Saturday, 18 March 2017

Beauty & The Beast (3D) (2017) (Review)


Disney have travelled quite the rocky road with their live-action fairytale sub-genre; Pete's Dragon and The Jungle Book were really excellent; Maleficent and Cinderella were both decent enough; while Alice In Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass register on the lower end of that spectrum, with a plethora of remakes in the pipeline over the coming years. Beauty & The Beast is the next in that billion-dollar grossing series, with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens starring in the titular roles. Considered a firm fan favourite by many, it has a lot resting on its shoulders - so just how does the tale as old as time stand up to the deeply loved original and should you be its guest?

Sacrificing herself for her father, Belle (Watson) is taken prisoner by a Beast in his enchanted castle, in which all his furniture comes to life. Under a spell, the Beast must show that he can love, and be loved in return, before the final rose petal falls, or remain a beast forever. With time quickly passing, Belle could be their only hope to return to their normal lives and break the spell, if only she can teach him how to love. The filmmakers have promised some new additions and tweaks to the original story to make it more suitable to contemporary audiences, with 35 minutes added on to its runtime in the process. Has the memory of the original been damaged with this retelling? Or has it somewhat improved the beloved animation?

Honestly, it does neither, falling somewhere in between. It plays out exactly as you expect it to, a carbon copy that lacks justification and is devoid of imagination. It's absolutely warming and feel-good, likely pleasing the intended audiences with this beautiful re-sell, but there's no denying that this is somewhat of a copy-and-paste job. Some sequences feel entirely shot-for-shot and any new additions and depth added to various backstories are evidently tweaked for inclusivity, becoming far too pronounced and garish, as if for the sake of it. That's not how it should be handled, as the 'issues' the film strives to normalise and sensitise audiences to (LGBT characters, interracial relationships etc.) stand out for being too imaginative in a film that otherwise lacks it. In equal parts, that is both brilliant and unfortunate; it certainly doesn't dampen my appreciation towards Disney for attempting to bring audiences into the 21st century, but I just wish it didn't feel so revolutionary by default. If the film had felt like a new imagining of the tale, instead of sticking so cautiously to the beloved source material, these moments of progression would be a breath of fresh air, but instead they feel planted in a film otherwise too connected to its roots. We develop on a few plot strands but nothing overly profound, although details on Belle's mother is a nice addition.

Beauty & The Beast brings together a tremendous ensemble cast, all helmed by Emma Watson in a role that feels custom made for her English class; it's a decent performance, as she handles the music, the action and the humour efficiently, even if she doesn't always seem comfortable in some of the more CGI-orientated moments. Watson's collaborative efforts with the filmmakers in their attempt to unburden the film from its problematic 'Stockholm syndrome' set-up is notable, with an attempt at making Belle a more feminist role-model but its not fully convincing and still a little icky - a fundamental character flaw that clouds the film more than anything else. Dan Stevens is pretty restricted and their relationship is not fully explored, despite their love being the central plot element of the piece. Luke Evans and Josh Gad's double act is particularly impressive, with Evans' Gaston infusing an unshakeable likability with sheer arrogance and irritability (thanks to the man himself) while Josh Gad's LeFou delivers a subtle and affirming performance as Gaston's sidekick with his wavering dedication to his partner in crime well-realised. The pair's village sequences and song 'Gaston' are some of the film's standout moments, bringing a real oomph to the film when the pace  begins to falter. A game voice cast succeed to varying degrees, with Emma Thompson the absolute highlight, perfectly affording her a moment to shine during her heartbreaking reprisal of the theme song, which we are treated to on two occasions. In fact, many of the musical sequences are among the strongest - Be Our Guest, my personal favourite, is the only returning classic to underwhelm.

Where Beauty & The Beast really excels in is its sumptuous, lavish beauty, with its rumoured $160 million budget splashed onto screen in all its exuberance and extravagance. Production elements are stunningly-designed and brought to life, with a impressive level of detail paid to each; the costumes are lush and exciting, props and decorations are dazzling, most of the sets are exquisite and, for the majority, the CGI is strong. Vibrant and bustling village-set sequences, including that enjoyable 'Belle' opening and the climatic 'Kill the beast!' moment, contrast with the more dull and drab castle exterior sequences, which is unsurprisingly where the film loses a lot of its spark - including a relative lull during the middle act. Alan Menken's score is pretty enchanting, with the new musical additions working effectively on the whole (except that bizarre Evermore addition which feels tonally awkward). Director Bill Condon helps accentuate some of the magic, with some really nice touches, demonstrated no more so than during the ballroom scene and, ironically, the final ballroom scene, with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler finding further beauty in his vision. We've got some terrific usage of 3D, amplifying the visual spectacle, with the ballroom scene even more impressive; it's not overly remarkable but does help in highlighting the magic.

Beauty & The Beast has a lot to like but there's little to love; while it fails to distinguish itself from the beloved original, it never really tries to break out from its shadow either. It is the definition of playing it safe, escaping to the middle ground of fantasy musical live-action and Disney's own sub-genre. You cannot help but will the film to try something new or something different. Its charm is undeniable and ignites a nostalgia within you that will greatly influence how much you enjoy this remake - and it is a remake, rather than a re-imagining, as that suggests imagination was actually involved - of the tale as old as time. While I am not naive enough to believe that Hollywood is designed for any other reason that making as much money as possible, this is the first time during one of Disney's live-action re-imaginings where I've caught myself, mid-movie, questioning their justification in reviving this particular property, with nothing new to say in the final product. It's really fine, delightful and splendid at times and it will absolutely win round audiences, but the final outcome is unshakeably perfunctory and lacks the imagination that made the original so enjoyable in my eyes.

(6.5/10)

Summary: Beauty & The Beast is decent enough, with stunning production elements, joyful musical numbers and a game cast - but there is little new offered to this tale as old as time, making the final outcome largely perfunctory and unimaginative.

Highlight: Emma Thompson's version of 'Beauty & The Beast'. I want to shake the person's hand who came up with the idea.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Get Out (2017) (Review)


Get Out looked like trash. After seeing the trailers a couple of times attached to various films in the lead up to its release, I had dismissed it as another horror misstep, your typical 'early year' flaky horror flick simply designed as counter-programming, to fill the gap in essence. But then, something huge happened: launching to critical acclaim, rave reviews, huge box office receipts and even a few whispers of future Oscar glory, the film captured a zeitgeist and is quickly becoming one of the most successful horror films of all time, never mind one that infuses comedy into the fold. The sub-genre is arguably the most difficult one to nail, emphasised by its dreadful success rate -  so how does this example, marking the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, fare and should you get out to see it?

Black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) leaves with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), for the suburbs to meet her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener). Although she tells him she has never had a black boyfriend, she assures him that her family are not racist and will accept him as they have her previous partners. With his concerns initially alleviated, he slowly begins to realise something is not quite right, when Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), two housekeepers, continue to act peculiar. As you can probably tell from the marketing and plot summary alone, the film deals with themes such as racism and divide in this biting social satire and commentary, that has seemingly struck a chord amongst cinemagoers, particularly with audiences on the other side of the pond as it now begins its international roll-out.

Despite my initial reluctancy that a horror-comedy could ever be effective - having never seen or fully brought into an example before -  Get Out sets the standard unbelievably high. Horror and comedy are such opposing genres with such alternative aims, yet Peele uses elements of each and blends them into an almost faultless film. The uncomfortable use of humour helps craft an uneasy atmosphere that is perpetuated throughout the entire film, sustained from the first frame (which is very possibly one of the most effective horror opening scenes in recent memory) until the very last. It indulges in a few horror conventions but the infusion of comedy is enough to disconcert you, with every jump and scare feeling fresh and unique. All of this is in thanks to Peele's assured direction; it's unfathomable that this is only his directorial debut, as he projects an unwavering confidence and skill, from the balance of tone to the bold direction, the razor-sharp script to the solid execution. Of the script, Peele somehow manages to avoid pushing its themes too drastically and forcefully, understanding when and where self-control is required and refusing to play the blame game. It really is masterful and the type of film the edge of your seat is made for, tremendously running at an efficient and unpredictable pace all the while.

Anchoring the film further is the terrific central performance, as well as some enduring supporting turns. Black Mirror's Daniel Kaluuya delivers a performance of nuance, control and restraint during the first half, making for an even more impactful second half that allows him to flex his acting muscles wonderfully. There's something inherently likeable about Chris, upturning horror character tropes effectively and giving your someone to root for as everything unfolds. Allison Williams is tremendous as Rose, exuding a warmth and compassion that ensures the pair are well-matched particularly when contrasted with Chris' more sedated personality; she shows a lot of promise here and her name is well worth making a note of, in a similar vein as for what The Witch did for Anya Taylor-Joy's. Disconcerting and alarming, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener and Caleb Landry Jones deliver startling performances as the more questionable members of the Armitage family, alongside 'family members' Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson who perform with a great sense of control and poise. Lil Rey Howery is flat-out hilarious as Rod, a friend of Chris and Rose, with a continually amusing and sharp portrayal as his concerned friend. Each of the actors, most noticeably Whitford and Gabriel walk the fine line between dramatic and comedic performances expertly, always delivering when needed, including one scene in which the latter, a shaken Georgina, begins manically laughing with tears streaming down her face; you honestly do not know whether to laugh yourself or cry or sink into your chair or cover your eyes in fear - it is a hypnotising performance and encompasses everything great director, writer and producer Peele does with this film.

So many more individual elements add to the success of Get Out; the excellent score and phenomenal soundtrack which accentuates that comedic element further, with the opening scene contrapuntally underscored by 'Run Rabbit Run' (despite its reputation as trashy television, this is the one element absolutely mastered by Fox's Scream Queens horror-comedy anthology series) masterfully, as well as the reprisal of a famous musical's defining track; intermittent bursts of horror and/or gore that are never overly excessive and infrequent enough to prevent turning less-sensitised viewers off completely; a genuine, startling unpredictability - even if/when you clock a few of the twists, you can never lay claim as to where this film is heading in the long-run. Some people may have find issues with the fact that the film chickens out of saying anything lasting in the end, dismissing one of its major plot strands with an unexplained resolution that niggles just slightly. Perhaps the most major flaw of this film though is its spoiler-filled trailer; not only does it suggest an end-project not nearly as terrific as its outcome, but it's stuffed full with spoilers that dampens the thrill of witnessing it all unfold. Thankfully the third act is left unrevealed but you get too much of a sense of what to expect from the beginning two acts, causing it to somewhat lose the element of surprise. It's exactly the opposite of what Suicide Squad (sensational marketing, dreadful final product) and Passengers (hid one of the early major twists, completely changing the notion you approach the film with) did, implying that Hollywood still has a long way to go in balancing its trailers and marketing to expectations. Basically, the more blind you go into this film, the better for your enjoyment and surprise.

Get Out is an effective, creepy and calculated social commentary that is every bit as biting and sharp as you would hope, thanks to a confidence from first-time director, writer and producer Jordan Peele. It's infusion of horror and comedy under the same roof is notably unsettling, with a heady mix of politics, humour and fun. It's unbelievably smart and subversive, twisted and slick. One fear of mine heading into this film, almost four weeks after it landed in the US, is that it wouldn't connect with UK audiences as it did with our friends over the pond - but after sitting in a screening with the most enthused audience for a good while, all my qualms were squashed and I am convinced this will be an equally large hit here as well as abroad, even if some of the themes and characters are not as immediately recognisable. Get Out is a fine, fine film that deserves it heralding as a contemporary horror classic.

(9/10)

Summary: Get Out is a razor-sharp social satire that is every bit as thrilling and shocking as it is hilarious and creepy. Balancing out two contradictory genres is a difficult feat, yet first-time director Jordan Peele pretty much masters it on first attempt. The contemporary horror classic of our age is here.

Highlight: "You know I can't do that babe"

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Six Rounds (2017) (Review)


There's one moment in Marcus Flemmings' self-financed film Six Rounds in which the main character, Dan/Stally, turns to the camera and seemingly addresses the audience directly; "I can't lose that", he vows, repeatedly, preparing for a boxing match set against the backdrop of and amidst the fallout of the London 2011 Riots. That one moment, seconds before the beginning of 'Round XI' sees the culmination of a heady set of themes and a blistering atmosphere, stunningly realised in Flemming's debut feature-length, an exploration on racism, ageism, classism and dreams. Whether that line is referring to the intense atmosphere, audience concentration or the film's focus on its characters and themes, you'll be pleased to learn it doesn't lose it - it excels. Primarily drenched in monochrome and unwavering in its potency, Six Rounds is an assured debut piece that has so much on its mind but still manages to convey its musings with subtle, interpretable strokes.

As a debut feature-length, Six Rounds is a terrifically well-realised, thematically profound and focused piece of film-making, packed to the rafters with promise regarding the future of the man behind the camera. Marcus Flemmings, who writes, directs and produces the piece, is so confident in his vision that he abolishes any 'first-time' tellings early on, propelled to make a raw and natural piece of cinema that uses its backdrop without ever exploiting it; it never relies too heavily on these riots, acting more as a jumping-off point for this absorbing character study and internal monologue that follows. It is a universal and relatable piece, allowing Flemmings to attach a fuse to each of the themes presented here (and in every day society) that burns long enough to ignite further consideration from the audience, long after the credits have rolled and we return back to reality. In fact, this film is so grounded in reality, from the still, lingering shots that feel like an intrusion on these characters' every day lives and the natural, realistic performances delivered by Adam J Bernard in particular, that it really works to the film's advantage and viewer's immersion.

What is so terrific about Six Rounds is the film leaves a lot open for interpretation, subtly delivering powerful themes without ever forcing opinions and preaching to viewers; its skilful in that it provokes an emotional response without directly prescribing what exactly that response should be. Should we feel empowerment? Frustration? Anger? Despondency? That's entirely up to the individual, demonstrating the strength of the script and its on-screen execution. As an example, for me, the film is just as much about youth and age as it is about racism and class - ambitiously thought-provoking, it understands the importance of nuance, evident in one scene in which Dan, our lead, converses with an ill-advised, well-intentioned middle-class white lady that confirms stereotypes are still in place in society and handles the recupusion of them well. A compelling way Six Rounds operates is through the central idea of duelling, completing the boxing allegory tremendously; not only do two boxers fight it out in the ring, exchanging blow after blow (an image we continually return to), but our lead experiences a similar back-and-forth, torn as to whether he should return to his street, crime-inducing ways to help a friend or lead a higher-class existence with his lover he has now acclimatised to. It's an excellent idea and parallel enhanced through various character relationships and dynamics, most noticeable the two lovers at the heart of the film - an interracial couple who could not be further apart in terms of background and upbringing, skin colour, class and outlook. It's a masterful way to reflect the inner dichotomisation of our lead character and the moral dilemma at the centre of everything the piece attempts (and typically achieves with flying colours).

Effectively, the film's decision to deliver its message through monochrome visuals in as interesting one and almost immediately shatters the novelty of the set-up. Dropping us, very sparingly, into scenes of concentrated saturations and hues, this decision places a more intense magnification on the film's conversations, messages, tone and characters by fully absorbing viewers in the atmosphere of the piece, (working well from a thematic standpoint as well); these intermittent scenes of colour suggest a passion and vibrancy that enlivens these moments, helping to build on the lead and the romantic relationship that populates the piece. Episodically structured and restrictive in its runtime (clocking in at under 56 minutes), the film is benefitted due to its snappiness and pace, never dwelling on chapters excessively or over-indulging. Perhaps this leads to some of the film's minor flaws, including underdeveloped supporting characters and performances, as well as a slight monotony, although this does mean the film affords more time for our lead, superbly played by Bernard. Bernard delivers a strong performance, making the most of the film's powerful, emotional moments and nails the physicality of an athlete in the ring, including the anguish that comes with doing so, bringing the emotional baggage with him too. Bolstered further by a succession of quick cuts and precise shots - including one in which the camera slowly lingers on a meeting between friends in the corner of the room, as if the audience is trespassing on their personal space and conversation - the film contains a clear attention to detail that does not go amiss, even after just one viewing, and accentuated after a second. Six Rounds is an exhilarating watch, even for those (like myself) who wouldn't usually gravitate towards the genre or its content.

Six Rounds is a slick, absorbing social commentary, character study and internal monologue on a very personal, intimate level - yet its universal themes and timely release make it an incredibly relatable one too, whether that be because of your age, background, skin colour or inability and reluctancy to settle and decide in a society where everything seems to matter. It utilises its backdrop carefully without excess, all orchestrated by confident direction from Marcus Flemmings and anchored by a solid performance from Adam J Bernard at the centre. Its blistering atmosphere ensures intensity remains at fever-pitch throughout its 56 minute runtime, expertly handling themes and ideas profoundly and with adroitness and consideration. It defies conventions as to what it means to have a film with a person of colour at the centre, shattering expectations really efficiently. Marcus Flemmings has crafted this film as something genuinely exciting, effective and accomplished; it is worth making a note of his name as, even with a micro-budget on hand, he always impresses - this is only the beginning for Flemmings and he should be very proud with his work on Six Rounds.

(8/10)

Summary: Six Rounds is an incredibly accomplished piece of film-making by director, writer and producer Marcus Flemmings. Its decision to focus on its characters and themes is a smart one, striking a balance that ensures the film is open to interpretation and further consideration long after the credits have rolled.

Highlight: The intensity of the very opening moments is incredible, crafting a marvellous tone that continues throughout the rest of the film.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Orphan Black - Season 5 Wishes


We are three months out from the premiere of the fifth and final season of BBC America's Orphan Black. The wait seems like an eternity but with each passing day we are one step closer to the end; it's a very odd place to find yourself, as a fan of the show. The Tatiana Maslany-led series, which stars the Emmy Award-winner as a variety of clones who have learned of each other's existence over the past forty hours of gripping, thrilling sci-fi television.

To mark the countdown to the final chapter of the clone drama, I will be making posts on the 10th of each month in the lead up to the finale's premiere on June 10th, which will then continue weekly with episode reviews of the ten episodes that make up the final season. Let's start with my hopes and wishes for the final season...


- More clone interactions

Season four was probably my favourite run of episodes to date (you can see my thoughts on the season here), but the one thing it lacked was a big clone interaction scene. Season two had that insane dance party, followed by the dinner party sequence in season three. They are masterful examples of the barriers this show can so very easily obliterate on a technical level, expertly executed and awe-inspiring, watching as Tatiana Maslany speaks to Tatiana Maslany while handing Tatiana Maslany a bowl of sugar after hearing Tatiana Maslany give a speech. Season four had a couple of examples of this amazement on a smaller level, usually between Sarah and Cosima, but we need something that rises above anything else the show has done before, most likely in the series finale.

My first thought; a clone funeral, but I hate myself for even thinking about that.


- More clone swaps

We could also do with a few more clone swap scenes; it's a widely accepted fact that Maslany is the hardest working woman in television and her understanding of each of her characters is absolutely mesmerising, and nothing showcases that more than when she steps into a clone's shoes while actually playing another. It's Inception-level mind-blowing, the way she adapts this new character's identity while allowing the real clones subtle mannerisms to shine through. It is so very often completely flawless acting and we need to see even more of it in season five. Whether its Sarah as Krystal, Alison as Sarah or Sarah as Rachel, it is so fascinating to watch everything unfold with brand new dynamics each time - so please season five, give us more!


- A stronger focus for Helena

I'll be honest, I fully expected Helena to die at the end of last season. Her story appears to have come full circle now and the writer's seem to have stranded her with very little to do after disappearing for a large chunk of last season and only really returning when somebody needed saving (usually Alison, god bless her).  They've found themselves written into a corner; after 'killing' her at the end of the first season, she was resurrected only to become a firm fan favourite, turning a psychopathic serial killer nut into an absolutely adorable angel seemingly more difficult to get rid of. I want the firmer role for her in the new season, whether that's endlessly protecting her seestras or taking matters into her own hands a little more.


- Exploring what makes Kira special

As early as season one, it has been hinted that Kira has special abilities that allows her to understand what Sarah's sisters are feeling; she can sense danger and knows when trouble is approaching, warning the LEDA clones on threats on numerous occasions. It's been alluded to that the series will consider this notion, promising a few answers to those questions regarding the only LEDA-born child, and it's about time. As long as it doesn't border into the supernatural (which I really have no time for), I'll be very happy for this element of Orphan Black to be finally considered and explained!


- Leave Castor alone

Orphan Black's rockiest season yet, the third, replaced the LEDA clones with the Castor clones as the focus and it didn't really work. The shoemakers quickly learned their lesson, with most of the male line being wiped out by the turn of the fourth season. Ari Millen is a great actor but the male clones pale in comparison to their female counterparts, most likely because of the nature vs nurture argument it examined. I don't mind one or two popping up again, but let's keep it to a minimum.


- A solid serving of Delphine

Delphine's return was always quietly expected, no matter how much it was denied, because it's arguably brings out the most passionate response from fans. In season three, her appearances were scattered throughout the season and, like Helena, she would be gone for weeks/episodes with little explanation. In the final stretch of episodes, I do hope we have a solid amount of Delphine, mainly because Evelyne Brochu is incredible and her relationship with Cosima is always compelling.


- Return to the train platform

I've always seen the show ending with a return to the train platform that set the events in motion for the entire series and what a brilliantly way it would be to have everything come full circle. Beth has always been pivotal in the series and with Sarah taking on her responsibilities, becoming the unofficial leader and organiser for the LEDA clones, maybe a second visit is due, after coming so close to returning in S4E7 (apparently, the Sarah's would-be suicide sequence was intended to take place at the train station itself but plans feel through). While hopefully returning under more hopeful, positive circumstances, it would feel like a greatly missed opportunity if this didn't happen.


- A (fairly) happy ending

Orphan Black is undoubtedly my favourite show in the world, mainly because of the beautiful, complex and strong characters that populate it; with that said, I want nothing more than a happy ending for them. Yes, this is a drama, so the sweet will always come with a bitter taste too, but for once can we not just give this clones a happy ending, after everything they have endured?


Oh, and give Sarah Stubbs more to do! (funnily enough, the below gif perfectly encapsulates my two opposing emotions the closer we get to the final season...)


See you next month!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island (3D) (2017) (Review)


Following the success of Fox's Logan last weekend, multiplexes will hope the goodwill of the early-blockbuster season will continue with Kong: Skull Island, a 70s-set monster thrilled film from director Jordon Vogt-Roberts in his debut feature. Intended to restart/start (depending on who you ask) a monsters universe aptly titled MonsterVerse - somewhat akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Harry Potter series - Skull Island reintroduces the mighty King Kong in his first appearance on our screens in almost 12 years, assembling a talented ensemble to combat Skull Island and the monsters it holds. With the all-year round blockbuster becoming a real thing now, has Kong: Skull Island throws down the gauntlet for this year's crop of tentpole enthusiasts or is an all-monster, no-brain brawl?

In need of a tracker, former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is hired by government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) to guide an expedition to map out 'Skull Island', a previously uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. Helicoptered by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and joined by pacifist photojournalist Mason Waver (Brie Larson), the team soon learn Skull Island isn't the uninhabited land they expected. It's a pretty impressive cast, with Hiddleston, Jackson, Goodman and Larson joined in supporting roles by the likes of John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann and John C. Reilly. Oh, and a 60 tonne gorilla.

Kong: Skull Island is a film that understands the allure of putting a massive gorilla on screen and letting it smash the place up. Really, it acts only as a vehicle to allow such CGI to get to work, as well as re-introducing a towering and iconic monster such as King Kong back to our screens. Without a doubt, you have seen all of this before, most likely in the midst of a story with stronger connectivity and more cohesion regarding the  'in-between' moments, yet for those craving a white-knuckle thrill ride of destruction and annihilation, Kong: Skull Island will tide you over until the summer blockbuster season really kicks in. It's almost admirable that Skull Island places so much emphasis on fun here, with the 118 minute runtime storming by in a whirlwind of effects and excitement, managing a genuine intensity throughout despite a fairly predictable outcome. It dispatches characters quickly and inventively, covers enough genres to keep varied audiences interested (seriously, we're talking action, thriller, horror, comedy and just a hint of romance) and structured so you are never waiting too long before the next set piece. Vogt-Roberts finds some interesting ways to engage you with each passing 'human vs predator' sequence, showcasing the impressive locations with oomph, with one scene - setting the gorilla, drenched in blue moonlight hues, against the humans, surrounding by burning embers and fire - especially effective. It's an absolute joy to watch on a visual level and complete thunderous fun.

With such great action and a terrific ensemble, it is such a shame that the script is so weak and can't afford the film more than the very basic character developments and dialogue. Despite featuring three screenwriters (Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly), said dialogue is somewhat woeful, with an embarrassing use of conventions and cliches, inspiring very little during the B-plot strand that simply ambles around until the next thrilling gorilla sequence is due. It places a couple of genuinely idiotic moments (our lead running through and fighting in a gas cloud completely unaffected, in a scene that feels almost entirely ripped from the latest Ghostbusters, minus the stupidity) throughout that threaten to rip all the fun from under its feet. Its populating characters are unbelievably bland and one-dimensional, even with a talented cast at the film's disposal (particularly Brie Larson - SHE'S AN OSCAR-WINNING ACTRESS FOR GOODNESS SAKE, is something I wanted to shout at the screen on numerous occasions). It never concerns itself with going deeper into the thematic sensibilities which would offer an abundance of ideas to explore, all ignored and causing the film to boil down to the age old-saying in film critique - 'it's all style, no substance'; it's all head but no heart or soul. One element the screenwriting trio do nail though is the comedy, as it really sparks with some genuinely humorous moments - although there are a couple of instances where the laughs are unintended...

Skull Island's political backdrop does the film no favours and, despite the pre-credits sequence, adds so little to proceedings - but looking it at it purely as a 70s set action-thriller, it manages to carve out its own identity. It's bouncy, era-defined soundtrack may be a little emphatic at times but it makes it rather charming at the same time, hinting at the uneasy subtext the film so eagerly strives for far more efficiently than its Vietnam-setting. Henry Jackman's score is effective, underpinning the battle scenes particularly well and fuelling an intensity that is found throughout. Kong is a spectacle, with the 3D conversion accentuating the visual feast on more than a couple of occasions; that said, you'll probably get just as good an idea out of the 2D version if you want to avoid splurging on the 3D charge - but I would recommend finding it on the biggest screen, in either version.

At the tail end of the Oscar season - a time in which the cinema is bursting with tremendous craftsmanship and astounding artistry - Kong comes roaring through with a real change in pace and tone. While I'd pick almost any of those Oscar contenders over a second visit to Skull Island, and its pre-Summer blockbuster window is a god send as this would otherwise get lost in the hustle and bustle of sequels and superheroes, it's difficult to deny the charm of Kong: Skull Island. The glossy set pieces it swings between and the exciting action and effects do just about enough to engage and the balance of genre elements works in an otherwise uneven piece. It's trifle approach to the script (most notably the script and characters) threatens to cancel out some of the joy of the unfolding thrill ride but you'll be able justify a watch if it takes your fancy one wet afternoon.

(6.5/10)

Summary: Kong: Skull Island is a mixed bag: on one hand it is fuelled by terrific set pieces, thrilling action and top-notch effects, but a weak script, too many cliches and poor character development prevent blockbuster greatness.

Highlight: The first act, once we head to the Island, is really terrific. Nothing quite lives up to the destruction of the helicopters at the gorilla's hands.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Logan (2017) (Review)


My oh my, just what do we do with the X-Men franchise? It's been on a rocky road for a while now, ever sine my first engagement in the series, after the reboot that brought Jennifer Lawrence into the fold. Days of Future Past, an all-star medley, was a smashing success, winning round audiences, critics and box office dough; however, sequel Apocalypse, released just last year, received mixed to poor reviews at best, earned significantly less at the box office and fuelled a growing frustration with the franchises' complacency and unwillingness to do something/anything different. It stranded the franchise in a difficult position, particularly when its supposedly small-scale, risk-taking R-rated spin-off Deadpool earned more money domestically and worldwide than a single X-Men instalment has ever done before. Its latest stab, Logan, is the tenth film in the franchise and third chapter of the Wolverine series, is said to be leading star Hugh Jackman's final ever appearance as the craw-growing mutant; so, is this swan song a deserved one for the iconic character?

In a dystopian 2029, a past-his-prime Wolverine (Jackman) is living out a quiet life, avoiding his mutant form where possible. No mutant has been born for twenty-five years and most of society has broken down. Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse, approaches Logan to escort her and 11-year old Laura (Dafne Keen) to 'Eden' in North Dakota. Initially cautious, Logan's possible involvement  attracts unwanted attention from the villainous Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who aims to hunt Laura down for the power she possesses. Along with a senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), they venture on the journey to Eden but fears grow of their final destination, what lies there, and whether it exists at all. Directed by James Mangold, the superhero film appoints a surprisingly sombre tone for the picture, as noted throughout the film's marketing material, setting this apart from the onslaught of last year's superhero flicks. 

As mentioned, what's remarkable about Logan is that only very rarely does it feel like a superhero film - meaning it can be accessed by audiences wanting something other than the standard genre fare, as conventions are almost entirely rejected. From the outset, the narrative and tone is undeniably bleak, conveying a broken Logan coming to the end of his tether, both rejecting and missing his former life as the Wolverine, exploring themes seldom considered in the genre. Mortality and humanity are ambitious placed front and centre of this character-driven instalment, delving in on the broken Logan and the life he has led, with Xavier's appearance emphasising the fragility of time and age. Sparks of humour can be unearthed throughout and help alleviate the sombre tone from becoming totally overwhelming, with the film never forgetting to entertain either - it more than easily earns it 15 certificate over in the UK, rivalling the recent John Wick: Chapter 2 for the amount of rolling heads, blood and gore on display. It's atmospheric, intense and spirited, delivering a taut but rewarding experience that more than makes its mark as the (possible) final adventure of Jackman's Wolverine (and, supposedly, Stewart's Xavier). James Mangold is a terrific choice to helm the project, finding some really stunning shots amongst all the violence, enhanced by beautiful cinematography from John Mathieson.

Hugh Jackman arguably delivers his strongest performance as the Wolverine here, probably down to the fact that he is given a wider range of emotions and content to work with, gripping audience from the first frame until the last; you are almost enthralled in watching this journey play out, despite how dark and brutal it is, mainly because of the heft brought to proceedings by Jackman. Even with each consecutive bloody brawl or throw down, Jackman still manages to impress on a physical level - he is almost 50 after all but keeps up with the pace efficently. Stewart returns as a decrepit Charles Xavier, imprisoned for his own safety as many race after the chance to utilise his mind as a weapon. Each deliver a visceral performance - a feeling and notion that reflects the film in general - with a long-serving chemistry that never falters, compelling us to these characters and proving why they have been as long-lasting as they have. In a relatively dialogue-free, physically-demanding performance, Dafne Keen is a revelation; whether throwing down a severed head, ready to fight and protect herself, or during the more emotional moments of the film, she exceeds expectations. Holbrook is impressive as the domineering head sent to retrieve Laura, even though his character suffers from the typical villain-issues; undeveloped. Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth Rodriguez are solid in less substantial roles, as Logan places a determined focus on its titular character which is fully rewarded by the time the credits wrap it all up.

Perhaps a little on the lengthy side clocking in at 139 minutes, the film suffers occasionally from a monotonous tone; yes, some humour inject a brief lapse and that comedy aspect almost always works, but there's no escaping the fact that this is a very serious, far-reaching piece that doesn't have the wide appeal of a bouncy Marvel flick or even the outrageousness of Deadpool (no matter how underwhelmed I personally was with that Fox release). Also, after rather self-consciously avoiding cliches or conventions of the genre throughout the first two acts, it almost too willingly indulges in them for the grand finale, leaving a weaker third act in the shadows of its more sophisticated first stretches. And, attempting to avoid any spoilers, Logan finds itself wound up in a rather predictable spot; although that doesn't take too much of the power away from the ending, it can't help but feel a little anticipated, leaving the final set piece a little unfocused and less taut in comparison to all that came before it. It also, unfortunately, weakened some of the emotional impact of those final moments.

Logan, the third and final Wolverine chapter supposedly, is a grounded and alternative take on the superhero genre, right when the X-Men universe needed that shot in the arm. Hugh Jackman's titular character is retired on a bittersweet note, tremendously delivered by a committed cast with Jackman excellently leading the way. It's a visceral experience, deeply rooted in character development - but remembers to deliver all the fun of the fair with the typical Wolverine-shmuch, choreographed and executed effectively because of the solid direction from the man helming the project behind the camera. It feels fresh and different, usually breaking away from expectations and excelling because of its R-rated violence and tricks. It's the strongest chapter in the mutant universe since 2014's Days of Future Past and while I can't speak for anything pre-reboot, appears to be the most confident, mature and focused film to date. If this really is the last time Jackman wears the claws, its a worthy swan-song to bow out on.

(8/10)

Summary: Logan is a ruthless and brutal swan-song for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and he certainly makes the most of it, delivering an impressive performance in a focused, grounded and mature final chapter.

Highlight: Logan's humour really shines, elevating the darker material to more bearable levels.