Yardie (2018)

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Idris Elba has proved to be a great presence on screen, but does his recognisable voice translate to be as effective behind the camera? ‘Yardie’ is his debut film as director and though, at times it feels like a frustrating muddle of scenes, there’s a powerful collection of actors and music tracks to keep the movie from failing.

Jamaica 1983 and 10 years after his brother was shot, Dennis Campbell aka ‘D’ (Aml Ameen) is told by King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), to head to London with a cocaine package and deliver it to British gangster/club owner Rico (Stephen Graham). The drug deal becomes a bust and ‘D’ could end up starting a war between cultures in London which will have an impact on people back in Jamaica.

A large percentage of this film, majoritively in the earlier stages has a feel reminiscent of Brazil’s 2002 ‘City of God’. The style choices made in this recent release with freeze-frames on certain characters, the tropical setting lit by rays of sun and the story of a young kid growing up on a path of gangs and violence add to the Meirelles/Lund parallels. This is no bad comparison as the first parts of this film are strong, it’s just a shame that as the central character hits Hackney, the story doesn’t quite keep to its convictions and feels a bit tame.

It is clear that Elba directs with an eye or perhaps ear on creating heart in his first feature. He probably had a major influence over the music choices, what with his extra curricular DJ activities, he ensures the story pulsates with Caribbean reggae sounds. The soundtrack gives this film a great aural power, which isn’t mirrored by the plain plot. The main revenge arc is simple and could be effective but is lost amongst other plot points which flit in and out. The characters don’t help this narrative too much either, ‘D’ isn’t always that enthralling, King Fox is an interesting character but there’s never enough of him to keep the tension bubbling.

Ameen is good as Dennis, he does bestow this chap plenty of cheek and charisma in places, if not enough innocence to make his journey more charged with an engagement factor. Stephen Graham is the stand out, he is a captivating presence in this film. The shifting of accents, bearing of golden teeth and the nasty unpredictability are all expertly mastered by the actor and he stops the London-set scenes from being empty on erratic tension.

A fine debut from Idris Elba in the controlling chair, just not a riveting one that secures him as a director with a leading voice, yet. ‘Yardie’ becomes a film which feels long but there are sights and sounds of soul in this drama which help give it some needed liveliness.

6/10

 

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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

 

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

 

Molly’s Game (2017)

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What a whirlwind of a life this movie shows us. This drama based on the memoirs from the real Molly Bloom is one that really sends the dialogue flying with laser focused intensity, wit and even humour at times.

After a freak Olympic skiing accident when she was 20, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) keeps putting off law schooling and finds herself working two very well paid jobs. It’s within these placements that she learns on her feet about the world of poker and its players. Soon she sets up her own games but the FBI want her for crimes and only Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) seems to be the one who can help Bloom in her case.

Aaron Sorkin, of huge writing acclaim and fame, is here as a writer but also as a captain in his debut with directorial capacity. His ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Social Network’ credentials surely show off his knack for writing flair and excellence in dialogue build up and in this film that’s the case again. The directing side of things may not be as confidently managed with the expected back and forth in time and there’s a few times where the film just feels quite long.

The dialogue is pretty much consistently on point, even if it a lot of that comes from narration….a lot of narration. It’s not annoying but it’s certainly overused and I get we’re hearing the story from Molly’s viewpoint but it does ramble with bursts of narrated information. Aside from these negatives, the delivery and content of the writing is razor sharp, Ferrari fast and absorbing. There’s a lot to take in but if you do listen up and keep attuned, then the story of Molly Bloom is definitely one to engage and surprise.

Jessica Chastain plays the whip smart Bloom with incredible confidence and a convincing electric aura. She’s a fascinating talent who keeps on picking sharply written roles for women and she’s deserving of nominations for this part. Not only does she show the softer and more worried state of what she’s done with emotion but she carries an undeniable sense of strength, smarts and power throughout the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Both Chastain and Idris Elba handle the Sorkin dialogue with dynamic flair. Elba is another convincing talent and brings unflinching determination to his role as the defence lawyer. Kevin Costner flits in and out of the story-line and has a couple of smoothly delivered jokes but also sells us with the serious overbearing pushy father qualities.

There is an almost tiresome incessant thread of speedy voice-over but apart from that, I’d say that it’s well buying in and pulling a chair up to this film. Get ready, go all in and jump into a fast and dangerously glamorous world led by a superb Chastain.

7.5/10

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Number 17 in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and after two vaguely entertaining but wildly average Thor outings, I wasn’t entirely driven to see this third Asgardian centred feature but upon seeing the trailer and learning of Taika Waititi’s involvement I swiftly changed my mind.

With this comic book movie, we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) unsuccessful in his Infinity Stones quest and he returns to Asgard. Unluckily for him and the planets’ people, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) reveals that a power seeking goddess of death named Hela (Cate Blanchett) will arrive imminently to take over the throne of Asgard. Thor needs to stop her but first has to overcome imprisonment on a trash filled planet where green Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) now thrives.

The tone of this ‘Thor’ adventure is vastly different to the previous two, at times his riffing and the comedic style feels misplaced because the muscled God isn’t someone we’ve been used to seeing cracking wise. Yet the film overcomes this and becomes the funniest Marvel flick behind ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’. By now, I and I’d imagine plenty of others are growing tired of that MCU one liner shtick but ‘Thor 3’ is more than this, the humour is dry and unexpected.

Having Kiwi born Waititi on board was a stroke of genius. I love love both ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and that zany kind of style/comedy is evident once more. He also almost steals the show voicing a silicon/rock based creature called Korg. The dialogue he comes out with are brilliant. Waititi doesn’t just focus on making this film a fun fest though, in fact it comes with the usual CGI action but some dark moments too.

These darker notes are in the threat of the pristine marvellous Asgard, deaths of some characters and the possibility of a super powerful thunder god failing. They do just enough to balance out the wacky flavour running throughout; what with Jeff Goldblum’s stellar campy Grandmaster, the work-mate jokes of Hulk and Thor and the Loki/Thor relationship too.

Hela as a character may be one of the strongest villains yet, which is something the Marvel franchise have struggled to get right for pretty much every film. She’s powerful, dynamic and has a root to the Asgardian lore that gives her character motive enough to buy into her evil fuelled plans. In an almost Guardians way, this bright space set movie has plenty of out there characters and they team up to create a cosmic delight.

Musically speaking, this score screams of synth and ‘Stranger Things’ like sounds. It once again makes the whole space set vibe feel more prominent. On top of this there’s a fantastic use of a Led Zeppelin song that punches through the speakers with awesome power, accompanied by stunning slow motion visuals and graphic novel looking battle poses.

Chris Hemsworth is on point, adding more to his mythological based hero in the way of great comedy timing and yes he can still wield a hammer like a pro and punch monstrous swarms like the best of ’em. Tom Hiddleston inhabits the sneaky mischief maker like only he can once again, though I still feel like I’d rather he take a back seat in the Thor films. Cate Blanchett is a dominant presence, her spiky headdress accentuating her sharp features and cold stares. Karl Urban plays Skurge and gets some funny moments early on, but he has a path to go on and Urban portrays this journey well. Tessa Thompson is bad ass and holds her own against the might of Thor. She’s someone I look forward to seeing again in the MCU. Oh yeah, enjoy some sweet cameos in a Shakespearean-esque play on Asgard!

This stunningly out there film may not completely break the mould or formula for the Marvel world but it’s damn good fun, damn entertaining and packed with visual flair, comedic gold and enough action adventure to be a feast for the eyes.

8/10

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

The Jungle Book (2016)

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It’s coming up to 50 years since the House of Mouse’s classic animation from Rudyard Kipling’s books. From the start onwards this movie is stunning, captivating and enjoyable for all, an unexpected treat when it comes to remakes.

Left in the jungle, man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) was taken in by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who passed him to a pack of wolves who then raised him as their own. Years later at an infrequent truce, tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) vows to break the pact to hunt and kill Mowgli, so Bagheera and later arrival of friendly bear Baloo (Bill Murray) try to help the boy reach a human camp to be safe.

Jon Favreau manages to take the source material of Kipling’s works and the 1967 original and put his own spin on the action. The jungle is presented in a lush yet openly treacherous place which never really came across in the animation. Here, we feel on edge as Mowgli tries traversing the trees and all forms of life that come into his path. It’s a fun yet admittedly dark take on the story that Favreau makes successful, he brings threat, enjoyment and power to proceedings in the tale of one boy and his love for the wild.

It’s a movie that looks absolutely incredible, the landscape of the jungle and outer lands are detailed to perfection, every creature from elephants to little birds is created so well that you’d swear that only real life performer Sethi is actually interacting with the animals. For a blue moon occasion I can say that the CGI effects aren’t distracting and totally enhance the film, every image is beautiful and you get swept up as if swinging through the jungle too.

Justin Marks writes a dramatic screenplay that utilises on most of what we know but with some changes that keep things suspenseful and surprising. For a PG certificate, both the visuals and narrative of this movie are darker than you’d think and thankfully so because it speaks the truth of what a dangerous land the jungle is. Shere Khan gets written more screen time and is deliciously evil and the wolves also have more to do in a bigger idea of what makes a man and who Mowgli is. As if reading a book itself, this film’s story leafs effortlessly through the pages, hypnotizing you like Kaa from beginning to end.

Of course one of the challenges with this movie was going to be tackling the well loved songs, or at least two tracks from the 60’s animation that are memorable and both are done in a great way feeding on a trip down memory lane whilst still being different enough to slot nicely into this re-imagining. They are both slightly spoken/sung but with a jazzy feel and upbeat vibe they do wonders and don’t feel out of place. John Debney’s score itself is almost exhilarating, the percussion and energetic opening of Mowgli running hooks you in and further music provides the necessary thrills and spills on this journey.

Nothing is ever annoying in this film, which I feared when seeing the first trailer. Where past re-tellings have had buffoonish humour or things for kids to laugh at, this provides lighter moments but never in a way to feel pandering for the younger ones watching. The closest to annoyance are some mice that repeat words like the ‘Finding Nemo’ gulls but even that is kept low and works for their characteristic. In fact Baloo is genuinely funny, a porcupine is comedic and the rule of three in comedy works well as creatures come to comment on Baloo using Mowgli to obtain honey.

Honestly, the only slight negative I can think of is that in some cases the vocal work sounds as if from a studio and not manipulated enough to blend in with the jungle but that’s it, truly, two sentences sums up the weaker side of this film.

Bill Murray almost steals the spotlight of the film, providing a great cuddly lazy quality to his turn as loyal and chilled out Baloo, he sings the classic tune with gusto and makes you fall in love with a bear, move over Paddington. Idris Elba is the only vocal talent that stops Murray running away with the honey pot, his roars of delivery are booming and believable and he makes Shere Khan more threatening than he’s been before, both with his voice and the crazily great detail of the tiger, this is a Disney villain that will dazzle for ages. Ben Kingsley sounds wise and yet grumpy as Bagheera should and he works well as the teacher of the piece. Lupita Nyong’o brings a delicate and caring softness voicing mama wolf Raksha, it’s a shame that Nyong’o isn’t physically in more, after mo-cap ‘Star Wars’ and this she deserves to showcase her raw ’12 Years a Slave’ talent again. Scarlett Johansson is entrancing as the sleep inducing squeeze of Kaa, her role bringing a calmer threat to things and also adding a well narrated back-story for Mowgli. Christopher Walken makes King Louie a looming gangster ape, his obsession with man’s red flower becomes a worrying trend and Walken voices the massive character with flair and gets a cowbell reference too. Neel Sethi plays off non-existent mammals extremely well and looks very much like Mowgli plus he’s got the inquisitive side of a child down to an art.

It’s so rare to have a remake that outclasses the original and honestly I think this movie may have done it. It’s a step up for the live action side of Disney and lands with great spirit, excitement and an undeniable run of effects breaking that ground once more. A film with the bare necessities and then some.

8/10