Category Archives: Movies

Review – JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2

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Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane.
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Cert: 16 Running Time: 122 mins
Release Date: 17th February 2017

It is a treat sometimes to return to the familiar, to take another adventure with John McClane, James Bond, Jason Bourne – an action outing led by a character so well defined both in motive and ability, that we sit down happily to enjoy another outing. In 2014 with the release of John Wick, another action icon was born. The success of the film with critics and audiences screamed for another instalment and so at last John Wick has returned.

There’s a reason the first film was so seminal. It marked the return to form of Keanu Reeves in a tailor made role, the kind so physically demanding as to require the laser precision prep Reeves is famous for. It was a simple revenge story but it was weaved into a rich tapestry of a world of killers and their code. And it was directed with style and fervour by former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, bringing us bone crunching action in a world almost as cool as John Wick’s suits. There was also the matter of his car, the 1969 Boss Mustang – an echo of its driver’s prowess –  balletic in performance and relentless in its pursuit.

Chapter 2 offers up everything a sequel should. More of what made the first so great but with extra helpings on top. What it also has, is a cracking story – a legitimate reason for Wick to hit the streets again and returning writer Derek Kolstad has given John a stormer to play this time round. When an old colleague Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), the one who helped him get out of the business years before, calls in a marker, he finds himself in Rome for a hit that will open up a whole new world of trouble and put a price on his head. Pursued by his peers, one of them Cassius (played by Common) seeks his own revenge on a professional grudge and so we are treated to a number of incredible action set pieces as John does what he does best.

The combat is relentless. Measured and precise, you can see every punch, kick and gunshot, all to the frenetic beating soundtrack so effective in the first. Bullets fly, knives stab, Wick kills over and over in a body count sure to top the last film. Stahelski knows his way around the action for sure but he also knows how to set the tone for the piece and bring Kolstad’s script to life. There is unexpected darkness that rises above the carnage and also humour, used sparingly but to good effect as John is asked in Rome if he’s “here for the Pope”. The setting itself is entirely appropriate given the religious iconography that dominates the John Wick universe.

He himself is described as “old testament” and “the devil’s emissary” with Wick returning to his vocation, a celibate man in black. There is a reverence, a church like calm to the safe haven of the ‘Continental’ hotel whose Rome branch is no less welcoming to the killer elite. The production design is a blend of gothic and modern, beautifully realised from the rooftops of New York and Rome to the subterranean tunnels below them. The subway scene is a blast of light and colour, while the catacombs of Rome are lit sometimes only by gun flare.

Blue eyed Scamarcio, brings a Shakespearean cool while Ruby Rose commits to a mute role while letting her hands do the talking. An appearance by Laurence Fishburne works beautifully and bristles with nostalgia and Peter Stomare too is great as a mobster listening to the carnage wrought by the devil as Wick annihilates his best men. As John prepares himself for Rome, his business of purchasing guns, body armour and intel are brilliantly done with a great cameo from Peter Serafinowicz as the Sommelier of firepower.

This is no dime a dozen rehash. Great thought and execution has gone into John Wick’s return. They are world building with every film and I for one can’t wait for the third instalment.

5/5

 

Review – T2 TRAINSPOTTING

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Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Cert: 18 Running Time: 117 mins
Release Date: 27th January 2017

The original Trainspotting was a visceral thumping heartbeat of a film, with breakout performances and a soundtrack that defined the times. Even the marketing was standout, from the black and white character driven art with its shot of neon orange introducing its bunch of losers, misfits and psychos.  It was never a film that screamed for a sequel, a carbon-copy cash-in that would see them all return for another slice of devilment. The film didn’t need it. Yet there is something powerful in experiencing it now after a twenty year gap in the story, inviting a heady hit of nostalgia that completely pays off.

As before the story circles Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) as he returns to Edinburgh for a short trip home from the Netherlands. Feeling reflective after a minor health scare, he  decides to track down his old pals. Unlike Mark, Spud (Ewen Bremner) never managed to get off the heroin and it has for 20 years sucked everything good from his life like a vampire. He lives in tower block squalor estranged from his wife Gail (Shirley Henderson) and their teenage son. Unemployed and unemployable, he goes from one hit to the next.

Sickboy/Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) on the other hand has a thriving enterprise in blackmail – a honey trap with hooker girlfriend Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) extorting money from well-to-do pillars of society who enjoy a bit of kink on the side. Simon himself is a slave to it, using the money to fuel a cocaine addiction and living in a general spiral he can’t escape, running his Aunt’s pub down the docks. It’s an empty shell and so is he.

And then there’s Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Unchanged, he’s still a ball of angry testosterone, ready to go batshit crazy on someone for looking sideways at him. He’s spent the last 20 years in prison and seeing a chance at escape he finds himself back in his old hunting ground and on the trail of the returned Renton, who ran off with his cash two decades earlier.

Based on Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel ‘Porno’, writer John Hodge has again proved himself a masterful adapter of his work. It’s a provocative, funny, weird, violent odyssey of a script that deftly juggles moments of poignancy and hilarity, laying the foundation for great performances, all set to the beat of director Danny Boyle’s incredible vision. Yes, it is another slice of Edinburgh devilment, but it stabs deep beyond the instant gratification of a good joke and crawls under the skin of each one of them.  Boyle deliberately teases the audience with glimpses from the first film and a haunting of notes from the first soundtrack used sparingly and to great effect.

McGregor, Lee Miller, Bremner and Carlyle are all terrific, while Nedyalkova shines in a role given more light and shade than perhaps other writers would have afforded. And then there’s that speech. It’s almost a parody at  first. Veronica asks Mark what the ‘Choose Life’ slogan means and so begins an updated rant from McGregor that is scarily precise, a dose of nostalgia bang up to the date.

If you liked the first film, you’ll love this one. As Empire magazine put it all those years ago – “Trainspotting is here and its toe-curlingly good”. So’s the sequel. See it immediately.

Time waits for no man.

5/5

Review – A MONSTER CALLS

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Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Cert: 12A Running Time: 112 mins
Release Date: January 1st 2017

It’s not often I’m left speechless by a film – tears running down my face, so quick that they’re on my neck before I can catch them. A Monster Calls struck something in me that makes an objective review impossible. It offered not only an incredible and moving cinema experience but it forced me to look at it through the prism of my own grief at the loss of my mother, also from cancer. It hit a nerve, head on, making no apologies and offering no anaesthetic. For some grief is a sudden thing, a baseball bat to the gut. For others, when death is preordained, it arrives early to burrow under your skin, leaving you defenceless against what’s to come.

It’s this grief that’s examined here, as 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) deals with his mum’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. Feeling lost and helpless, he is visited by a monster – a giant yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) brought to life from the local cemetery. The monster offers to tell Conor three stories, (beautifully rendered by illustrator Jim Kay), giving the boy a momentary escape from the devastation not helped by an absent father (Toby Kebell), a distant grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and the local bullies.

Given the emotional nature of the story, it never once manipulates its audience, never once lies to you – it only tells the truth and in that darkness – in not veering towards the saccharine – it becomes something profound and in a way life changing. Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) and writer Patrick Ness work in perfect synchronicity – Bayona completely getting what Ness was going for and capturing it with a magical touch, a perfect mix of fantasy and reality. Had another writer taken Ness’ 2011 novel (based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd), it may have lost some of the darkness. With Ness’ pen it retains all its bite, humour and heart.

Neeson’s performance as the monster is staggering. His voice and the power of his words are stunning, his movements perfectly captured in CGI. Lewis MacDougall is heart wrenching as Conor and Felicity Jones heart breaking as the mother who knows she is leaving her son forever. In speaking about death and grief, A Monster Calls reaches deep into you, healing with its honesty. To grieve is to be human, to love, to laugh, to cry. While its normal to suppress grief, push the pain down, A Monster Calls allows it to bubble to the surface and leaves it respectfully with the audience to process as they will.

Regardless of how personally bound to the story you may be, it is a powerful watch and those just looking for a thought provoking, imaginative and entertaining (for it is) spectacle could do no better for it is as sure a perfect film as has come along in some time. In a word, astounding.

5/5

Review – ROGUE ONE (spoiler free)

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Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Cert: 12A Running Time: 133 min
Release Date: 15th December 2016

The opening crawl of A New Hope will never be the same again. What was once a story catch up device for the events of Episode IV has been given a heady dose of CPR as director Gareth Edwards brings to life the faceless rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star all those years ago. Right from the start, it positions itself as a stand-alone film, grittier, more realistic – a rogue addition if you will. At its core is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) a fearless young woman who knows first-hand the sword the Empire can wield against its subjects. An outsider herself, we find her after a brief childhood prologue, detained by stormtroopers and on her way to imperial prison. Without giving anything away she is soon thrown in the path of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a member of the rebellion, kick starting an introduction to the men who will join them on their mission.

They are a rag tag bunch – all perfectly cast. Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut steals every second he’s on screen,  ably supported by Wen Jiang as Baze. Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi, an imperial pilot whose secret mission fires up the action and an android called K-2SO charms with the funniest lines and biggest laughs. Voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk, his relationship with Cassian is like a parent and truant teenager (the android being the kid) with the script peppered with great quips to ease the dark battle at hand.

In the team’s path is the Imperial Military Director Krennic (played icy cold by Ben Mendelsohn), power-hungry and keen to impress the Emperor. He’s wonderful and his introduction to Lord Vader Will give you chills, shot as it is in shadow and light. Vader, doesn’t disappoint and its his appearance along with other nods to the Star Wars story that Edwards melds together so beautifully. The old and the new blend so seamlessly, a Jedi master could do it no better.

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Like Rey in The Force Awakens, Jyn’s another strong galactic heroine, standing up for what she believes in and Felicity Jones does a brilliant job anchoring what is a massive war movie. As you might expect the film is a jaw dropping spectacle (the 3D is well worth the money) and while the final act is battle driven, Edwards thrills bringing the fight to blue skies and palm trees, an approach that works beautifully. CGI is used sparingly and concentrated on certain key scenes and the film-making team are to be commended for aiming so high and pulling it off – confirming the level of dedication, love and ambition that went into making it.

To Star Wars, Rogue One is like a cool older cousin, visiting from another star system. It’s fresh and exciting but also vaguely familiar sharing as it does the same DNA.

Go see…immediately.

5/5

Review – THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

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Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Cert: 15A Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: 5th October 2016

Good thrillers are always about surprises, curve balls we never see coming that sweep us up in a moment where we forget we’re reading or watching a piece of fiction and are immersed in a moment that shatters our perception of what’s gone before. How disappointing then when we begin to see the cracks early on, when the mysterious is in fact the plain obvious and once deciphered leaves us to bear out the tedium until that which we’ve already guessed, is finally revealed. While readers of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller need not be troubled, knowing as they do the culprit, the same cannot be said for the uninitiated, delivering a lacklustre journey made only redeemable by its leading lady.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes every day on the train to New York City, watching a couple (who seem to have no curtains), have breakfast, dinner and sex on her journey to and from work. When one day she spies the woman, Megan (Haley Bennett) with another man after which Megan disappears, Rachel injects herself into the investigation in an obsessive quest to find her. So far so good. But throw in that the gone girl of the piece is also the nanny to Rachel’s ex-husband (Theroux) and the woman Anna (Ferguson), he left her for and the plot begins to spin far too many webs to remain safely intact. Amidst flashbacks and viewpoints (we get Rachel’s, Anna’s and Megan’s) we are taken into the lives of a group of very unlikeable people and the tone goes from sinister to nasty as each character is unveiled to us.

Rachel herself is flawed. She is an alcoholic, swigging vodka from her water bottle on her commute, bitter from her divorce and scarred by her failure to conceive. All of the women are broken in some way and the depiction of motherhood as driving a woman to the point of madness is unsettling and disturbing to watch as none of the women paint it in even a faintly positive light. Blunt remains the best reason to give it your time and you can see why she would be enticed. She’s terrific and does bring a vulnerability but Rachel is the sort of person you’d rather cross the road to avoid than someone you’d like to help. As the plot threatens to strangle itself, any empathy we feel with her begins to drift away beyond our reach so that when required we can’t pull ourselves back into the story she began.

As a thriller, director Tate Taylor (The Help) sets the premise up well but the film is too self aware. It pushes the sexy button, then the dark button, the shocking one etc. like a vending machine dispensing what it thinks the consumer wants at that given moment. And they do probably want this, but by contrast where Gone Girl was dark and cleverly abstract, The Girl on The Train is heavy handed and pushes too hard leaving the ending when it comes, strangely lacking in tension and ferocity.

Fans of the book may enjoy or they may prefer the version they read on the page. The box office no doubt will tell the tale.

2/5

Review – MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

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Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, with Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Tim Burton
Cert: 12A Running Time: 127 mins
Release Date: 30th September 2016

There are times throughout Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that you want to punch the air for another Tim Burton movie has arrived, one not a million miles from The Nightmare Before Xmas or Edward Scissorhands – for Burton, himself being a celebrator of the peculiar, seems the perfect fit to take on Ransom Riggs’ 2011 bestseller. We are treated to the slurping of eyeballs, stop motion fight club and many more dark and deliciously disturbing things within, but it is the slanting differences between his own aesthetics and  Jane Goldman’s screenplay that ultimately trip the film up in final quarter.

Similar to Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) finds himself falling down a rabbit hole or time loop to visit the children’s home of the title after his Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) dies in mysterious circumstances. Whispering only a cryptic message before he dies, Jake knows his death has something to do with his stories of Miss Peregrine and the childrens home she ran during the Second World War. He sets off on an adventure to discover if the home still exists with his disinterested father in tow (a convincing Chris O’Dowd) and soon discovers a collection of children who along with their guardian (Eva Green) exist in a fracture of time where it is forever 1943.

It’s a mixed affair in terms of delights. Meeting all the peculiar children is a treat, each one weirder than the last,  from the cloth covered scare-children to the boy with bees in his mouth (Milo Parker), the girl who sets fire to things by touch (Lauren McCrostie), the young man (Finlay MacMillan) who like Burton’s Frankenweenie can animate objects with tiny animal hearts and Emma (Ella Purnell) who is as light as air. All of these lead to a picnic of visual delights and Burton has fun exploring their gifts however, their peculiarities are all we see, with very little personality to back them up so that they remain oddly at arms length to the audience.

Eva Green is luminous as the matriarch and protector of these strange children, her costume by Colleen Atwood feeding into her gothic presence while Asa Butterfield excels as the young man who may be just as peculiar as they are. However, the film begins to slowly buckle under its own weight as the plot begins to get more and more confusing. Conflict comes in the shape of Barron played by Samuel L. Jackson, who along with his stilt-walking ‘hollows’ – eyeless creatures with tentacles spewing from their mouths have been looking for Miss Peregrine’s children for many years. Were the story simply an attack by the hollows pitted against these extraordinary children in their spooky home it would have been everything the first hour had promised but when the plot veers to a sequence in a bright techno-pumping fairground, you know something’s gone awry somewhere.

Burton is not all about the visuals, he’s also a terrific storyteller and the theme of isolation – of being at odds with the world around you is well captured but sadly here his pairing with Goldman’s script has straddled him between two worlds, a little like the peculiars.

3/5

 

Review – THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

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Starring: Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Cert: 15A Running Time: 111 mins
 Release Date: September 23rd 2016

Coming a month or so before we get our new season fix of The Walking Dead is British zombie film The Girl With All The Gifts, based on the bestselling novel by M.R. Carey and like a zombie reawakened by the sweet smell of fresh meat, it’s a salivating proposal. In a genre that is ripe for over gorging on well worn tropes, Carey (who also wrote the screenplay at the same time) has brought something new in his approach which definitely pays off.

A child zombie, Melanie (played by newcomer Sennia Nanua), forms an emotional bond with her ‘teacher’ Miss Justineau (played by Gemma Arterton) at an army research facility where she and others like her are housed for experiments in the hope of finding a cure for a zombie virus threatening humanity. Melanie is a ‘special girl’ possessing a partial immunity to the pathogen that may just be the last hope for mankind if Doctor Caldwell (Glenn Close) can carry out her valuable work. As they go about their daily routine, hordes of ‘hungries’ rage at the fences, chomping to get in and when their defences fall, all hell breaks loose and Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) must shepherd, Melanie, Miss Justineau and Caldwell to safety.

It’s a great set up with Parks wanting to kill the girl, Caldwell to protect her precious specimen and Justineau to love her for the caring and thoughtful little girl she is. Nanua’s performance is a revelation as the monster/child hopelessly looking for a mother figure as the world disintegrates around her and it’s a testament to her performance that we completely forgive her her zombie urges. When Justineau catches her looking at a poster of a cat on a cityscape, she asks, “would you like a kitten?” to which Melanie answers “I already had one” – the blood of it slowly drying on her clothes. Each member of the group has their own priorities and as Caldwell obsesses about the importance of Melanie to her research, Parks tells her that the only “mission now is to keep ourselves off the fucking menu”.

Director Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock), has crafted a bleak, disturbing nightmare made all the more real by the fact that the ‘hungries’ are fast on their feet and more than capable of catching up to you if you run. In one scene you can hear them approaching, running through the trees before they find their way into frame, sounding the dread before they appear, their movements quick and erratic, their mouths drooling.

The only thing more horrifying than the running zombies are the catatonic ones, slowed by inactivity, a dormant state until awoken by loud noise or the smell of human flesh. They sway like Triffids in the breeze in one of the most tense nail biting sequences.  Shot in the Midlands around Birmingham, the locations are all real derelict properties from hospitals to shopping centres and for the wider shots doubling for London, McCarthy sent a unit to shoot aerial footage of Pripyat outside Chernobyl giving it a heightened sense of the world gone to ruin. 

Fans of the book will be not be disappointed and the casting of all parts is spot on. No-one could play Caldwell better than Glenn Close who brings her wits and steely nerve to the role while Arterton brings a motherly gentleness to a world gone mad with Considine’s tough soldier showing his own heartache as the cracks begin to appear. The film though belongs to Nanua who’s performance anchors the whole story and the audience’s investment in it, all accompanied by a beautiful, haunting, soulful score by Christobal Tapia de Veer.

Devour and enjoy.

4/5