They Built Her But They Cannot Control Her

Rupert Sanders

Scarlett Johnasson
Michael Pitt
Pilou Asbæk

In the future, the line between man and machine is blurred. Most of humanity has embraced electronic upgrades and become varying levels of cyborgs, from simple enhancements to full limb and organ replacement. With so much sensitive information and personal identity exposed to a new wave of crime, the government set up Section 9 to police cyber-attacks. One of their latest recruits is Major Mira Cullen [Johansson], a refuge whose boat was attacked by terrorists and the government save her life by transplanting her brain into a fully mechanical body. Along with her partner Batou [Asbæk], the Major uncovers a hacker going by the alias Kuze [Pitt] who is hellbent on taking down Hanka Robotics, the firm that built the Major’s body and in the process uncovers certain truths about her own past.

As much as I hate how the following will sound, this release is the very definition of all shell and no ghost. This is a movie created to replicate the substance of the original without understanding the nature of its soul. Like so many enduring films, we initially lust after the visuals but form a longer-lasting love for the concept at its core, which plays with our mind long after viewing. That’s not to say there is none of that present in this live-action adaptation but only trace amounts that won’t have the same impact. Visually spectacular but narratively vapid. Just to prepare you, a lot of this lengthy review will be specific variations on that one sentence.

For those who have no prior knowledge of the Ghost In The Shell franchise, this series was a manga/comic first which was then adapted into an animated film which was wonderful and ground-breaking but a little convoluted. The true gold standard however, animated series, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. As with many adaptations, there’s often too much source material to know where to start. The difference here is that the film that most people are familiar with is only 82 minutes long and manages to establish so much in terms of characters and universe building than this film could with 82 hours. So, astonishingly, despite a longer runtime, we end up with less substantial content. Admittedly, one could say that without prior knowledge of what came before it functions acceptably and many cinemagoers will enjoy the spectacle and approachable simplicity of the story but in truth this is such a wasted opportunity. Throughout the film, fans are placated, given enough familiarity with names and scenes but these lose all meaning and impact as they are hollowed out and presented differently without justifiable reason. One could argue runtime is a factor but, again, the original did it in 82 minutes. Let’s take a specific example: one of the most iconic scenes in the 1995 release is that a bin-man has been hacked and given false memories, meaning he is travelling along his route, hacking on behalf of the elusive individual Section 9 are tracking. As soon as he realises the cops have figured out the points appear along a garbage collection route, he hurries to the hired hacker/assassin who put him up to the job. In doing so, the bin-man leads the Major to a potential lead and he is chase through the city using camouflage, taking out bystanders before a climactic showdown in shallow water. In this version, the hacker with the camo gear and the bin-man have been amalgamated and the only reason they are chosen is because they happen to be operating their truck near Kuze’s target. But then the scene progresses with gun fire and the camo suit. So, are all garbage truck men heavily armed? Or just these two? It also cheapens the actual police work done by Section 9 and makes them pretty useless. It may seem trivial but it highlights the bad decision making that creates something that doesn’t make sense for new audiences and infuriates fans that are supposed to be enthralled.

**Spoilers at the end of the paragraph**
With the fact that practically everyone is constantly connected to high-tech computing devices at all times, the next logical step is to have an iPhone implant. As such, what seemed like radical science fiction future in the mid 90’s is really a couple of progressive leaps away from reality. As such, this is potentially the perfect time to release a film about a unit with cybernetic upgrades and enhancements that polices hackers and cyber-crime. But again, there is that core issue of a displeasing script; not exactly stupid but full of stupidity. Too much convenience pushes the story forward: at one point Section 9 raid a Yakuza controlled bar and come across a network of human slaves being used to hide Kuze’s signal, meaning he is almost impossible to track. Except… he’s in the very same building so one can only question what was the point of that human network then? Then you have Mira’s realisation that she needs to return to Hanka after swimming in the bay. The whole thing feels like an excuse to include another visual tickbox from the original rather than discussing any of the important subject matter covered in said scene. Anyway, she goes back to Hanka and realises that they are trying to deactivate her and Mira’s survival relies entirely on Dr Ouélet [Juliette Binoche] not killing her. There is no excuse for this level of lazy writing, especially not when you have a decent blueprint already laid out for you!

I will openly concede that the film is a technical wonder. The visuals are extraordinarily pleasing; from the production design to the VFX, everything feels like an alternative-universe Asian city existing simultaneously in the past, present and future. With its angular 80’s designs, Blade Runner level of contrasting neon and grime, and abundant future technology it’s an absolute feast. Equally, the sound design is pretty decent but the music is such a stumbling block. The original score is beyond iconic, both in the movie and the series. The pairing of ancient instruments, choral techniques and electronic music is enchanting and frankly haunting; once again, building on the themes at the heart of the film about pairing the old and the new. For this release we have Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell, two composers from whom I have immense respect who have produced truly interesting and captivating works in their own right, even without the visuals. So imagine my utter disappointment when I discovered the only present is a serviceable but ultimately background cycling of digital music. Perfectly acceptable but hardly stirring.

The acting is much harder to quantify. On the one hand, there are some decent performances and solid casting choices, on the other we need to address the overall white washing. As stated, this franchise is Japanese but there is a big debate regarding the ethnicity of the cast. There are those that believe this should be an entirely Japanese or Asian cast, to honour the source material and those who believe it doesn’t matter. To play devil’s advocate for a second, this is one of those rare properties that I actually understand both sides of the argument. First of all, Motoko Kusanagi (the Major in the anime) is a robot so there’s absolutely no reason she should be Asian (the film actually addresses this reasonably well). Secondly, the original Ghost In The Shell stated that in the future ethnicity isn’t as big of an issue because the nature of cyber enhancements means that you can be anything you want and one of the main themes running throughout is that self-identity does not mean defining yourself by the construct you inhabit; a fact that is brought up frequently by the fact that Togusa (played by Chin Han here) has little to no implants and uses an outdated weapon because he doesn’t exactly trust technological advances feeling that his humanity would be compromised (the film addresses this rather poorly). And finally, the city is a multicultural hub, so of course there will be a range of faces and races in this metropolis. That being said, there weren’t nearly enough Asian actors in prominent roles. The argument presented by the filmmakers was that a) she’s a robot and b) you cast someone like Scarlett Johansson to get the studio to give you more money and to get other, lesser known, actors. While the first part of the argument holds up, the latter does not as the film is so heavily western with throw away roles given to actors like Takeshi Kitano and Kaori Momoi; although they both do a great job with what they’re given. Setting that to one side for a second, Johansson builds on her otherworldly vacant stares from Under The Skin and Michael Pitt performs admirably with a weak script but everyone else is surprisingly flat. While Pitt’s role is more misunderstood victim than true adversary, the key villain, Cutter [Peter Ferdinando], feels like a lazy scrape from Robocop and I would be arguably fine with that if he wasn’t such a bland and obvious suit from the very beginning.

For anyone who has a history with Ghost In The Shell, this is an admittedly pretty flaming mess. Sure, the flames give an enticing glow but everything still fucking burning. To those who are just going in for a contemporary action film, this has enough of a brain to dazzle and entice. Boiled down, stripped of its meaning and repurposed as a completely different entity – but were we really expecting anything else?

Release Date:
31st March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers within**
Once Hanka finally turns on Section 9 outright, with no obvious covering plan of deniability (again, scripted stupidity), operatives are sent to execute the Section 9 agents. Admittedly, we only see a handful of attempts but watching the section leader, Daisuke Aramaki played by “Beat” Takeshi, foil an assassination attempt with a revolver and a metal briefcase was pretty impressive. Subtle acting, great direction and a frustrating look at everything this film could have been. Although, I will admit, most of the helicopter fly-overs and pans over the city are pretty stunning.

Notable Characters:
Judging these people without taking into account previous, superior, animated versions is tricky but in truth, Michael Pitt’s performance is decent. He doesn’t have a great deal to do but what he produces with it is subtle, nuanced and compelling.

Highlighted Quote:
“When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, we finally know peace”

In A Few Words:
“In every single regard, this adaptation is an utter waste of potential”

Total Score:



Based On The Incredible True Story

James Gray

Charlie Hunnam
Robert Pattinson
Sienna Miller

The Lost City Of Z follows twenty years in the life of turn of the twentieth century British military officer turned explorer, Percy Fawcett [Hunnam]. He leaves his pregnant wife Nina [Miller] and young son behind and ventures to South America on a map chartering expedition for the Royal Geographical Society. Accompanying him as his adie-de-camp is Corporal Henry Costin [Pattinson], a quiet but blunt man with a penchant for alcohol. On their journey down the Amazonian river, the group discover evidence of ancient pottery and return to England to seek funds for a full archaeological expedition. In London he is met with ridicule at the claim that savage nations could be anything more than hut-dwelling cannibals but returns to the jungle, much to the chagrin of his family.

South America is one of those lush environments that, even to this day, proves to be as mysterious and revealing as the depths of the oceans. It’s such a vibrant hub of all forms of life that tales of trekking down the Amazon usually evoke an overarching feeling of bravery or sheer madness. During the first half of the twentieth century, films of this nature were extremely popular; then as the seventies went through an independent world cinema renaissance, the concept of getting lost in the jungle, being driven insane and consumed by it took root again. But this is a genre (if you can call it a genre) that has long since been absent from cinema. The Lost City Of Z feels like an attempt to revel in the aesthetic, tonality and narrative flow of these releases and in doing so produces something both wondrous and horribly disappointing – kind of like the new Power Rangers film.. sort of.

Above all else, this is a story of arrogance, pride and obsession. From the outset, Fawcett establishes that he is one of the only military men to hold his rank without significant decoration thanks to the drinking and gambling habits of his father. As such, his initial drive is for glory, valour and reward, it’s only once the jungle take hold of him that he starts to lose himself to the search for proof of an ancient civilisation. This is cemented by a scene during his first expedition wherein Fawcett is unable to read his wife’s letter, so asks Costin to give him the rough details (one of which is that he has a newborn son named Brian) and then burns it; committing himself wholly to the cause. Interestingly, despite all this machismo and ‘King and country’ stuff, The Lost City Of Z avoids jingoistic empire worship by highlighting the sexist, racist, prejudice opinions of yesteryear, which Fawcett meets at seemingly every turn. He proclaims to have found evidence of a civilisation that predates his own but his peers refuse to allow the “savages” to be elevated above their station, his wife finds the documents which supports his claim and she is dismissed to the viewing platform for her gender and when encountering a new tribal people, the veteran explorer is repulsed by the idea of joining in their rituals. One could argue Fawcett demonstrates these attributes at times, to varying degrees, but to not include that aspect to his character would be completely anachronistic.

The film’s greatest strength is easily the beautiful, rich, dark cinematography. From the shadowy wood-panelled rooms of the RGS to the deepest jungles of South America, everything is coated in an old world feel, thoroughly stylistic and evocative of old photographs but extraordinarily effective. In essence, this film is Darius Khondji’s first real opportunity to shine and illustrate just how skilled he is since The Beach. Working in tandem with the superb camera work are the extremely efficient production crew and costume designers. As stated, the sets and props give a deep sense of reality to the undertakings and the costumes evolve from late Victorian high-collared flare to mid-1920’s post-war art deco influences. And that’s before we get on to the sound design which masterfully juggles the constant hum of jungle life while dialogue rings through clear, concise and without issue. All of which is standard fare for a period film of this scale but to include a lengthy scene set during World War I’s Battle of the Somme is incredibly impressive.

**Spoiler at the end of this paragraph**
So while this film is firing on all cylinders from a technical standpoint, it starts to flail when it comes to performances – largely depending on your tastes. There will be those who appreciate the resilience and determination of Hunnam’s performance while others will say his obsession is not nearly present enough. The real trouble starts with Percy’s wife, Nina. Sienna Miller gives a solid performance as the ahead-of-her-time independent wife/mother but as the central story is told from Percy’s perspective, anything directly regarding his wife and her decisions are heavily neglected. I can understand why, because in order to relate to the isolation of the mission, we can’t know the life he’s left behind, we have to experience the age shifts as he does; but it still makes for a less rewarding arc from a specific character point of view. On top of that the pacing is very tricky to gauge: the events in Fawcett’s life outside of South America are breezed over but this is only really notable in hindsight. So on the one hand this could just be botched in the scripting phase but it could also be a statement that his “life” plays second fiddle to the importance of his Amazonian quest. Ultimately, it’s something we, as an audience, can only speculate on. And speaking of speculation, the film ends with an incredibly ambiguous close that mirrors the real-life mystery of what happened to Fawcett and his son. Was he killed by natives? Was he inducted into a tribe and unable to leave? Did he simply get lost and run out of supplies? No one knows and as such the film’s close is both perfect and frustratingly lacklustre.

In truth, the impact of this film isn’t immediate or exceptionally powerful, it’s seductive and absorbing. It’s one that sticks with you in a haunting way -similarly to the Amazon’s hold on Fawcett’s imagination. But I would argue that these feelings would only well up in certain audience members, making this film a very like it or loathe it release. For me, it’s a bit of both.

Release Date:
24th March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Upon his return with evidence of pottery, Fawcett is met with jibes and jeering for giving the savage nations more credit than they are worth to elevate his own standing. Anyone who has seen the format and rowdy nature of the British parliament will be all too familiar with this kind of attitude but Hunnam does well to shout down the mob, goading them for not being able to look past their own place in the world. Well written, well performed, well lit and editing nicely, it is a great example of how much this movie about the spirit of the Amazon accomplishes without a blade of grass being present.

Notable Characters:
For very different reasons, Robert Pattinson and Angus Macfadyen are great to watch. Pattinson is a massively underrated actor – as many who get pigeonholed following major franchise releases tend to be – and his role as Fawcett’s aide-de-camp evolves nicely from apathetic drunkard to genuine friend, all the while retaining his introverted mannerisms. In a very different way, Macfadyen’s role as arctic explorer James Murray is fist-clenchingly irritating. He’s the perfect embodiment of an elitist weasel who has been living off his own legend, joins the group, doesn’t pull his own weight and then returns with claims that protect his own name and scuttle the expedition.

Highlighted Quote:
“Our world has set itself afire; we must look elsewhere to quench the blaze”

In A Few Words:
“Seemingly made for a very niche target audience, The Lost City Of Z generates a great degree of scope but fails to deliver on compelling emotional investment”

Total Score:



All Guns. No Control.

Ben Wheatley

Cillian Murphy
Michael Smiley
Brie Larson
Armie Hammer
Sharlto Copley
Sam Riley
Jack Reynor

Set at some point in the 1970’s, Free Fire is the story of a South African criminal, Vernon [Copley] selling guns to Irish criminals Chris [Murphy] and Frank [Smiley]. During the course of the purchase, Frank’s drug-addled brother-in-law Stevo [Riley] resumes an altercation from the previous night with Vernon’s associate Harry [Reynor] and everything escalates wildly from there. That, in a nutshell, is the story and yet there is such a wealth of entertainment to be had from this simple premise.

Similarly to films like Reservoir Dogs, Rashomon, Panic Room and The Descent, a certain amount of complexity is cultivated from the minimalist story and small handful of settings. The prime difference in this case is the use of humour as a method to unfurl the story, rather than a pending threat or quirky narrative device. In that sense the general developments feel somewhat akin to a stage production but Free Fire utilises the cinematic medium to its fullest potential; much in the same way that Martin McDonagh did with In Bruges. Unless the story was completely wrapped up in twists and turns, keeping the audience guessing (or distracted, depending on your opinion), a certain amount of personality needs to run throughout. Free Fire is hardly devoid of developmental shifts but they remain relevant and are primarily used as a tool to escalate or warp the humour. In lesser hands, this story could easily outstay its welcome but proves itself inventive enough to retain its freshness through a combination of interesting direction, impressive camera work and an extreme injection of charisma on the part of the cast.

In addition to the energetic script, the performances sell the film; specifically the charm on display. If Harry’s accusations are to be believed, Stevo is a deplorable individual but Riley’s performance ensures a certain amount of endearment. In the same way, Armie Hammer plays the role of Ord, a self-interested party mediating the exchange. Ord is a contemptible arrogant sod whose investment is purely fiscal and yet Hammer’s portrayal is delightful to the degree that you end up rooting for him. This does create an interesting dilemma. The film establishes this gathering of largely deceitful ne’er do wells who display just the right amount of silliness and energy that you want to see more from them but as the plot progresses and the death count needs to rise, we actively encourage and wish for their deaths. It’s a quandary that the last episode of The Sopranos highlighted: introducing us to characters that we like because we invested the time and proximity to them, despite the fact they are awful human beings but when the story gears toward an eventual execution, we feverishly crave it and feel outraged if this demand is not sated.

In addition to the heightened silliness of the characters, there is a combination of absurdity and realism to the action sequences – depending on how best they service the plot. All too often our “heroes” poke their heads above improvised cover and let off a few rounds of ammunition, triggering a flurry of ricochets and renegade debris. Alternatively, some of the bullets hit their target but not enough to put them down for good. Cinema is full of the one-hit kill in terms of fights involving, guns, knives or even fists. In truth, people die slowly and a punch to the face doesn’t immediately knock someone out. Curiously, this takes away from the immediate danger of the situation and creates an amusing setting for seemingly consequence free violence; like paintball. On a deeper level, one could argue there is a degree of irreversible posturing that escalates exponentially, making Free Fire an analysis of the catalyst that sparked World War I; or indeed most military encounters.

Aside from the performances, the film deserves a decent amount of credit when it comes to the quality of the technical aspects and production design. The warehouse itself is such an integral part of the story that the continuity must have been a nightmare and yet it allows for plenty of evolution in the on-going fire fight while remaining recognisable and familiar; ensuring that at no point is the audience confused by where events are taking place. Additionally, the costume work is brilliant. Too many films set decades ago commit the aesthetic sin of replicating the era to a degree. The Wolf Of Wall Street, for example, felt 80s to a point but the fashion, hair, make-up and accessories never explored the more extravagant styles. Free Fire does the opposite and resurrects styles and looks that are immediately associated with the period, regardless of how flattering they may or may not be; gotta be honest, I’m primarily thinking of Jack Reynor’s look. Another two aspects on fine form are the amazing sound design and the editing. I can’t commend the editing enough for keeping the energy and pacing alive and coherent throughout. The sound design is also cleverly executed in a way that produces realistic and loud cracks of gunfire from all around but also maintains segments of trailing conversations from varying distances – which I imagine would play havoc for someone trying to translate the film for subtitling.

In spite of my rave review, Free Fire isn’t a perfect film. It is incredibly entertaining but suffers in the fact that it doesn’t make any bold leaps by presenting a completely serviceable comedy – but then, to be honest, it’s very difficult to pioneer in a genre like comedy. On top of that, the narrative developments are acceptable but really don’t add much to the story outside of changing up the on-screen roster a little. Aesthetically and stylistically I would say this is probably Wheatley’s most broadly approachable film and as such, should do rather well.

Release Date:
31st March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Rather than scenes, Free Fire functions more as a series of moments leading up to and during the main firefight. One in particular that stands out is Stevo grieving for his deceased friend, only to be mocked and goaded mercilessly by Harry. It’s a simple moment but it highlights the flippancy with which the severity of the situation is treated.

Notable Characters:
It’s always difficult to highlight one individual in an ensemble this strong. For me, it boils down to Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer and Jack Reynor but instead I’d like to talk about Brie Larson. Brie Larson’s role of Justine is very similar to Ord’s in that she is a mediator, vouching for Chris and Frank, while also having past encounters with Vernon’s group. The sort of twist at the end is that the extra freelance gunmen who are planning on double crossing the deal are with both Martin (played by Babou Ceesay) and Justine. Martin I get. He’s an ex-Black Panther who is constantly called boy by a South African. Of course he’d be pissed and want to sabotage the deal in his favour. I also appreciate that Justine would be in on the deal but I never really felt that there was enough in place to associate/incriminate her to this. The performance is great but in trying to stave off audience suspicion, it just felt like a last-minute 180.

Highlighted Quote:
“Sympathy’s in the dictionary between shit and syphilis, son”

In A Few Words:
“A thoroughly entertaining and energetic comedy that makes the most of its limiting environment”

Total Score:


Cinema City Film Quiz #187

[26 March 2017]

Winning Team:
Easy Envelopes
Genre – Emma Stone educates accountants on erroneous envelopes

Runners Up:
East Is East Anglia …With Sex-E Results
Genre – The trials and tribulations of a Norfolk family as they try to “do different”
Easy? Eh?
Genre – Renowned slut, Emma Stone, dons a wimple emblazoned with the letter E to feign virginity
Dial E For Eggs
Genre – Or we’ll dial M for Murder because.. give us the eggs! We wants the eggs!
Edward Quizzerhands
Genre – Dramedy

ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is the name of the lead character played by Ellen Page in Juno?
2. The songs Summer Nights and You’re The One That I Want are from which film?
3. What is the title of the Facebook film directed by David Fincher?
4. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a parody of which genre?
5. Which two actors starred in the lead roles in Unbreakable? (one point per correct answer)
6. Wesley Snipes featured in which Marvel franchise?
7. Which animal is the bard in Disney’s Robin Hood?
8. Who directed Bananas, Manhattan and Annie Hall?
9. Moonraker, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien were all released in which year?
10. Will Smith played Detective Del Spooner in which film?

ROUND II: Filming [Bill Paxton Special]
1. Which film starred Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayanes and Jim Carrey? Easy Does It? All Too Easy? Earth Girls Are Easy?
2. What colour outfit does Elektra wear in the film of the same name? Yellow? Red? Blue?
3. Empire Of The Sun predominantly takes place in which World War II setting? A Japanese prisoner of war camp? A US army base? A ship docked at Pearl Harbour?
4. Which of the following actors did not appear in Edward Scissorhands? Alan Arkin? Diane Keaton? Anthony Michael Hall?
5. Who directed Erik The Viking? Terry Jones? Terry Gilliam? John Cleese?
6. What is the name of the city in Equilibrium? Caprica? Libria? Sagitaria?
7. What is the name of the crime-lord who runs the martial arts tournament on his private island in Enter The Dragon? Han? Wu? Yung?
8. How many people reside in Nathan’s compound in Ex Machina? 2? 5? 7?
TWO (Caleb and Nathan, Ava and Kyoko are androids)
9. What is the original Mandarin title for The Eye? Pang Yin? Jian Gui? Kar jur?
10. A prison scene was shot for Escape From LA which established plot details that would come back in a planned sequel, Escape From Earth. True or False?

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. The following quote is from which film, “Necessary? Is it necessary for me to drink my own urine? No but I do it anyway because it’s sterile and I like the taste”?
2. Who directed Chicago?
3. According to The Purge, the 21st/22nd of which month is a 12 hour period where all crime is legal?
4. Which Martin Scorsese film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was produced by Brad Pitt?
5. What is the name of the secret order of magicians in the Now You See Me franchise?
6. The original Japanese version of The Ring (Ringu) was released in which year?
7. Who ends up with the diamond at the end of Snatch?
DOUG THE HEAD (the diamond dealer played by Mike Reid)
8. Cabin In The Woods in the woods was written by Drew Goddard and which other director?
9. What colour is The Grand Budapest Hotel while Monsieur Gustave H works there, in the film of the same name?
10. The following is the poster tagline for which film, “Heads will roll”?

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. John Huston’s adaptation of The Maltese Falcon was released in which year? 1939? 1941? 1946?
2. What did Jonathan Lynn direct before My Cousin Vinny? Coneheads? Howard The Duck? Nuns On The Run?
3. What events kick off the start of 1933’s Duck Soup? Mrs Teasdale demands Rufus is put in charge of Freedonia? Trentino is pelted with fruit while locked in stocks? Roland declares war?
4. The following is the poster tagline for which film, “They dropped everything for a good cause”? Mrs Henderson Presents? The Full Monty? Calendar Girls?
5. Philip Seymour Hoffman played the role of Lancaster Dodd in which film? The Master? Synecdoche, New York? Doubt?
6. Which of the following is not part of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy? Before Sunset? Before Dawn? Before Midnight?
7. What was the budget for Superbad? $10 million? $20 million? $50 million?
8. Match Point was nominated for one Oscar in which category? Best Writing, Original Screenplay? Best Supporting Actress? Best Editing?
9. The following quote is from which Shane Black film, “I peed on the corpse. Can they do, like, ID from that”? Lethal Weapon? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? The Nice Guys?
10. Samuel L Jackson worked on Sphere during the week and Jackie Brown on the weekends. True or False?

Screenshots: Anaconda / Out Of Sight / Maid In Manhattan / The Cell
Poster: Jack
Actor: Jennifer Lopez


We Were Better Off Alone

Daniel Espinosa

Jake Gyllenhaal
Rebecca Ferguson
Hiroyuki Sanada
Ariyon Bakare
Olga Dihovichnaya
Ryan Reynolds

Aboard the International Space Station, a six person crew intercept a probe returning from Mars. On board are medical officer David Jordan [Gyllenhaal], quarantine officer Miranda North [Ferguson], pilot Rory Adams [Reynolds], systems engineer Sho Murakami [Sanada], biologist Hugh Derry [Bakare] and commander Katerina Golovkina [Dihovichnaya]. The probe is carrying soil samples with potential proof of life beyond Earth. Hugh wastes little time conducting various experiments to effectively resurrect the single celled organism that they find. Before long, the crew are announcing to the world that the creature is alive and growing stably, under strict safety protocols. After several days of inactivity, Hugh attempts to coax a response but is attacked by the creature, which tries to defend itself. From here the alien (dubbed Calvin by the people of Earth) shows remarkable intelligence and uses a tool to escape its cell. From here, the crew attempt to contain the being but are continually thwarted by its problem solving abilities.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way before we go any further. This film owes an exceptional amount to Alien. From the way it’s shot, designed and scripted, Alien heavily influences everything. In truth, for a trapped in space piece with an extraterrestrial life form aggressively hunting the crew, it’s very difficult to improve on Ridley Scott’s masterful film. Having said that, while Life doesn’t do anything new, what it does, it does more than well enough to thrill and entertain for the duration of its runtime. Case in point, after a few beautiful opening shots, the first continuous shot scene taking us through the International Space Station establishes immediate tension and an outline of the character types that we get to know throughout the film. I will be the first to admit, these character types are incredibly cliché. We have the steely commander, the overly consumed biologist, the cocky engineer, the introverted veteran, the new parent and the other one. And yet, as bland as these archetypes are, the individuals cast in each role give commendable enough performances that it almost doesn’t matter; which is an amazing feat.

As decent as the acting may be, it commits what shall forever be called “the Prometheus sin” of introducing us to extremely intelligent and qualified people and making them do remarkably stupid things. I will concede that the script tries to confront this with a confrontational scene about the importance of focus, rest and ensuring every procedure is strictly adhered to but then in the moment forgets all of that. The logic gaps swell and shrink depending on the need to move the action along. For one character the group break protocol and race into a sealed unit after them, whereas another time, they leave a crew member to fend for himself in a pod. We also have the element of self-sacrifice, as several crew members realise they are jeopardising the wellbeing of the others, they martyr themselves for the common good. Bravo. Unfortunately, they only come to this conclusion as a very last resort, meaning they in fact make the situation worse and on several occasions, the following events could have been averted. Having said that, there is the outside possibility this film is much smarter than we initially give it credit for. Throughout the film there are several references to the creatures motivations, discussing the nature of survival. One could argue these lapses of reason are in place to state that even the most altruistic logical mind gives way to the primal instinct of self-preservation.

When it comes to production design, computer generated imagery and visual elements, the film excels. The ship is designed logically, the weightlessness is done reasonably, the technology on display is plausible and, most importantly, Calvin the alien doesn’t look stupid. It is evident that a great deal of research has been done into cephalopods and their insidious, intelligent nature. A vastly superior life form with the ability to adapt, survive and learn. At the end of the day, it’s just an animal but putting ourselves in the position of helpless prey makes for interesting analysis. After all, when it comes to the types of animal we, as a society choose to eat and not to eat, most of the time we show a curious respect for predators – unless they live in the sea; then everything is fair game. But I digress, something I rather liked was the reinforcement that this isn’t a malicious being, it’s just fulfilling its primary function. And yet, as a species and becoming the hunted, Miranda openly confesses, “I feel hate. It’s not logical or scientific but I feel nothing but pure fucking hate for that thing.” Which is an openly relatable mindset for the audience. Helping the visual element, as all terror/suspense/horror films rely on, the sound design and score are on form. Jon Ekstrand provides a typical suspense score but adds a pleasing amount of harmony to ensure the music is more than a senseless cacophony of noise.

In truth, Life is a very inoffensive and functional film that has the sole disability of failing to forge any uniquely new aspects – don’t tell me the last few shots are unique. I will admit the script took the same step I would have and executed it deftly but that doesn’t make up for the formulaic nature of everything that came before it. Worth a watch? Certainly. A long-lasting impactful release? Unfortunately not.

Release Date:
24th March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers within**
In order to repair the communication array (which has had its coolant drained), Kat goes out into space and investigates. Checking the coolant port, Calvin latches itself onto her suit but cannot penetrate it. In a move which highlights the script being both smart and dumb, she takes the time to reseal the port, ensuring that Calvin cannot back into the ship. Well done. Then she makes her way back to the airlock to come back inside. Wait? What? No. It has been established that this creature cannot be simply pried off and has the ability to clamp down enough to break bone – what exactly is the plan here? As much as I don’t think mindless sacrifice is required, all she needed to do was to push away from the station and Calvin would have been adrift in space. Instead she messes around with the door and slowly drowns unceremoniously before Calvin gets back in anyway. At that point, a lot of the grace Life had built up was quickly spent.

Notable Characters:
While everyone performed admirably I can’t say that I particularly liked any of them. Furthermore none of them really stood out as a massively compelling or interesting individual. Granted, each had their own moments to shine, Hugh with the reveal of his disability, David’s self-imposed exile from Earth, there’s lots to work with but none of it is fully explored to a meaningful conclusion.

Highlighted Quote:
“Can’t stand what we do to each other down there”

In A Few Words:
“An impressive if by-the-numbers science fiction suspense film that delivers to a commendable level but suffers thanks to the wealth of all-too-similar releases”

Total Score:



It’s Morphin Time

Dean Israelite

Dacre Montgomery
RJ Cyler
Naomi Scott
Becky G
Ludi Lin
Bryan Cranston
Elizabeth Banks

Set in the town of Angel Grove, we are introduced to all-star high school footballer Jason Scott [Montgomery]. After a car crash following a prank ruins a future career in sports, he is assigned Saturday detention. There he meets Billy Cranston [Cyler] and Kimberley Hart [Scott], both commendable students who made stupid mistakes and have become social pariahs. Jason slaps a kid bullying Billy and owing to his autism, Billy latches on to Jason, offering to disconnect his ankle monitoring device. In return for this favour, Billy asks Jason to drive him up to the local gold mine. Upon setting off an explosive device, Jason and Billy encounter Kimberley, the rebellious new girl, Trini [G] and cocksure miscreant, Zack [Lin]. In the rubble, they come across a series of brightly coloured coins and evade capture by security. The next day they awake to find they are capable of doing all manner of superhuman feats and agree to head back to the quarry. There they locate an underground spaceship with an android named Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) who is guarding the backed-up consciousness of former Red Ranger, Zordon [Cranston]. Zordon explains the five teenagers were chosen by the coins to become the next team of Power Rangers and protect a crystal which Earth’s survival depends on, from Rita Repulsa [Banks] who craves its power.

As a tick-box exercise, Power Rangers does everything one could want yet still fails. I know there are several people who would love to watch a silly, colourful child-friendly rendition, reminiscent of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series but for that, I would argue Power Rangers: The Movie already exists. Instead, Power Rangers tries to placate those looking for action, comedy, drama, relatability and representation; the trouble is everything about this film is still shackled to the source material and the trappings of its origins. To get technical and boring for a second, the Power Rangers television show of the 90s was actually a cobbled-together reimagining of a Japanese series: Super Sentai. The fight scenes and giant monster battles were kept intact but everything else was crafted from the ground up. Imagine, finding a comic strip in a different language and reprinting it with your idea of what might be happening – essentially that. So even the original that everyone loves so devoutly is far from what was intended. This gives the current adaptation a lot of creative leeway to generate something new and the first thing that seems to have been broached was a question of seriousness.

To my mind, this film is very much pitched at a new teenage audience, it draws so heavily on 80s high school films, crafting something like a more lighthearted version of Chronicle. So in order to make these characters feel real and relatable, rather than cartoon caricatures, the script address issues of mental health, sexuality and diversity; on top of the usual teen drama stuff about acceptance, familial relationships and evolving friendships. This kind of semi-realism is an extremely welcome treat and the film has no problem reveling in its chosen cast and course of realism. Without wanting to spoil things, after the rangers-to-be acquire their power coins they try to escape the quarry security by racing across railway tracks before an incoming train ploughs through them. Typical cinematic fare thus far, only the twist this time is the train absolutely decimates their minivan; something we’re genuinely not used to seeing and really brings home a sense of danger and maturity. Having said that I will be the first to admit that some of the traits, specifically Billy’s mentioning that he is on the spectrum, alters somewhat, to fit the needs of the script and much of the film is remarkably stupid. But by and large, for a major blockbuster release, this is positive stuff handled surprisingly decently.

In truth, the film is a pretty decent superhero origin story and performs adequately. But this isn’t that kind of film – arguably – and eventually audiences are going to want tokusatsu elements such as colourful suits, giant mechanised robots, kaiju and elaborate villains. So as we enter the third act, Power Rangers steps away from the angsty super-teen drama it’s been establishing and unleashes the cheese. Admittedly, there had been hints and elements throughout but there are few ways to approach giant prehistoric animal shaped robots. To my mind, all the “rangering” (for lack of a better word) is where the film falters the most. Everything is acceptable (there’s even a scene in a quarry where the group use martial arts to defeat faceless henchmen) but feels considerably rushed and the CGI is pretty dismal. As much as I’m not condoning this, you can sometimes get away with a terrible script if your visual effects are so dazzling that you bewitch an audience. *cough* Avatar *cough*. Power Rangers doesn’t have that luxury as the zord designs are godawful. When they gather together to produce the anthropomorphic megazord, it’s godawful. Goldar, the mute liquid-gold being manipulated into a crude man-suit terrorising the town, is godawful. It’s functional but it’s bloody ugly. Sure, this could just be teething troubles in the early stages of a new franchise but with the amount of money behind this, we shouldn’t encounter these problems. Whether you like Pacific Rim or not, it nailed what these guys tried to achieve. I will say, however, the scenes are vastly superior to those in the Transformers franchise.

Weirdly enough, the thing that works the most is the acting. Bryan Cranston is great as a new cantankerous agenda-driven version of Zordon, Elizabeth Banks could have been better but considering the Rita Repulsa from the series, she does a decent job making a pretty scary villain whilst using a lot of the frankly ridiculous catchphrases and each of the rangers brings a level of interest making them all capable and compelling characters in their own right, rather than a bunch of badly cobbled stereotypes. Granted, none of them are perfect, Rita goes full Bond villain spouting exposition and not besting the rangers when she has a chance, but all-in-all, I’ve seen much, much worse.

Ultimately, this is a very difficult film to review and I must confess I don’t think anyone would ever be able to produce an adaptation that would please everyone. Some fans will want what came before, others will want something new and those uninitiated will require a lot of good faith and quality to convince them this can stand toe-to-toe with the wealth of action franchises we currently have. My bet is that, much like the Turtles reboot, this film will get a lot of flak by people blinded by nostalgia and will define itself in a follow-up. Either something semi-decent worth pursuing, or more of the same mish-mash, a la TMNT.

Release Date:
24th March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
The brief opening scene, set on prehistoric Earth is pretty brilliant. The Power Rangers are on the verge of defeat by one of their own and in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the planet, the Red Ranger, Zordon, sacrifices his life to best the Green Ranger, Rita. Establishing Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks this early on, speaking in an alien dialect is great. It sets the tone for what’s to come and is just as sane as Zordon being a space wizard who imprisons Rita on Mars (I think) so I can’t complain. Frustratingly, the film then takes us to the present and treats us to a surprisingly long and confident bestiality joke. It’s .. it’s frankly a bit weird.

Notable Characters:
Krispy Kreme is a great character, full of life, personality and purpose. The significance, humour and dialogue attributed to it are second to none. Oh wait. No. No, the words Krispy Kreme are in fact said way too fucking much. I’m never overly fussed by product placement because I think it adds a certain level of realism. In general life, people don’t tend to navigate around saying or using certain brands with a hardened lawyer’s precision, so why should our on-screen characters conduct themselves that way? Having said that, there is a line. Back to the question at hand, I’d say my highlighted character could easily be any of the five rangers as they all performed commendably. There’s absolutely nothing about their origins that’s new or compelling but they themselves feel like characters we don’t often see in a tent-pole film of this nature; which is refreshing.

Highlighted Quote:
“Thank you for being my friends”

In A Few Words:
“Power Rangers was never going to be an easy conversion as audiences already have such strong opinions about what they expect but at the end of the day, while this is far from great, it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been”

Total Score:



A Tale As Old As Time

Bill Condon

Emma Watson
Dan Stevens
Luke Evans
Josh Gad

After witnessing an enchantress trick and curse a selfish prince [Stevens] to live the life of a savage beast, we are introduced to a small French village and Belle [Watson], one of its more open-minded and intelligent citizens. Due to the fact that she has a passion for learning, Belle is treated as a bit of an oddity by her fellow villagers and both her and her father Maurice [Kevin Kline] live outside of daily events. The only one that seems to be set on having Belle in his life, if only because she so vehemently resists, is the brash brute Gaston [Evans], who is constantly accompanied by his faithful friend Le Fou [Gad]. With Belle’s birthday approaching, Maurice promises his daughter a rose and sets off to market. On the way he is taken off the main road and encounters the prince’s castle. Accused of being a thief, he is locked in the tower. Belle learns of this, journeys to the castle and trades her father’s freedom for that of her own. As time goes on, Belle learns of the curse on the beast and underneath his harsh exterior is someone worth getting to know.

The first thing to note is that this is a fairly loyal adaptation with the only additions included to flesh characters out a little more. Right from the get-go one of the key corrections is ageing the pre-beast prince to an older man and to extend the curse to the townsfolk to explain why the disappearance of a reigning monarch isn’t a cause for concern. Both are quite interesting as they fix a few niggling plot-holes that would have been carried over in a completely straight adaptation. There is also more to Belle’s character with the fact that she is a capable inventor, like her father, and we learn the fate of her mother. We also get a few lines about how the prince was raised badly by his father, as some sort of explanation for his behavior, but it seems unnecessary. The fact he’s a rich aristocratic Frenchman would have been more than sufficient for us to understand that this was a pretty self-centred guy. However, even with these minor tweaks, Beauty & The Beast’s close adherence to the 1991 release means certain flaws have been inherited. Back in the early nineties it was considered perfectly progressive and forward for the lead princess to be a voracious reader who won’t simply marry the first suitor who comes calling. 2017 audiences are a little more discerning and will easily be able to spot that she simply marries the second one that shows an interest; even if he displays a lot of similar qualities. And yet steps have been taken and Belle is not nearly the peasant-judging whimsical elitist that she was previously. There’s also a really nice treatment of the question of ethnicity. I can’t recall any genuinely French actors but choosing to cast several black actors as villagers in medieval (I guess) France was a nice touch if only for the fact that absolutely no attention was given to it. Nobody jumped up and down saying “Plumette and Madame Garderobe are black!” or “Did you see the man who owns the village library is a black man!?” because pointing at it wasn’t necessary and subsequently nobody (that I know of) made any qualms about it – which is fantastic. Where the film falters is all the storm-in-a-teacup controversy over Le Fou’s sexuality. Making Le Fou homosexual makes sense as a logical escalation from his undying affection for Gaston is in fact an unrequited love of sorts. Many will feel pleased by the inclusion of this representation but I think after it’s hyping as the first openly gay character, there’s very little to actually process – unless you’re a foam-at-the-mouth homophobe. Much like the original, it’s a progressive step forward but potentially we’ll look back and find this portrayal clumsy.

The casting choices are somewhat divisive. Right off the bat there were those who completely approved or condemned the decision to lead with Emma Watson. Performance-wise I’ve never seen her produce anything that’s genuinely spectacular but she is a very serviceable actor. Having said that, work needs to be done on her reaction expressions – especially in a film that requires constant reaction to computer generated elements. To my mind, her performance is split 50/50 between a very commendable interpretation and a rather wooden hammy rendition. Dan Stevens does an equally acceptable job but he’s buried under CGI that mostly works but will no doubt look godawful in ten years. Aside from the leads, we have the enchanted supports and the village supports. The village supports, in the form of Kevin Kline, Josh Gad and Luke Evans are wonderful; each brings their respective character to life perfectly. The iconic magical furnishings are also good but their cartoon counterparts are so memorable that everything is drawn into comparison. Emma Thompson is pretty good but no Angela Lansbury, Ian McKellen is stuffy as Cogsworth but doesn’t have the sniveling snootery of David Ogden Stiers and Ewan McGregor tries very hard but for most viewers, his anthropomorphic Lumiere pales next to Jerry Orbach’s energetic performance. As I always maintain with these live-action remakes, everyone involved walks on a bit of a knife edge because if they try anything too different, there will be complaints that the original is being warped and distorted but if they run through events with precision mimicry, everything is scrutinised against a performance that has entered a place of hyper-inflated familiarity.

Everything about this film screams elaborate musical; a fact Bill Condon believed about the original animated film. Supposedly, Disney wanted to take the film in a different direction but Condon insisted that it needed to be a big, bright, colourful musical with in fact more songs from the original team. Whether he was right or wrong, we’ll never know, but what he has produced here is undeniably joyous and heartwarming. The score is adventurous and pleasing and the production design is beyond astounding. Some may consider it a fault but everything from the sets to the props and even the lighting feels like they aren’t going for exact realism but reminiscent of something that could easily be reproduced at Disneyland but without feeling cheap, fake or limited. I mean, the “Be Our Guest” segment felt rather tame by comparison to the flamboyant flare of the original but that could almost be expected. But this choice of theatricality is both a boon and a burden; Bill Condon has a great sense of stage and spectacle but less so with performances and reactions, subsequently whenever music isn’t playing and we are witnessing shots that are neither driven by a song or have been ripped straight from the animation, their impact is mediocre. Which is unfortunate.

With a combination of acceptable CGI that will age badly and date very quickly, acting that works for the most part but hardly carves anything new and an incredibly impressive visual style, Beauty And The Beast gets enough right that it will do extremely well. Longevity is never paramount or even mentioned often with these releases but given the choice, I imagine parents would still introduce their children to this story with the animation over the live-action.

Release Date:
17th March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
By bringing animated events to life, certain events and developments can seem a little more severe or unsettling. As such, seeing an animated character falling over after a gunshot can be very different when shown in live action. More to the point, some simple eventualities that have been marching steadily forward since the start of a story can have more weight to them. Specifically, as the curse comes to full fruition, the enchanted household objects lose their sentience and we are treated to sorrowful goodbyes one-by-one. Obviously the standard Disney happy ending trumps any negativity but this tender maturity for animated objects was tastefully handled and added an extra element to a simple development.

Notable Characters:
Of everything involved, Evans feels like he’s having an exceptional amount of fun portraying the boorish Gaston. Embodying levels of eye-rolling bravado and wince-inducing villainy, he brings the character to life with a disturbing ease.

Highlighted Quote:
“And his name is G-A-S-T and I think there’s another T in there. I’ve just realized I’m illiterate and this is the first time I’ve said it out loud”

In A Few Words:
“A valiant effort which expands on the original reasonably well but fails to surpass it as the de facto Beauty And The Beast story”

Total Score:


Cinema City Film Quiz #186

[12 March 2017]

Winning Team:
How Do I Get Out Of This Chicken Shit Quiz?
Genre – With just two hours until the end of the quiz, unforeseen events cause a lack of shit to be secured

Runners Up:
We Both Love Soup!
Genre – A struggling team lose their minds trying to think of a funny name
Hudson On The Bay LV426
Genre – Will he ever get out of this chicken shit outfit?
Aliens Vs Predator Vs Terminator
Genre – Conceptually awful but hey, at least Bill Paxton would be in it
The Friendly Ghosts
Genre – Comedy

ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is the name of supernatural killer in the 1931 film Dracula?
2. Jack Sparrow debuted in which film?
3. What household item is Chip in Beauty And The Beast?
4. Which actor appeared in Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin and The Fisher King?
5. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere first appeared together in which film?
6. What is the name of the planet ruled over by Queen Amidala in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace?
7. Zoolander was released in which year?
8. Which film starred Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock?
9. In Disney’s Pocahontas, what type of animal is Flit?
10. Henry Jones III, played by Shia LaBeouf, goes by what alias in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull?

ROUND II: Filming [Bill Paxton Special]
1. In Aliens, Gorman mistakes Hudson for which other marine? Vasquez? Drake? Hicks?
2. Near Dark was released in which year? 1985? 1987? 1989?
3. How many Earp brothers are depicted in Tombstone? 3? 4? 5?
THREE (Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan)
4. Finish the following True Lies quote, “I gotta keep up the waiter bit, these stakeouts can be a little tricky, you know. You never know if things can explode to a life or death situation, just stay low and I’ll contact you later. Maybe you should give me your telephone number.” Did you think you could elude us forever Carlos? Game’s over Carlos, your career as an international terrorist is well documented? So we meet again Carlos?
5. Which cinematographer directed Twister? Jan de Bont? Adrian Biddle? Don Burgess?
6. What was the title of Paxton’s directorial debut? Frailty? The Greatest Game Ever Played? Vertical Limit?
7. What is the name of the Japanese novel that Edge Of Tomorrow is based on? Mobile Armoured Riot Force? All You Need Is Kill? Live Die Repeat?
8. What is the name of Bill Paxton’s character in The Terminator? Punk leader? Thug #2? Billy?
9. What is the name of the ship foraging through the Titanic wreckage in 1997’s Titanic? Qin Zhameh? BIO Hesperides? Akademick Mstislav Keldysh?
10. Weird Science is based on a comic. True or False?

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. Who played the lead role in 2004’s The Assassination Of Richard Nixon?
2. What is Holly McClane’s maiden name in Die Hard?
3. What is the name of the supercomputer in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy? [bonus point for naming who voiced the character]
DEEP THOUGHT [Helen Mirren]
4. Cera, Ducky, Petrie, Littlefoot and Sharptooth are characters in which film?
5. Who directed Anchor Man, Taladega Nights, Step Brothers and The Big Short?
6. The following quote is from which film, “I have one rule, everyone fights, no one quits. You don’t do your job I’ll shoot you myself”
7. During the scorpion attack in Honey I Shrunk The Kids, the titular kids are hiding in what children’s toy?
8. How does Lester die in American Beauty?
9. My Girl was released in which year?
10. How many different type of dinosaur does Kong wrestle in the 1933 original King Kong
THREE (Tyrannosaurus Rex, Elasmosaurus, Pteranodon – the venture crew fight a Stegosaurus and Diplodocus)

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. K-9, starring Jim Bellushi was released in which year? 1987? 1989? 1991?
2. Which of the following did not appear in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels? Melissa McCarthy? Matt LeBlanc? Amy Adams?
3. What is the name of the king of Naboombu in Bedknobs & Broomsticks? Leonardo? Leodor? Leonidas?
4. The following is the poster tagline for which film, “Fed up with the system, ticked off at the establishment and mad about each other”? The Full Monty? Brassed Off? The Boat That Rocked?
5. Who plays the head fairy in 2010’s The Tooth Fairy? Betty White? Julie Andrews? Judi Dench?
6. How many years passed between the release of The Boondock Saints and The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day? 4? 9? 13?
NINE (2000/2009)
7. What is the title of the Alan Parker film about an early 1900s sanitarium run by Dr John Harvey Kellogg, played by Anthony Hopkins? The Spa? The Road To Wellville? Kellogg’s Cure?
8. How many actors played the titular role (Bennington Austin Cotwell IV) in Baby’s Day Out? 1? 2? 3?
TWO (Adam and Jacob Worton)
9. The following is the poster tagline for which film, “The real world and the animated world collide”? Roger Rabbit? Mary Poppins? Enchanted?
10. Whoopi Goldberg appeared in a dinosaur buddy cop film called Theodore Rex. True or False?

Screenshots: American Pie / Legally Blonde / A Series Of Unfortunate Events / Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans
Poster: Igor
Actor: Jennifer Coolidge


All Hail The King

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Tom Hiddleston
Brie Larson
Samuel L Jackson
John C Reilly
John Goodman

I get a lot of flak for enjoying Gareth Edward’s Godzilla. Seriously, you’d be surprised how often I have to defend that film. I like that it mirrored the sense of the original (almost to a fault) and stepped away from the campy fights over model villages, restoring Godzilla as an agent of natural equilibrium. I also liked the idea of trying to highlight the desensitisation of people viewing life through screens and illustrating the scale by ensuring things were told from the ground up or with a human element somewhere in the shot. Sure, this didn’t always work but I was mostly pleased with the result. But this is a Kong review, why am I rambling about a Japanese lizard? For the simple fact that the only reason this film exists is to set up a character to be returned later in the franchise. That’s right, if you weren’t aware, this film is technically a prequel to Godzilla. It should also be stated that I love King Kong. Not the various sequels, spin-offs and remakes (although Peter Jackson’s one is pretty brilliant in my opinion) but the 1933 original. It’s an amazing adventure spectacle with a cautionary element about man venturing too far into a world it arrogantly believes it owns. While there are plenty of positive factors in the synopsis, this latest Kong film is, quite frankly, a fucking state.

Following an opening section set during World War II, we jump ahead to the end of the Vietnam War. America is pulling out its forces and Monarch scientists Bill Randa [Goodman] and Houston Brooks [Corey Hawkins] see this as the last opportunity to explore an uncharted island before the Russians get there. Narrowly gaining government approval, Randa enlists a military escort made up of a helicopter crew under the command of Colonel Packard [Jackson], a jungle survival guide in the form of former British military officer James Conrad [Hiddleston] and anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver [Larson] to document the expedition. Upon arrival on the island, the group map out a series of hollow underground passages but are confronted by an impossibly giant ape which proceeds to violently attack the bullet-spitting metal swarm. The survivors regroup and come across a fellow American, Hank Marlow [Reilly], who has been stuck on the island for the last thirty years and fills them on the identity of King Kong and the greater purpose he serves to the island.

Remaining upbeat for a moment, I will admit that moving the setting to a Vietnam War period is a stroke of genius. In that regard we’ve got enough of a technological limitation that would hinder a film set in the present day and exchanges one terrifying jungle of unknown threats for another. Poignant brilliance, love it. As with Godzilla, the score is rife with reminiscent harmonies that are both indicative of 1970s psychedelic guitars and late sixties sci-fi monster movies. I would also say that Henry Jackman’s themes also bear a curious similarity to Jerry Goldsmith’s accompaniment for The Mummy; another fun period action romp. I mean, we’ve still got every Vietnam-related rock tracks going too but we can set that to one side for a second. There’s also a great deal of creative direction and impressive comic book splash-panel imagery but as much as this works to liven up the proceedings it also detracts from the film when trying to come up with a logical narrative reasoning for why we’re seeing what we’re seeing.

The next thing to note is that this is an extraordinary cast, I genuinely don’t think there’s a single actor involved in this film that I don’t respect as an artist; each has produced a range of great roles in other releases and respectively proved themselves in the past. And yet every single one of them feels utterly wasted in this film. We have a combination of the most tropey cliché exchanges and character types of every war film going; from the jaded vet, the cocky chatty guy, the young rookie, the one waiting to get back to his wife and kids, the grizzled commander, everything. And that’s before we even get to the equally archetypal two dimensional scientists who believe the pursuit of discovery outweighs any cost.. or they’re awful cowards. The whole thing has a very Prometheus vibe, wherein these experienced, logical individuals abandon all sense and reason to further the plot – although there is one throwaway line about running sideways away from a falling object, so there’s been some effort to counter arguments there. I’m all for suspension of disbelief and a certain amount of silliness in a big ol’ monster movie but you only get a certain quota before you enter bad writing territory; it’s a very thin Pacific Rim line. In what could be considered the lead roles are Jackson, Hiddleston and Larson who all fulfill certain 1950’s roles but none of them shine or bring any believability beyond the group commander’s desire to win at least one battle and the saving grace that at least the roguish ex-SAS officer and the female anti-war photojournalist didn’t end up a romantic couple.

Twelve years ago, Peter Jackson turned Kong into a sympathetic love story, humanising the beast and embellishing (key word there) the run time to revel in the world as long as possible. Bombastic and touching, King Kong was an interesting standalone. What we have here is a very different creature. In an era of franchise-driven releases, this is merely an introduction to the monster that is Kong via this oddly soulless action/war film. In this regard, it is more a return to form, reviving its b-movie origins with the added concept of the giant ape as a lonely god and protector. Regrettably, the titular monster itself isn’t as pleasing as I would like. Films like Planet Of The Apes, Life Of Pi and The Jungle Book have created some of the most photo-realistic animals ever brought to life and yet I’m looking at Kong and I just don’t buy it. Everything is so obviously CGI and I can’t help but wonder how it’s just not working; it’s not like they lacked the budget, technology or skill. Furthermore, rather than an ecosystem of monsters, each new creature, as impressive as they are individually, boils down to little more than a series of one-shots which have their moment and then disappear. In truth, these are similar to the problems I had with Jurassic World or Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them which rotated an array of moderately realistic looking animals for the purpose of variety without a running thread of common sense. The thing that really irks me is that members of the crew have explained the designs were heavily influenced by anime that I really enjoy and by all rights, I should love these beasts. Arguably there are many interesting qualities to each of them but the lack of cohesion is just painfully annoying.

In all honesty, I started off enjoying Kong: Skull Island and it’s still hard to fault the general synopsis. The setting was great, the Monarch-driven voyage felt like a natural successor to the arrogant filmmaker mindset of shooting a crazy adventure picture and the immediate post-war highs and lows offer a great deal of potential emotional and character development. The execution, however, is shockingly poor: the action is great but the dialogue is god-awful, the sound is brilliant but the writing is abysmal. But you can have a middling film with these kinds of fumbles, the thing that acts as the final nail in the coffin is the sheer futility of the entire film and the favouring of moments over logical scenes. It would seem that almost every death is without weight and holds little meaning, partly for the heavy emphasis on playing up a comedic one-liner before being devoured or crushed underfoot. As such, nothing is achieved in this movie other than to survive and learn arguably nothing. On top of that, we have the growing trend of shots ideal for trailers that don’t gel well with a logical narrative flow. Case in point, there are more helicopters that attack Kong than leave the aircraft carrier. The problem with trying to have a huge amount of action sequences in a remote location is the difficulty of killing off fodder without sacrificing the prominent cast members; the way the film chooses to get around this is to simply add more stuff and hope the audience won’t notice. Which is so remarkably dumb because it’s not like you couldn’t just go back and add more vehicles into the earlier scene! Thus by the time we get to the mass graveyard in the Skullcrawler lizard territory, you realise how many shots are included to look cool rather than serve an actual functional purpose and it the scale of this unsalvageable mess begins to really sink in.

Or alternatively, you shrug it off as a film to be taken at face value, little more than surface level entertainment and enjoy the schlocky madness for what it is. Regrettably, in this instance, I cannot. Hopefully, when Kong is brought back for his skirmish with Godzilla in 2020’s Godzilla vs Kong we’ll have an infinitely stronger script.

Release Date:
10th March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
I really couldn’t get on with Brie Larson’s character. As a female war photographer, Mason Weaver is a very interesting individual. Talented, capable and offering a unique outlook on the actions of those simply surviving or following orders and that’s before we even get to any 70’s sexism. Yet none of this is fully explored and she is reduced to a naïve snap-happy caricature. This is probably highlighted best (as is my frustration with things happening for the sake of it) in a scene shortly after the soldiers encounter the island’s native human population. While roaming around documenting the tribe, Weaver steps through a gap in their mighty village wall and sees one of the giant buffalo creatures crushed under a downed helicopter. The scene is used to illustrate that Weaver is a good person (as if that was in question) and that Kong is more than just a wild animal, it is compassionate and just. Only the whole thing is bullshit. First of all, these helicopters, in their vastness, are seemingly everywhere. Of the few that went down, I don’t remember one that limped around before landing on a bovine beast. And even if that were the case, there are no human elements, nor are any mentioned, it’s just a scene that is birthed from an illogical place to further a point. Feeling sorry for the animal, Weaver tries to.. and I’m not kidding here.. lift the helicopter. I genuinely don’t know what to do with that. But all is not lost as Kong appears to remove the chopper and restore the balance before placidly leaving the photographer in peace as he plods back to the jungle. Now, it may sound petty but for the sake of jump-scares and deus ex moments, these impossibly huge monsters have an amazing ability to sneak around when they’re not thundering about. We go from Weaver seeing the downed helicopter, taking a moment to try and help and then suddenly Kong just shows up without announcement. Stuff like that, is what really makes this film dumb as hell.

Notable Characters:
One thing I haven’t addressed in the bulk of my review is the quantity and source of levity. This predominantly stems from John C. Reilly’s Ben Gunn-esque character, marooned on the island for decades. Some will see him as a touch over-the-top but I thought he offered the right amount of humour and lightheartedness to the proceedings. Admittedly, I feel the choice to kill the other pilot, Gunpei Ikari, was a poor one. The idea of an old married couple dynamic would have been great.

Highlighted Quote:
“Camera’s way more dangerous than a gun. And we didn’t lose the war, we abandoned it”

In A Few Words:
“While the concept and action set pieces have a certain quality to them, so many of the key components that would make this film a success simply aren’t present”

Total Score:



One Last Time

James Mangold

Hugh Jackman
Dafne Keen
Patrick Stewart

Set in the near future, the mutant gene is no longer appearing in new-borns and after an incident which put Professor Charles Xavier [Stewart] on a list of most dangerous individuals, mutants are nearing extinction. One of the last survivors is James Howlett, aka Logan, aka The Wolverine [Jackman]. Despite being decades old, the adamantium in his system is slowly taking on a poisonous effect and his regenerative powers are failing, leaving him haggard, buckled and bruised. Keeping his head down, Logan drives a limousine, transporting the arrogant and affluent around Texas. During a particular pickup at a funeral, Wolverine is approached by a nurse with a young girl [Keen] in tow. Charles convinces Wolverine to help transport the child, Laura, to Eden, a mutant commune somewhere on the border between the United States and Canada.

The X-Men franchise has had a longstanding obsession with Wolverine, working him into every single release bar one (sort of), and for all their good intentions, the sole saving factor is that Hugh Jackman is spectacular in the role. The Wolverine standalones thus far have been a mixed bag; the first was an outright disaster and though the second showed significant improvement it still didn’t sit right with a lot of fans. Finally, seventeen years after his debut in the role, Jackman has announced this will be his last outing (potentially) as the Canadian mutant and after all this time, we now have what could be considered the best Wolverine story. For comic book characters, emphasis has been placed on origin for decades; only now, with sprawling franchises and expanded universes, have studios started to realise that the greatest stories are the ones with the strongest emotional attachment and those that end.

With the nostalgia-heavy direction the prequel X-Men films have taken, doing their best to embody every cliché and characteristic from the chosen decade, it’s hard to remember that the first two X-Men releases were set in a world very similar to ours. The conflicts were private but the fashion, technology and political arena didn’t feel a vast stretch from that of our own. Setting the film in 2029, Logan brings us back to that grounded relatability, depicting what could be described as the worst aspects of Trump’s America. There are also several nice production design touches when it comes to technology, enhancing and elevating what we already have in place to a potentially logical future point: as we saw in films like Children Of Men and Looper; we’re clearly witnessing a dystopia but nothing as overt as something like the wastelands of Mad Max.

One notable difference from Wolverine’s appearances to date is the new adult rating (R in America and 15 in the UK). Taking full advantage of this free reign, Logan really leans into it with wall-to-wall “fucks” and blood. However this creates a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, the swearing and violence have a gritty realistic feel and suit the character. I will also be the first to admit that this kind of excess is necessary for Deadpool and even necessary for Wolverine (the man has knives on his hands!) but there is a danger that the success of these faithful character-driven adaptations will be interpreted as successful solely due to their more mature rating and the last thing we need is an Apocalypse sequel set in the 90’s with Cyclops swearing his face off. Interestingly, this level of savagery, violence and – for lack of a better word – uncouthness, is a perfect fit for the genre that has been so very heavily emulated: Westerns. Everything about this film feels like a cross-country journey/road-trip/lone drifter cowboy story with a structure and supporting characters one would usually associate with a tale of trekking through the old west. If anything I’m surprised Marco Beltrami’s score didn’t incorporate this more but I’m glad it didn’t as what has been produced is frankly magnificent, mixing a hot-on-the-heels pulsing and tender melodies throughout.

In a curious way, the villain is almost underplayed, despite driving the entire plot. To explain, Boyd Holbrook and Richard E Grant do a superb job in their roles as Transigen employees Donald Pierce and Zander Rice respectively but the real villain is Wolverine’s past; in more ways than one. So when it comes to acting, there are really only three people to talk about: Wolverine, Laura and Charles. As stated earlier, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role of Wolverine as Jackman brought such intense energy, passion and life to the character. And while he deservedly received an Oscar nomination for his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, he commits the same dedication and heart to this, frankly absurd, role. The evident age and frailty of a character many people have grown-up with is both beautiful and crushing, lending a dramatic weight that one could argue has little place in a film about a grumpy man with knives in his hands. Then we have classically trained theatrical legend, Sir Patrick Stewart who deviates from the refined kindly professor and shows us a desperate, crotchety old man whose mental faculties are failing, proving a danger to himself and those around him. Unlike his previous outings as Xavier, this has a lot of the levity and soul that you tend to see with those nearing the end of their lives; a combination of whimsical mysticism and filterless rebellious bile. Finally we have Dafne Keen. Ok, I can’t praise this kid enough. She is glorious. And I’m not talking about that “she acts like an adult” thing that a lot of child actors do but genuine, moving, powerful, physically capable, brilliant acting. And coming from someone so young, that’s an amazing feat.

Some may complain that the film is either boring or that Laura’s quasi-feral mute grunting doesn’t bring them closer to her character but I would imagine those people simply don’t like the nuances of slow-burn Westerns. If you want elaborate spectacle and world threatening bad guys, there are plenty of other X-Men movies for you to choose from. If you want something of genuine meaning, talking about “the other” as an outcast to be systematically hunted, destroyed and/or experimented on, then this is the film for you. However, saying Logan is the best of the franchise (and I truly believe it might be) is tricky as it builds on what has come before. On top of that, it’s not technically an X-Men ensemble film as the team has been whittled down to nothing, so comparing it to something so dramatically different is a tad unfair but for character exploration and world development, it stands superior. To my mind, the definitive watching list for these ten movies is as follows: X-Men, X2, First Class, Deadpool, Logan. And if you were to leave it there and never watch another X-Men release, I think you’d feel the job was done well. That.. is where Logan’s power lies: creating a close so perfect you don’t need any more, no matter how much you may want it.

Release Date:
3rd March 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilery paragraph**
Fans of the comic will have probably guessed from the trailer that Laura/X-23 is in fact Wolverine’s clone. Throughout these films, Wolverine has rampaged through, never having to deal with anyone who has the exact same moral drive and potential for unbound rage. Toward the end of the film, Wolverine wakes in a hospital, having been dragged and driven there by the prepubescent mutant in his care. In a moment of gruff humility, Wolverine thanks the little girl and she calmly responds “De nada.” This recognition is the first utterance throughout the whole movie and it shocks the audience as much as the titular character. Upon discovering she can speak, he crassly demands to know why she hasn’t said anything for the last two thousand miles, at which point a heated tirade in Spanish erupts from this child and Wolverine is overwhelmed and screams back at her. Both reach a shouty impasse, which Laura resolves by growling and punching him in the face. If any scene speaks to how well this film is written, shot and performed, it’s this simple one.

Notable Characters:
Despite glossing over the villainous roles, I genuinely think Holbrook and Grant performed excellently as two side of the same coin. With Rice we have a clinically brilliant mind but one who is absolutely driven in his wicked purpose, much like any operational head of some despotic, tyrannical dictatorship – trying desperately not to say Nazi here but evil Nazi scientist definitely comes to mind. Then you have Holbrook who is a bit of a laddish mercenary, armed with enhancing tech and a cavalier attitude. I was a bit skeptical as the role Holbrook plays in Narcos lacks a flamboyance that a film of this nature requires but Pierce is a great henchman character and clearly enjoys his job far too much.

Highlighted Quote:
“Please be like the rest of the world and blame me for your boring shit”

In A Few Words:
“Anyone who claims the most recent instalment of a franchise is their favourite is still punch-drunk from the experience but.. goddamn.. Logan might just be it”

Total Score: