was once considered more popular than Superman hit a home run with his first film outing?

The story

The wizard, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is growing old and is searching for an heir to his powers, to protect the world from the seven avatars of sin. After searching for years, he finally chooses young orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel). Billy is then granted the ability to turn from a teenager into a superpowered adult (Zachary Levi) by saying the word, “Shazam”. But Billy has no interest in being a hero.

Having been abandoned by his mother as a child, Billy has spent most of his life moving from foster home to foster home while looking for her. So naturally, he has a cynical streak that makes him ill-suited for his powers. But when Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) a man rejected by the wizard years before, comes to claim Billy’s powers, Billy must prove he is worthy of them by fighting to protect the innocent and his foster family from Thaddeus’ wrath.

What did I like?

After several years of DC movies being unduly grim and gritty, it’s nice to see them becoming more fun. Although Shazam has dark moments, they feel appropriate. Because the story is about a troubled teenager coming to grips with the world around him. Ultimately though this movie is about family and childish power fantasy, and the script achieves that with gusto.

The empowerment side of the story works well. Billy, of course, begins using his powers to do childish things. Which is very entertaining. But slowly he realises that he must grow up and become responsible or he will become like Thaddeus. Turning the film into a coming of age tale where Billy learns that strength comes from those around you. Time is also dedicated to giving visibility to a spectrum of genders, sexualities and abilities. Before paying them off in an empowering way that many will find satisfying. Coupled with this the movie is incredibly funny, with Pop culture references and over the top childish wackiness ensuring a laugh from most audiences. Some may find the family side of the story clichéd, but it does add another level of emotional investment to the story.

I also really enjoyed the performances. Zachary Levi is of course the standout. Playing a child in an adult’s body can easily become creepy or aggravating. But when watching Levi his energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity capture your attention. He is a joy to watch as he channels his inner child and he easily carries the entire movie. Mark Strong also does good work as Thaddeus. Some may see Thaddeus as just another generic villain but the occasional moment where Strong lets the mask slip revealing something more childlike underneath really does work as a good foil for Levi. And many of the supporting cast also get their time to shine. Special mention goes to Cooper Andrews as Billy’s warm foster father. And Jack Grazer as Freddy whose comedic timing never fails to get a laugh.

What did I not like?

But while I like most of what the film is doing, it’s sometimes a rough ride getting there. On the technical side, the CG used to create the avatars of sin and the action scenes never looks convincing or original. It’s all designs and feats we’ve seen done elsewhere. Thankfully the film does not rely too much on these but when it does it becomes too unreal and generic to engage. Which does become a problem in the third act.

As well as this, the films occasional overreliance on humour undermines the attempt at eliciting emotion from the family storyline. With pathos sacrificed for a joke. And when so much of the film relies on humour there is the risk of alienating the audience if they are not engaged by the jokes. Which did happen a few times with the audience I saw the film with.

Lastly, the film does occasionally slip into the same pitfalls as many other DCEU movies. Some of the acting feels forced and unnatural, particularly Thaddeus’ family and the bully characters. There are also segments that could have been tweaked to make a better impression on the audience. For example, the fight between Billy and the bullies, which doesn’t happen simply because they are hurting Freddy, but because they insult him not having parents which Billy takes personally which makes him seem more selfish than he needs to be. And of course, DC can still think of no other way to end a film than by having a big fight with indiscriminate CGI bad guys. Which is especially disappointing here because the character focused conflict between Billy and Thaddeus is way more interesting than the generic avatars of sin.  

Verdict  

Shazam! is a mixed bag. It is brought down by unconvincing CG villains as well as an occasional overreliance on humour to the detriment of other parts of the narrative. The lack of attention to minor details in the story and occasionally bad acting also drags the film down. But it still feels like a breath of fresh air among modern superhero movies. It is an almost perfect example of what the genre is meant to be, wish fulfilment for little kids. Buoyed by fun performances, a fantastic sense of humour and a script that nicely treads the line between sincere and goofy.

It is impossible not to have a good time with Shazam!. It isn’t a genre redefining masterpiece nor is it an exceptional film, but it’s a damn good version of what it’s trying to be.

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

Shazam! is in UK cinema on from Friday 5th April.

Shazam! (Official Trailer)
Reviews

Rachael RnR Reviews Jordan Peele’s “Us”

March 30, 2019
Us Review Rachael RnR

Written & directed by Jordan Peele, YouTuber & Presenter, Rachel RNR reviews the blockbuster horror “Us”.

What’s it about?

Haunted by a traumatic experience from the past, Adelaide grows increasingly concerned that her past will catch up to her. Her worst fears soon become a reality when four masked strangers descend upon the house, forcing the Wilsons into a fight for survival.

“Us” is currently available to watch in cinemas.

Reviews

Review: Us [Spoiler Free]

March 25, 2019

An onslaught of violence, terror and doppelgangers in new horror film, Us.

What’s Going On?

A family holiday back to the beach she visisted as a child brings back unsettling memories for Adelaide and triggers a sense of something truly terrible coming. Unfortunately, her feelings are proven right when late at night a group of four people, a family, are spotted hanging around outside their holiday home. As Gabe, husband and father, confronts the group things quickly escalate and soon it’s a house invasion at which point Adelaide, Gabe and their children realise their attackers look exactly like them.

Behind The Scenes

This is the second film by Jordan Peele after 2017’s Oscar-winning Get Out and expectations are high. Peele was known primarily for many years as one half of comedy sketch group Key and Peele, who while not well known in the UK were a big deal in America. After two films Peele is already making a name for himself as a master of horror and he seems like the perfect person to present the rebooted Twilight Zone. As someone who is not a huge horror fan Peele’s films have had a big impact on me.

In Front Of The Camera

Most of the cast play two characters so Winston Duke has to be both reassuring father Gabe and violent brute, Abraham. While the focus is on the whole family Lupita Nyong’o is undoubtedly the star of the movie with two amazing performances as Adelaide and her doppelganger, Red. The children, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, are both great and are especially creepy when being the doppelgangers.

Does It Work?

As I said, expectations were high after Get Out and this film met those high expectations. As soon as the doppelgangers arrive the film is a non-stop terrifying ride. Each doppelganger is their own unique brand of horrifying: Adelaide’s speaking in a rasping voice about what horror she has been through and what awaits, Gabe’s is a brute dishing out violence at any opportunity, Zora (the daughter) has an unsettling manic look to her and Jason (the son) acts more like an animal, scuttling around the room with a very creepy mask. Each doppelganger takes on the original in an apt way (e.g. Zora is told to run and is chased by her double as Zora had recently discussed quitting Track and Field events) which suggests an in-depth knowledge of the family.

The film has many twists and turns and unexpected events so I won’t go too much into the plot so as to avoid spoilers. The normalcy of the family at the beginning sets up a wonderful family life. Gabe is such a “Dad” character making stupid jokes, telling off the children and insisting on planning activities none of the others wanted to do – I assure you, Gabe, nobody wanted to go fishing. There are problems that are hinted at such as Adelaide’s possibly traumatic past and how Jason seems to always wear a mask (I couldn’t work out whether it was meant to be Chewbacca or just a generic creature) but overall they seemed a very happy family. The film also manages to be funny, especially before the horror gets going, it’s a rather nice comedy of a happy family and is a gentle reminder that for a long time Jordan Peele was primarily a comedian.

Adelaide’s character goes on a harrowing journey that begins with her as a terrified mother, relying on her husband or the curiously missing police to save them to a truly formidable presence. It is hard to overstate just how brilliant Lupita Nyong’o is in the film, playing the fragile Adelaide or giving intense monologue’s as Red to Adelaide finding her strength.

The film primarily seems to be about identity and the feeling of how if things had been different you could be a completely different person. What connection does a genuine doppelganger have with you? Who has the greater claim to “your” identity? Does undergoing horror make you horrific? Are we only good because we live in a pleasant society where you can make a life without being bad? The viewer is left to make up their own mind about most of this.

Of course this isn’t just a philosophical film about identity but a brutal horror movie. The violence feels awfully real and a great deal of convincing blood is shed. The sheer oddity of battling a mirror image of yourself increases the disturbing nature and surely everyone watching would be imagining how they would have handled their own evil doppelganger.

The films looks great. The doppelgangers have a very distinct look, wearing identical red boilersuits and a single leather glove and all are armed with very sharp scissors (at the cinema I saw the film at the staff wore the same red boilersuits). The image of the doppelgangers standing outside in the darkness, barely illuminated, is very disturbing and memorable. Jason, the first to spot them, instantly identifies them as a family and I think that is exactly how they appear. The beach town is a beautiful backdrop to the horrors than unfold, a favourite touch of mine was the carnival attraction that young Adelaide gets lost in, in the 1980s its a cultural appropriating Native American “spirit journey” but in the present a more generic, and less offensive, Wizard Forest.

The film also uses music really well. I don’t know if I’ll ever listen to Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys without getting a chill down my spine. But there is a trade-off that because of this film I might laugh at Fuck The Police by N.W.A. The original soundtrack is positively chilling with the song “Anthem” bringing dread, fear and auditory flashbacks to many other great horror film soundtracks.

This film is a success on every level and I’m surprised to say that I might have actually enjoyed this film more than Get Out. If you’re a fan of horror or not go and see this film – albeit it might be too much for the very squeamish or easily creeped out.

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

Us (Official Trailer)
Reviews

Review: Await Further Instructions

March 22, 2019

A claustrophobic horror thriller centred around a bitterly divided family.

What’s Going On?

Nick brings his girlfriend, Annji, back to his family home for Christmas after an absence of several years. It is not long before the tensions in the family boil over, particularly the racism directed towards Annji. After making the decision to leave Nick and Annji find out they are trapped in the house by metal shutters placed there by some outside power. Their only outlet to the outside world is through the television broadcasting instructions on what they should do. The already fractured family are put through increasingly intense dramas that only brings out the worst in them.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by Johnny Kevorkian and written by Gavin Williams and this is probably their biggest project to date. The film certainly has it’s interesting moments but neither the direction or the writing particularly stand out.

In Front Of The Camera

The main actors are Sam Gittins (Nick), Neerja Naik (Annji) and Grant Masters (Tony, Nick’s father) and they are all asked to a lot but don’t manage to pull it off. Of the three Naik’s performance is the best as she tries to withstand a familiar line of abuse, ranging from unpleasant comments about immigrants to vicious slurs yet not lose her temper. Gittins plays the dependable boyfriend and (as well as Naik) the voice of reason to the encroaching madness. Masters isn’t quite believable as the ringleader of what happens and fails to convincingly portray a normal man who goes too far.

The most recognisable member of the cast will probably be David Bradley best known as either Filch from the Harry Potter films or Walder Frey from Games of Thrones. Bradley plays Granddad – the family member who never even tries to welcome Annji or moderate his behaviour at all.

Does It Work?

The film starts off with an interesting premise of a family, already on edge, being pushed further by the horrendous circumstances. Often films where people are trapped together in a small space they start as friends or strangers but before any of the horror starts there are clear dividing lines in the group. It’s hard to not think that this is a post-Brexit film; the issues of immigration and race are specifically brought up, with each side thinking the other is utterly ridiculous and completely to blame. The first half of the film definitely works better and Abigail Cruttenden plays the mother desperately trying to reconcile the different elements of her family and maintain the peace quite well.

When they wake up on Christmas day and realise they are trapped these fault lines only harden. Tony tries to take control of the situation but that is limited to blindly following the instructions via the television, trying to disguise his blind obedience as sensible and practical behaviour.

There are a few cliches that get wheeled out and when things start getting out of hand it’s not a surprise when the most obviously unpleasant character is the first to suffer. Then there is the presence of Nick’s sister, Kate, heavily pregnant, used as justification by her husband for his behaviour and, of course, making her incredibly vulnerable.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the slip from imprisonment and mild paranoia to outright violence and worse is incredibly quick. It is only hours before all manner of terrible things are being done and even with their existing problems, it’s hard to reconcile such extreme behaviour with their circumstances. Even families that don’t get along will have their limits and most people place their family’s wellbeing as the centre of their world.

What the film reminded me of most was an episode of Black Mirror, or probably more accurately, a sub-Black Mirror inspired show. The film comments on hysteria, the power of media, the fear of the Other but without any subtlety or particular originality. The film also reminded me of one of the most infamous experiments in all of psychology – Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience. Participants were asked to give electric shocks to a person every time they got a question wrong, increasing the voltage with each wrong answer. Most participants carried on past the point their victim begged them to stop with one of the researchers telling the participant they must continue. Importantly no one was actually harmed in the experiment but people thought they were harming people. The film is partially a study on obedience to authority; obeying the government, obeying your father, obeying those with power over you. Each character responds differently to these different authorities and this is one of the film’s most successful aspects.

As the film nears the end and the madness is ramped up even further the bizarreness of the ending does not feel justified. I can go along with all manner of oddness if I feel it has been earned or handled in an interesting way but it just felt silly – the worst thing that can happen to a horror film.

Overall Await Further Instructions is not a good film, despite a good beginning and an intriguing idea of bringing the division of the country into one home. I would say in its defence that I was never bored and did want to see where it was going and how it would all end, but I could already sense that the ending would not be able to tie up the loose ends sufficiently let alone deal with some of the bigger plotholes.

Verdict 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

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)

Reviews

Retro Review: Alien

March 5, 2019

Today we are looking at another significant film celebrating an anniversary. As this year Ridley Scott’s Alien turns 40. Alien has become a phenomenon over the past 40 years. Spawning one of the most iconic horror movie monsters, heroines and one of the best sequels ever made. But 4 decades on, has Alien aged well? Or has the franchise it spawned eclipsed the significance of the original film? Let’s find out.

The story

While heading back to Earth the crew of the spaceship Nostromo are awakened from cryo-sleep by the ship’s computer to investigate a distress signal coming from a nearby moon. During the mission, Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a creature, which attaches itself to him and incapacitates him. Against officer Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) wishes, Science Officer, Ash (Ian Holm) lets him back onboard.

Eventually, Kane is freed from the alien’s grasp. But the lifeform left inside him by the alien kills him by erupting from his chest. Now, with an alien loose on the ship, the crew must find a way to survive. Will they stop the alien? And is the alien the biggest threat to the crew?

What did I like…

You can accomplish a lot with a simple idea. The concept of a monster on the loose in a confined area killing people is nothing new. But Alien presents itself so well that the unoriginal premise never impacts it.

Firstly, Dan O’Bannon’s script is a marvel of showing without telling and natural characterization. The Nostromo crew aren’t action heroes but everyday people who just want to complete their job and go home. Actions define these people. Rather than being handed information we discover more about them and their world through their interactions. The space setting also makes most of their lapses in judgment feel warranted and serves the narrative. Because running away is impossible. Thus, when the alien begins stalking the crew, the film becomes tenser because we relate to and fear for these people. And dread is built effectively because of what is left to the imagination. The alien itself is constantly changing and the company the characters work for is just a vague entity hanging over them, playing on our fears of the unknown.

The acting of Alien also works with the writing to create a believable world in an unbelievable situation. The actors use understated and restrained delivery to sell their characters. Even their hysteria feels natural and not forced. With each actor adding something to their performance that makes them feel unique. Whether it be Sigourney Weaver’s hard attitude, John Hurt’s everyday charm or Harry Dean Stanton’s goofy obliviousness. Many of the characters are memorable. Even if the writing was not strong these actors would still be able to carry the film.

Alien Cast
Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien

And then there is the production design and direction. The first thing most people think of when they think of Alien is H. R. Giger’s legendary creature design. Which evokes many subconscious fears. But it becomes scarier because we rarely see the whole thing on screen. Instead. we see close-ups or out of focus shots of it in the background. Again playing up the idea that what we don’t see is scarier. And the gothic, mechanical set design heightens the tension. We watch as the clinically clean safe rooms slowly change to unnerving mechanized monstrosities. With the direction letting atmosphere grow naturally through long shots and attention to editing. Allowing us to get use to the safety of certain things before slowly breaking them.

What I do not like…

But while the elements work together overall there are still hindrances that prevent the movie from being perfect. The film effectively builds atmospheric tension, but several jump scares are used at random points. Seemingly just to remind the audience that they are watching a horror film – which feels cheap.

Some could also argue that the characters feel a little underdeveloped. Because the script focuses more on their actions relating to their current situation many could claim that we don’t get to know the characters as individuals. We don’t get to learn all their facets as we have become used to in films. Which will be distancing for some. Also, while the actors mostly do a good job Tom Skerritt is a weak link. Unlike the rest of the cast, he feels ill-suited for his role as leader. He never leaves an impression, coming across more as whiny than as authoritative.

Finally, there are some lapses in logic that can take some audience members out of the experience. Some are relatively minor annoyances such as Ripley risking her life for Jonesy in the finale. Which doesn’t sync up with her previous characterisation as someone who puts survival first. But then there are bigger questions. Such as: if the company wanted the alien why did they entrust the job to space tuckers rather than a group of marines or people who would be more prepared to deal with the alien? And, Ash’s presentation in several scenes make his treacherous intentions too obvious to ultimately be surprising.

Verdict

Despite its hype and long legacy, Alien is still engaging all these years later. It does rely too much on jump scares. Some characters can be seen as underdeveloped. Tom Skerritt offers little to his part. And the plot requires the audience to suspend their disbelief a lot. But these flaws never damage the movie too much.

The characters are relatable people doing a job beyond their capabilities. And the film creates effective tension by keeping certain plot elements vague and unseen. The actors are also very natural in their roles making them easy to believe and giving them an innate likability. And it’s all played out against some of cinemas best production design. Which combined with the slower direction and pace creates a palpable atmosphere. It’s easy to see why everyone gravitated towards it. A genuine classic that deserves revisiting.

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

Alien (1979) Trailer
Reviews

Review: Fighting With My Family

February 28, 2019

A light-hearted feel-good comedy about one of the most accomplished female wrestlers, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson making a guest appearance, what’s not to like?

The story

Fighting With My Family tells the real-life story of professional wrestler Paige (Florence Pugh) and her journey from wrestling locally in Norwich to wrestling in the biggest professional wrestling organisation in the world: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The film was written & directed by Stephen Merchant (The Office, Ricky Gervais Show) & was produced by everyone’s favourite pro-wrestler turned Hollywood superstar, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who also plays a supporting role in the film.

Paige’s entrance into the WWE also marked the start of the “Diva’s Revolution“, a period in which women wrestling became more prominent within the company. This saw a move away from female wrestlers simply being seen as eye candy or only playing a supporting role, to being seen as true athletes, on par with their male counterparts.

Family first

A clear strength from the outset is the bond between Paige and her family. Coming from a wrestling family, who run a small independent wrestling promotion, all the quirks of this close-knit family are on full display. And the inside jokes between family members and genuine moments of affection really serve as the anchor for the film. Another positive is the casting selection, particularly of the immediate family: mum, Julia (Lena Headey); dad, Ricky (Nick Forst); and brother, Zak (Jack Lowden) all fit perfectly into their respective roles.

Expectations

Despite clocking in at nearly two hours, the film never feels sluggish. Writer / director, Stephen Merchant, does a great job of conveying the key parts of Paige’s journey and maintaining good pacing throughout the film. However, don’t expect much in the way of unexpected plot twists. What you see from the outset is very much what you get with this film.

Those who follow the WWE will also be treated to some cameos from active WWE wrestlers. While the 2008 Micky Rouke-led film The Wrestler was darker and bitter-sweet in tone, Fighting With My Family’s style of comedy feels right at home with this rags-to-riches story.

Final verdict

Great biopics about our favourite sporting superstars can often transcend simply attracting fans of the sporting discipline itself. Fighting With My Family does this and will find a home with anyone who loves a great coming of age story – whether you’re a wrestling fan or not. Fighting With My Family is a well-crafted film full of laughter. The British feel-good film of the year (so far).

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

Fighting With My Family Trailer (MGM)
Reviews

Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

February 26, 2019

Five years and several spinoffs after the surprise hit of the Lego Movie we finally have an official sequel. So its time to see if the Lego Movie 2 can prove people wrong a second time. Can the sequel live up to the standard set by the original? Can everything truly be awesome again? Well take a seat on your double-decker couch and come with me on this journey to find out.

The story

Five years after the defeat of Lord Business, the Lego world is at war with the inhabitants of the Systar system. A race of Duplo aliens who are bright, colourful and worst of all covered in glitter. Their constant battles with the Lego world force the residents to become hardened and grittier, except of course for Emmet (Chris Pratt), who is still his old peaceful and lovable self. When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps his friends to attend a ceremony hosted by Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), Emmet must journey to the Systar system with the help of Rex Dangervest (Chris Pratt again) and his Raptor helpers to save them. But what is Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi’s plan? Do his friends really need saving? And what is happening to the beings whose minds control this universe?

What did I like?

It was always going to be difficult to make a sequel to The Lego Movie. The first movie was a well-told self-contained narrative that, despite its flaws, managed to be the best version of what it wanted to be. A smart, funny and sometimes poignant ode to childhood innocence and its value in the modern world. Since then the spinoffs largely traded charm for brand recognition and heaping’s of self-reference, so things looked bad for the sequel. As original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller are only writing this time and with the final twist of the first movie it makes it difficult to view this story in the same way as we did before. But with all those points against it, Lego Movie 2 manages to be a decent sequel.

One of the movies best points is that it continues with the thread that the first movie left us with. Now that we know this universe is an extension of children’s minds, the film focuses specifically on issues relating to children interacting among themselves in a way that feels like it’s written by children rather than adults. The blunt and overblown character names, the visualizations of girlhood and boyhood culture and the way the characters act feel very real as extensions of the child characters. Unlike the first one, it’s clear that this film is aimed more at a child audience than a family one. But the film captures a child’s mindset well and keeps the thematic meat of the story easy for kids to understand without talking down to them. Eventually resolving with a good moral lesson that nicely ties the Lego characters story to the real world.

The film also continues to be hilarious and thoughtful with its characters. All the older characters get their time to shine, Will Arnett’s Batman continues to be the standout, and some are updated in interesting ways. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), having learned to accept Emmet’s world view in the first movie, must learn to accept who she is and how that makes her special. Emmet is sent on an unexpected journey where he learns what it means to be “strong” and Batman must learn to let go of his self-imposed loneliness in order to be happy. Just like before the voice actors strike the perfect balance between serious and self-parody, making the jokes funnier. And all the new characters bring a new perspective or flavour of humour to the table, Rex Dangervests’ chatty Raptors being my favourite addition.

The movie continues the Lego tradition of being a technical marvel. The animation is incredible, and the colour scheme is a feast for the eyes. Also, the music is just as catchy as ever, the lead song (Catchy Song), even plays up this angle for laughs. Musical numbers are even included along with the new songs to ensure that boredom is impossible. Overall a very entertaining experience.

What did I not like?

While the film is good, there is nothing about it that has the same wow factor as the first. It feels like a classic case of sequelitis. The second film goes bigger with its scale, music and message but ironically it feels like less is at stake than the first film. Mostly this is due to a lack of focus. Rather than focusing on Emmet as the centrepiece and letting the other characters grow around him, we focus on several characters at once. This means that we lose the impact that comes from spending time developing a single character. The bigger set pieces, musical numbers, and live action segments just feel like a diluted experience from the first film; their sparse use in the first film made them feel impactful, but now they feel overdone.

Along with that, the characters, despite being fun and interestingly updated seem inconsistent or ill-fitting to this story. Wyldstyle fits as the film is a call for acceptance of feminine culture, but other characters feel out of place. Batman’s learning to accept people is the same arc he went through in the Lego Batman movie. Making his addition feel obligatory rather than organic. Emmet’s arc of becoming tougher also feels out of character. In the previous film, he saw a world-ending conflict where one of his friends died but he kept his innocence, only fighting others briefly to get to Lord Business. It feels bizarre that he begins considering toxic masculine bravado as a way forward. And the other returning characters just seem to be here for callbacks and references, which is disappointing considering how well these characters suited the previous film’s narrative.

Finally, the movie has many inconsistencies that minorly compromise the film. For example, the inhabitants of the Systar system act differently from scene to scene. Some display a teenage level of development and others act like babies which doesn’t sync up with how the sister character acts in the real world. The film also tries to wrong-foot the audience by passing off the conflict as the brother’s fault. But Emmet tries to make peace with the Systar system at the beginning, but they open hostilities through their threatening behaviour. And the obviously deceptive way the Systar characters act throughout the movie only serves to setup the twist. But, upon second watch the Systar characters suspect behaviour feels pointless. And only there to force conflict. These inconsistencies may feel minor, but they add up. Eventually serving as a reminder of how much better the first movie worked as a whole.

Verdict

Despite my complaints Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is not a bad movie. It keeps up the original’s standard for sound and animation. The characters are still incredibly funny, and there is a refreshing moral that is communicated to its child audience in a way that treats them like adults. The only problem is that being a sequel it is impossible to avoid comparisons to its predecessor. And under that light the movie just falls short. The inconsistencies of this movie remind you how much care and attention was given to the first film. The characters are being made to fit the narrative rather than the narrative being made to fit them and no matter how big or lavish the musical numbers and set pieces, they never equal the simple charm of “everything is awesome”.

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

The Lego Movie 2 Trailer (Warner Bros.)

Read our review of the original Lego Movie