Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Here it is. After 10 years in the making; Marvel’s Cinematic Universe releases this superhero epic which is breathtaking, breezy but it also packs an Infinity Gauntlet sized punch to the feels.

The Avengers are still not on speaking terms, with the aftermath of ‘Civil War’ leaving them on separate sides. The Guardians of the Galaxy are unaware of these Earth mishaps but may soon collide with new faces, as the troubling fact that Thanos is out to collect all 6 Infinity Stones becomes a dangerously possible outcome.

What works so well, is that producer Kevin Feige has masterfully woven a web of comic book heroes that have built and built to this grandiose moment. Feige, with directors from a previous 18 Marvel movies and returning directing duo for this one; the Russo Brothers, have ensured that the characters are fully realised for audiences to have taken them into their hearts. This is what makes ‘Infinity War’ that much more of a slam to the chest in what is definitely the most unexpected narrative to come from the MCU.

Seeing characters who have never shared screen time up until now, is a blistering joy to behold and they sparkle with humour or provide needed poignancy. There’s an undeniable giddiness to be had in finally seeing a huge ensemble come together in their own way and crossing over the space set Guardians crew, with the Earth dwelling Avengers team is a fantastically grin-inducing sight to last for the ages.

I must admit, that at first the plot in the initial 20-40 minutes was sort of a slow burn, even with an opening scene that throws us a dramatic curve-ball. Unlike a fair few of the Marvel outings though, this is a film that gets better and better as it goes along, which means by the end of a 2 and a half hour run-time, I was left with mouth aghast, mind reeling and a buzz shaking all over as now we have to impatiently wait for the follow up next year.

What I loved above all else, was the fact that this film kept going directions I never expected it to. The uncertainty of Earth and the fate of the hero’s was spellbinding and gifted this stonking blockbuster a great grounded touch and a eye widening darkness as Thanos’ terrifying reign escalates. The stakes are 1000% sky-rocketed and it says a lot when the end credits have no loud, colourful graphics, just a plain black screen and white text, keeping on course with the emotional weight, as questions tumble around in your head for what could happen in Part 2.

There are some dodgy uses of CGI that distract from powerful moments, an almost Mark Ruffalo floating head in his suit is just one example. No spoilers, but a well known TV series actor rocks up and their character/scene is unintentionally funny, it feels off and I don’t know why. These are honestly the only weaknesses I can find in a film that serves its fans well and definitely has its best villain yet.

I’d be here a long time if I commented on the infinity list of actors that star in the movie but I have to say things about; Robert Downey Jr who is as effortlessly cock-sure, charming and suave as ever but with a developed sense of fear and protective care as the movie amps up. Tom Holland with a souped up suit slings pop culture references and Spidey mannerisms perfectly and provides a true gut-wrenching emotional moment. Scarlett Johansson is bad-ass as ever and sells the loyal Black Widow stance but is underused as is Sebastian Stan who doesn’t really get a chance to take action. Dave Bautista carries on his Drax mantle of the comedy act, with Chris Pratt sharing mirrored showmanship and arrogance to rival Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth. The Australian actor’s turn as the God of Thunder is one of his best yet, still strolling on the zany comedy from ‘Ragnarok’ but convincingly fusing anger, revenge and sadness to the character of Thor. Zoe Saldana gets Gamora more fleshed out which is a nice thing and makes you watch how great she is in playing the character. Unarguably the entire feature is devoured by Josh Brolin who’s front and centre, giving Thanos a fearsome voice but it’s his work with motion capture that sees this big baddie come to life, with tricks, evils and gravitas.

I can say with confidence, that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ will go down in history as a film marvel and it deserves to claim the inevitable box office crown. There’s spectacular action, cracking zingers, continuous uneasiness of expectation being thrown to the wayside and an emotional core that even Dr. Strange couldn’t magic away.

8.5/10

 

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Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

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Almost 5 years after ‘Pacific Rim’, comes this monster follow up that sees a debut role for Steven S. DeKnight as feature film director. Gladly, Guillermo del Toro has producing credit and seems to have retained some neat apocalypse cancelling world-building in what is otherwise a silly yet joyous popcorn flick.

Ten years have shuttled by since the monstrous Kaiju breached the Pacific Ocean and destroyed many cities. Now, former Jaeger front-runner, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is taken out of his scavenging ways to train new cadets. A promising talent lies within Amara (Cailee Spaeny), but is she and the battle station ready for the troubling return of the Kaiju?

I haven’t actually seen the 2013 movie since it was released but I recall it being a tremendous blast on the IMAX screens and enjoyed the moments of del Toro handled monster-lore in between the beast vs robot carnage. This one definitely seems to have a tongue firmly stuck in its cheek with a movie that is more about the fun side of proceedings.

You really don’t need to go into this film remembering many aspects of the first feature, or in fact with your mind on at all, it’s a pre-summer blockbuster kind of film that is as subtle as having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick! If that’s your thing then you’re in for a great treat and I honestly have to say that I enjoyed pretty much the entirety of this film.

How the trainee cadets are ever ready to perfectly mind-meld for duty and fight the Kaiju is a thought to push away, as is the question about never once knowing Idris Elba had a son, oh and the countless helpful convenient plot points. But, this isn’t a film warranting script scrutiny, as said, this is one of these films that doesn’t try to be anything more than the big screen madness of its smashy smashy noise.

DeKnight takes over from Academy Award holder del Toro and you can unmistakably see his TV show – ‘Spartacus’ style. The robots beating the metal crap out of each other, the lighthearted asides, the frequent almost epic slow-mo shots all come from his Starz days, from a show I rather enjoyed to tell the truth and that gladiatorial experience has helped craft an enjoyable sci-fi combat movie.

Boyega excels in a fun role here, bursting almost to the seams with quips to counter any possible predicament. It’s a character with far more energy, engagement and sparkle than Finn from the recent Star Wars movies. Scott Eastwood doesn’t really do much in a supporting role that sees him bark orders at people and twinkle his ‘handsome’ eyes when necessary. Spaeny is a talented up and coming actor, her performance is refreshing, vulnerable and yet brashly confident which works well opposite Boyega. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day resume their characters from before, with the former doing well in a backseat science supervisor kinda way and the latter pulling typical Charlie Day shouting and vague comedy that feels wrong considering where his amped up role journeys.

I was never eagerly awaiting a sequel but now this one has arrived in cinemas I can’t say I dislike the fact it exists. It’s a rampaging delight of big and bold destruction and in the words of the late, great Eduard Khil: “Trololo” indeed, this is a damn fun film to feast upon.

6.5/10

 

Annihilation (2018)

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Arriving on Netflix, is this bold and engagingly strange science fiction from Alex Garland. It’s arguably one of the finer films of this genre I’ve ever seen, questioning the audience with its intelligent themes of rationality and life.

After a figure from Lena’s (Natalie Portman) life comes back into the fold, she ends up at a government facility close to a glistening barrier known as The Shimmer which is expanding. Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads Lena and three others into this weird anomaly to try and stop it reaching civilisation and to hopefully uncover exactly what it is.

Alex Garland has been writing screenplays since 2002 and after his blistering debut directorial work on 2015’s ‘Ex Machina’, this was a movie I was eagerly awaiting. Garland has managed to capture the traumas and oddities of a strange new world from within Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. As this film goes along, there’s a fantastic sense of slow-burning tension that doesn’t always need to pay off with big action because he directs in such a way that chills to the core and makes this environment feel visceral.

A sci-fi with plenty of intrigue and interesting ideas aren’t always common to come by, so gladly this is an exception, in the same vein as the smartly concocted ‘Arrival’. It’s a film that I think deserves to go down as a classic in its genre, as it grips like a row of razor sharp teeth sinking into you, as you get hooked onto the creepy air of unease and confusion that roams this altering landscape.

The Shimmer itself is a world of melding possibilities leading to some of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen this year, ones that I utterly wished I could have seen on the big screen, but again Paramount offloaded one of theirs to be released by streaming juggernaut Netflix. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is sublime and truly keeps you on the edge of your seat as we trek through somewhere, that is at once stunning and dripping with mystery.

There are some unnerving moments within ‘Annihilation’ which I won’t divulge any further as to avoid spoilers, but I will say, what lurks in The Shimmer certainly builds a scary level to the back and forth narrative with Lena. Also, the final act is absolutely incredible. My mouth was agape for the duration and my skin was layered with goosebumps, in a lighthouse set sequence I can only describe as hauntingly glorious and terrifying in a way that seems to burrow into your very being.

Natalie Portman is a strong presence from start to finish, her character background aptly aids her through this lush yet dangerous world of lost memories and trepidation. Portman easily acts that sense of forceful wanting and knowledgeable progression. She also carries an empathetic sadness and regret throughout, which makes her an interesting character to follow. The entire team are a formidable squad of females with enough drip fed information about their lives, to give us understanding of their choices and motivations. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez all neatly display the fraying of their minds as they descend further into The Shimmer. The latter gets a crackling turn to shine in a scene that sees her burst with an intensity, adding to the ferociousness of what happens.

‘Annihilation’ is a masterful movie and one I will definitely be watching again. It carries a quiet menace as the unknown is explored and identity is questioned more and more.

8.5/10

 

Black Panther (2018)

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We’re into the second half of MCU’s Phase Three and what a way to enter it. The King of Wakanda doesn’t just step onto the big screen but pounces. This is a film rife with character and importantly; culture.

After ‘Civil War’ saw the death of T’Chaka, his son returns to his hugely advanced home of Wakanda, where he takes the path to become the new king and rightful Black Panther. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has the support of most around him but returning baddie Klaue (Andy Serkis) and some stolen vibranium doesn’t help. Moreover his crimes introduce T’Challa to Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a soldier hell-bent on taking over Wakanda.

Marvel and its cinematic world have done spectacularly well thus far in creating hype and fun escapism, but admittedly they quite often miss the mark with their characters and villains, gladly both work very well in this movie. The community of Wakandans feel real and a lot of the forefront officials are fleshed out with enough dialogue and/or screen-time to ensure that it isn’t solely the titular hero that nabs the focus. In regards to the villain; this film gives us two big ones, the first is the resurgence of OTT but deliciously snarly Klaue, the second is Stevens who works brilliantly because, as an audience member you can feel for him and buy into his cause, at least when he’s not taking these notions too far.

Ryan Coogler; in what is just his third film, directs a powerful film that feels right within the comic book world but also throws in such interesting dynamics of globe shattering consequences, self beliefs and the bigger picture of black people and personal struggles which of course is undeniably vital within this day and age and state of the world. There’s a gleeful fun within tie-ins and action sequences but better than this, director Coogler with Joe Robert Cole, as a fellow writer manage to gift this feature a drive and political motivated subtext.

Seeing it on the glorious IMAX screen of course makes the entire film a thing of beauty and massive spectacle but I just know that it would still have the same impact however it is seen. There is an unmistakable rich quality to the production value; the colours, fabrics and fashions, the settings, the music all come together and culminate with a force of life and soul. It’s a film that had my skin buzzing with excitement and the eye is taken by almost every scene and frame.

There’s a slight DC and yes, Marvel weakness of the CGI overload these films can so often swerve towards, which is what worries me about the sprawl of generated figures and Thanos in the ‘Infinity War’ trailer. No more can this be seen in a battle on some grassy fields and some CG rhinos that appear, which slightly lost me from the film, but that’s pretty much the only negative I had.

Boseman is an amazing hero and plays the demanding role of king and leader with gravitas. There’s great emotion behind his eyes that shows he can also see the problems with his place and people, which makes a superhero, human. Lupita Nyong’o plays the ex of T’Challa but she isn’t as one dimensional as that. The actor packs a punch and effortless spy magnitude to her role. Letitia Wright is Shuri; Black Panther’s sister. She scatters the movie with great humour and tech know-how that makes her like a more capable Q persona. Jordan almost rivals Boseman and Wright by stealing the majority of the show with a charismatic and deeply engaging turn as the hopeful throne taker. He too ensures to not just be panto villainy and adds remarkable layers to his character. I would be writing for a long time more if I commented on all the other terrific actors in this film, who all unite with a crackling sense of energy and seriousness that helps make this more than just a comic book movie.

Long live the King…and Coogler, let us hope he returns because he has masterfully given the MCU a breath of fresh air and stunning culture.

8.5/10

 

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Dropped like something out of the sky; here comes a game-changer in terms of movie marketing and distribution, but that aside is this a good ‘Cloverfield’ movie?

Set in our future and aboard the Cloverfield Station are a crew from various countries who are hoping to perfect a particle accelerator; which could solve the energy crisis on Earth. As their mission finally catches a break, it seems not everything is good. The team become stranded, meanwhile life back on Earth isn’t looking safe and sound either.

So, after a few months of whisperings and internet talk about a new feature in the ‘Cloverfield’ series, we’re finally greeted with this big surprise release. It was due last year and then apparently again for an April 2018 cinematic date under the name ‘God Particle’ from Paramount Pictures, but as the sporting spectacle of the Super Bowl reached it’s halftime parade of expensive ads and new trailers, a teaser for this very movie was shown. Not long after the game itself the film was up on Netflix for all (subscribers) to see.

This I must admit is a bold move to make and pretty special to keep something under wraps. Having a $45 million movie on your hands and to maintain its secrecy and avoid the usual over hype of many trailers and TV spots is a fantastic achievement, if not one that disappoints me slightly because it’s final destination means it can’t be seen on the big screen. It’s a great film visually and the sci-fi element is explored quite well through the vacuum of space and a sleek revolving spaceship but Paramount mustn’t have had high expectations to forgo a cinema roll-out and leave Netflix to pick up the rights. This can be felt in a film that seems to have grown out of control to fit within the ‘Cloverfield’ universe.

It’s a mildly slow-burner of a science fiction to watch, there’s neat moments of burrowing unease as things start to go wrong; as they always do in these kinds of films. The back and forth between space and Earth feels like the parts where they re-wrote to segue in the movie monster tie-in and general spots do feel like a scrambled mess to keep that storytelling building.

Saying this, the dynamic of the crew is good and the moments of error, confusion and danger aboard the spacecraft are entertaining. I wouldn’t say exciting or wholly dramatic but they work well and keep the film going along nicely too. The main interest for me was in the construct of the shifting paradox and the problems arising from there, which is explored with both thrills and humour but not as deep as perhaps it may have delved. I feel one reason the film isn’t as successful as it could be is down to the distracting technique of its release and expecting the ‘Cloverfield’ monster/arc to keep rearing up.

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ was one of my favourite films from 2016 because it tied in the monster series nicely and felt like a creepily separate thriller at the same time. This is still a good film but nowhere near as great. It’s a film that perhaps, thanks to its many delays and streaming resting place, feels more like a somewhat enjoyable online flick but not a dazzling or suspenseful one.

5.5/10

 

2017 Top Ten

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I get it Kevin! It’s been a blinder of a year for films. I’m screaming with ya trying to whittle down some fantastic movies to compile a Top Ten list. I think, finally I may have one sorted but I’ll likely look at it within a few days and want to add/swap things once again.

Before I continue with the rundown, I must 100% have to list some honourable mentions because these are all films that were in my Top 10 at some point but didn’t make it, just. Take a deep breath…

MOONLIGHT, DUNKIRK, COLOSSAL, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, LOGAN, DETROIT, BLADE RUNNER 2049, THOR: RAGNAROK, MOLLY’S GAME, JACKIE, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, LOVING VINCENT, WIND RIVER AND OKJA (solely because this one didn’t get theatrical release) 

It’s honestly ridiculous looking over that above list and seeing them not in my Top 10. To anyone saying this year has been a bad one for films they should check themselves into a psychiatric ward stat.

10. IT

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A horror film that’s actually effectively creepy and worthy of it’s huge box office success. This Stephen King adaption was a dark yet funny and excellently well made coming of age tale with a horrific backdrop. You’ll float too with my full review here – IT.

9. PADDINGTON 2

 

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What a charmer of a film. Fun for all the family and teary too. Fuzzy Pad bear is back in what could have been a cheap and unnecessary sequel but it’s far from that. A true delight. Grab your marmalade and check out my full review – Paddington 2

8. HIDDEN FIGURES

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A wonderful and interestingly told story that excels by it’s trio of stellar performances. It’s a surprising film in the fact I wasn’t expecting much but thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of the movie. It’s warming and importantly, it’s a celebration of some successful but neglected/forgotten figures in history.

7. A GHOST STORY

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A film that not just follows a story from a ghost’s perspective but the idea of our existence and the frailty of time are explored in such a haunting and beautiful fashion by director David Lowery. One sequence in particular stands out as a memorable favourite of cinema in 2017 for me, this white sheeted figure couldn’t look more alone as it sees their surrounding shift and change. A quiet and smart film and one unlike any other.

6. FREE FIRE

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Blasting like the many bullets tearing into the warehouse setting, this Ben Wheatley film is a joyous ride of comedic notes, incapacitated characters struggling through gun-rife scenarios and an impressive feat of editing within storytelling that keeps the film shooting along nicely.  It stood out to me the first time I saw it and it’s stuck with me til the almost end of the year as a fun and blistering addition to the shoot ’em up genre.

5. BABY DRIVER

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B-A-B-Y. BABY. Edgar Wright keeps his trademark comedy and energy up but expertly manages to step outside his usual flair and add well-tailored action choreography to his repertoire. The music sells the film a bunch and charisma from people like Elgort, James Foxx and Hamm make this an entertaining joy. Put joystick into drive and drift over to my full review – Baby Driver. 

4. THE BIG SICK

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Hugely funny, engaging and heart-warming with genuine spots of emotion, this intelligent take on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s life and love is a sharp and comedic break out of the cliched rom-com world. It’s just a wonderful film and it finds comedy amongst bleak moments, finds love/adoration in hard times. I found it a total beauty.

3. A MONSTER CALLS

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A revelation of a newcomer in Lewis Macdougall and heavy emotional themes in a powerful family fantasy drama make this a movie that’s stayed with me ever since it’s early 2017 release. Find out more of what I thought with my full review here – A Monster Calls.

2. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

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Wow, this was a different and blackly humorous tinge on top of a truly unique and unsettling idea. Featuring a unnerving and fantastic turn from Barry Keoghan and the well directed stilted delivery from believable and capable talents Kidman and Farrell, this is a story that buries into the mind and one scene near the end hasn’t really left me since I saw it on the big screen. Put down your gun and take off your blindfolds to see my whole review – TKOASD

…so now for the number one spot. Which film takes the crown of Best Movie (in my opinion) of 2017?? …

….

 

1. GET OUT

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A splendid and worrying delve into a mix of genres and feelings that couldn’t have been released at a more dangerously apt time in the real world. Jordan Peele debuts as a confident and clever director with a careful and comedic touch on a story that features chills, laughs and visual streaks that deserve every plaudit going. It’s an odd choice to see it sat amongst Best Musical/Comedy at the Golden Globes but if it heightens it’s chances of a deserved win then I’ll try and overlook the unnatural fit of it in that category. Peele described it as a documentary and as said with what’s happening in Trump’s America this is a bold and fair statement. Plus, Daniel Kaluuya is a force of acting mastery within this thought provoking thriller/comedy/horror plot.

 

There you have it, that’s my thoughts on the films of the year that was. Again, a lot of films I’m sad not to see on here but they were on there at one point or another. 2017 has been an absolute triumph for film. Thank you.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10