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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Rampage (2018)

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As you’d now come to expect from films headlined by Dwayne Johnson, this one doesn’t break from the loud, action filled ridiculousness template. Sadly, it does crack at the fun element and feels like more brain-dead than ‘San Andreas’; if that’s somehow possible.

Davis (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist who luckily happens to be more an creature fan than a people person. He’s friends with an albino gorilla called George, but one night George is exposed to a pathogen that blends animal genes which makes him bigger and angrier. As George and two other monstrous beasts make a beeline for Chicago, it’s up to Davis and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to try and stop them.

The plot is gigantically stupid and I know it’s vaguely based on a video game, but it’s still hilariously silly and utterly convenient when it needs to suit a point or keep The Rock alive like a powered up console character. It’s definitely a film where you need to switch off your brains to fully enjoy the spectacle but it still could have been a numbing dud but thanks to the charisma of Johnson; again playing a character he could act in his sleep, we have a movie that’s rocky but an enjoyable blast.

It’s a visual film, not in the way of being dazzling or creative, but more in the usual blockbuster sense of carnage and seeing lots of things tossed around. Helicopters and people become playthings for the animals as they rampage across Chicago. So if seeing buildings crumble, Dave and Busters getting busted and vehicles getting ripped like shreds of paper is your bag, then this is right up your street. It’s odd that even with all this destruction, the film does feel slightly long and almost reaches a tired slog.

Some of this tiredness may stem from the poor attempts at comedy littered lazily through the movie. Normally in a Dwayne Johnson-led vehicle, the zingy one liners do indeed zing, that isn’t really the case with ‘Rampage’. Aside from an amusing reference to his song in ‘Moana’, the repertoire and jokes don’t land well and seem achingly forced. Even the initially interesting, nice built up comradery between Davis and George get muddied and mined for predictable middle finger gags.

Johnson, as stated, is a solid lead playing firmly to stereotype but delightfully so. Harris can do so much better but seems to be having a proper good time opposite Dwayne. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy present a weird sibling dynamic and their evils could have been more realised and less hammy, but at least Akerman’s character is gifted the brains of the pair and commits an unexpected action. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a government agent with a delicious Texan drawl that is also hammed up and has him spieling like Lotso Huggin’ Bear as he helps the film and Davis rock on.

‘Rampage’ may be as dumb as a brick but I can’t say I didn’t get a kick from watching it.

6.5/10

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Cashing up at the box office and treating critics and audiences alike with great fanfare, is this almost deathly silent feature. I was hooked from the get go and felt fully interpolated throughout, finally mustering courage to breathe out once the credits roll.

Set in 2020; a world ravaged by blind monsters which strike by sound have driven the few survivors to adapt and learn to be quiet in order to survive. The Abbot family reside out on a farm but their usual silent routine will be tested by a new arrival.

John Krasinksi directs this horror with a great eye…and ear for building a landscape filled with fear. He’s careful to let the setting briefly feel understandable for the audience and then most bets are off, as the film screeches from one clever jolt to the next. Assisted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinksi also writes a screenplay that focuses on the human side of proceedings, ensuring the character drives the plot forwards and not typical cliched horror tropes. The family ramp up the scary aura because we worry for their predicament and it’s not too often you care for more than one character in a horror, but here you most certainly do.

‘A Quiet Place’ is a movie with scares but smarts. It truly grips you from the start with an alarmingly peaceful world, initially unseen creatures and a small, simple family story which you can feel for. I felt drawn in effortlessly and then it continued worming around inside me, like a pang of pent up nausea whilst we see the unseeing beasts stalk their prey.

It’s not just a brilliantly smart horror, it’s a gorgeous one too. There’s beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen as she brings this dusty, leaf ridden, barren environment to life. Marco Beltrami’s score is damn effective also, with the same rising sound used to confident effect in eliciting a sense of dread. Honestly, I felt like I was having multiple anxiety attacks watching this film but in the best way possible because it’s just wonderfully done. When talented individuals, including horror icon Stephen King begin singing your praises, then you know this is something special.

Fear is heightened in such a captivating way thanks to the minimal spoken dialogue. The majority of the film is divulged via sign language or subtitles, which is refreshing to see and is done in an engaging way, but an important way too, in sticking true to what it must feel like to be in that situation. It’s when music or diegetic sounds suddenly vanish and a wall of silence hits you, that the film enraptured me and made me swallow my breath. Adding the alien clicks and wails from the Demigorgon-like monsters is another chilling touch and their drip-fed reveal elevates the menacing presence they hold over this dystopian land.

Emily Blunt is a sensational force to watch, without a lot of speaking she conveys her part as Evelyn wonderfully. At one moment of dramatic irony, knowing she’ll hurt herself, she acts the visceral pain in such a way that makes you wince horrendously, her continued pain silence as she’s trying to stay out of danger is very powerful indeed. The children are great also and a scene within a silo is just another moment that added to my seat squirming anxiety.

It’s great to see a film like this, as a cinematic experience it’s something else because it frightens noisy eaters into silent submission and makes the film much more immersive. The scares pack a punch, the world and the angels of death are greatly realised in what I’d say is a quiet gem and a near masterpiece.

8.5/10

Isle of Dogs (2018)

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4 years after the sublime, (and one of my favourite movies) ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, director Wes Anderson returns with a wonderfully told stop-motion tale, centred around one boy and many dogs.

In a dystopian Japan, where all pooches have been exiled to an island away from Megasaki City, because of an outbreak of dog flu, is where we follow runaway boy and makeshift pilot Atari (Koyu Rankin). He crash lands on the Isle of Dogs, hoping to find his lost dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) and is helped by a pack of five, though one named Chief (Bryan Cranston) really doesn’t want to aid the quest.

Coming back to the amazing world of stop-motion, after his 2009 foray with ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is the man who hands such detail and a clear stamp of identity to his work. Wes Anderson utilises the craftsmanship of this art form to great effect, in a way that never distracts from the wit and gorgeousness of the storytelling. Split up into numbered parts, this movie owes a lot to rich Japanese culture and director of ‘Seven Samurai’. The dystopian world and the adventure story of finding a dog is well realised and easy to follow for all.

There is so much incredible detail, even in the backgrounds, where so many must have tirelessly put great time and effort in ensuring all parts of the frame are filled with loving attention. Trash Island is literally littered with stunning scenery of coloured bottles, rubbish, an abandoned athletics centre and amusement park all gift the visuals, a grimy yet playful stroke. The dogs themselves shuffle along and move with the lovely manoeuvring as we see the stop-motion in effect. This feature film is further proof of my love for stop-motion as a beautiful means of telling stories, deserving of acclaim creating these textual landscapes and characters.

It can’t be a film solely judged on the means of how the visuals are presented though, story is of course a massive factor and though it’s fun, interesting in many points and screams Anderson, it isn’t an out and out success for me. There isn’t the same charm resonating in this, that can be found in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ or ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. The grounded, dirty look thanks to the Island is somewhat cold and therefore leaves the story feeling vaguely dark and cold, I’d expect it to be uninviting for young children hoping to watch something parading cutesy dogs but I’d be lying if I said this film wasn’t mostly delightful to watch.

I wouldn’t be as harsh to say it was boring, but I did become disinterested in the middle of the narrative, Part 3 – The Rendezvous felt like a weak point and was a blip in the movie where I slightly switched off; thinking the plot was dragging but aside from that, this is a fully realised, smart and witty story thanks to the quirky genius of Anderson and fellow story gurus; Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura.

Cranston is ruff, sorry roughly irritable and brilliant as the naysayer and distant mangy mutt, hoping to eat scraps and have nothing to do with the little boy pilot. Jeff Goldblum wonderfully spiels off rumours his dog persona of Duke has heard. Scarlett Johansson uses her distinctive voice to suitably play enigmatic and mysterious show-dog Nutmeg. Edward Norton, in fact gets a lot more say than the Chief of the pack and in his usual Norton way, delivers an Anderson script with perfect execution. Courtney B. Vance is a solid casting choice with a soothing narration that guides us in places.

This comedy stop-motion animation is no bad dog and sits close to being a perfect pup. I wasn’t fully engrossed constantly but my interest peaked enough to label this worthy pedigree chum; a movie with a talented cast and enjoyable quirkiness.

7.5/10

Ready Player One (2018)

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Screeching into cinemas this weekend at 88 mph, is the latest feature from Steven Spielberg. It’s fast, fun and enjoyable but that doesn’t completely override the shortcomings of the plot.

Set in 2045, the population are avid fans and players within the OASIS; a virtual reality world where they can be who they want and try to find an Easter egg, only obtained by finding 3 keys placed by creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Trying to lead the pack is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who soon learns from fellow gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) that there’s more at stake, than just a sprawling game.

I’ll kick off by saying, this is an energetic and pacy film that certainly, for the first two thirds at least, manages to speedily put across a massive virtual landscape of endless possibilities. The immersive quality isn’t fully felt but it comes and goes nicely, as if we’re window shoppers to this electrically charged Easter egg hunt. It’s only within the last third that this movie begins to trail and slightly feel like a slog, as the story it’s thinly been telling, takes over from the nostalgia trip and descends into a predictable and less than exciting mode.

There may indeed be problems but I can’t review this Spielberg outing without spouting fanboy praise for a sequence at the Overlook. I wasn’t expecting that at all, it’s at once hilarious and effectively spooky to see the hexagon carpeted floors of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, in a film that families will watch! The entire sequence was done brilliantly and I enjoyed it further, knowing what would happen in rooms etc.

Nostalgia is clearly what is selling this film and I have no issues with that, it’s a seat filler. People love being reminded of fun flashes to their past and this movie sees games and pop cultural figures storm the cinematic screen with giddy abandon. Marvin the Martian, The Iron Giant and Halo Spartans are just a few of the brilliant visual tie-ins Spielberg and the effects team have gifted us, but there should be more to it down to the main narrative, yet at points it does feel like this is a film solely riding on the cool delight of spotting characters from games, film and TV dotted around.

Music also forms a huge factor of the feel-good fuzzy feeling as Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and Van Halen all riff on this film’s clear course to Nostalgia-ville. There’s a general fun vibe to had with this film and even though there are problems with the story being devoid of heart or much emotion, a side-lined female character who becomes not much more than a love interest and a show of characters that don’t really develop and therefore never grabbed my attention, it’s a movie of wonder and bright colour, zippy visual treats and a technological feat that should be admired.

Sheridan plays the guy out in the sticks aspiring to win and the lead with a lesson in love, in a way that’s alright enough but I’d never say he was someone I rooted for, he’s kind of just there amongst a world bursting with other avatars. Cooke sprinkles some cool chick moves to her turn as the helpful love sidekick and I found her more interesting to watch than Sheridan, as I did with the hench figure of Aech and their subsequent reveal. Ben Mendelsohn is always an effective presence but his role as the villainous Nolan Sorrento is hot and cold, there’s flickers of chilling menace and then it dissipates. Rylance comes and goes but is a fun addition, with a kind of Wayne’s World/Bill and Ted gamer geek, stoner attribute to his character.

The story isn’t as strong or as engaging as it deserves to be but I have to applaud Steven Spielberg and the visual effects crew, for creating a film that is a lively rush for the senses.

7/10

 

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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Universe travelling and diverse storytelling are on show in Ava DuVernay’s big budget Disney film, but the grand visual pleasantries to look at don’t override the ambitious scope and its ineffectual handling of the subtext.

Distracted and struggling student Meg Murry (Storm Reid) misses her father, after he randomly disappeared four years ago. Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) was a brilliant scientist and had possibly cracked the notion of teleportation and our existence. One day, three powerful travellers of the universe appear and take Meg, her brother and a school friend to Uriel in the hope of finding Dr. Murry.

I’ll begin with the positives because there’s a lot of negatives I wish to cover. Firstly, the visuals are splendidly colourful and some of the landscapes the characters visit, are lush and rife with stunning cinematography that looks great on the big screen. I liked or perhaps appreciate the bold ideas stemming from the 1962 novel; these themes of family, spreading love and ridding hate are nice enough and espicially with the state of things currently, I found those ideals hold up well but they did feel forced and/or twee. A sequence on a beach with Michael Pena was pretty good with the most tension I absorbed but, alas it was short-lived.

The main issue, I feel, is that the movie never seems sure of what it’s projecting and it heavily flits between moments of science mumbo jumbo that most children wouldn’t grasp and saccharine annoyance that adults will tire of. It’s as if the writers and director were trying to mix childhood fantasy with profound statements on life and love together, which never succeeds, sadly.

Attempts at humour fall massively flat and again feel forced, costume and make up on display from the three astral beings are impressive but they change without reason anytime they shift location, like the movie is shooting for an Oscar nod for Costume Design and Make Up and Hairstyling next year. Meg’s adoptive brother Charles Wallace is mega annoying plus the fact they can’t ever just say Charles becomes grating. CGI in places is less than inspired and wholly distracting in a cheap way, which is odd considering the nine figure budget behind this production.

Generally, I was never by hooked any of the film. Scenes that were obviously going for tension never felt like they were raising stakes. Even with the dramatic altering of the sibling relationship, I still felt bored with the story. I for sure lost my patience fairly early on with this movie which is a shame because there could have been something very special and triumphant about it all, instead of the restrained, sickly sweet and messy feature it turns out to be.

Reid is by and large another one of the only other positives I got from this film, she’s a powerful performer with an evident understanding of this hard subject material and how to portray Meg as a difficult, somewhat stubborn but loving and brave character. Oprah Winfrey delivers messages of hope, light and typical Disney fortune cookie tid-bits in a way that stirs quite nicely. Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs Whatsit, someone without much tact and still learning, she showcases that well but is another annoying factor, as is the performance from Deric McCabe as Charles. Just Charles. Mindy Kaling plays Mrs Who, but is all but pointless in a turn that mainly has her spouting quotes from scholars, playwrights and Chris Rock. Levi Miller is Meg’s friend Calvin who is extremely pointless and I never understood why he was there.

This is a Disney dud that I’ll try and forget in a hurry. There’s only tiny wrinkles in the run-time that kept me engaged but the majority is frustratingly bad.

4.5/10

Mom and Dad (2018)

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You won’t get many chances to catch your breath, whilst watching this manically charged black comedy accelerate from nought to totally bananas in the blink of an eye.

Living in a picturesque yet typically suburban American neighbourhood are the Ryan family. A household like many others, they deal with arguments, school runs and midlife crises. As their usual routine begins, we see that other parents are inexplicably murdering their offspring and it isn’t long until Brent and Kendall (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair) are keen to kill their children.

The entire film is just downright bonkers and frankly, marvellous because of it. Brian Taylor directs this movie like he’s just drank a warehouse of energy drinks, though he does ensure to keep the laughter in measure with a couple of darker moments revolving around the murder sprees. It is clear we’re watching the director of the ‘Crank’ movies as ‘Mom and Dad’ shuttles along it’s 83 minute burst, because there’s a joyful twisted bite to almost every souped up sequence.

This is definitely one of those films where you can switch off your brain and simply revel in the madness. Saying that, there are still some interesting ideas about a pent up family going nuclear, in and around this there’s also some fantastic editing and blasting music. On the flip side, a major issue I had when watching this, was many scenes are difficult to keep up with and that’s down to the crazy cuts amongst the fighting, obviously it reflects the crazed subject of the narrative but it was a tad too much and the ending is way too sudden and weak compared to what’s been seen before.

Nicolas Cage takes a note to be a nutty father and runs with it to extreme levels of insanity and frenzied humour. I laughed out loud multiple times thanks to Cage’s over the top performance. He unquestionably steals the show with mad eyes and dialogue delivery that’s spat with self aware loony delight. Selma Blair brings a needed sense of motherly humanity in brief pangs of subdued calm, either before she turns or in great pretences of the doting mum. She also plays the deranged side with convincing attack. Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur showcase youthful confusion and fear in great measure, almost riffing Kevin from ‘Home Alone’ in their house bound terror. Winters adds expected but great teen angst to the film which is nicely rounded with a caring big sister arc.

This movie is Barmy with a capital B, I thoroughly enjoyed the carnage and the crazy plot which needs no explanation as for why. ‘Mom and Dad’ may not be perfect but it’s a rip roaring grin inducing ride.

7/10