Roma (2018)

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Hitting select cinemas and streaming worldwide over Netflix is this black and white diamond from Alfonso Cuaron. It’s a commanding and quietly fascinating story that speaks of class, family, conflict and love.

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is a housemaid for a well off family and her time off is spent with fellow maids and her boyfriend. However when Cleo believes she’s pregnant her partner scarpers. As she continues looking after the children and chores she tries dealing with her impending due date.

Opening and closing on a worms eye view of a gliding plane overhead, this film feels like a smooth flight. Cuaron not only directs, but produces, writes and edits this film that he’s called a semi-autobiographical take on his own bringing up. The way he captures the story is fairly exquisite, with serenely tracking camera movements being the predominant feature of how we see this world.

‘Roma’ is a film that looks grand yet is a story that is contained and beautiful. The visuals of many extras and bustling Mexican streets either through well captured protests or classes in martial arts look amazing, they retain some calm engrossing quality that show how visuals can do the talking more than bundles of dialogue do. A beach scene in the Galaxie is mesmerising and tense and ends on a cinematic shot shown in the above poster that will doubtless be an iconic image for years to come.

The story itself may be simple but it’s sold by a fantastic performance from Aparicio, who has never had any form of drama training, furthering the proof that she’s a talent to keep an eye on. The way she almost mutely goes through this story is oddly powerful and you can feel, through her ordeals and duties, a very personal mood that must emanate from Alfonso Cuaron and his childhood.

This is a film that I definitely would have loved to have witnessed up on a big screen but in a way, ignoring all the grand framings that Cuaron has mastered, it is a narrative which suits the small screen, something you can really draw up close to and appreciate. There’s a calming spirit which flows with effortless glory throughout the movie and it goes to show what a force of good storytelling lies within the soul of Cuaron.

Though it might not be something I’d repeat watch in a rush, it’s a gorgeous piece of cinema that needs to be seen at least once.

7.5/10

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Aquaman (2018)

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Sea-dwelling hero Aquaman has long been the butt of many a joke but with the DC franchise expanding and Jason Mamoa almost selling the character last year, could his first solo outing hush the laughter?

Born to Thomas Curry, an Earth-living lighthouse keeper and washed up Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the Queen of Atlantis, is Arthur (Jason Momoa), a boy who discovers he can communicate with fish and after years of training he hones his watery powers. Under the seas, Orm (Patrick Wilson) is planning to war against the surface world for all the devastation they’ve caused him and his kind. Arthur is aided by Mera (Amber Heard) who helps him face who he is and who he could be if he returns to Atlantis to stop Orm.

Horror orchestrator James Wan has kick-started ‘Saw’ conjured up a franchise in ‘The Conjuring’, with one speedy blockbuster behind him, which was ‘Furious 7’, so it was definitely interesting to see if the genre director had it in him to make a great addition in the comic book movie world. Safely, it can be said that Wan does do a brilliant job with this sixth instalment in the DCEU. It seems that all the movies featuring just one of the main heroes work well but their universe falls apart when they unite.

What works for ‘Aquaman’ are the impressively epic visuals, the rest of the universe feels way too moody and gritty and gets lost by murky morals whereas this has the scope to explore great new places and Wan truly dives into the expedition of this characters home, with Don Burgess handling vivid and magnificent cinematography, it’s definitely the most colourful DC release yet.

In terms of story, the film doesn’t get to the best of starts. It’s sorely missing impact and the mix of Curry’s origin and the birth of another villain are fairly bog standard, uninteresting plots to follow. Gladly, once we and Aquaman enter the Kingdom of Atlantis the film gets better and more confident in its storytelling and style. Yes, there are still issues with the overall length of the movie, chunks of the plot are way predictable and cringey snippets of dialogue are more soaked through the film than it’s heavy CGI but the whole feature is just foolish fun.

It’s only really in the scenes set upon land that dampen the movie. A vengeful adversary who seems to be getting set up for more come the end of the film is never dark, exciting or captivating enough to face the hulking force of this half-breed hero. Again, the DC figures are so immense and indestructible that any clash of characters is losing a necessary jolt of immersion because you just sit back and know Aquaman will be fine. There is one great land-based clash though, Sicily is the location for this certain showdown and it’s mightily enjoyable to watch.

Momoa is the perfect Aquaman and fares much better with his blend of indifference, humour and growing heroism than he did in the weak ‘Justice League’. This new film has plenty of bad ass imagery and not many other actors could pull of the shot of riding an armoured seahorse, clad in yellow and green with his golden trident firmly in hand. Amber Heard is as fiery as the red hair which she rocks. Princess Mera is a strong and resourceful mistress of controlling water and even if she becomes the obvious and needless love interest, Heard holds her own in the number of fight scenes she’s part of. A great reason why the movie improves once immersed into Atlantis is because we see the plans and calculations of Orm, fantastically played by Wilson throughout the feature.

James Wan masters the ocean and gives the DCEU a welcome step in the right direction, so even if ‘Wonder Woman’ still reigns supreme, this comic book flick is entertaining and makes a substantial splash as worthy second place.

6.5/10

 

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018)

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Whilst Disney are retelling over their own classic material, it’s fair to say they aren’t adding many sequels to their films. Cue Ralph who smashes his way onto the big screen for a second time, the first Disney sequel in 7 years. Could this lumbering 8-bit character with good intentions capture the glorious magic again?

It’s been 6 years and Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is still best buds with Sugar Rush driver Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). They spend all their downtime together but she’s feeling slightly bored in her duty, matters aren’t helped when her game breaks. So when WiFi arrives, Ralph and Vanellope venture into a limitless new land to try and save Sugar Rush but both discover their own meanings in the expanse of the world wide web.

When Ralph and co. rocked up back in 2012, it was a video game delight with neat little nods to old school arcade games and the emotional core between the strained pairing of the hulk-like titular character and his sweeter companion worked nicely. This film follows up by adding more to what we know of the place where Fix-It Felix, Pac-Man and the rest hang out, in fact it adds a humongous amount more. In a way this serves the film well in giving a large scope to riff on but at times it feels like the creators are so preoccupied with this massive environment that the heart is lost.

Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston hurl in a mass of references, whether game or internet based. Yes, the world wide web is a great platform to launch a new path for Ralph to travel down but it often has a vibe of shoving all its Easter eggs in one basket. The film is undoubtedly scattered with a stupendous run of playful background sightings and though it can detract from a better orchestrated narrative, there is joy to be had in the madness.

A mini Disney section is gleeful, mostly in the fun attempt to try and spot as many House of Mouse characters as possible. A princess slumber party scene is ace and it gives each doe eyed lass their own joke about the problems they have and face as Disney heroines. There are visual gags aplenty from their pyjama tops to outside Stormtroopers, Iron Man and a later princess sequence aided by powers and shifting musical cues is very enjoyable.

Amongst the sprawling carnage of an 80’s arcade figure exploring the likes of eBay, Pinterest and the Dark Web, there is this unshakeable feeling of it all being weird and that’s even before Alfred Molina slides in as some slug-like virus keeper. A surreal song and dance section, Miranda Sings and zany moments make you feel like you’re surfing the web with constant popups. The story was crafted by 5 people and sometimes it feels like the film is being tugged in all manner of directions. It would have benefited by having a proper villain and earlier introduced too.

The third act itself with a ‘King Kong’ inspired climax is underwhelming considering how big it all is and it’s a strange visual finale for a film about friendship and the pressures of insecurity, it makes sense but it goes overboard. Luckily the actual ending of the film with the main duo provides a touching moment as the journey reaches a conclusion you cannot help but get swept up by the candy sweet emotion, which is further enhanced by the fantastic vocals from Silverman and Reilly.

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is jam packed with references of all kinds and it’s a film warranting a second watch in terms of catching all the detail that’s littered about. In terms of plot however, this isn’t special or really that different to what the first film had. Less is more and this film goes way entertainingly over the top in a visual feast for the eyes but less of a delectable treat in terms of storytelling.

7/10

Searching (2018)

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‘Searching’ is the first big Hollywood thriller to be led by an Asian actor; the wonderful John Cho and in Aneesh Chaganty’s debut full-length feature we are presented with a technology based run of hints and danger with near-perfect execution.

After Margot Kim (Michelle La) doesn’t return home after a supposed study session round her friends, her dad David (Cho) begins to worry as this isn’t how she normally behaves. As her days gone missing go by, he learns he doesn’t know as much as he thought about his child and with the help of officers from the California South Bay police force he hopes to understand what’s happened to Margot.

It wasn’t too long ago that a similar-but-not-sequel of ‘Unfriended’ was out and showed us the dark side of the web. This thriller, again provides audiences with the same stylistic methods of the 2014/18 horrors but puts across its unfolding dark side through the drastic clue quest taken by David and the possible warning signals of people around Margot. ‘Searching’ also fares a lot better than the computer-screen heavy visuals of the ‘Unfriended’ movies by better realising its concept and creating an engaging watch from start to almost finish.

The ending is slightly underwhelming, just in the sense I found it to unravel what was an excellently taut story with a fairly ridiculous and sentimental conclusion. The plot does also rely on bordering on silly camera placements and websites to keep the online, onscreen narrative going along. Aside from this, the film is a riveting thriller boosted by Torin Borrowdale’s work, his score has hints of dark tension which add to the slow-burning stakes and with the eventual revelations this adds up to a dynamic, chilling movie.

What do you really know about your children? This suspenseful success at the box office proves that it’s not always that much. Truths get uncovered, mysteries are juicily served up and a visual representation of a detective-esque Crazy Board on a desktop scattered with files speaks volumes for the strained search a father goes on to hopefully find his girl. This film works well because it has you guessing along, as if playing a cinematic game of Cluedo. That sense of intrigue is like catnip for many people and seeing this story play out via live news broadcasts, mobile chats and social media stalking has us invested in a gripping turn of events.

John Cho is great in this movie, whether up for judgement in pixelated zoom or seen through countless FaceTime conversations he really does sell us the panicked, doting father with flaws that help round him out as an interesting character who forgets what is important to both him and his daughter Margot.

There may have been a smidge of expected moments come the wrapping up of this movie but by and large, ‘Searching’ is an expertly organised thriller that may utilise a gimmicky premise but plays on an effective story to quickly overshadow that feeling.

8/10

Christopher Robin (2018)

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The stories from A.A Milne have always proved popular with families so it’s no surprise that another iteration of Christopher Robin and friends is out, not long after the more factual release starring Domhnall Gleeson, Disney are back on the Hundred Acre Wood trail and ensure their magical touch runs through this movie.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has left his childhood and woodland playmates behind for a grey adult life working at a luggage company. He’s losing grip on fun, his daughter Madeline and wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) who just wants him to focus on family and being less stuffy again which is where the stuffed Pooh bear comes in to hopefully get Robin to help him find himself once more.

This film works better for the more innocent eyes, the honey sweetness of the story is thick and sickly that children will undoubtedly lap up. That isn’t to say this child friendly approach to the movie is a negative, it has problems of a befuddling plot and is slightly weird as we’re meant to believe the characters bounding into the city are real. It might just be me but I was hoping that they were just toys and Christopher had a playful imagination that he’d hand down to his daughter but the fact they were actually alive, being seen by London folk was odd.

Pooh is a bear of very big heart and this is a film of very big emotional manipulation. In the final stages the movie especially tries to make the audience well up and gosh darn it they almost succeed, not because the film is sad but because the filmmakers utilise strings in their music and every other cliche expected to force that emotive pang. This is a harsh statement though because aside from that the movie is exceptionally charming.

Winnie’s little doddering walk and his pearls of silly wisdom are cute, Tigger’s colours may be as muted as some of the less sparky earlier moments in the film but his bounce brings a spark into the movie and the funny bone is tickled on occasion by moments like Pooh loving his Pennywise balloon, playing games on a train and Eeyore frankly stealing the show with his unyielding pessimistic attitude of which I relate!

It’s quite a run of the mill Ewan McGregor performance, he’s good but doesn’t really show off major acting chops. He acts opposite the fuzzy CG pals nicely but they do act him off the screen. Jim Cummings vocals for both Winnie and Tigger are exquisite, he’s perfect in giving this cuddly creatures personality and an infectious quality, you can’t help smiling when they’re on screen. Nick Mohammed is Piglet but something about his voice work for the acorn loving pig is askew. There’s also some brilliant cameos from a trio of British comedic talent as a policeman, taxi driver and street salesman.

Disney seem like they’re hoping to echo the ‘Paddington’ success but the saccharine element is too much and there are no stylistic flourishes. Also the story is massively predictable but it’s a gentile watch that does no harm and is a sweet humorous watch.

6/10

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

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He’s scaled the world’s tallest building in Dubai, climbed a rock face in Utah and broken his ankle during the shoot of the latest instalment for the ever fun and always stunt heavy Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise is an action messiah and ‘Fallout‘ further proves this statement of mine.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) receives a message that a terrorist ring have their hands on 3 plutonium cores which they intend to use in creating maximum destruction for ‘peace’. He teams up with Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), but after an unexpected dilemma, Hunt is shadowed by CIA operative Walker (Henry Cavill) as their mission takes them to Paris and an old adversary.

Christopher McQuarrie is back in the directors chair and with his fantastically engrossing screenplay, he ensures to keep quality control on a narrative that essentially boils down to a seek and locate motivated globe-trot and a heart palpitating countdown themed finale. The M:I series has always been a fun one and this is no exception but they’ve definitely been getting better and more finely written.

Obviously the set-pieces are as amazingly coordinated as ever, each and every insane stunt moment making you take a breath and fear you won’t regain it by the end of the sequence. This sixth outing rockets from a HALO jump over France to a phenomenal helicopter chase, with everything from motorbike collisions and a London run in between. This film boasts such an impressive cinematic run of stunts with the optimum motivation to boost adrenaline into you, I certainly sat back, mouth agape loving it all. Side note: stunt teams and performers truly deserve more recognition and the Academy should step up and honour films that put great care and work into creating high-octane thrills like this movie offers.

This isn’t to say the stunts overshadow the film. There’s a meaty story that ticks away with great waves of tension, the usual shadiness of who can be trusted is utilised nicely and along rests of humour there’s some welcome light shed on Hunt and his back story with Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, who gets some crucial screen-time, showcasing her skills as an actor and also being a vital character that makes Ethan more than an unbreakable force but an emotional human too.

The ever reliable, action movie star credentials of Cruise are back in full swing and he’s supported by a returning cast. The light-hearted quips from Pegg’s gadget savvy character are always well delivered but he’s on the field more and becomes caught up amongst the threats and action. Rhames is as great as usual and shows a touch of real softness when speaking about his longtime buddy Hunt. It’s great to see Rebecca Ferguson back too, she makes Ilsa a complicated and strong individual to stand toe to toe with Cruise. They’re joined by franchise newbie Cavill who sports ‘that’ moustache and pumps his arms as ferociously as his character is, also fresh to the scene is Vanessa Kirby who is a riveting complex character, that could have had more screen time but eats up the screen with a femme fatale like edge.

What this movie is to watch is nothing short of spectacular. You thought it’d be impossible to top the last one but again the crew and stars have succeeded in their mission to provide us with fast paced excitement and tension like no other. One of the best action films I’ve seen. You can choose to accept that or not, it’s a fact.

9/10

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