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Reviews

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

December 15, 2018

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

[sound of crowd gasping]

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

Why now?

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

In a nutshell

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

Who’s it for?

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

Who’s in it?

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

The good stuff

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

The not so good stuff

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

Reviews

Retro Review: The Muppets Christmas Carol

December 13, 2018

With the Christmas countdown officially underway, this is the time of year when old favorite holiday movies are wheeled out to get everyone in the festive spirit. For me, there are three movies that I always watch during the most wonderful time of year, and over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing them for you. The first of which is my families Christmas eve tradition, The Muppets Christmas Carol.

The Story

On Christmas Eve, Charles Dickens (The Great Gonzo) and his partner Rizzo the Rat, regale us with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine). Scrooge is an old skinflint who makes life miserable for his employee Bob Cratchit (Kermit the frog). He shuns friendship and family and, detests Christmas, preferring to be alone with his misery. But this night the ghosts of his old partners Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf) visit him. They tell him that if he doesn’t change his ways, eternal suffering awaits him in the afterlife. From there he is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who makes him confront the root of his Christmas hatred. The Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him what Christmas means to everyone else. And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him what Christmas will be like if he does not change.

What did I like?

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted stories of all time. The tale has been adapted countless times in many mediums and there is a new adaptation at least once every few years. So it becomes hard to stand out. But Muppets Christmas Carol defeats this problem. Not only by remaining mostly faithful to the original text, even cribbing prose from the actual story but also investing the story with both the Muppets trademark sense of humor and a real sense of pathos.

The story is delivered with gusto. All the muppets suit the roles assigned to them. This allows for hilarious sight gags upon seeing how characters from A Christmas Carol were changed to fit the muppets. But it also allows this version to have a broad family appeal. The kids can enjoy seeing the muppets and the parents get to laugh at seeing the muppets in a serious literary tale. Anyone can enjoy it. The voice actors all do great work, imbuing life and fun personalities to their puppets. And the human actors are delightful to watch. Michael Caine is clearly having a blast playing the old miser. Adding great relish to his hateful lines. But what makes it better is that the human roles are played entirely straight. There’s no self-awareness, the human actors play against the muppets with 100% seriousness and that makes it all the funnier.

But remarkably, the cast and crew also know when to tone the humor down. The sequences that need to be scary or emotionally impactful always hit their marks because they are played with 100% sincerity.   

And while the film would deserve praise simply for making a muppet movie both gut-bustingly funny and tear-jerking at the same time, the film also does a lot of other things to ensure that it deserves its place as one of the best Christmas Carol adaptations. The inclusion of catchy musical numbers adds an extra layer of charm to the proceedings. Allowing exposition to be delivered creatively and keeping the films pacing up. The puppeteering is also very impressive and still holds up today. The puppets have many little facial ticks and movements that make them feel like real creatures rather than props. The set design is also spectacular. Recreating the novels Victorian setting very well. And taking influence from German expressionist horror films, which help the place feel oppressive. And finally, the inclusion of Gonzo as the narrator.

While only a small addition, the inclusion of a narrator adds to the nostalgic feeling I mentioned in my overview of the Grinch. It makes the story feel like it’s being imparted by an older friend. Thus making it more personal to us, the audience. The inclusion of Rizzo as an audience POVcharacter furthers this as he, like us, is cynical, constantly trying to disprove Charles and making snide comments. This makes it easy to get invested and gives us a personal sense of attachment to the story. Making it all the easier to return to this version again, and again and again.

What I do not like?

It breaks my heart to find faults in all the movies I will be reviewing this season. But they are never the less there and it doesn’t make melove these films any less.

Firstly, the story is heavily synopsized. While this improves some aspects of the story, which in other versions can be a bit plodding, the flashback to Scrooge’s relationship with his fiancé Belle suffers for it. Because we only have a short time to get to know Belle, we don’t feel as invested in her relationship with Scrooge. As such the reveal that this is the major reason why Scrooge is a loner doesn’t carry as much weight. The actors, however, do a fine job of selling the scene, which does manage to salvage it.

Another problem is the fact that Scrooges change of heart comes a little too soon. In many other adaptations, Scrooge changes gradually, only really cracking when he sees the effect his actions have on Bob Cratchit and his family. But here he seems to be a happier person by the time he meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. Which could lessen the impact of the Tiny Tim scene.

Finally, towards the end of the film, the musical numbers stop, and the film just focuses on the action. Which, while appropriate, gives the impression that the musical numbers are a crutch to hold up the first part of the film.

Verdict

Despite its flaws, The Muppets Christmas Carol is, for my money, the best adaptation of Charles Dickens classic tale. The acting is so much fun. It delivers the story in a way that is accessible to everyone. It has charm to spare, with its musical numbers, the nostalgic and relatable use of narration to tell the story and the insertion of the muppet’s giant personalities into the proceedings. But it’s also not afraid to let things breathe and get serious when it needs to. If you only see one version of A Christmas Carol this year, make sure it’s this one.

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

Reviews

Review: Sorry To Bother You

December 12, 2018

Sorry To Bother You is a comedic over-the-top portrayal of a slightly different America and the scary places the pursuit of success and money can take you.

What’s Going On?

Cassius Green is a man down on his luck, living in his uncle’s garage and unemployed. In fact, it seems like most of America is rather down on its luck. Cassius manages to get a job as a telemarketer and following a colleague’s advice, starts talking to customers using his “white voice”. Cassius and his colleague are black and sound black to the customers. Using this voice Cassius is a huge success and is quickly promoted to “power caller” where he sells very different products. The problem being that not only are these different products but they are morally dubious at best. The more successful Cassius becomes the less ethical the products become, leading to truly unbelievable moral dilemmas.

There are several minor plots that mirror Cassius’s struggles. His activist girlfriend, Detroit, has an upcoming art show and considering she makes earrings that are just the words “murder” and “kill” it is sure to be a shocking show. Then there is the fight to unionise the telemarketers to improve pay and conditions which the authorities are absolutely okay in using violence to settle. Finally, there is the ever-present company WorryFree, seen on television, billboards and more. WorryFree offers shelter and food in return for a lifetime contract which sounds disconcertingly like slavery to many people.  

Behind The Scenes

Sorry To Bother You is the directorial debut of Boots Riley (he is also the screenwriter), best known as a rapper as part of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. I would never have guessed it was someone’s first film and there is a clear vision and purpose with Riley tells a strong story. 

In Front Of The Camera

The film has a big cast and stars Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green who gives a great performance. At the beginning of the film he is very much a man beaten down by life and for the first third of the film he is always walking with a slump and looking down at the ground. When he becomes successful a very different side is shown and gives a realistic portrayal of a man struggling with his principles. David Cross provides the “white voice” of Cassius, with Patton Oswalt doing the same for another character and both sound rightly non-threatening and bland. Tessa Thompson is great as Detroit, Cassisus’ girlfriend who often acts as his conscience. Armie Hammer plays a very believable scumbag billionaire entrepreneur, Steve Lift, owner of WorryFree, turning unspeakable crimes into more palatable PR-approved concepts that will benefit everyone.  

Does It Work?

The film is very funny and enjoyable. Riley makes interesting points about racism and class struggle in America and beyond. The final third of the film makes a big jump into more extreme situations that some people may simply find too unbelievable but undeniably most of the film is utterly fantastic. The more I have thought of the film the more the ending has bothered me perhaps the sheer oddness undercutting the serious messages in the film.

Cassius internal moral arguments are brilliantly realised and his motives are clear. He was never trying to be rich but only wanted to support himself and those close to him. Cassius’ decisions are very relatable especially when confronted with more extreme choices. 

Riley handles the issues around “white voice” excellently. It is pointed out by one character that the voice is not just an impression of a white person’s voice, but how white people would like to see themselves – sorted out, together and there is an implication that none of the white customers would think this applied to Cassius. When Cassius uses this voice at the lower levels of the company few people question what he is doing, perhaps because he was on the very brink. As he becomes increasingly successful the people close to him are less comfortable with it. There are accusations of “selling out” not just because of using this voice but also the work he is doing is betraying those around him and what he used to believe in. There is another black power caller who uses the “white voice” and even Detroit uses a different voice at her art show – her “White British Voice” – which presumably helps her sell her art. It would be interesting to see how other power callers who were white spoke, does everyone need to put on some sort of character to be successful?

WorryFree is scarily believable and for the most part feels only a few steps away from real companies. Sadly, as are the economic hardship endured by many of the characters and thus making WorryFree the only alternative to homelessness. These problems are not just limited to ethnic minorities but show how all groups in society are struggling and sometimes the divide portrayed in the film wasn’t white people and black people but the rich and everyone else. That said, there are moments in the film that speak purely to issues of race, most – but by no means all – of the rich people are white and Cassius is expected to regale them with stories of Oakland’s gang shootings and rap for them.

On the whole, the film is great and gives the viewer a lot to think about. There are problems with the plot as it goes along and I’m sure some people will simply not be able to accept it for being too outlandish. The film reminded me a lot of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone on a more cinematic scale, a world very much like ours but pushed to be a bit more extreme, like many episodes of these shows the concept and setup of the story is fantastic with the ending being somewhat unsatisfactory.

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

Reviews

Review: Creed II

December 11, 2018

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

Flying high now…

Why now?

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

In a nutshell

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

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

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

Who’s it for?

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

Who’s in it?

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

The good stuff

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

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

The not so good stuff

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

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

Reviews

Passengers V Arrival: A Comparative Review

December 4, 2018

This week I’m trying something different…

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

I really liked one and strongly disliked the other.

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

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

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

So let’s break it down, shall we?

Writing

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

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

Acting

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

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

Direction

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

Verdict

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

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

Reviews

Review: The Christmas Chronicles

November 25, 2018

This week I was really on the bauble (sorry) and caught the newest Kurt Russell action flick to hit the big screen. Actually, it’s a Netflix original Christmas movie in which Kurt Russell plays Santa Claus, but close enough, right? Here’s my review of The Christmas Chronicles.

Why now?

The Christmas Chronicles was released on 22 November on Netflix.

In a nutshell

Siblings Kate and Teddy inadvertently throw a spanner in the works for Santa on Christmas Eve and end up spending the rest of the night trying to help old Saint Nick meet his present-delivering quota for Christmas 2018. Add some CGI reindeer and sometimes-cute-sometimes-terrifying elves, plus a dash of family tragedy to give some weight to the storyline, and you’ve about summed it up.

Who’s it for?

Definitely one for the family in the run-up to Christmas. Kids will enjoy this – parents will mostly endure it.

Who’s in it?

Kurt Russell plays Santa (has that happened before?) and does so pretty well. It’s a slightly different take on the jolly man in red (for one thing, he isn’t fat), and one or two super-cringy scenes aside, his performance is memorable enough.

The start-out-fighting-but-you-know-they’ll-work-it-out brother and sister pairing are played by Judah Lewis and Darby Camp respectively. Again, there are moments of cringe to winch through, but generally, these two young actors do a good job. Younger kids will relate to Camp, teenagers will get where Lewis is coming from, and parents will see their own children in both, no doubt.

The good stuff

This is a pretty standard Christmas movie. For the most part I felt like I’d watched it before – the whole ‘interfering with Santa’s job and having to help him get things back on track’ trope is common enough in these sorts of family movies (Tim Allen wouldn’t have been out of place here) and you’ll know exactly how things will turn out after the first ten minutes or so. But I think that’s the point of these movies. They’re all about comfort, familiarity and childlike wonder. There are definitely moments when The Christmas Chronicles nails it.

The not so good stuff

Of course, there are plenty of moments when it misses the mark, too. The whole premise is supposedly based on two kids who catch Santa on video, and while little Kate dutifully carries round her camcorder and films when she can, it doesn’t have any real significance to the plot in the end. I thought there’d be a clever twist somewhere along the way, but it just leads to a flat punchline in the final shot.

The film rapidly goes downhill about halfway through when the kids are separated from Santa: we end up with Kate at the North Pole being attacked by hundreds of very fake-looking cartoonish elves (more like cats with beards – not sure what the filmmakers were thinking here), Teddy hauled off to a street gang headquarters and threatened with incineration (no, really), and Santa in jail singing the blues, backed up by a full band as easily-persuaded police officers bop along. I almost switched it off, at this point, but it just about gets back on track after that random deviation and ends on the predictable, but still fairly heart-warming, note I was waiting for.

The bottom line

The Christmas Chronicles is far from the best festive film you’ll watch this holiday season, but if you’re home some evening with the kids and don’t mind a bit of cheesiness and under-invested CGI, it’s worth a casual watch.

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

Reviews

Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

November 24, 2018

Netflix’s newest film is a western anthology by Hollywood legends The Coen Brothers

What’s Going On?

The film is a set of six stories, all of them macabre, some tragic, some funny and some a bit of both. Typical of the Coens it’s full of dark humour, brief outbursts of violence and unfortunate twists of fate. If these six stories were to sum up the Old West it would be a cruel and brutal place with moments of joy and honour.

Behind The Scenes

The film is written and directed by the filmmaking geniuses of Joel and Ethan Coen and it’s hard to sum their careers easily, multiple oscar winners for films as diverse as The Hudsucker Proxy and No Country For Old Men. While they have had some failures their successes are almost endless. As you may have worked out I am a fan. Westerns are not new to the Coen Brothers, they remade the western classic True Grit and won Oscars for No Country For Old Men which feels like a modern western. Then films like Fargo, Miller’s Crossing and The Man Who Wasn’t There all features tropes of westerns, like morally upright sheriffs, terrifying villains and isolated situations where help will not come from outside. A diverse anthology suits the Coens well and they easily move from the unlucky comic adventures of James Franco to the far more sinister goings on of Liam Neeson’s character in the next story. The Coens have always easily moved between genres, making radical turns to different types of story and so this film feels like it’s summing up their whole career.

In Front Of The Camera

Naturally, as it’s an anthology it’s a big cast, the titular Buster Scruggs is played by Tim Blake Nelson who has a long list of credits on IMDb including one of the central prisoner characters in O Brother Where Art Thou?, but the film also contains Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, James Franco, Tom Waits and more.  Every actor is on good form, and some giving great performances. Tim Blake Nelson sets the bar high from the start and is perfectly cast as someone who looks absolutely harmless but is a thoroughly proficient killing machine, going so far as leading tender sing-alongs in saloons in between brutal murders.

Does It Work?

Obviously, the film has six stories and so some work better than others but all are enjoyable and each deserves time spent on it individually:

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

The opening story regarding Buster Scruggs is very entertaining, a man looking like the stereotype of a white hat cowboy turns out to be an incredibly skilled and morally dubious gunman who has an enjoyably eloquent and on the surface exceedingly friendly way of speaking. This story distils just about every western cliche of the expert gunslinger into one short story.

Near Algodones & Meal Ticket

The weakest stories are Near Algodones and Meal Ticket. The first concerns James Franco, a less than successful bank robber (featuring a scene-stealing appearance by wonderful character actor Stephen Root, you may not know his name but I guarantee you’ve seen him) and is the most overly comedic of the stories. Meal Ticket is a horrendously dark story about the cynical calculations of a person’s value to another and what happens when they look elsewhere for opportunity. But even these stories have their charm and I was always engaged and interested, eager to know what would happen to the multitude of characters.

All Gold Canyon

A surprisingly enthralling performance by the musician Tom Waits, playing an aged prospector digging for gold, where he talks largely to himself and “Mr. Pocket” showing determination and a great amount of grit. The idea of Tom Waits’ digging holes and talking to himself sounds boring but it was one of the better stories with you becoming very invested in whether he succeeds or fails.

The Gal Who Got Rattled

The oddest and most difficult to pigeonhole is Zoe Kazan as Alice in The Gal Who Got Rattled, a story that starts as unrelentingly bleak with the occasional hopeful moment. Alice and her less than useful or reliable brother had joined a wagon train heading for Oregon and they are beset with the problems such a journey brings, admittedly most of them falling on Alice. This story features a great character turn around with a barely even acknowledged character jumping into the thick of things.

The Mortal Remains

Finally, the last story The Mortal Remains – five people riding together on a stagecoach, for half of the story nearly all the talking is done by three people on one side, strangers, they are arguing about the nature of love and relationships until the pair opposite explain their rather sinister profession. The pair played by Brendan Gleeson and Jongo O’Neil are bounty hunters, but not your typical bounty hunters. O’Neil is brilliant simultaneously terrifying and enticing the other passengers by telling them how he goes about his job and the importance of storytelling. Any film, play or book that talks about storytelling are intentionally inviting a lot of analysis, what exactly is going on? Is everything as it seems? Why is he telling this story to these people?

In Summary…

The film is funny, moving, tragic and more, and what’s more, it looks amazing, whether it’s Buster Scrugg’s in his brilliant white outfit or the breathtaking scenery in. I think by its very nature an anthology is not going to be as satisfying as one great feature-length film but these are six great stories. Perhaps the best compliment I can give this film is that it has stuck in my mind. Since watching it I’ve been replaying the stories in my mind, thinking about the characters, analysing what happened and what they meant. If it turned out the Coens had recorded another six stories but cut them from the film I would happily watch them straight away.

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

Reviews

Review: Outlaw King

November 19, 2018
Warning – there are minor spoilers in this review but as it’s history I don’t think these will surprise anyone.

 

David Mckenzie’s new historical drama about how Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland

What’s Going On?

The film starts with Edward I, King of England, forgiving Scottish lords for rebelling against him. Edward I claimed the Scottish crown after they asked him to decide on should be king and he picked himself (he had no claim to the throne). Not surprisingly many Scottish lords rebelled but were soundly defeated by Edward I. Robert the Bruce, son of a Scottish lord, was one of the leading rebels but he too makes his peace with Edward, possibly only because his father is one of the strongest claimants and they think Edward will make him king. English rule on Scotland is hard with Edward I brutalising Scotland; at one point he refuses to accept surrender from one lord until he’s had a chance to try out his new catapult (this really happened). Eventually, the injustices prove too much to bear and Robert the Bruce rebels despite being hugely outnumbered.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by David Mackenzie, who I knew mainly from Hell Or High Water, which is perhaps best described as a modern western, a film I enjoyed a lot. This is a Netflix production and I would say does manage to feel like a “proper” film and not some made-for-tv second rate movie. Obviously, this is based on history and while taking some liberties does a good job of setting the scene and showing how utterly outmatched Robert the Bruce is.

In Front Of The Camera

The film stars Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce and he very much carries the film, it is his story from start to finish. Stephen Dillane is King Edward, probably best known as Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, and it is in many ways a similar performance, certainly not a likeable man but extremely capable. Billy Howle gives a great performance as Prince Edward; an arrogant fool, constantly shoving his exalted status in other people’s face while having mountains of father issues to work through. Florence Pugh takes on the difficult role of Robert’s wife, an Englishwoman who is married to Robert (neither seemed to have much say in it) and displayed the strained circumstances and mixed loyalties she has when her husband rebels.

The Elephant In The Cinema

Inevitably there are going to be comparisons with the hugely successful and Oscar-winning Braveheart. Three of the central characters also appear in that film and it is telling much of the same story but from a different perspective. Braveheart focused on William Wallace who is never actually seen in Outlaw King but his existence is referenced a lot. There are many similarities between the two portrayals of Edward I, both are old but fierce men, with Braveheart’s king being crueller and crazier, seemingly going out of his way to be evil. The big difference is with Prince Edward, in Braveheart a weak and ineffectual man whereas in Outlaw King he is a far more aggressive and warlike man but still was glaring deficits. This change seems to make Prince Edward a more compelling adversary to Robert.

Does It Work?

The film is certainly enjoyable and is a grimmer, less elegant portrayal than many similar films, it feels like 50% of the film is people fighting or walking through mud. Everything and everyone is dirty; even kings. Unavoidably it suffers from the problem that we know what is going to happen but it does as well as it can at maintaining the jeopardy. Certainly, some people will not know the ending or how it all happened. At times Robert is asked specifically how many soldiers he has and you could fit them all on one bus, hardly an army, and it is hard to conceive how he can possibly win. The real problem is one of scale. There is only one large scale battle in the film which is quite possibly the smallest battle in this whole war, with Robert having around 500 men. While this is historically accurate you can’t help but think they chose this battle over, say, the Battle of Bannockburn where Robert had at least ten times that number because the smaller battle would be cheaper. Considering Game of Thrones has battles that feel on a bigger scale this is a real failing with the film. Indeed the film ends with text explaining what happened next and it really feels like they have only told half of Robert’s story.

The viewer’s sympathies do lie with Robert but there is an incident early in the film which does muddy the water a lot. To the filmmaker’s credit, this is something that really happened and permanently tarnished Robert’s reputation and damaged his standing with a lot of people. An equivalent action today would probably be committing a war crime. Robert is portrayed as wanting to act not out of personal ambition but for the good of Scotland and it’s people. In part, though the film makes less of a case for Robert being the good guy but in clearly demonstrating that King Edward and Prince Edward are clearly the bad guys. A good point about the film is I don’t think every English person is shown as thoroughly evil (a problem I think Braveheart has), more than the people in charge have tried to steal Scotland and the foot soldiers are just caught up in it.

Overall I’d say if you like historical dramas you will enjoy this but it certainly isn’t the cultural touchstone something like Braveheart or Gladiator are but in Outlaw King’s defence the film is far more historically accurate than either of those. It’s a two-hour film that was always interesting and enjoyable and a lot of its faults come from comparing it to other films.

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

Reviews

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

November 17, 2018

This week’s review is all about Freddie Mercury and a little bit about Queen as we dive headfirst into the swaggering anthem-fest that is Bohemian Rhapsody.

Don’t stop me now… (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Why now?

Bohemian Rhapsody was released on 24 October in the UK and is still in cinemas now.

In a nutshell

The film follows the rise to fame of the British rock band Queen, focusing primarily on the life of its enigmatic frontman Freddie Mercury, beginning with their initial meeting in 1970 and ending with the climactic Live Aid show that becomes known as one of Queen’s most iconic performances.

Who’s it for?

If you love Queen and proper rock n’ roll music, you’ll definitely enjoy this movie. It’s rated 12a, and while most of the questionable scenes in the movie are implied rather than explicitly shown, parents might want to be careful about taking young kids along. For everyone else though, it’s all good.

Who’s in it?

Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury, and boy does he play him well, especially during the musical numbers! Bringing arguably the most important frontman in the history of music to life on the big screen is no easy task, but Malek makes it happen, and then some. His performance is understated and exuding vulnerability where it needs to, but is also recklessly flamboyant and OTT when required, in equal measure.

The other members of Queen, who don’t get anywhere near as much screen time as Malek, do a great job portraying their real-life characters. Gwilym Lee is the spitting image of Brian May, while Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello (Timmy from Jurassic Park!) are solid. Lucy Boynton does a fine job portraying Mary Austin, who had much to come to terms with in regard to Freddie and his developing sexuality; Allen Leech is suitably snakelike as Freddie’s personal manager Paul Prenter, while Aidan Gillen does well in a relatively small role as Queen’s manager. Mike Myers also makes a short but important cameo appearance.

The good stuff

This is a stylish film featuring solid performances all around, but for me, it was the big music numbers that really blew me away. When the scene switches from the opening of Bohemian Rhapsody in the radio booth to Mercury on stage with thumping guitar riffs and pounding drum beats, I couldn’t help but grin and stamp along with the rhythm (probably to the annoyance of those around me). The Live Aid performance which draws the film to a close is also unbelievably accurate, almost shot-for-shot of the actual show put on by Queen. I watched the original back again after returning from the cinema and was thoroughly impressed with what was achieved by those who put that scene together.

The not so good stuff

While I really enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody, I was also very aware while watching it that there are glaring historical inaccuracies throughout it. This seems to have been a common theme in criticisms of the film, and while I’m absolutely not an expert in Queen or Freddie Mercury, I could definitely tell when parts of the narrative had been embellished or accelerated for the purposes of the film. Bohemian Rhapsody also underwent a directorial change about two thirds of the way through production, with Bryan Singer “leaving” the project to be replaced by Dexter Fletcher – you can’t necessarily tell when this happened from watching it, but some scenes certainly seem to have undergone inexplicable stylistic changes that jar with the general tone of the rest of the film.

I also found the portrayal of Mercury’s sexuality a little over-the-top at times. While his orientation was obviously so important to how he lived his life (as well as being what ultimately led to his illness and passing), it seemed to become far more important than anything else in the story as the film progressed. I would have like to have seen more of Queen and how their music developed (which, when touched-on, always felt rushed, as though someone had gone back through what had already been filmed and stuffed it in) and could have done with slightly less of how Mercury was manipulated by Paul Prenter into becoming what the film conveys as a sex and drug-crazed ego-maniac. I might be wrong, but I don’t think that made for an entirely accurate portrayal.

The bottom line

Bohemian Rhapsody would be a solid movie choice for you this week if you’re after something that’s big, bold, and will leave you wanting to blast some rock n’ roll in the car on the way home; if you want a historically-accurate, Queen-centric film, this may not be for you.

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

Reviews

Review: Widows

November 14, 2018

In Widows, Steve McQueen puts together an amazing ensemble cast for a thrilling crime drama.

What’s Going On?

I have always thought of Steve McQueen as an ambitious and confident director and not just because of his films, this a man who shares the name of a Hollywood legend and was not worried about permanently being called The Other Steve McQueen. McQueen’s latest film starts with the viewer being introduced to each member of a crew who is about to undertake a daring robbery lead by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). The brief glimpse into each of their family lives before the heist shows a not entirely sympathetic group of people. Things do not go to plan and Rawlings and the entire team are killed by the police. That is still just the beginning as the film is not really about Rawlings and his crew but the people they leave behind.

Viola Davis star’s as Veronica, Rawlings’ widow, who while still reeling from the death of her husband is visited by the criminals who were robbed and even though the money was destroyed they expect Veronica to pay it back.  The one thing of real value Rawlings left Veronica was his notebook on all his planned heists and with that Veronica plans to steal the money she needs, bringing in the other widows from the gang.

There is an ongoing B plot of an upcoming election for alderman between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), Mulligan being the son of the previous alderman and part of a political dynasty that has controlled the politics of the area for generations and Manning the very criminal who threatens Veronica. But while Manning may be the more obvious criminal it becomes very clear that Mulligan and his family are far from innocent.

Behind The Scenes

Steve McQueen is known for serious weighty dramas, 12 Years A Slave winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2014, and so Widows does feel like quite a departure. When watching the trailer my first thought was “I just have to see a Steve McQueen heist film” just to see what he would come up with. Widows is based on a Linda La Plate British TV show from the 1980s and while I hadn’t heard of it does seem to be well-regarded. Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame, wrote the screenplay and the pair of McQueen and Flynn sets expectations high.

In Front Of The Camera

The cast McQueen has put together is amazing, casting great actors like Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson and Robert Duvall in relatively small roles. The key trio of Veronica, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) as the eponymous Widows hold the film together well with each of them adding immensely to the story, each with their own struggles and reasons for getting involved. Viola Davis is very convincing as a woman who had nothing to do with her husband’s criminal enterprises but rather than giving up or running wants to take back control of her life. Elizabeth Debicki stands out for the transformation her character goes on finding previously untapped reserves of strength. Michelle Rodriguez plays a little against type, being the most hesitant but also with the most to lose. Importantly, none of the women are ignorant of their husbands’ careers, even if not active participants.

Does It Work?

The film is very enjoyable with great performances all round and the two plots dovetail neatly in the conclusion. The film is suffused with the grim reality for all those within it and even Mulligan’s much more prosperous family are shown to be very much entangled in dark goings-on. Each of the three widows convincingly portrays women who are in dire straits and are willing to risk prison or even death to give themselves a chance.

McQueen is a brilliant director and easily handles the large cast and the quick plot developments easily. There are moments of real tension, particularly around Daniel Kaluuya who plays Manning’s brutal but keen on self-improvement enforcer. For a film that starts with the fiery death of four characters, there isn’t a great deal of violence in the film with just a few brutal and short scenes containing most of it. McQueen also gets as much tension out of the corrupt political machinations as the gunfights.

It is debatable if there are any “good guys” in this film. Even though you are rooting for Veronica and her team they are not entirely innocent and when faced with difficult times are happy enough planning an armed robbery and I think this is an intentional choice by McQueen. The political struggle of two different types of criminal – the gang leader Manning and the white collar corruption of Mulligan – supports the idea that everyone is involved in crime, to some degree, importantly the widows’ solution to their problem is more crime.

There is a running theme that it’s very hard to find people to trust. Family, what is normally the strongest of bonds between people, is shown to be unreliable and being close to someone brings trouble. Alice’s mother, played by Jacki Weaver, is shown to be far from the nurturing and supportive figure a mother usually is. Much of the same is also true of romantic relationships and there is a feeling that the best way to get through life is to rely on no one but yourself.

The film is an engaging drama with good performances from all the cast and I thoroughly enjoyed it, however, I am not sure how long it will linger in my mind and if it’s a film that I would want to come back to. Certainly, it is more entertaining and well made than similar films but considering the calibre of the people involved I was hoping for something better, something that would be a real classic.

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

Reviews

Retro Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

November 11, 2018

Modern horror owes so much to the original Night of the Living Dead. It ushered the zombie away from voodoo towards flesh-eating, tackled socially relevant issues like racism and the apocalyptic overtones that permeated the 60’s. Something not many horror films did at the time. It challenged audiences’ expectations with its story, and like Halloween, showcased what can be accomplished on a low budget. But legendary films are often lost in the legacy they create. Years of continual praise can put newcomers off and throws the film’s flaws sharply into view. So, on its 50th Anniversary let’s see how kind time has been to Night of the Living Dead.

The story

While visiting their father’s grave, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) are attacked by a ragged man. Johnny is killed, and Barbra flees. Coming across a local farmhouse, she eventually meets Ben (Duane Jones). As night comes, the house is swarmed by creatures, later revealed to be re-animated corpses. Ben and Barbra also discover Harry (Karl Hardman), Hellen (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick daughter Karren Cooper and a young couple, Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) held up in the basement. And soon arguing erupts as the people in the house must decide whether to barricade themselves in or run for it? Soon it becomes clear that the zombies may not be the biggest danger to the living.

What did I like?

Night of the living dead is a film we truly take for granted. Because the film influenced every zombie story that came after, it is easy to see it as “another zombie movie”. But NOTLD does many things that help you see why it set the standard for its genre.

The zombies, although quaint by today’s standards, are perfectly realized through the makeup and black and white cinematography. Helping the undead look like truly damaged humans. And the escalating tension they create as the night continues helps us feel the characters peril. The story is also a well-told exploration of the breakdown of communication in extreme circumstances. Reason and emotional concerns are brushed aside by survival driven macho posturing or destroyed by the uncaring zombies. The film firmly believes, human nature is the most destructive of all things, with the film’s ending is the perfect summation of that,  Still having the power to shock even now. But the film owes its success, primarily to its independent edge.

The actors were not big names and the film was shot for only $114,000. As a result, the film has so many little elements that set it apart from the mainstream horror being offered at the time. The dialogue flubs that hurt other films make this one feel more genuine. The seemingly unrehearsed nature of the fight scenes and the zombie’s movements make the film feel less staged and the dialogue and characters all feel distinct.

Night of the Living Dead takes a subtle approach to its characters. In the film, Ben’s race is never once mentioned in dialogue. There is no racist language or drawing attention to his skin colour. Ben is just another person. His race is a part of him, but it does not define his role in the story. And some may view Barbra as a typical female in distress, but the film makes it clear that none of these people are heroes. They are just people and the actions that they take are an almost perfect reflection of who their characters are. As a result, the film creates a unique world with interestingly flawed and relatable characters that we can easily see as reflections of the real world.

What I do not like?

However, all movies, no matter how iconic have flaws that future filmmakers can learn from. The films biggest flaw is the explanation for the zombie’s creation. In this case, radiation from a crashed space station. Although it may have seemed appropriate at the time, with the space race still in full swing, now it serves only to demystify the zombies and takes away from the terror of the unknown. In the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, the zombie’s origins became much more shrouded in mystery and hearsay. But Night presents the space station as the only viable factor in the zombie’s creation. And with such attention paid to it, the fear of the flesh-eaters diminishes.

The film also has a quite boring second act. The beginning perfectly sets up the characters and the threat and the ending is a brilliantly sour note that leaves the audience reflecting on the film long after they have finished watching. But the second act feels a bit repetitive by constantly going back and forth on the same disagreements between Ben and Harry. The scenes are well acted and relevant. But as a whole, the second act feels like the bland filling to the tasty bread that populates both ends of the story.

Finally, there are presentational elements that are likely to be distracting for some. The flubs and limited choreography for myself make the film feel more real. Some viewers, however, will view them as amateur mistakes, and they are not wrong for doing so. And the use of still photos to present certain sections of the narrative, while effective for the films ending, giving it the disturbing look of dispassionate war photography, serve only to distract in the television scenes. As they feel entirely separate from the rest of the production.

Verdict

All in all, Night of the Living Dead still holds up from a modern perspective. The flaws of being too exposition heavy regarding key plot points, a slow second act and some of the corner cutting necessitated by the budget do not damage the overall project and the legacy it left behind. The film is a deft exploration of the worst side of humanity, that never lets its social commentary diminish the entertainment. It has memorable characters, set pieces, a fantastic beginning, and truly devastating ending. If you are a fan of zombies or films in general and you have not watched night of the living dead, you need to fix that right away. Because like the undead themselves, NOTLD may seem old and decrepit, but once it sinks its teeth in, you will find yourself becoming a fan.

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

Reviews

Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

November 10, 2018

This week I’m reviewing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which was released in theatres back in June and went on to make over $1.3billion at the box office.

Hold on to your butts.

Why now?

Fallen Kingdom was released on DVD and Blu Ray this week.

In a nutshell

Isla Nublar, the island on which the Jurassic World theme park was built and then abandoned after the events of the previous film, is about to be destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has established the Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG), is invited by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to return to the island and help relocate a number of dinosaurs to a secure preserve, including the velociraptor Blue. This brings Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) back into the equation, and together they set off for the park to rescue the animals. However, as you might expect, all is not as it seems…

Who’s it for?

Fallen Kingdom is rated 12 in the UK and would be suitable for anyone of that age and above. It’s pretty dark in a few places though so parents should err on the side of caution when deciding whether or not to let kids watch it.

Who’s in it?

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard resume their lead roles as Owen and Claire. Supporting them are James Cromwell as John Hammond’s former business partner, Rafe Spall as Lockwood’s assistant Eli Mills, Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda as members of the DPG, B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu, and Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood. Jeff Goldblum also makes a welcome, albeit brief, return as a bearded Ian Malcolm. The cast is actually fairly small and you’ll recognise pretty much all of them from somewhere.

The good stuff

I’m a huge fan of the Jurassic Park series and always want to draw positives from these movies. Fallen Kingdom is a bit of a mixed bag, but there’s plenty of good stuff to be had if you’re willing to overlook the obvious negative points.

First of all, the direction is excellent. Spanish horror director J.A. Bayona takes the reins from Colin Trevorrow and does a brilliant job injecting the JP series with a fresh dose of darkness that had been largely missing from the more family-friendly Jurassic World. The more the film goes on, the more Bayona flexes his horror movie muscle, layering threat and suspense throughout Fallen Kingdom and, at times, majorly toying with your emotions. His use of light and the homages he throws into the previous films in the series are wonderful, too. I’m always drawn to direction more than anything else in a film, and I loved how Bayona handled what he’d been given to work with here, especially on the second viewing.

Pratt and Howard have great on-screen chemistry, as they did in the first film, and the movie really springs to life as soon as they’re reunited. Howard’s character Claire has progressed significantly since Jurassic World and there are a couple of direct nods to things that she was derided for in the first film (fancy a run from a T-Rex in high heels, anyone?). Pratt is, of course, oozing with wit and charm all the way through and effectively carries the film for large portions of its 128-minute runtime. I also really liked Pineda as Zia Rodriguez and thought she shone in her brief scenes.

Isabella Sermon is also great as Maisie Lockwood. All Jurassic Park movies feature a kid who represents the wonder and awe we all feel when we see the dinosaurs for the first time (“Ooo, ahh, that’s how it always starts…”), and Isabella nails that sentiment perfectly. Her character arc feels tacked-on at times, but without it there’d be a lot less depth to the second half of the film.

The special effects and action sequences are big, noisy, and stunning to look at, while the CGI for the dinosaurs is top notch. This movie forces you to become more emotionally invested in the animals this time – the Indoraptor is genuinely scary, the pinnacle of Bayona’s influence here; you’ll also find yourself inwardly chuckling, cheering and, in one harrowing shot that I won’t talk about for fear of tearing-up (only a slight exaggeration, too), swallowing hard against the lump in your throat during certain scenes. I enjoyed the first Jurassic World but I cared about the computer-generated dinosaurs more in this one.

Finally, for me, the opening scene in this movie captures the true essence of the Jurassic Park films. An expendable guy in a yellow slicker runs screaming through the pounding rain on a long-abandoned dock while a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex easily shunts a car out of the way as it bears down on him. It’s exactly what I wanted to see in this movie and I was almost thrilled by it, except…

The not so good stuff

…the acting is just so bad. On my second viewing of the movie, I was reminded afresh how key the acting ability of even minor dino-fodder characters can be. Think about the opening scene in the very first Jurassic Park, and how the performance of that soon-to-be-eaten gatekeeper really captured the essence of horror that permeated the rest of the film. I was left frustrated that, despite looking really good and being a great way to start the film, a bit of bad acting sucks any sense of urgency out of it.

The storyline also isn’t great. One major criticism from reviewers is that Fallen Kingdom doesn’t really progress the overall JP narrative. Yes, the dinosaurs get off the island (some of them, anyway) and yes, the park is destroyed, effectively killing off a ‘character’ who had existed from the beginning, but by the time the film ends you sort of shrug your shoulders and think ‘is that it?’, which is unfortunate. For me, it felt like the premise just wasn’t strong enough, and was largely all about moving the characters and animals into a confined setting where the true horror could be unleashed – not the worst idea in the world, perhaps, but also not enough to leave you totally satisfied when the credits roll.

The bottom line

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom felt like a missed opportunity for me. I adore the JP films and genuinely enjoyed watching this one, but I know it has a number of weaknesses and would have loved to have seen it do more than it did. I have no idea what Trevorrow will do with the final movie in the trilogy (the ending sets it up while also leaving things pretty wide open), but I’ll be very excited for it when the time comes.

If you’re a JP fan, I imagine you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. Watch it with a big pinch of salt and take it for what it is – a good Jurassic Park film that could have been great, had a little more thought been put into how it was written.

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