COLETTE

History Is About To Change

Director
Wash Westmoreland

Starring
Keira Knightley
Dominic West
Denise Gough
Eleanor Tomlinson



Set during the late years of the 19th century, we are introduced to Gabrielle Colette [Knightley], a country girl who weds notorious Parisian libertine and critic Henry Gauthier-Villars [West] who writes under the pseudonym Willy. Admittedly, Henry does not actually do a great deal of writing himself and merely employs a staff of ghost writers, allowing him to generate simple concepts for development and then sell the Willy brand. During a dry spell, Henry charges his young wife to write about her childhood experiences. In doing so, the ‘Claudine’ series is born and a best-selling movement sweeps France as women everywhere see something of themselves in Claudine. As success grows, Henry’s methods of extracting pages from Colette turn more abusive and Colette finds herself both exploring different types of relationships and discovers a burning desire to define herself outside of her husband’s shadow.

I will admit, I was only loosely familiar with Colette’s work, outside of the fact that her novel Gigi was adapted into the 1958 film of the same name. And yet, when you hear about her experiences and learn about this bombastic, headstrong, larger than life individual who was way ahead of her time, its evident she warrants more international prestige. As such, this is a daunting role for any actor but Keira Knightley constructs a changing, multifaceted performance, not only as a fantastic portrayal of someone aging from girl to woman but a wonderful and very real-feeling representation of an individual discovering who they truly are and the confidence they attain from it. A lot of this has been done through subtle gestures and physicality as Colette starts the film with a shrinking almost apologetic nervousness before adopting more self-assurance and typically masculine postures. But while Colette shifts and grows, Willy is unchanging, he starts out a brute and ends a brute, the only difference is that we, as the audience, learn with Colette over time that this is neither acceptable nor necessary. And this could have very easily been played up to extreme, quite literal, moustache-twirling villainy (as it was in Big Eyes) but there is a vitally important level of charm and charisma in West’s performance that explains how he was able to manipulate Colette for so long and so flagrantly abusively without either Colette or the audience completely turning on him until the story requires it.

It goes without saying that any period drama has a level of production above most others. Of course costume, hair, make-up, sets and locations are all vital components on any film but for a period film they bring their own set of unique challenges. More than that, Colette spans through a handful of formative decades which require the architectural and fashion styles to evolve with the passing time. While this could have the potential to feel jarring or clumsy, Westmoreland’s decisions to subtly morph the contents of Willy and Colette’s flat, merely introducing new elements rather than completely overhauling the whole space, to introduce new characters organically and having Thomas Adès’ beautiful score gently traverse through the musical trends of the time, adopting rising styles and themes of the day, allow the film to flow pleasingly from start to finish.

One of the only real negatives I could observe is that this is very much a film of lead and co-lead. No matter the gravity or import on the story, the supporting roles are confined to simply that. This is a combination of the usual factors of timing and pacing but also, as Colette herself becomes more willful and independent, to shine too brightly a light on those around her would rob the character of her own agency. Furthermore, the film also falls into the semi-risky trappings of telling a significant story about one of France’s most celebrated authors in English with English actors. And yet, reflective of our times and audience inclinations, without these, it may not get the spotlight it rightly deserves – after all, this film was initially scripted back in 2001 and has been in production hell for the better part of a decade and a half.

One of the many frustrations of glacial progress is seeing that we have already had prominent examples throughout our history yet the same battles are still being fought. Thankfully it feels like mainstream western society has had a bit of a renaissance with both the LGBTQ+ community and gender equality; subsequently, this won’t be the last film to address the unseen heroes and trail blazers of the past and as long as these stories continue to be told with skill and passion, hopefully lasting societal change can be made.


Release Date:
11th January 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
About a third of the way into the movie, Colette and her fellow factory writer (as Willy’s ghost writers were known) are visiting a rather curious type of mime called a cantomime, wherein a male mime artist very skillfully lip-syncs a sung performance with elaborate gestures. It felt like a key turning point for the story as we see not only a form of theatricality that thrilled our heroine but also a nice little parallel of the film itself. Here we are shown a very impressive front-facing act from a man but in fairness, the genuine talent is from the woman singing the aria next to him, while everyone present applauds just the surface output despite knowing the truth of the matter.

Notable Characters:
There is no doubt that this is a film with an exceptional lead performance from Knightley. It will very likely earn her several nominations and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few lofty awards are sent her way (and deservedly so). But I was genuinely taken by the attention to diversity of the cast. This is Paris in the turn of the 20th century, a hub of life and activity and colonial influence. Over the decades, we have white-washed the past, presenting an inaccurate mono-ethnic presence, so to see so many people of colour in positions of success and sufficiency in a European period film was very rewarding.

Highlighted Quote:
“I will continue to pursue this because I want to”

In A Few Words:
“A stunningly crafted and superbly acted tale of a pioneer who should imbue others with assuredness and pride”

Total Score:

4/5

VENOM

The World Has Enough Superheroes

Director
Reuben Fleischer

Starring
Tom Hardy
Riz Ahmed
Michelle Williams



Returning from a deep space reconnaissance mission, the Life Foundation shuttle is returning to earth with four alien specimens on board. On re-entry the ship crashes with only one astronaut surviving. The head of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake [Ahmed], employs his considerable resources to procure the samples and begin live-subject trials as soon as possible. At the same time we are introduced to Eddie Brock [Hardy], an investigative reporter who loses his job and fiancée (lawyer Anne Weying [Williams]) after he turns a fluff-piece interview with Drake into an attack on his illegal human experiments. After one of the Life Foundation’s key scientists tips Eddie off, he infiltrates the facility and comes into contact with one of the alien samples which begins talking to him and dictating his drives and actions.

Stumbling out of the cinema, as the film burps up its mismatched post-credit sequences, it is immediately apparent that Venom is such a bizarre entity. On one hand it is a typical 2010s example of a weak franchise launcher that bloviates about its importance and grand plans before passing out wheezing, “I can’t go on.” And on the other it is such a throwback to the pre-cinematic universe craze of the late 90s/early 2000s, where any comic property would be adapted with one big (white male) star, an underdeveloped disposable villain, poorly defined love interest, fleeting underwhelming CGI and a score packed with riffing guitars. It is simultaneously both 2007’s Ghost Rider and 2015’s Fantastic Four without being as arguably competent as the former or as laughably imbalanced as the latter.

One thing, however, is abundantly clear and that is the lack of room or time for anyone other than Tom Hardy. Now, I’m not saying that as a dig at the lead, simply highlighting that the script gives us little to no insight into any of the supports; their lives, motivations, backgrounds, none of it is considered to matter. From the get-go Eddie Brock is sold to us as this frankly inhuman cliché. He’s charming, altruistic, tenacious, generous, kind, roguish and an all-round catch. I know this because the opening prologue stuffs it down my throat like a 1950s Disney princess entrance wherein every character (human or otherwise) chirps how pretty the main character is. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if, as he strolled down the street petting dogs and chatting to security guards about the wellbeing of their kids, everyone around him uproariously burst into a chorus of “that handsome man, that talented man, that marvellous Eddie Brock” before whip-panning to Tom Hardy clicking his heels and shouting “Whoo! That’s me.” And yet, when we actually get down to him proving himself, he’s a fucking terrible reporter who blunders his way through both interviews and investigations and a completely untrustworthy partner who opens his fiancée’s confidential emails. Then, to top it all off, he gets infected by an alien symbiotic parasite that is constantly talking about eating people. And yet Hardy’s dual-performance is probably the only good thing about this movie. Despite being absurd and an excuse for another set of voices to the acting scrapbook, the interactions between Eddie and Venom are surprisingly entertaining and visually amusing, which seems counterintuitive but once you settle in to the odd ambience of the film, it almost becomes fitting.

Unfortunately, the supports don’t get nearly as much attention. We have a range of insubstantial individuals but let’s start with the non-villain, Carlton Drake. Riz Ahmed has already proved himself a fantastic actor but he is given nothing to work with. Drake is an admittedly driven and passionate scientific mind who seemingly has mankind’s interests at heart but his methods are callous, unorthodox and without heart. And that’s all I can tell you. He is obsessed with furthering the species but there is absolutely no inkling of why or what drew him down this path. He is merely evil for the fact the film requires it of him. The other lead support is Michelle Williams but I’ll mention her more later but outside of that we have brief appearances from Jenny Slate and Reid Scott who feel as wasted as Judy Greer in things like Jurassic World and Ant-Man, which is genuinely criminal.

A cast heavy with comedic actors is far from unusual for Reuben Fleischer – the man cut his teeth on Zombieland and made a glorious success of it – but much like Gangster Squad, so much of the creative qualities that made Fleischer’s debut so enjoyable and entertaining are all but absent. The pacing and editing are appalling, the script is shockingly flat, the narrative flow feels hole-punched and erratic, leaping from one plot point to another and there is an uncomfortable unintentional comedy running throughout that creates such a tonal unease. Not to mention the fact that it’s a solid hour before Venom properly turns up. With such jumbled asymmetry, it’s hardly surprising that the film’s own internal logic is one of the first victims. From the start we are told so much about the alien entities in heavy expository info dumps from their strengths, weaknesses, bonding habits and abilities; none of which is retained as the continuity shifts to meet the action’s quota. It also robs the film of any actual urgency as Eddie is practically invincible and even if he were to perish, it wouldn’t really change our feelings about him or the fate of this earth – which, apparently, is in significant jeopardy.

This whole endeavour could be labelled as a waste of potential but the truth of Venom is that any adaptation is doomed to fail because while most people feel they love the character, there isn’t a great deal to actually enjoy. A large, snarling, boisterous creation that exists as a parallel to Spider-Man but doesn’t really work as effectively without that adversarial clash. And while I will acknowledge that the Flash Thompson/Venom covert-ops storylines from the comics are pretty decent, this is not what we have been offered and while the franchise may eventually make its way there, I feel it will fall by the side of the road alongside the corpse of Tom Cruise after he rode off into the sunset at the end of The Mummy.


Release Date:
5th October 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
This is a film littered with really stupid moments and two in particular stood out for me. During Eddie and Dr Skirth’s clandestine break-in at the Life Foundation, Skirth reveals to Brock that the symbotic being is of extra-terrestrial origin. Naturally, Brock laughs this off by dismissively saying, “What are we talking about, aliens!? ET phone home?” To which Skirth deadpans a confirmation. While the transitional scene furthers next to nothing, the real insight is the possibility that Tom Hardy has never watched ET because his impression of ET (a very distinct voice and quote) is delivered in the most peculiar way, as if Hardy said on the day, “That’s a dumb voice, I can do better.. also it’ll be another unique voice for my scrapbook.” The other moment is when Anne’s boyfriend Dan (a surgeon with the power to give MRIs to people who don’t appear to have any medical insurance) is explaining the negative effects of the symbiote to Brock, stating “Your heart has atrophied” which is a maddening phrase because the second the organism keeping Eddie alive departs his body, he would be dead. But as stated earlier, that man is invincible.

Notable Characters:
Michelle Williams is an exceptionally talented actor and the only real saving grace of this film is that she’s only in it for a limited period of time. The script gives her so little to do and introduces her as both naïve and fickle as well as ruthless and headstrong in a mishmash of persona types that should give audiences whiplash but she has so little agency that the shifts are inconsequential and presented as irrelevant. The only thing I kept thinking is how many terrible agents must be working out there because Williams coming off the back of All The Money In The World and landing in this shit is just as poor a decision as Naomie Harris going from Moonlight to Rampage.

Highlighted Quote:
“Such poor design.. human beings”

In A Few Words:
“Somehow both extremely dull and erratically busy, Venom is a mess of a concoction that struggles constantly to define what it is and what it could be”

Total Score:

2/5

CRAZY RICH ASIANS

The Only Thing Crazier Than Love Is Family

Director
Jon M Chu

Starring
Constance Wu
Henry Golding
Michelle Yeoh
Awkwafina
Gemma Chan



NYU economics professor Rachel Chu [Wu] is invited to Singapore for her boyfriend, Nick Young’s [Golding] sister’s wedding. This of course means meeting all the family members that Nick and as an only child with the single living parent the prospect is daunting. Things, however, seem awry at the airport as Rachel is put in first class and she learns that Nick’s family are affluent. Upon arrival in Singapore, Rachel meets up with her old college friend, Goh Peik Lin [Awkwafina] but when Peik Lin finds out who Nick actually is, she explains that Nick’s family aren’t just rich but that they are one of the wealthiest families in all of China, creating more anxiety about meeting Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young [Yeoh].

At its core, Crazy Rich Asians is a wonderful throwback to classic romantic films featuring prominent traits that have felt long absent from cinema, replaced with cynicism and grotesquery. I, of course, am not opposed to cynicism and grotesquery but after a while, it’s good to have an enjoyable escapist fantasy with some genuine heart to it. Combining themes of tradition vs modernity and power vs peasant with love at its centre, there’s something incredibly familiar about this story. On top of the strangely nostalgic formula of the story itself, the whole thing is presented magnificently. The set design and costume work are amazing, giving us a nice dichotomy between contemporary life in America over the luxurious dynastical world of the old-world families of Singapore. Equally, the music is extremely well crafted and assembled, in terms of the original score and the selected soundtrack, instilling another unique twist on a familiar vibe.

The characters presented represent the standard archetypal big family with their own set of dramas and personalities, all of which are explained decently yet waver a bit with their conclusions (but more on that later). At the centre are Constance Wu and Henry Golding who not only have fantastic chemistry but helm this whole feature brilliantly. It may not sound like much but if you can’t root for the lead couple, the film would literally die on its feet. Then we have Eleanor in what could be described as a fairly generic in-law adversarial role but the layering and complexity to her character is both well-written and masterfully performed. On top of that there is a whole host of captivating and memorable standout performances that I could easily list but I’d probably miss someone and the praise would make for tedious reading eventually. One thing I really appreciated though was the representation of first generation children of immigrants who are labelled as Chinese by Americans and dismissed only as American in Singapore. Cinema has always had a bit of a fixation with representing block areas as one people and that includes those who look a certain way but do not necessarily have that many ties to their ethnicity. Thankfully there is a growing trend to highlight the differences between (for example) Asians, Eurasians and American-Asians and even then, subdividing that into the specific regions of origin and habitation. Clumsily worded, I know but hopefully you see what I’m getting at.

With all that being said, it would be a hideous double-standard to say this film is without fault. As with all major romantic comedies there are plot threads that seemingly go nowhere, underdeveloped characters and a resolution that, while upbeat and pleasing, alters very little about the obstacles in the relationship’s way. Without spoiling things in the dissection process, Astrid’s character (played by Gemma Chan) is an extremely good example of this; on the surface her storyline is handled very well but in trying to sum things up quickly, they wrap everything up a little neatly, specifically her final shot at the bar. I get the idea behind it but it feels like an afterthought, as if people wouldn’t be happy with the reality of the situation, so we are given a fake upbeat finale – which is true of a lot of individuals reacting at that party. But I also appreciate that’s the nature of two-facedness and a part of the political game that has been played throughout. Also, something that is both a positive and a negative is the interchangeability of the story. The interesting truth of cultural differences it that most of them are relatable to most audience members. That’s not to say the specificities and eccentricities aren’t worth exploring but the bulk of the material largely remains the same; like the same base of a cake coated in different icing. A film about a big Italian wedding with an overbearing matriarch is something that can be appreciated in India, China, America, etc. and while that’s something that this film defiantly explains to the cinematic gatekeepers, it also means that there isn’t a great deal of new ground being trodden outside of the culture in central focus. But that, in truth, is the only real flaw of this movie, it’s a bit formulaic and generic but the progressive nature, completely enjoyable charming dynamics and weight of significance and importance for representation massively compensates for any shortcomings.


Release Date:
14th September 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
As we are first introduced to Eleanor and her two young children, she checks in to an expensive London hotel only to be treated poorly and with disdain by the racist members of staff. Despite having a reservation, Eleanor is turned away into the stormy night, refused even a phone call. She then returns having explained the situation to her husband who has acquired the hotel from the family friend who owns it and is escorted to her suite. This performs three things in an exceptionally clever manner. First, we learn about Eleanor’s relationship with her husband (who is never really seen throughout the film) and her sense of will and determination. It also instils in the audience a sense of satisfaction making Eleanor a hero before recasting her as a villain, which is a nice rug-pull. And finally, it says to an audience who could never dream of the kind of money or privilege that these people have, that she has been dealt a band hand more than once and we should feel sorry for her. Which, in an age where people are living on reduced salaries, is quite the feat.

Notable Characters:
**Arguable spoilers within**
Nick’s grandmother, Shang Su Yi [Lisa Lu], is fascinating, a real embodiment of the outwardly successful and ideal image while being something completely different when against the wall. From her introduction, we immediately assume she will be an ally to Rachel but she turns out to be one of the least understanding individuals and this subversion of expectations is one of the fresher aspects that really saved this film from being predictable and disappearing into the crowd.

Highlighted Quote:
“I can’t believe this airport has a butterfly garden and a movie theatre. JFK is just salmonella and despair”

In A Few Words:
“Far from perfect with loose threads throughout but an altogether thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting romantic comedy that feels quintessentially both conventional and progressive”

Total Score:

4/5

BLACKKKLANSMAN

Based On A Crazy, Outrageous, Incredible True Story

Director
Spike Lee

Starring
John David Washington
Adam Driver
Laura Harrier
Ryan Eggold
Jasper Pääkkönen
Topher Grace



After two prologues we cut to the late seventies and are introduced to Ron Stollworth [Washington], the first black police officer assigned to a quiet mountain town in Colorado. After going undercover at a university rally where a civil rights leader is speaking, Stollworth befriends Patrice Dumas [Harrier]. Impressed with his work, his superiors promote Stollworth to intelligence. There he begins an investigation into the local Ku Klux Klan by calling up and posing as a white supremacist. The department gives the go ahead to continue the investigation but assigns Detective Flip Zimmerman [Driver] to be Ron’s white counterpart for face-to-face meetings. Both men manage to form a symbiotic performance that fools the affable head of the Klan chapter, Walter [Eggold] but the hot-headed Felix [Pääkkönen] has doubts. Over time, Ron and Flip impress the Grand Wizard of the Klan, David Duke [Grace] to the extent that he makes a personal visit to Colorado for “Ron’s” official initiation.

A lot of care and attention has been taken on a technical level that produces a rich period environment. The hair, make-up, costumes, sets, props, music choices, everything feels genuine and appropriate to the late 70s. More than that, shooting on 35mm film-stock rather than digital gives a really evocative and immersive feeling. What’s interesting on top of that is not necessarily the curbing but the subtle integration of Lee’s tropes and distinct style to create a very mainstream production with grounded cinematography, direction and editing. The music is another fine example of this with marvellous choices of songs paired with Terence Blanchard’s cool yet unsettling score; perfectly mirroring the tone of the on-screen exploits.

While films about undercover cops is nothing new, the similarities make it all the more trenchant and necessary. At the same time, the performances all round are honestly magnificent. On the one hand we have the cops – who are in of themselves a conflicted group, stuck in the past while progressive elements are trying to drag them forward – and on the other is the klansman with their repugnant views packaged with charm and repurposed as a political movement rather than a hate group. Flitting back and forth between these environments is the cause of a great deal of humour (racism makes for natural comedy.. because it’s so very fundamentally stupid) and there are some standout moments of hilarity on both sides but after all the bloviating and mockery subside, all you are left with is a group of hateful and dangerous individuals. There’s a brilliant cross-cutting between “Ron’s” initiation wherein they are watching and cheering the KKK in Griffith’s silent film The Birth Of A Nation and a group of students listening to a testimonial of a man who witnessed a violent street execution of a black man, partly inspired by the events in said film and all the while you are captivated by the stellar performances. One that comes to mind, in a disturbing way, is Driver’s double-performance. This is both a testament to him as an actor (one of the few I genuinely look forward to seeing in anything right now) and how dangerously easy it seems to switch between outwardly reasonable and polite to saying the most horrific and deplorable things as if they were always there beneath the surface. Driver’s character, Flip, should struggle undercover, he shouldn’t know how to react in these situations but it comes all too naturally, not because he is racist but because he is surrounded by simmering and secluded racism.

Because of the subject matter, it is very difficult to avoid discussing the motivation behind this film’s creation. More than simply telling an anecdotal story of one police investigation, it is a look at the nationalist resurgence crippling western civilisation right now. Sure, this is a tense, funny, clever, poignant release in its own right but it is also actively hoping to start a conversation and motivate people to vote and better collective values. This isn’t anything new for Spike Lee and is largely present in pretty much all of his works. More than that, during a post screening Q&A, Lee said that every artist creates political work, and that choosing not to include politics is in of itself a political statement. The responsibility and duty of the artist to create something entertaining that says something, no matter how simple and too much lenience in the interest of balance has been given to groups that are given global platforms to preach hate. Which ultimately makes for an interesting on-screen balance because the worst thing to do would be to pose the klansman as some cackling, moustache-twirling villain of the past, rather than the very real, active and thriving movement that they currently are. The biggest flaw I can find is that BlacKkKlansman lacks subtlety. But in truth the surreptitious and insidious creeping nature of intolerance needs a bit of bluntness to get through to audiences, so I can’t slate it too heavily for that. I could also bash the fact that certain elements have been heightened for cinematic purposes but these liberties are always taken with anything based on real-life events, so again, it’s hard to take the film too much to task for that.

Much like the 1970s, I feel this contemporary period of social and political change will be the subject of filmmaking for decades to come and the cyclical nature of movements paired with the idea that progressive battles are never won outright, they must constantly be fought and refought to keep fascism at bay, is as interesting at it is tragic. And for cleverly reflecting the societal divide that has split several nations in these recent years, this film deserves as much attention and praise that it can get.


Release Date:
24th August 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
Audience members familiar with Spike Lee and his work, will be more than familiar with his patented double-dolly. Obviously he didn’t invent the technique but it’s something fans come to expect from the director and its placement is excellent. The narrative closes on a few upbeat notes before utilising this shot to not only bring the tone to a darker place but to bring us hurtling into 2017. Suddenly all the laughs and victories are set aside and the fiction of it all is brought into stark realisation with the footage of the murder at Charlottesville, President Trump refusing to denounce Nazis and Duke promoting Trump’s agenda of “taking America back.” Ending with an upside down American flag that becomes a desaturated monochrome symbol is, as stated earlier, very blunt but that’s to ensure the point is made clearly.

Notable Characters:
As unfortunate and irritating as nepotism can be, sometimes talent just runs in people’s veins and Washington is a fine example of the latter. I only discovered he is Denzel Washington’s son when writing this review but his talents are genuinely impressive and I am looking forward to him being cast in.. well.. frankly everything. Charming, confident, driven, vulnerable, conflicted; Washington gives a wonderful performance that is one of the key reasons this films works so spectacularly.

Highlighted Quote:
“America would never elect someone like David Duke President of the United States of America”

In A Few Words:
“Easily Spike Lee’s best film in years”

Total Score:

5/5

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Heroes Don’t Get Any Bigger

Director
Peyton Reed

Starring
Paul Rudd
Evangeline Lilly
Hannah John-Kamen
Michael Douglas



Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang [Rudd] is nearing the end of his two year house arrest. In that time he has had no contact with Dr Hank Pym [Douglas] or his daughter Hope Van Dyne [Lilly] but when relaxing in the bath, a mere two days away from freedom, Scott has a vision of Hope’s supposedly deceased mother, Janet Van Dyne [Michelle Pfeiffer]. Freaked out, Scott contacts Dr Pym and we learn that this dream was no coincidence as Hope and Hank had been working on a quantum tunnel in an attempt to locate and retrieve Janet. But as wanted criminals, the scientists have been working with the nefarious Sonny Burch [Walton Goggins] and have got the attention of a mysterious quantum-shifting figure, known only as the ghost [John-Kamen].

When Ant-Man was released I was thoroughly disappointed. Avengers: Age Of Ultron had been a bit of a bust and the turbulent behind-the-scenes shift of directors left a strange chimera film with trails and remnants of Edgar Wright’s tropes and Reed’s direction. The final product was serviceable but I didn’t share the lauding that most critics and audiences were spouting. Subsequently, I was rather looking forward to an Ant-Man sequel, a chance to create something from the ground-up with a clear voice and, hopefully, a strong central female performance. Alas I only got one of those. One of the biggest problems this film encounters is the generally piss-poor, infantile, simplistic and flat comedy. From throw-away lines or setups to running magic jokes, nothing landed hard enough for me to laugh at and wholly enjoy. That isn’t to say it wasn’t entirely without humour, it simply failed to produce anything that I hadn’t seen before. On top of that there was a distinct lack of emotional resonance. Over the last decade, Marvel have wheeled out some pretty hefty emotional moments and connections between characters and while Ant-Man And The Wasp has the opportunity to, it rarely delivers. I will admit that the connection between Rudd and his daughter and the purveying theme of daughters and their screw-up dads is interesting but it’s nowhere near as gut-wrenching as something like the connection between Stark and Parker.

Sticking with performances for a second, I will absolutely defend everyone involved. Rudd tries his hardest and Lilly is wonderful but the script is so painfully cliché with abysmal dialogue, leading to stunted deliveries. From the completely mediocre jokes to the text-book “I thought I’d lost you” sentiments, nothing in this film feels fresh, realistic or relatable and while that may sound a bit harsh or stupid, you need some sort of grounding when the entire basis of the story is the fantastical. This film also drags Marvel back into the pit of questionable villains – which is a shame after the marvellous complexity of the last two. Ava Starr/Ghost is a decent enough sympathetic villain, even if she is never really fleshed out but Sonny is terrible and continues the weird trend of Goggins being fantastic on TV but getting terrible roles on film. And then there’s Woo (played by the genuinely funny Police Academy film.

Getting back to Ava for a second, the character highlights some of the film’s technical issues. While the ghost effect looked pleasing and felt like a simple layering technique harking back to silent movie techniques, the action was largely uninspired. Say what you will about the first Ant-Man film, at least it was creative. Here we have fights that suffer from rushed, fast-paced editing (which somehow seemed to be cut better in the trailer), far too many ropey floating-head CGI moments and shrinking/enlarging tech that fails to create anything of note. I mean, when a 2018 blockbuster is giving you flashbacks to 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded but never rising above it, something has to be going wrong. Having said all that, Christophe Beck’s score is magnificent, making great and sometimes playful use of the motif (something Marvel struggles with) while delivering something constantly fitting and appropriate. Additionally, the de-aging effects are remarkable, Marvel have been doing a stellar job with this innovative technology.. although I wasn’t as convinced by the de-aged Hope. That was a joke. Sorry. It was either that or a DC facial hair removal gag.

As with 2015’s Ant-Man, it came off the back of the high-stakes, ultra-scale Age Of Ultron and with its standalone, unique story, endeared a lot of people to it. Then Lang reappeared in Civil War and the character was cemented as a great asset to have others interact with, offering some fantastic levity and visuals. This sequel should have built on that momentum, giving audiences an opportunity for a light emotional lift after the dour close of Avengers: Infinity War. But it wasn’t. Missing is the outlandish comedic treatment of Thor: Ragnarok and the character/world building of Black Panther, in favour of some weirdly delivered dad jokes, call-backs and importance placed upon the quantum realm that still feels like a complete mystery. In truth, this whole corner of the MCU feels like an arc on Spider-Man: Homecoming – and that was amusing but this is ridiculous. All we see is an enlarged ant playing the drums in Scott’s absence – the scene takes place in the trailer! At this stage we have to ask, what’s the point? I know Marvel are expected to generate two sequences but that was an absolutely pointless piss-take and to have already shown it in not only the theatrical trailer but earlier in the film from a different angle emphasises its absurdity.

Notable Characters:
**huge spoilers**
So I haven’t mentioned Michelle Pfeiffer, despite the fact she appears on the poster. On one hand, I really enjoyed Pfeiffer’s performance and on the other, it generated so many logistical questions that go completely unanswered. After Dr Pym enters the quantum realm, he discovers his not-dead wife and brings her back. She has been living down there for thirty years. Somehow. A single line of dialogue about the curative powers of the realm itself leading to a sort of evolution is all we get to explain how she has survived in this mostly barren plane of existence.. with perfect make-up. But to dissolve the tension between our heroes and the adversarial Ghost character, is to stretch out her hands and say, “I can feel your pain” before curing her. That. Right there. Is Sybok from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Nobody understands her frankly magic powers (almost as if the constant magic talk is merely foreshadowing) and I’m sure they’ll be explored later but for a film that spends so much time doing so little, you’d think they would have been able to etch out some time to even loosely cover it.

Highlighted Quote:
“Do you guys just put the word quantum in front of everything?”

In A Few Words:
“I went into this film with reasonable expectations and hope for something semi-decent, what I got was disappointingly sub-par but it’s still worth mentioning that at their worst, Marvel films are still better than the standard superhero cinematic fare”

Total Score:

2/5

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

Some Missions Are Not A Choice

Director
Christopher McQuarrie

Starring
Tom Cruise
Henry Cavill
Ving Rhames
Simon Pegg
Rebecca Ferguson
Sean Harris



Continuing from the events in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, IMF agent Ethan Hunt [Cruise] receives his next mission: to secure three plutonium cores before they hit the black market. Pairing with his colleagues Benji [Pegg] and Luther [Rhames], Hunt’s mission goes badly and while his director trusts him, the CIA does not. Subsequently, Hunt’s team is assigned the kill-happy Agent Walker [Cavill] to ensure the plutonium is recovered at any cost. When the price of the black market deal turns out to be freeing a prisoner Hunt helped capture, the arrival of former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust [Ferguson] and evidence that one of the anarchists is a rogue agent, things become significantly less straightforward.

As this incredibly unusual collection of semi-discordant films progress, I can see the genuine benefits and pros to this franchise; especially in an age where CGI dominates the screen. Seeing real life stunt work, there is an element of peril and suspense which is sort of lost and neglected by most big budget releases. With each passing instalment, the franchise evolves and presents a different style of action espionage to suit different audiences, this can produce a hit-and-miss body of work but it also ensures the films themselves avoid too many tick-box tropes and reinvention through recasting – James Bond, I’m looking at you. A major shift that was introduced in Ghost Protocol was the continuation of story. There had been certain components that had been brought over (specifically Ving Rhames as Luther) but the fourth film brought back a handful of characters and started a storyline which would effectively unfold with each passing release. Now we have a welcome sense of legacy and investment with the characters, rather than just a new team of expendables every single time; a good example of this is the new character of the elusive White Widow, who is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave’s character from the first film.

Staying with the cast for a second, we need to talk about Tom Cruise. This series is Cruise’s playground and while it is a completely indulgent excuse to show-off, it plays to his strengths and it is genuinely hard to fault him in this role. He gets to emote, appear clever and charming, perform his own ridiculous stunts, look confused, scream, be funny and run. It’s everything he wants and in a strange way, it’s everything we seem to want too. It’s a role that has shifted with his priorities and subsequently, could never really be portrayed by anyone else. The returning cast all perform admirably within the confines of their type and Henry Cavill really stands out with a great performance largely because the script utilises his best skills as an imposing, menacing villain.
The dialogue edges closer and closer to eye-rollingly dumb, littered with trailer lines that we frequently see forced into films but I feel this is a bit of a blockbuster occupational hazard and pleasingly does not happen too often.

With Rogue Nation, I didn’t take issue with McQuarrie’s ability so much as I didn’t care for the lacklustre script. Thankfully this feature feels closer to Ghost Protocol – I would argue the best Mission: Impossible film – and gives us the twists and set-pieces that we both enjoy and have come to expect. Furthermore it displays thrilling direction, editing and sound design, which feel like call-backs of the 90s, as we have become more reliant on post-production fixes and fewer in-cam techniques. The bombastic routines are also helped along by an urgent score that cleverly works with the iconic series motif but for all its positives, Lorne Balfe can’t escape his Zimmer trappings and it never truly feels completely unique or innovative.

While the film thinks it contains clever plot twists, all it eventually does is produce a series of bluffs and fake-outs, highlighting a scenario before jumping out of the shadows shouting, “Only kidding!” I appreciate this is a literal staple of the franchise and a trope that few other series can get away with but after a while the magic-trick wears thin and a great deal of investment and suspension of disbelief is lost. There’s an old adage that no one is questioning if someone like James Bond will get out of a trap, it’s how he gets himself out of it. This conceit is the same here and I am more than willing to participate in the charade but when you are expected to question everything, you believe nothing and either confusion sets in or immersion is lost. Admittedly, the Mission: Impossible series (outside of the first instalment) does a decent job of avoiding the former but the latter is something that happens time and time again.

In truth, this is an instalment that will thrill and greatly please fans of the franchise and once again makes Tom Cruise look especially good. The more he works on these films he will either end up killing himself or continue to sup from the fountain of youth long enough for people to say, “How is he 80!? He just punched a lion in the face before outrunning it!” But interestingly, there is such a wealth of production work and cinematic thrills that those who aren’t fans may enjoy it too; and that is an extremely impressive feat.


Release Date:
27th July 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers throughout**
When you start analysing the formula of scripts and film, you quickly understand the patterns; you would think that would extend to audiences but it rarely conscionably does. Subsequently, if a shot hangs for a couple of seconds longer than necessary it’s either a foreshadowing element or product placement. When these shots go nowhere, they are incredibly frustrated loose ends but even if they are addressed, they can give away too much. Case in point, during a bathroom fight in a club, we have a very clear shot of the target’s phone being smashed. A few scenes later, long before anyone’s identities and loyalties are openly called into question, Walker hands over a mint phone claiming it belonged to the target and has evidence incriminating Hunt. Right away I saw how the rest of the film would unfold, the magic was lost and the mystery ruined. I mean, there are carefully placed clues and there are obvious signposts; this, painfully, was the latter.

Notable Characters:
I’ve always felt there is something wonderfully menacing about Sean Harris and as an unhinged, nothing-to-lose psychopath who feels he is a higher force than the terrorist title he has been labelled with is genuinely fun and disturbing to watch.

Highlighted Quote:
“That’s not anarchy, that’s revenge”

In A Few Words:
“Genuinely entertaining high-octane action thriller ”

Total Score:

4/5

INCREDIBLES 2

Back To Work

Director
Brad Bird

Starring
Craig T Nelson
Holly Hunter
Sarah Vowell
Huck Milner



Set immediately after the events of 2004’s The Incredibles, we follow the Parr family (Bob [Nelson] Helen [Hunter] Violet [Vowell] Dash [Milner] and Jack-Jack) as they combat nefarious villain, the Underminer. Despite their best efforts, the bank robber gets away with the money and the family are arrested. With superhero acts still illegal, they are chastised and sent to stay in a motel. Witnessing the battle, tycoon Winston Deavor [Bob Odenkirk] asks fellow hero Frozone [Samuel L Jackson] to reach out and liaise with the Parrs on his behalf. Helen and Bob, realising they have a limited window to find a job in the private sector, agree to meet Winston. All three learn that Winston is an avid fan of heroes, as was his father and wants to change public perception in order to make them legal once more. In order to do this, Winston introduces his sister, Evelyn [Catherine Keener] who can rig tiny cameras into the suits to show the public the good work that is done. Bob immediately assumes he will be the frontrunner for this campaign but the Deavors believe that Helen’s Elastigirl persona would be the ideal re-introductory opportunity; leaving Bob to look after the children – something he has little solo experience with.

If we are being perfectly honest with ourselves, I think it would be fair to say that Pixar’s track record with sequels (outside of Toy Story) is not exactly great. On the one hand they have created some of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful original stories, only to have their follow-ups feel lacklustre or straight-up awful (looking at you Cars 2). Incredibles 2 picks up exactly where the last film left off and that, for me, is the first problem. The definition of a good sequel should be a justified continuation of a story or character’s journey that warrants telling but also forges new ground. I would have assumed a time-skip to age the characters with the audience, showing us Helen and Bob dealing with being grandparents, would be great fodder but I can appreciate that doing so would mean a lot of world-building and altering the visual style to fit the new decade; which could have hurt the film. Having said all that, the biggest issue with this continuation is the effective character arc reset. By the close of the first film, Violet is more confident, Dash has learned some restraint and Bob and Helen have a stronger, more communicative relationship. But in order to create conflict for this film, Bob goes back to hiding things from his wife, Helen takes on Bob’s role from the first film and the kids effectively revert back to how they were, albeit with a higher focus on Jack-Jack. And that’s not to say these aren’t pleasing performances because they’re really great, it’s just a shame.

One thing that is abundantly clear is the progression of the technology over the last 14 years. While the character designs remain unaltered, the level of detail is gorgeous. On top of that the cinematography and lighting are stunning, creating static images that silhouette and glow beautifully. Up until printing this review, I wanted to list my favourite scene as Bob and Helen sitting next to the motel pool, just for the glow of the under-lit water and the luminescent neon signs. It’s also really satisfying to see the return of the masterful pairing of high-octane action scenes with a captivating, nostalgic score. In this way, Michael Giacchino reminds us why he is such a formidable force in the world of cinematic music, destined to go down as one of the absolute greats.

But when you move away from the technical marvel and sit down to analyse the story and themes throughout, a few noticeable cracks begin to form. When this film was first advertised, I rolled my eyes at the prospect of telling a story about a father having to look after his children. I worried that it would feel poorly timed and would pull central focus. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and we ended up with a charming tale of a father trying to get to know his kids (rather than control them), analysing the shift from the archetypal and antiquated “male household role” to a more progressive and modern mindset. But the truly wonderful thing is that this is a subplot, the main driving story is Helen’s mission. Having said that, I would argue that Bob doesn’t learn very much because he still gets what he wants in the end but we’ll step over that for now. In addition to the subtle but welcome gender politics questions there are also some very bold issues about following the law even if the law is wrong, the idea of accountability and oversight of the judicial process and the existence of superheroes keeping mankind weak and sedate (the Lex Luthor argument). It’s very apparent that these conversations seem geared towards adults more than kids but their presence in this film is far from negative, as it means younger audiences aren’t being talked down to and being surreptitiously presented with powerful core values regarding authority and power.

**major spoilers at the end of the paragrpah**
In order to address the flaws, we must first address the production. Incredibles 2 was initially slated for a 2019 release but after work on Toy Story 4 fell behind, the dates were switched and this film was brought forward, meaning an entire year’s worth of development was lost. While what we’ve ended up is fantastic, I can’t help but feel a degree of refining and gestation could have ironed out any present issues. Issues such as the fact that this film is disappointingly predictable; from the story to the character progression, I was not at all surprised by any of the developments. On top of that, a lot of the story was too much of a retread of the first one with a role reversal for Bob and Helen. But before we get dragged into the “how original can a superhero story be” argument, I’ll just quickly touch on the villain. What exactly is Evelyn’s plan? At the start of the film, superheroes are already illegal and while the return of these supers has caused a modicum of public interest, the general message from politicians and the media is that any likelihood or rescinding this is slim to non-existent. Why work with her brother to make legitimise legal superhero activity only to make them illegal again? Again, the argument for replacing a locked door for an improved locked door is fine but this film never really gets around to it, so what we end up with is a solid motivation but flawed logical planning; which is unfortunate.

As stated at the start of this review, I genuinely feel this is one of Pixar’s better follow-ups but that’s really not saying much. Incredibles 2 is a fun, exhilarating and entertaining ride but cannot exceed or truly compete with its predecessor. With the amount of open-ended threads and a few underdeveloped elements, I wouldn’t be surprised if an Incredibles 3 was on the table, whether it will take another fourteen years to produce, remains to be seen.


Release Date:
13th July 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
In a film that deals with so many lofty subjects about justice and responsibility, it’s a genuine welcome treat to see that simple comedy has not been neglected. Nowhere is that more prevalent than Jack-Jack’s backyard fight with the racoon, while discovering many of his newly formed superpowers. It’s silly, pretty, inventive, extremely well designed from a sound point of view and very funny.

Notable Characters:
My highlighted character is Frozone but not for the reasons one might assume. Frozone was a criminally underused cameo role in the first film and even more so in this feature. The only thing I can tell you about the character is that he looks, sounds and acts like Samuel L Jackson, has ice powers and has an off-screen wife who gets a line or two of dialogue per film for comedic effect. The only thing Incredibles 2 adds to that is that he has a theme song. In a film that could have branched out with the supports more, this was very disappointing.

Highlighted Quote:
“Politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because it’s right. Makes them nervous”

In A Few Words:
“An absolutely fantastic follow-up to one of Pixar’s finest works mired only by a handful of frustrating failings”

Total Score:

4/5

OCEAN’S 8

Every Con Has Its Pros

Director
Gary Ross

Starring
Sandra Bullock
Cate Blanchett
Anne Hathaway
Helena Bonham Carter
Mindy Kaling
Awkwafina
Sarah Paulson
Rihanna



The film opens by introducing us to Debbie Ocean [Bullock], the younger sister of notorious conman Danny Ocean (lead character in the 2001 remake Ocean’s Eleven). Having spent five years in prison, she has finally been released and is ready to pull off an extremely ambitious jewellery heist but she figures it will only require a seven person team and a starting capital of $20,000. Debbie recruits long-time partner Lou [Blanchett] to help run the mechanics of the scam, including conscripting individuals with a very particular set of skills. It is then revealed that Ocean’s plan went from a bank heist to multiple bank heists before settling on something extremely challenging: convincing Cartier to release a one hundred and fifty million dollar diamond necklace to be worn by actress Daphne Kluger [Hathaway] at the star-studded New York Met gala.. then steal it.

One of the first things that stands out about this release is the visual separation from the first trilogy. Soderbergh’s films were very slick but very of their time, with deep saturation and high contrast throughout – as much of the early 2000s tended to be with the rise of digital filmmaking. Ocean’s 8 moves away from this and pays simple homage to heist films of the 60s and 70s with tracking pans and zooms that have long fallen out of fashion. This helps not only forge a new identity for this release but also offers a pleasingly simple associative aesthetic. This is accentuated by Daniel Pemberton’s score which bleeds contemporary elements with the bouncing jazzy rhythms of features like The Thomas Crown Affair and The Pink Panther.

While the cast from the first gelled really well and were a formidable ensemble of the time, I would posit that the group gathered here are superior, owing to the fact they are fewer in number, meaning less small-bit tertiary characters to juggle and there isn’t a single weak component among the group. Now, that will be contested but I genuinely feel that everyone’s strengths are largely capitalised on and the streamlining of the assembled team means more of a connection for the audience and less time is taken establishing the characters abilities and skills. The group can be easily broken down into two separate tiers: the veteran actors and the younger wave. On the one hand we have Sandra Bullock being smooth, confident and in control and while that works, I feel her exceptional comic timing is often neglected (but that’s hardly something that needs to be present in every release), there’s also Cate Blanchett who seems to be having more fun than should be allowed, getting away with it devilishly well, Sarah Paulson as the somewhat cautious “I’m out of this life” character that appears in all these releases but proves she is more than capable and Helena Bonham Carter who should be irritating but comes off as a genuinely endearing part of the group. On the other end of the scale we have Awkwafina bringing a youthful energy and cynicism, complimented by a similar dismissive attitude from Rihanna’s character, Mindy Kaling gives a confident performance highlighting her character’s knowledge and expertise and while Anne Hathaway’s performance is initially hyper to the point of cliché, it pivots nicely and rounds out rather well by the film’s close. There are a few subtle legacy cameos that genuinely play out nicely but the less than subtle celebrity cameos ranged from interesting to painfully obvious and, for lack of a better word, cloying.

For a lot of audience members and critics, a sticking point will be the story – entirely centring on its simplicity. For some this will be a neat, slick jaunt that focuses as much on the characters as it does the sleight of hand, while others will find it too simplistic and devoid of complexity. Personally, I am of the former and while I will happily acknowledge the film somewhat suffers from being a touch straightforward and not exactly doing anything new, it is a simple proof of concept, greatly executed with solid twists and decent bread-crumbing while being conscious of new grounded technology. The only problem is that Ocean’s 8 is lacking an element of crescendo and suspense; Bullock’s character feels so in charge and we trust her so implicitly, that at no point is there much in the way of peril or concern that the plan will not be a roaring success. This may sound like a minor point but for me, it’s the film’s biggest flaw. Having said that, any supposed criticisms present here could quite easily be placed at the feet of 2001’s Ocean’s 11, so it could be said that this is merely par for the course and a hazard of sticking to the original formula so succinctly.

Overall, Ocean’s 8 is a smart, funny, entertaining release and, if one can suspend expectations of intricacy and innovation, it embodies everything this kind of blockbuster should be.


Release Date:
22nd June 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**paragraph full of spoilers**
A heavy amount of the third act rides on an insurance investigator, played by James Corden, dismissing the truth for results; and I take issue with that. After the necklace is revealed to be missing, John Frazier, an independent investigator is assigned to the case and seems aware of the Ocean family’s criminal history, having direct dealings with them in the past. As the film is winding down, we are left wondering if and how they will get away with the fencing of the diamonds. Regrettably, Corden’s part of the story wraps things up a little too quickly and conveniently, with the character himself stating that he doesn’t care about who is responsible, as long as he can get the necklace back. In a film that is genuinely pleasing, this is a particular convenient bugbear that resolves itself far too neatly and jeopardises the suspension of disbelief.

Notable Characters:
As stated earlier, I was truly impressed by the entire ensemble and believe the chemistry between them worked favourably. Having said that, Cate Blanchett really stood out as this film’s forerunner; slick, cool, in charge, playful, stunning wardrobe, she is the embodiment of everything these films aspire to and more. But in truth, is anyone surprised by that?

Highlighted Quote:
“A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored and for once I want to be ignored”

In A Few Words:
“A simple competent heist film that entertains effortlessly and easily proves itself the best Oceans sequel”

Total Score:

4/5

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

The Park Is Gone

Director
JA Bayona

Starring
Bryce Dallas Howard
Chris Pratt
Rafe Spall
Isabella Sermon



The story opens three years after the events in Jurassic World, the park is wild and largely reclaimed by nature but opportunists and poachers continue to scavenge from the site in the hopes of getting a jump-start on the bio-technology. Claire Dearing [Howard] is now running a protection group, hoping to save the dinosaurs on the island from a second extinction event as the dormant volcano on Isla Nublar has become active. John Lockwood (portrayed by James Cromwell), the former partner of John Hammond, has put his subordinate Eli Mills [Spall] in charge of a rescue operation to preserve as many species as they can. As the dinosaurs are all chipped, they require Claire’s handprint login to track them, more than that, they have their eye on the only surviving velociraptor and Claire enlists Owen Grady [Pratt] to help but their relationship is strained and Mills’ motives aren’t all that they appear.

Before I go any further, I would like to highlight a quote from The Lost World: Jurassic Park: “Don’t worry, I’m not making the same mistakes again” “No, you’re making all new ones.” This, to me, embodies the core problem with everything that followed Jurassic Park; I genuinely don’t believe any of the four sequels have come close to the original and no matter how often they try and rework the formula, the positive elements crumble under the weight of colossally disappointing or flat-out terrible ones. A lot of the issues here can be attributed to most contemporary blockbusters which prioritise moments over logic and narrative reasoning; usually for marketing purposes. But this leaves us with pleasing developments that work rather well amongst the connective dross that loosely strings them together. Things like the image used in the above poster, the actual moment in the film is remarkably stupid and everything surrounding it defies logic; from Owen meeting up with Claire and Franklin (played as a walking cliché by Justice Smith) despite the size of the island, to discovering the gyrosphere, to the fact that said gyrosphere is avoided by a stampede despite the surrounding environment being demolished, then we have a dinosaur circling the orb trying to eat Owen but then the T-Rex appears to kill the other carnivore only to then run away! It’s all nauseating nonsense reminiscent of that painful dinosaur stampede in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. What does any of this do other than provide a heightened tickbox set-piece? It certainly doesn’t generate suspense as the threat feels phony – and while I always fall back on the James Bond argument (the conceit that it’s not if Bond will get out of peril, it’s how), the lack of coherent progression disconnects the audience from a sense of earned urgency.

On top of that, we have to put up with so many stupid decisions from both the human and dinosaur contingent. People being arrogant and dumb I can understand. A trained hunter who steps into a cage after an animal passes out, assuming it’s completely tranq’d is entering more into a territory of such disbelief that the usual suspension isn’t sufficient. But it still gets a pass because I can maintain that humans can be clouded by their own motivational drives. What I can’t understand is a film that breaks the logic or rules that it establishes. If a science fiction or fantasy film introduces a status quo fact, it cannot then simply ignore it for plot convenience; in this case I am talking about animal inconsistency and the extreme overuse of dino ex machina. Throughout these films we have been told about the patterns of these animals, that they move in herds, that alpha specimens can have influences over others, that they are communicating and breeding, that they are capable of extraordinary acts, etc. And yet whenever we witness these creatures loosed, they conform to stupid human logic. The indoraptor, a refined hybrid that should constitute as a spoiler but it’s in every trailer, is whatever the scene needs it to be at that time: a silent apex predator that can smell prey from a mile away before relentlessly tracking and pursuing it or a moronic beast that is extraordinarily clumsy and can be outrun by a child. It’s lazy writing and has given rise to the “a dinosaur will run in and save the day” cliché which is posing as homage to the closing scene from the first film. This trope has been exploited so much that any time the situation looks dire, I fully expect a T-Rex to silently enter from screen left and bite the problem. Stuck in a lift? No way out and a fire has started in the control panel? *Chomp* T-Rex eats the problem. The two people a character has been crushing on are meeting for the first time and the semi-cute-meet “how do we all know each other” puts him/her in an awkward positon? *Roar* T-Rex creates a distraction and the lead gets to avoid confronting this problem until later in the third act.

What is interesting is that if you scratch away the blockbustery studio mandated components, you are left with a very simple, minimalised story presenting a basic question about the consequences of the advancement of technology – which is very indicative of Michael Crichton’s work. But as stated, this factor is so buried under the mountainous action quota that it becomes a fleeting, scantly revisited set of interesting thought experiments: the ecological philosophy behind saving animals that we manufactured, the concept of government involvement on a private island, the moral culpability and responsibility of those involved, the grey-area difference between exploiting animals for experiments and war over captivity and entertainment, the lengths of meddling with death and resurrection but I’ll expand on all of that later. The truth is, these kinds of issues are usually better left as open-ended conversation starters, like The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror because following something like this to its conclusion will change the face of the established world so much that it will alter the relatability of the grounded world around it. In other words, if you introduce a fantastical element and state that it has been normalised for decades, you cannot say the world will completely mirror our own and while that’s a great launchpad for stories it can quickly deviate to the absurd; for an example, see Independence Day: Resurgence.

Another element that strongly links this feature with the original – and one that Jurassic World didn’t use as well – is the welcome return of extensive animatronic puppetry. It feels like we are finally getting back to a point where computer generated imagery and practical effects can work in harmony, complimenting each other, rather than in direct competition and the film succeeds greatly because of it. There are also fascinating behind the scenes practical technics, such as an outdoor rollercoaster track which was built for the gyrosphere descent over a cliff-edge, generating a genuine reaction of both fear and gravity on the body. But as much as I love the ingenuity and creativity of this kind of filmmaking, it’s brutalised and all but lost in fast-paced editing and a frankly absurd sequence devoid of consequence. And that’s why I’ve rated this film the way I have; so many technical aspects are working exceptionally well, the cinematography is great, Michael Giacchino’s score gives us enough new material to evolve the familiar themes, the practical and digital effects are genuinely impressive, make-up, costumes, set design, all of them are performing at peak levels but the story fails them every single time. If I was rating on story alone, this film would be a travesty but the amount of work that has gone into its execution is truly praiseworthy.

The prospect of a zoo-like environment failing is a terrifying and relatable prospect and one which illustrates man’s arrogance when it comes to controlling environments. Zoos, circuses, theme parks, things we create for our amusement at the expense of something wild is a playground for What If fiction and while this film follows the same lines it is somehow less rewarding and stretches into fantasy territory. As stated earlier, I believe this is a problem with the nature of Michael Crichton’s work and why the only sequels and follow-ups he produced were at the pressure and behest of others rather than from a creative desire to further a story. And yet it’s not impossible, the “where do you go from here” is not out of our reach and to prove that, one need only look to the Planet Of The Apes prequels. The major difference there is that the story gave us a very emotionally relatable core along with ground-breaking motion capture techniques, to the degree that we were vested in the non-human story more than the one we would traditionally empathise with. But Jurassic Park isn’t those films, it’s always billed as a monster movie and as much as they push this “Blue is the chosen one” storyline, it’s not sticking because through both the performance and circumstance, I simply don’t buy the connection.

At the end of the day, Fallen Kingdom is another instalment in a long line of mediocre continuations that brings very little to the series but the way this one ends gives me the impression that we will get something very new next time – whether that will be positive or not, remains to be seen.


Release Date:
8th June 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**extreme spoilers throughout this whole section**
The film closes pretty much back where it started, with the moral quandary of do these creatures deserve a chance to live again or have the repeated incidents highlighted that this is simply a bad idea which needs to be stopped at all costs. Having spent the majority of the film weighing the options, Claire makes the decision to not save the dinosaurs and in a rather traumatic gas chamber sequence, we have a Toy Story 3 fake-out, leading audiences to believe that they may witness something surprisingly adult in this relatively light action fare. And in that moment, the doors open and the dinosaurs are unleashed on California. With a town in running distance, several species of herbivore and carnivore are let loose on a completely unprepared environment and populace. As the camera pans, we reveal Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie [Sermon] has activated the door, explaining that these animals deserve the chance to live. And my face immediately contorted into some twisted mesh of disgust and outrage and my internal monologue screamed, “What the fuck!? You made the wrong choice kid! Who.. who the fuck put the child in charge!?” If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you know the movie’s big twist, that Lockwood’s granddaughter is in fact a clone of Lockwood’s deceased daughter, which understandably caused a rift between Hammond and Lockwood. This is a development that I have such contention with. On the one hand, it’s a fascinating and natural evolution of where this technology could and would progress to but on the other it steps away from the simplicity of “park goes offline, animals get out” but doesn’t give it enough time to really develop into anything rewarding enough. Maisie’s justification for her action is to compare the dinosaur’s right to exist with that of her own; again, another HUGE moral quandary that this film has done so little to explore. But it’s all irrelevant, Maisie pressing the button is symbolic of a franchise that has never really worked outside of the first and should be left to die but the kids have voted and regardless of consequence, they have demanded more.

Notable Characters:
There isn’t one human character I have liked in these last two Jurassic Park films. Say what you will about The Lost World and Jurassic Park III at least they had Goldblum or Neill entertaining us with their expertise and cantankerous observations. What do we get? Owen fucking Grady. Pratt’s character continues to be the worst in the entire Jurassic Park franchise – yeah, I’m including Paul Bowman and Amanda Kirby in that. A lot of larger than life personalities have made their mark on this series and sometimes their absurdity can elevate the film. But Grady is a mess, he is consistently selfish yet superheroic in his actions, not to mention the fact he’s practically immortal. Without meaning to sound ridiculous, he is a representation of how America sees itself, a lone hero fighting against the odds for a little peace and quiet; you know, a real conservative wet-dream. But at no point does the character or the film really acknowledge that this charming yet outdated cowboy archetype is the villain. Owen trains the raptors but refuses to accept responsibility that his work could/would be imitated by others, his interactions with other humans devolves to that of a thuggish child and his plot-armour driven “I don’t know what I’m doing but this will work out” attitude puts everyone at risk but never fails so nothing is learned. And this isn’t the case of another Peter Quill because that individual experienced genuine arrested development and culture shock through displacement, this is an ex-military individual who works with animals but displays the tendencies of someone who simply doesn’t live in the real world. And when you have a film that is filled with genetically resurrected dinosaurs, you need lots of real world to make the Jurassic bit work.

Highlighted Quote:
“Change is like death, you don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing at the gates”

In A Few Words:
“As with every other Jurassic Park sequel, there are lots of interesting questions asked but all of them take a back-seat to some fairly uninspired action sequences”

Total Score:

2/5

SOLO

A Star Wars Story

Director
Ron Howard

Starring
Alden Ehrenreich
Donald Glover
Joonas Suotamo
Emilia Clarke
Woody Harrelson
Paul Bettany



Set years before the events of Star Wars, we are introduced to a young impoverished Han [Ehrenreich], making his way on the Imperial controlled planet Corellia with his girlfriend and accomplice, Qi’ra [Clarke]. Han manages to escape but Qi’ra is trapped and as she is dragged away, Han vows to return and save her. To avoid being caught, Han takes on the new surname of Solo and enlists with the Empire. Years later, caught up in a siege on an alien world, Solo meets a group of thieves, led by the charming but dastardly Tobias Beckett [Harrelson], and bargains his way on to their latest heist with the help of a newly-liberated slave, Chewbacca [Suotamo].

Before we crack on with this review, we need to cover a bit of history. In addition to the central saga of Star Wars films, Disney announced they were going to be releasing anthology stories that explored established characters and introduced all new characters, planets and factions. Thus far, we have had Rogue One which was a big success but recently it has been revealed how much of a nightmare the production was – which came across through the plot-holes, heavy reshoots and trailers littered with footage that never appeared in the film. But Solo goes back further as George Lucas was working on the idea for this film before he sold the Star Wars property to Disney; which makes a lot of sense considering Lucas’ obsession with connecting a vast universe to a handful of individuals. Directors Lord and Miller were put in charge of the project but heavily argued they were making an improv-heavy straight comedy, leading to them being effectively fired six months into the shoot. This resulted in Ron Howard being brought in to reshoot a good 70% of the film with an established cast and script. You may be asking the relevance of all this but it is important because for everything that went wrong behind the scenes on this film, it’s a genuine testament to everyone involved that a) the movie was completed and b) it came out as decently as it did. Problems and conflicts of this nature cause ruptures that bleed into the film itself and doom it to failure before it’s even released, add a mixed-bag tone and the hand of Lucas (who, may have birthed this universe but is the culprit of some of its most hideous mistakes) and it could quite easily be an utter travesty but what they have salvaged here is extremely agreeable.

Unlike something along the lines of Blade Runner 2049, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull or even The Force Awakens, Solo has the frankly impossible task of replicating through recasting; less a handoff and more a comparative piece which rarely sits well with audiences and their myriad preconceptions. To my mind, the most recent example of a successfully duplicated property counterpart is actually Star Trek and for the most part Solo performs admirably. Admittedly, of the new cast members, the highest levels of scrutiny will be reserved for Ehrenreich and Glover. Although it didn’t come over brilliantly in the marketing material, Ehrenreich conveys the necessary confidence and swagger that Harrison Ford brings to almost every role but the iconic sardonic cynicism (verging on bored apathy) is absent. I can understand the logic for this, as a bitter older man is hardly born bitter, but there was a fear that this would fail to generate the familiarity audiences have with the character. Thankfully, Ehrenreich performs commendably and with enough charm to bring a new side to the character – in the same way that Ewan McGregor did in the prequels. Purists will never be satisfied but for an impossible task, he’s come out in a strong place. Then we have Donald Glover as Lando, the role famously performed by Billy Dee Williams. Glover is not only the obvious casting choice, he is the reason I wanted to see this film. The man does such a wonderful job of bringing the smooth, charismatic and self-assured pirate to life and my only complaint is that his role was so small. I may not have cared for a Solo spin-off (because how much story is left to tell?) but a Lando film charting the story of pirate to captain of industry to military general, starring Glover? I would be first in line.

**quite a few spoilers toward the end of this paragraph**
For all the positives, this film is far from devoid of faults. Any feature picked up midway by a new creative will cause an immediate clash of directing styles and is going to feel a little jumbled no matter the talent involved. Subsequently, there is a lot of fallout that never gets properly resolved, from small things like the excessive use of conversational transitions (where a conversation starts in one place and is finished in the next scene in an entirely new location) to a subplot about droid rights which is interesting but is also weirdly – and somewhat dismissively – executed. The most apparent example of this unsettling air of unevenness is in the supporting characterisation; specifically Dryden Vos and Enfys Nest. While I would highlight both as really solid performances and interesting characters, their existence feels like the product of adjustment and course correction. Firstly we have Paul Bettany, who plays the gangster villain Vos well, but his threat level degrades quickly to the point of irrelevance. It has been mentioned that the original actor was intended to be brought to life as a motion-capture alien-humanoid but scheduling conflicts led to the entire part being rewritten and Bettany being brought on board. For an example of what I mean, Vos is described as a formidable force who will hunt you to the end of the universe for crossing him but not only is he outfoxed by a simple deception, his supposedly vast army is merely a dozen easily tricked subordinates. Speaking of which, both Beckett and Vos have an adversary in the form of marauders led by the heavily armoured Enfys Nest. Now, I know the Enfys Nest identity reveal was supposed to be “but you’re just a kid” but because of Star Wars lore and the importance placed on bloody parents and siblings, I was expecting something bigger and more connected; that this is Phasma’s mother or something stupid. Admittedly the disconnected nature of Jyn Erso in Rogue One should have taught audiences not to expect these threads of association but Star Wars fans can’t help but draw patterns and links where there are none. And while I could have left that as it was, as the seeds of something yet to come, the film then dismisses that entire mindset with the BIG reveal (the one that was pushed throughout with coy mentions of “you know who I work for” and “there are more dangerous people in this galaxy than Dryden Vos” etc) which couldn’t be more connected to the expanded universe and will be such a huge talking point for fans.

While several creative changes may have shifted during production, one that would have been past the point of no return is the production design. The amount of work, effort and money that goes in to getting things like costume and casting sorted is a very difficult train to derail but in fairness, the level of detail and design that has gone into the world building/expansion is extremely positive and praiseworthy. Nothing on this film feels rushed or cheap, every frame is flowing with intrigue and oddities – as all Star Wars films should. On top of that, everything is shot beautifully and Bradford Young has done a wondrous job created a dark, murky side of space largely unseen in the main saga. And, as with the casting, John Powell has the extremely unenviable task of making his mark on the Star Wars brand and what we are given with the musical score is perfectly fitting, the John Williams recycling is to be expected but the Marauders theme was particularly pleasing.

I said in my review for The Last Jedi that these indulgence pieces are for anyone who wants to savour nostalgia over progress (not an attack, just an observation) and would a story about Han Solo’s younger years appease, assuage or entertain them? In truth, I don’t know the answer. I feel there are probably too many unanswered questions, a wall of irritating sequel secrets and future developments have been erected but who knows how, when or if they will be addressed and the overall narrative could be described as predictable, formulaic and straight-forward with a tick-box of character components based on peripheral props and throwaway lines three 40 year old films. And yet it works. There are things that mainstream audiences may find uninteresting or convoluted (in terms of delving into the expanded universe) and there will be contradictions, alterations and inclusions that will irk hardcore Star Wars fans. To my mind, this film achieves the insurmountable by taking an extremely well-known character and producing a fun space pirating romp in spite of all the production dramas but the problem with all prequels is that they remove the veil of mystery and quantify the sum parts, leaving us with answers that can feel unfulfilling, like an explorer completing a map and realising there is no more unknown left to discover.


Release Date:
25th May 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the main exciting set-pieces chocked with visual flare and high-stakes adventure is the Kessel Run; a maelstrom of space storms surrounding several resource-rich planets. Navigation of this particular sector of space is extremely difficult due to the multiple hyperspace jumps that need to be precisely co-ordinated, or face obliteration at the mercy of the unknown. On paper this is great science fiction stuff paired with classic high-seas adventure writing. And yet, the reason I am highlighting it, is the obsession of making things fit. Almost every single aspect of the expanded universe stems from a small handful of lines uttered in the original films and one of those is Han’s claim to Luke Skywalker that the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” When it was pointed out years later that this is in fact erroneous, fans made it work, concocting a workaround which define the Kessel Run as an example of Han’s expertise as a pilot, rather than his speed. Admittedly, it strengthens the character but also causes the bite of the original statement to feel a touch lacklustre.. and all because George Lucas didn’t understand a parsec measures distance not time. The knock on effect of such a simple screenwriting action in the late 1970s is truly astonishing.

Notable Characters:
In a strange way, the only returning member of the principal cast is Suotamo as Chewbacca – as he worked with his counterpart Peter Mayhew on the most recent Star Wars films. Not only does he perform admirably on his own in this outing, we experience more of a connection between Han and Chewie than han and Qi’ra; something I should be miffed about but ultimately works because that’s the relationship we know and wanted to see more of.

Highlighted Quote:
“You just lost the canon.. and I really hurt my thumbs”

In A Few Words:
“A rather impressive feat considering the production difficulties and while it is fairly tame and vanilla, it adds enough to the Star Wars universe to warrant its own existence”

Total Score:

3/5