The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Just when you thought it was safe to think Young Adult tales of togetherness, political angst and romance were over, this film powers up and hits the big screen. ‘The Darkest Minds’ does little to feel any fresher than what we’ve seen countless times before and the script is muddled and tiresome.

A lethal disease has taken the lives of 90% of children under 18; the ones that survived developed powers from telekinesis to more dangerous enhancements. 16 year old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is trying to hide the fact she possesses one of the more extreme powers and goes on the run with three other super-teens to try and find a place where everyone is equal and safe from children’s camps.

Of course this film proudly screams it’s producing credits of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Stranger Things’, pretending this will be a film of similar genre and calibre and it definitely misses the latter desire. There are clear echoes of the hit Netflix show and in turn ‘E.T’ here; with the group of kids walking deserted train tracks, evading vehicles on empty streets with their powers and trying to stick together against the violent motives held by government figures but none of the acting, dialogue or visuals are as exciting or tensely dramatic as in ST or E.T.

Chad Hodge’s screenplay becomes a messy shambles and seems to just repeat ideas, most likely explained better in the novel but to no climactic gain here. Conversations about factions of authorities like Tracers or League cohorts become more infuriating to listen to and Ruby just floats between running away and coming back again in what is a highly yawn inducing watch. Ruby’s powers also seem to develop and change depending on the plot needing a way out, the villain is introduced too late and is a weak adversary, it’s not even a surprising turn of events to counter balance the feeble storytelling.

Every now and then, there are some neat uses of effects; be it practical or computer generated. There’s also a short-lived but cool moment of entrapment set up in an abandoned mall. Aside from those examples and the talents of the lead female actor, this is one of those tween sci-fi dramas that thinks its premise is way more captivating and smart than it really is.

Stenberg is good I have to admit, it’s almost like she’s trying to keep her head above the water of this sinking, stinking ship and she just about manages to do so. Skylan Brooks is probably the only other performing highlight of this movie, playing the intelligent and cool Chubs. Liam, played by Harris Dickinson looks too old to be a romantic interest for Ruby and uses his forceful power to somehow make us believe these two are in love. The pairing is hugely jarring and there’s no chemistry to speak of. Lastly, Gwendoline Christie gets the Captain Phasma treatment, by being severely underused in a role that could have been more interesting and corrupt.

‘The Darkest Minds’ is boring and nothing we haven’t already seen, it even comes complete with ‘Hunger Games’ inspired hands-up-into-the-air-in-unison moment. The film seems to think they’re kicking off another YA franchise but all I can hope is that never happens.

3.5/10

 

 

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Hotel Artemis (2018)

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It pays to get care in this directorial debut from ‘Iron Man 3’ writer Drew Pearce, but did I really care that much about the film? Well, it certainly boasts a talented line up and story potential but it doesn’t break free from being a generic and an almost online streaming kind of movie.

After a botched robbery, the criminals led by Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) head to a members only location in Los Angeles. Hotel Artemis is a hotel and hospital establishment run by Jean (Jodie Foster), that is specifically designed to cater only the crooks of society, to keep them away from police attention. However, LA kingpin The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is on route and one of the members have something that belongs to him.

For a start, that aspect of the story also featured in the trailer never seems to come to anything, the King of Wolves never really gets to grips with that missing item because he has his own problems to deal with. The plot itself also from Drew Pearce finds itself located at a cool starting point, what with a dystopian LA of 2028 providing futuristic visuals and an underground means of operation that’s quite interesting. Sadly, the film doesn’t become as engrossing as it could have been and feels like a fun watch, but a forgettable one.

There’s dialogue within this movie that sounds like it’s come straight out of the Roger Moore era of Bond, with sign off lines that are cheesier than a cheddar block. Thanks to the designated rules listed by the Artemis, any promise of action is left til the dying moments, which does make the film somewhat less exciting to get through. Thanks to the cast though and some blasts of poppy music and a thankfully engaging score from Cliff Martinez, this film doesn’t fail too badly.

Jodie Foster is on top form as the nurse of the joint, she totters around and as the main centrepiece she’s a brilliant presence. She brings her character a sweet anxiety and a nice homely if not shady level of care. Sterling K. Brown is a fine actor and a charismatic chap but he doesn’t get much to do in this and he’s just an uninteresting character to follow. Dave Bautista destroys any rule breakers with great ease but shows he’s more than muscle, acting nicely opposite Foster and providing his orderly character touches of compassion. Charlie Day does more of his usual shouty stuff and Goldblum is underused. Sofia Boutella plays Nice, a for hire killer and she’s seriously bad ass, showcasing awesome skills of chopping bad guys down and cloaked in her thigh high sliced dress she looks like an Electra or Red Sonja and she’s a talented, fierce actor that deserves a leading role like that.

If anything, ‘Hotel Artemis’ tries throwing a bit too much of everything into the mix and becomes overcooked. There’s flashes of something special but it never checks in to those heights.

6/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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It wasn’t a long time ago, on a cinema screen not that far away, that we had a Star Wars adventure to revel in. Moving on from the hugely divisive ‘The Last Jedi’, we get this spin-off story which centres on Han Solo and his life before turning into Harrison Ford.

On a less than glamorous planet, lives Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who aspires to be a pilot and see the stars with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they attempt an escape, Han ends up by himself and over subsequent years he clings onto any person or team he can, in the hope to make some money, get a ship and find Qi’ra again.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanboy. I know enough of the originals to get by and find the recent offerings to be entertaining but hearing that Han was to get a feature, wasn’t something I had any feeling about whatsoever and it still vaguely feels that way after watching the film. It’s enjoyable enough and deepens Han and his world but it never blew me away or felt like something I’d choose to watch more than the one time.

This movie has numerous flaws and a big one lays within the comedic elements the script strains to lean towards at times. The writing of these lighter lines sound forced and maybe boil down to the aftermath of the troubled production; what with previous comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being kicked out and replaced by Ron Howard. The latter director finds his stride away from the comedy moments and he provides some strong directing in the building of the titular character and adding treachery.

There are also a good number of places where I felt this film was lagging and dare I say, lame. It took a while to feel like the cool science fiction western it’s trying to be and earlier scenes setting up everything didn’t exactly do their best in inviting me in like they should. In my opinion the plot does get better as it goes on and nearer the end, as the mission almost wraps, is where I felt the progressing character paths became so much more engaging and interesting. A neat level of are they/aren’t they back and forth is also played with well.

I had fun whilst watching two major sequences; one being an earlier train heist and the other actually showing us the quotable Kessel Run moment. Both these big blockbuster scenarios are gripping and very well made. They each share elements of fun, personal stakes and visual skill which heightens the drama. Luckily these sequences did just about enough to make me forgive the many uses of extremely on the nose dialogue throughout the movie and moments that caused an eye roll – how Han got his name being a major example.

Ehrenreich is a great youthful Solo, he carries a swag and boyish yet capable know-how which works, with just the right level of roguish charm that I’m sure Ford would admire. Clarke is a captivating character helped by the fact she’s a captivating actor. She definitely does well in playing cards close to her chest, being smart, kick-ass and someone you just can’t quite work out. Donald Glover pretty much steals the galaxy, as do his eye-catching capes. It looks like he’s having a ball playing Lando Calrissian; someone else who can be unreadable and whip smart. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be a good performer but I found the droid character of L3-37 to be an annoying robot sidekick that never grew on me. Paul Bettany is slightly underused but is a believable villain in a world that’s set up as untrustworthy. Anyone could have an agenda against good hearted motives, anyone that is but Han, whether he’d admit it or not.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ possesses some moments that make you feel as if you’re in the Millennium Falcon; a cinematic theme park ride to enjoy. Then there’s other moments where both the action and story lulls and you wonder why we need to see this story. There’s fun to be had but it’s not a well-oiled machine.

6.5/10

 

 

 

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

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