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4/10
Gnome need for a sequel
11 May 2018
This review of Sherlock Gnomes is spoiler free

** (2/5)

2011s GNOMEO AND Juliet didn't exactly break any records or breathe new fire or indeed didn't bring any new imagination in CG animation but if there were a few things it had, there was a lot of love, heart and a lot of hard work put into re-imagining a Shakespeare classic into a charming and surprisingly funny story about two star-crossed lovers thanks to stunning chemistry between James McAvoy's Gnomeo and Emily Blunt's Juliet. Yet if there was one thing we learnt from it, it wasn't quite good enough to earn a sequel. Seven years later the anthropomorphic porcelain gnomes are back in a new adventure that will determine how strong their love is.

For a while it goes about as well as it sounds, Sherlock Gnomes opens with Gnomeo and Juliet and their motley crew of friends and family moving to a new house in London they enjoy their new garden, having a celebration and planning to change their new home into a flourishing sanctuary, after their parents retire from being the king and queen of the garden this task is given to Gnomeo and Juliet. Tables turn (or in this case gnomes break) when Juliet starts focusing more on the garden than making their love stronger. But when their friends are taken they recruit renowned detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his loyal assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and the team goes an adventure to get their friends back (Have you caught up yet? Good). It's a different story to the previous film but despite the changes in plot by bringing another literary legend into the fray the film never manages to step over the garden - to be fair that was quite a small fence.

Alas, after you've deciphered the mystery behind the story (which won't take long) the film is just a fast paced and flimsily staged mystery leaving the initial surprise to shortly after fade away. The truth is, most of the film feels recycled from the previous film, and it's been built on a weak idea that never really justifies the originality, the thrill, or the suspense of a real mystery. Though Sherlock Gnomes might at least entertain its younger viewers in a pinch, those old enough to differentiate will likely find something better to do, to be fair, we don't blame you. Yet, it's not entirely a shattered plot scattered all over the pavement, as there's an excellent cast and a new twist in the story that happily changes any story before it, but the saving graces aren't enough to glue together the broken pieces, but the reality is there was gnome (sorry) need for a sequel.

VERDICT Fast paced length with a flimsily staged mystery that quickly loses its touch sadly leaving these legendary characters dropped into a dreadful bore.
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6/10
Not very witchy
5 May 2018
This review of Mary and the Witch's Flower is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

WHEN IT WAS announced that Studio Ghibli founder and prestigious Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki would be closing the Totoro-shaped gates, Ghibli veterans Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura had left to form their very own studio inspired by Miyazaki's early hits - and from that inspiration comes Studio Ponoc's debut Mary and the Witch's Flower. Adapted by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi from Mary Stewart's best-selling children's book The Little Broomstick, Yonebayashi had already worked on four top animated roles before in Howl's Moving Castle, The Secret World of Arrietty and finally When Marnie Was There and it's clear that from the stunning opening moments the newly fledged Studio Ponoc is already following in Ghibli's earlier footsteps.

Set in the British countryside, Mary (Hana Sugisaki) is an ordinary spirited young girl who's stuck in the countryside with her Great-Aunt Charlotte, with nothing to do, no friends in sight and no adventure at hand Mary is bored. Until she stumbles across a strange feline that takes her to the nearby forest where she finds a mysterious blue glowing flower, an old little broomstick that would take her to a mysterious land. From just those few minutes it already sounds familiar. After the success of Harry Potter and with another four Fantastic Beasts lined up until the mid-2020s, it's obvious that J.K. Rowling's fantastic magical world has declared world domination. And from the early moments of Ponoc's debut the British fantasy influence clearly shows its face, as soon as Mary is transported to this new world already hits a few familiar streaks; first a castle in the sky that shares a distinct similarity to Hogwarts, secondly a headmistress figure which could be McGonagall, and finally there's a young boy wearing circular glasses that could be a tongue-in-cheek version of Harry Potter.

But unlike its British counterpart, the Japanese version has issues the story is largely predictable; once we already know the story's villains it's pretty clear where this story is going to go, thus leaving them about as dangerously compelling as Thor: The Dark World's Dark Elves, in addition the script perhaps needs a little bit of remodeling. Still while Mary and the Witch's Flower may not be great film - it sometimes struggles to be a good one - but that said it's a convincing proof of its British inspiration concept, plus it particularly makes up for the mistakes with its unstoppable ginger heroine and happily that might be more important in the long run.

VERDICT While it doesn't completely live up to Ghibli and most certainly isn't a great anime but what it lacks in grandeur can be forgiven thanks to a compelling heroine.
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10/10
To Infinity
26 April 2018
This review of Avengers: Infinity War is spoiler free

***** (5/5)

IT'S ALREADY CLEAR that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has installed a lot of pressure on themselves, with social media it's hard enough to create an ongoing trend, but as soon as the trailer for Marvel's 19th and biggest film Avengers: Infinity War launched it became the largest trailer ever on the web with more than 200 million views in just 24 hours. That was a monster record in itself as no other trailer has ever done that, addition to that the pre-sale tickets were selling like hot cakes. The pressure was perhaps too much at this point and there was quite a bit of speculation whether the film would live up to the almost infinite (sorry) hype, well, the time is here as brother directors Anthony and Joe Russo have created an unmissable Marvel film that delivers a dark storyline featuring shock to shock.

Firstly, Infinity War isn't just the culmination of the last few years of Marvel installments, it is the culmination of the last 18 Marvel in ten years, starting from the first Iron Man to now and take our word for it, it's worth every second of the ride. This one opens without the traditional Marvel fanfare overshadowing the logo, instead it's almost deafening, we open not long after the impact of Thor: Ragnarok with the destruction of Asgard and suddenly Thanos (Josh Brolin) a giant purple gilactic warlord puts the survivors to the ultimate test to try and possess all the six Infinity Stones which will put him in control of the entire universe. But it's from minute one that Thanos is not a villain that can be beaten with just the swing of a hammer (Thor should know that), the Avengers are put to the ultimate test.

Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is challenged strength to strength. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is tested through his limits. Captain America (Chris Evans) will find that this is no easy war to win. The story written by Captain America: Civil War writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is dark, darker than all the previous Marvel films before, here nobody is left without a fight, and in terms of scope this has the biggest ever battle scene (but we'll get to that). And at the helm is Marvel's darkest, deadliest and strongest villain Thanos and it's Josh Brolin who's up for the role once again as he said at the end of Age of Ultron "I'll do it myself" and he delivers in spades delivering shock to shock, many dark turns and lots and lots of bodies at his feet. And it's clear that the Russo's have brought the impossible to life, and it won't leave without deeply cutting into your very skin.

How dark is the story? Well that really depends on how much light is at the end of the 149 minute long tunnel, but in terms of how many lives are at stake probably not much. But just like every other Marvel villain Thanos comes with a past, and Thanos' past isn't anything to be triffled with, a past that's filled with war, turmoil and death but anybody who knows his history should know how dark he really is, and despite the many family friendly filters there are through the never-ending saga, he is the darkest one ever. Yet, thanks to Brolin's fantastic performance he's also the most compelling, yes you heard that right he's even more compelling than Loki. But unlike the Asgardian God of Mischief the giant purple warlord isn't simply misunderstood, neigh, he's just a menace. However prepared you may be to watch Thanos putting the universe through ultimate destruction, you aren't ready for the damage he might leave behind, and put it this way, there's a lot of deep scars here, so prepare for the damage.

Yet, the film isn't always dark, there is some lightness here. It's also very, very funny. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is momentarily left speechless. The Guardians are up to to their usual high stakes camaradarie, Star Lord (Chris Pratt) isn't afraid to show his light self, Drax (Dave Bautista) once again shares his comedic duo act with Rocket (Bradley Cooper). It's almost as if McFeely and Markus watched both Guardians of the Galaxy films and jotted down all the jokes. But honestly who would blame them?

Happier still with a long running time, a compelling villain, an all star cast, some very funny jokes and several storylines to follow Avengers: Infinity War stays massively intact thanks to the Russo's exquisite directing style who handle the project beautifully, from handling the massive cast without feeling any fatigue (sorry Joss Whedon), through the expensive yet stunning CGI battles, to the mammoth sized final battle scenes. If you thought the battle of Sakovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron or the battle at Berlin's Leipzig airport in Captain America: Civil War was big then this is a mammoth battle. Indeed Infinity War is worth the decade long wait and who knows maybe the currently untitled Avengers 4 may be bigger than this. However big it is, we certainly can't wait.

VERDICT: Quick on it's wits and quick on it's whims, the 19th MCU film delivers all of them on an intergalactic scale, you may not be prepared for Thanos, but then neither are our heroes.
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Wildling (2018)
6/10
Slightly wild
20 April 2018
This review of Wilding is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

THE NORTH-AMERICAN wilderness more specifically the wooded areas are believed to be the home of many creatures big or small, real or none, but perhaps it's more famous as the place for the many anonymous sightings of the legendary Sasquatch, however German director Fritz Böhm's directorial debut Wildling may be give the giant mythological creature a run for its money. Whether it's a glimpse into an adolescent's life as she goes through mysterious changes bodily changes none of them are of the natural human cycle, or portraying an exquisite female-centered coming-of-age arc that's very different to others in its genre.

When her carer leaves her, she is left to fend for herself against aggressive teenage boys and their hormones, departed parents and womanly welcomings that are otherwise treated as dangerously unleashed. The film has much more to show than just your average teenage story going through normal everyday changes. Böhm leads his solid focus to Anna a blossoming teenager who uncovers dark secrets about her traumatic childhood, a time in which she spent most of her early years locked in an attic where her career (Dourif) tells her stories of a long-clawed, hairy mythical creature that eats children - a bit like sasquatch - but perhaps a little bit more believable...or not (we'll go with, not).

Though while its title might suggest as much this isn't a reference or a direct copycat of Game of Thrones instead it plays like last year's French cannibal hit Raw, however while a little rough around the edges as German director Böhm doesn't do so well with the film's gory moments definitely not as well as Julia Ducournau, she went all out with it so much so that it was almost shocking with audiences walking out or vomiting, but Böhm's approach on the gore is more cagey. He doesn't do too well with the scares either, sure it's shrouded in a murky atmosphere, but he struggles to keep the horror side going for a while it seems that the only scary thing here is a slight fog.

Yet, there's a silver lining found in the film's bare essentials, the perfect casting of 26-year-old Brit Bel Powley who yet again gives a phenomenally feral performance as our beastly protagonist. That and the director's last-minute swerve into a less dense action-packed finale changing the film's genre from beastly horror to action. Wilding may be a little rough around the edges but thanks to Powley's fierce performance who yet again works out as a reliable talent by giving us another remarkable character in Anna, Böhm's debut serves as a solid coming-of-age affair.

VERDICT If a little rough around the edges Powley's fierce and untamed beast-like performance makes for a solid female-centered affair.
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Death Wish (2018)
4/10
Death of a career
6 April 2018
This review of Death Wish is spoiler free

** (2/5)

TO CALL ELI Roth's remake of 1974's controversial classic Death Wish ends in horrendously misleading results, the original was a tough, taut drama about Charles Bronson's mild-mannered family man who became addicted to vigilante violence after his wife and his daughter were taken from him, sure it made Bronson into a strong action hero but in the film's run time it would constantly ask in depth questions about the personal and the social impacts of vigilante violence and what it would do in the long run. Roth's remake decides very early on to rip-up director Michael Winner's original idea like a piece of paper and take an entirely new spin by making it look as if vigilante violence has little, if any, negative consequences.

Sure enough, on paper they share similar plot points; Bruce Willis plays respected trauma surgeon and mild-mannered family man Dr. Paul Kersey until his home is invaded, his wife (Elizabeth Shue) is killed and his daughter (Camila Morrone) is put in a coma for a while Willis is the reliable father figure who takes care of his daughter in hospital while asking questions to the police if they've found anything, when the results end up inconclusive he decides to arm himself and avenge his family.

Throughout the action moments, Willis plays an imposing figure looking like something in your nightmares wearing track suit bottoms, his hood up, a grim look on his face he's menacing, with him looking like the grim reaper, to Roth this is all fun and games showing Willis as a horror figure, as a man who's known for making blood-drenched psycho-horrors he's clearly at home. However he's completely indecisive with his tone, plot-wise he can't decide a route to go down, throughout the 107 minute running time he changes the tone from horror, through drama, to action and finally like Hostel and Knock Knock he adds his natural torture element. But his strategic approach is played so po-faced that the final result comes off as painfully dull and so painstakingly daft that it's almost embarrassing for Willis to be here.

But the real problem of Roth's remake is that it almost feels like a padded exercise for political references, there are endless, pointless, and sometimes silly scenes of radio hosts debating vigilante violence and its negative causes to society. And the mismatched shoot-outs that never have a well-placed tone or indeed any real relevance - waters down the thrills. And indeed Willis is a formidable figure, but unlike Charles Bronson he lacks the style, the grace, the real pulp and the gritty attitude. In fact, it might've been the best option to have left this alone.

VERDICT With Death Wish Roth takes the tough topic of the original through poor heroism, forgettable action and a dire that plot barely holds.
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4/10
A windy mess
6 April 2018
This review of The Hurricane Heist is spoiler free

** (2/5)

BEFORE THE FAST and Furious ditched it's ground elements of street racing and went to rather other worldly techniques; from leaping from sky scrapers in Dubai, through dragging a full bank vault across a highway in Rio de Janeiro, via ramping other cars in London, and finally the latest racing a war submarine in the Arctic - director Rob Cohen's original series opener was a simple Point Break/Street Racer combo. Now he's back for a slice of the gravity-defying techniques with the breezily outlandish The Hurricane Heist in which a group of hare-brained criminals plot to use a category 5 hurricane to pull off a $600 million cash-grab. On paper this genre mash up is essentially Die Hard meets Twister, or Hell or High Water meets Geostorm, or if you want to get really silly it's the opening of The Dark Knight meeting Into the Storm. However it's neither intriguing enough to be anything new nor engaging enough to warrant countless guilty pleasure viewings. The film's plot goes; a group of 30 well-armed mercenaries led by The Witch's Ralph Ineson attempt a robbery on a U.S treasury while using a category 5 hurricane to cover their tracks of the $600 million robbery. Meanwhile Will (Toby Kebbell) a meteorologist, his estranged brother Breeze (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) a mechanic and an ATF agent with a past Casey (Maggie Grace) attempt to stop them getting away with it. Indeed, it's an intriguing premise having cars meeting a massive natural disaster and a heist to put a twist in the whole thing but the poor screenplay which is mostly comprised of expository dialogue leading to almost non-existent character development combined with Cohen's poor direction wrangling the workmanlike action set-pieces with his professional insight to try and make it slightly thrilling but ultimately it's pulled off without the flair. Still, through the workmanlike genre crossing between disaster flick and heist caper/chase film The Hurricane Heist isn't a complete disaster like it's title suggests as there are a couple of saving graces; a moment where a weather tower is winched onto the street and there's a thrilling truck chase meeting Fast and Furious type car skills in the eye of the storm. Yet through over-the-top visual effects looking like they were made for TV blow away any indication of verisimilitude the film tries to embellish. It's truly one of those good-bad flicks but one that's not quite good enough to deserve the big screen.

VERDICT Not a complete disaster as the title suggests but Cohen fails to muster that Fast and Furious ability thus lacking in engaging techniques for guilty viewings.
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I Kill Giants (2017)
8/10
Slayingly good
6 April 2018
This review of I Kill Giants is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

DANISH DIRECTOR ANDERS Walter's directorial debut I Kill Giants is many things; an adaptation of Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura's graphic novel of the same name, a tale of fantasy monsters meets real life monsters, a portrait of a child's imagination, and a fearless tackle of darkness or the rage, via the fear and the inflicting pain of a child's emotions and the final result is as starkly magical as it is heartfelt. Happily landing it a place among the legacy of magical realism siding J.A. Bayona's A Monster Calls and Guillermo del Toro (any of his films really) - it's a film that will fill your heart to bursting thanks to its powerful story that will likely hit you with and unexpected wallop. Count us in...

Creatively it bears a slight resemblance to A Monster Calls, based entirely on Joe Kelly's own graphic novel - who conveniently also wrote the script. So there's already a powerful connection between the two stories which Kelly and first-time feature director Anders Walter handle sensitively - as well as being a powerful portrayal of the realm of monsters and a highly imaginative girl, it also deeply cuts the power of storytelling. Albeit completely shrouded in fantasy it always keeps its feet firmly placed on the ground, blending a well-crafted bridge between the childlike wonder of imagination and deep mature feelings. And this is mostly due to Madison Wolfe's magnetic performance who shines through both settings. In her world of her imagination she's essentially a hero who with her trusted Thundermaker (a giant spear-like weapon forged from the trees of the forest and the horn of an ancient being) she finds, hunts and kills giants. Outside this world she's a social outcast who shows massive confidence, from setting her ingenious traps, through standing up to adults to brushing past bullies with sharp-witted confidence. Still the other performances from Zoe Saldana, via Imogen Poots and newcomer Sydney Wade are great too, but ultimately this is Wolfe's film from start to finish. Though, whether I Kill Giants should be classed as a children's film or an adult's film is completely uncertain. Through the magical fantasy world of the giants there's sometimes a chance that it'll play too young for the eyes of adults, while some of the film may prove to be too emotionally raw for younger viewers. However it's not the giants that are the real monsters here. That would be the grief itself. That's why, if you let the film in, there's an unlikely chance to be a dry eye in the room.

VERDICT Part fairy tale/creature feature/domestic melodrama, it's a stunningly faithful adaptation that'll hit with an unexpected wallop.
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A Quiet Place (2018)
8/10
A silent masterpiece
5 April 2018
This review of A Quiet Place is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

JUST TO THINK, it was only as recent as last year when a person would emerge from an extensive comedy background to direct a horror film - it was, of course, writer-director Jordan Peele who before his box-office breaking, Best Picture nominated debut Get Out he was known for his eccentric comedy outbursts with his co-worker and best friend Keegan-Michael Key on the Emmy winning show Key and Peele. Now - just over a year later we get John Krasinski who like Peele is known for various comedy shows (most notably The Office USA) and his latest film A Quiet Place - which, in short, is a spine-tingling, nerve-shredding horror that ultimately refuses to let up from start to finish.

The premise is pure monster horror - the cataclysm after these monsters have invaded is on a global scale, it's a high-concept monster movie works by simply narrowing it's focus...survival. And just as the human characters (what about the monsters? We'll get to them) try to muffle out the sound by shuffling sand along the floor and making their own home quiet enough to walk around, director Krasinski (who also co-stars and writes) with writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck keep a tight-knit, all-frills locked specifically on tension that just keeps on building up and up until the ladder just can't be seen any more. Krasinski however isn't afraid to assume you already know an outcome by opening the film on the 90th day of the invasion clearly avoiding the manic-day-one tactic (where we can probably guess a lot of bad stuff happened), no, he approaches the subject with experienced characters. Paths have been set with sand, cars have been abandoned, and his house has been completely sound proofed, with carpets, sand set like stepping stones and the family only communicates by sign language. Krasinski plays a competent, intelligent, desperate family man who tries to keep things together in his little kingdom (an abandoned farm house) instantly knowing that even the most negligible dropped clanger will attract terrifying toothsome, long-armed creatures with avocado -shaped skulls which are entirely composed by inner-ear architecture and teeth morphing their heads to hear even the slightest of sounds. Are they aliens? Are they vampires? Or possibly alien vampires (if you want to go creepy)? If indeed the characters had abstract conversations, maybe they'd wonder what they're being hunted by but instead they can only express the barest essential dialogue in order to survive as long as possible. While he pays off as the caring rather rugged survivalist keeping a slight fire ready for a beacon signifying survival, meanwhile his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt) is a rather obvious symbolism of hope for the future she also tries her hardest to keep the rest of her family in check. There's a slight everyday quality to this family that happily allows for you to invest more so in their journey for survival. Though their vulnerability is heightened just that little bit more and also enriched at the fact that there's a child on the way (a newborn that doesn't quite understand the importance of staying quiet) and what they must do in the situation when Blunt is just about to have it.

Happily even during those moments Krasinski still keeps A Quiet Place original for example what do you do if you don't hear the monsters coming? Well, there's an answer for that here as the eldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf so she can't hear the monsters coming and for that it's intensity is heightened. It's a film that just refuses to let up, and why should it? In short, Krasinski is already a well-known comedian and who knows it may even end up being like Get Out. VERDICT Originally nightmarish and a genuinely tense horror which just doesn't let up and by removing the sound it genuinely makes things that bump in the night so much louder. Horror at its best.
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8/10
Get Ready, Player One
29 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This review of Ready Player One only has minor spoilers

**** (4/5)

THERE'S A T-REX in Ready Player One, there's a DeLorean (that doesn't go back in time) and there's a giant King Kong wrecking havoc. Over the years Steven Spielberg has been called many names; auteur, master filmmaker, highly imaginative and cinematic master, yet if there's one name applies to more it's 'Big Kid' and with his latest nerd-fest that title is fairly apt. His latest, based entirely on Ernest Cline's best selling novel of the same name, the film comes chock full of special effects, blistering colour and finally it comes clogged with pop culture references aplenty, think you know them? Well, Spielberg will challenge your knowledge in his geekiest, his most fun, most exciting and his most explosive film in recent years.

We open with Wade (Sheridan), an 18-year-old lad who lives in a slum of Columbus, Ohio a place called The Stacks, a place where trailers are stacked high sat on metal stilts, to get away from this life he spends most of his time in the OASIS, a world where you can be literally anyone, change your facial features, your gender and even your lifestyle, and it's here when Spielberg's film finds it's full breathing room. It's a world filled with vibrant colour, incredible avatars of different sizes, and the real game changer they make up the shape of gaming and movie references. Here Spielberg unlocks his true nerd, and some of his most exciting directing in recent years. For example, there's a moment, not too long into the film where hundreds of cars, the DeLorean, the A-Team van and the Plymouth Fury (which happens to be driven by Lara Croft) are all racing each other through the streets of New York, having already outmaneuvered the Jurassic Park T-Rex, King Kong swings into view and as the angry giant ape appears. It's clear that all your lingering are dispelled - clearly Spielberg is going to deliver on his action-packed ride as promised.

And he's right; this is by far his most exciting, his most spellbinding and his most explosive film in recent years. What follows after is a high-octane, action-packed thrill-ride that is sure to unlock your inner nerd, so get ready, player one. Meanwhile on the outside world, there's the human players, Wade and his gaming partner Samantha (Cooke) have to outrun a big corporate gaming company IOI (who's logo looks a lot like binary from a distance) and their head boss, the ruthless Nolan Sorento (Mendelsohn) who tries to find the Easter Eggs before everybody else, thus leaving OASIS under threat from being taken over.

It's a high-risk contest, then, chasing the Easter Eggs announced by the recently deceased James Halliday (Rylance), the curator of the world. And Spielberg seamlessly melds the fast-paced action between the virtual world, and the real world with dazzling aplomb, melding the peril in both states and upping the stakes once we quickly approach the endgame. However Ready Player One isn't perfect as the film occasionally gets sidetracked by exposition (this is what an 'Easter Egg' is, here's why the Atari 2600 game Adventure is being used) which is only momentarily frustrating, but the real problem is with Mendelsohn, who again does too little to make any differences between Sorento, as he's also a lot like Rogue One's Orson Krennic and The Dark Knight's John Daggett. But, thankfully Spielberg's latest is mostly a joy, for Spielberg letting loose his kind of blockbuster techniques that gave him his name in the first place. And it happily shows that he can still do action-packed sequences like nobody else, clearly, he's back on top of his game.

VERDICT Spielberg has done the impossible; making a virtual world feel real, in his geekiest, his most exciting and his most enchanting film in recent years; it's a pure cinematic pleasure. So get ready, player one.
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6/10
Solidly engrossing
23 March 2018
This review of Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is spoiler free.

*** (3/5)

PROTESTERS ON STREETS. Feuds between national newspapers and the President. President Nixon's re-election. The death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The subject of 1970's America isn't the type of thing that comes to mind in today's standards but modern directors have always found a way to make even the broadest, or the spikiest moments seem smoother through digestible dialogue, killer instinct directing and quick editing to make it action-packed. In January we had Steven Spielberg's The Post a film about the constant feuds between The New York Times and The Washington Post, though Spielberg spent most of the film's running time within the press offices it was still one of the more gripping political films in recent years, and like Spielberg it didn't come without flashy editing. And stellar performances.

Joining Spielberg just two months later is writer-director Peter Landesman who previously centered on politics with his 2013 debut Parkland; about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His latest Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House centers around the secrets of the FBI, more specifically associate director Mark Felt. Set in 1972 after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, Mark (played by Liam Neeson) is at the hair's breadth of becoming the FBI's new director, his fierce loyalty was only matched by his brutal ambition to change America, after he is denied the job and only given a short time to solve the mystery of the Watergate Scandal that took place only a few days before, in the meantime armed (not with a gun) with information, evidence and confidential files he leaks information to The Washington Post.

Story-wise this has been done before, the scandal of Watergate and it's sloppy cover-up, the dramatic perspectives of The Washington Post's journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who were helped to uncover this mystery, the story was previously seen in 1976's All the President's Men and here there's at least as much dramatic intrigue tucked away into the 103 minute running time. Neeson owns the screen with his stunning performance but for a while it seems that this is all Mark Felt has going for it as unlike Spielberg, Oliver Stone's Nixon or indeed director Alan J. Pakula, here Landesman lacks the distinct killing blow for such a subject and as a writer he does a good job condensing a sprawling conspiracy into a digestible feature though he winds up overcooking the plot ultimately missing important points. Yet as a political drama it's solidly engrossing, leaving just enough dramatic intrigue to make a stand.

VERDICT For all its flaws this is a solidly engrossing political drama that's at least good enough to make a powerful stand.
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Peter Rabbit (2018)
6/10
Just about the bunny's ears
16 March 2018
This review of Peter Rabbit is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

IT'S QUITE FAIR to say that the first feature-length adaptation of Beatrix Potter's beloved children's book Peter Rabbit has followed a recent influx in updating older stories to acquire for modern day audiences - namely director Paul King's charming adaptation of Paddington which won the hearts of millions worldwide thanks to a stunning British cast, a heart-warming story which brought audiences to tears and became Britain's most successful animation. A success which then made 2017's sequel the aptly named Paddington 2. This film largely follows in that respect. There's a wide variety of big names all of which make for a surprisingly stunning tale that's sweet, warm, genuinely funny and unbelievably charming. From the off it's like Paddington it's stunningly animated similarly deploying the animation/live-action hybrid through beautifully executed animals so seamlessly that it rarely stands out. We start with Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), a man who moves into the country after losing a family member he does everything he can to get rid of the local wildlife, and Peter (James Corden) does what he can to get rid of him. Peter's a likeable character here, on paper he's essentially the four-legged carrot eating version of Ferris Bueller, as such, some love his zany wise-cracks his jokes and his constant pranks on poor McGregor, however there are many who may not enjoy such things - which ultimately says a lot for Corden's characterization of Peter and the film itself, some will like him and some will be divided. Particularly on director Will Gluck's approach, it's mostly on the pranks (weaponising fruit, re-routing electrical wiring and placing garden tools in a bedroom), however the film fails to delve into the deeper regions of Peter's past apart from a singular hand-drawn snippet of Peter's past life but it never does enough to feel sympathetic for the character - which ultimately will lead this to be divisive among Potter thespians. That said Peter Rabbit is funny, charming and warm enough to happily glide through the story's uneven swerve and it's also cute for the film to just barely get away with making a joke of McGregor's blueberry allergy. There are a few standout jokes such as a hilarious cockerel who wonders about the day-night cycle, an electrocuted hedgehog and the bigger punch line is Gleeson's high-pitched scream at a pig, unfortunately like the story the jokes fall apart too, mostly due to repetition. Yet, this updated version of Potter's book series is funny, charming and happily just about gets away with it.

VERDICT While the story needs improvements this live-action/animation hybrid adaptation makes for surprisingly joyous helpings of silliness and heart.
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The Square (2017)
8/10
Four sides of funny
16 March 2018
This review of The Square is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

SOME FILMS YOU watch, some films you feel, some you cherish and some you hail for their pure ingenious techniques to make you think - by that same meticulous logic, The Square - yet another film about the contemporary world it's also a film you get smacked hard in the chops by. Not by its genius techniques of artful pleasure or its masterful plunge into society monkeys, but by its plain ferocity, it's ambitious style and its pure ability to harm you with shock tactics. Put simply; it's both inherently shocking and brilliantly smart at the same time. Which makes Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund a director to watch and to cherish; he's a man who isn't afraid to make films by his own point of view, a view that sees the complications, the crisis and the challenges of the world we live in. Previously these tactics were seen in his festival favourite Force Majeure, a film about confronting the inevitable and learning to surpass it. His latest is just as complicated, just as challenging and just as thought provokingly smart. He switches from the cold summits of the French Alps to the warm, comforting cityscape of Stockholm. We open with Christian (Claes Bang) the respected chief curator of a contemporary art museum which is at the brink of unveiling a new exhibit one which he hopes will change the art world by bringing people together, with trust and by sharing, it's also one which he hopes will make him famous by becoming a viral success. On the journey to world-wide success his life starts overcoming difficulties, he becomes a victim of a personal and professional crisis, and he often falls to his own egotistical actions.

Östlund's technique is not only using Christian as the victim, through his often hilarious and super-smart script, political correctness also takes a bit of a bashing. There are some moments here that are genuinely harsh (Elizabeth Moss' American journalist mimics the foul-mouthed stuttering of a man suffering from Tourette's syndrome). Apart from that moment which may leave divided, his script is super-smart and laugh-out-loud funny; it's a film where grown-ups behave so appallingly. An argument over a condom in one of the funniest sex scenes and post sex scenes in recent years. Another standout is Terry Notary's (War for the Planet of the Apes) terrifying chimpanzee shriek during a party dinner.

As a director he's brilliant - beautifully exploring Stockholm's Art Nuveau landscape as his camera stunningly glances through the poorer regions of Sweden's capital. The Square isn't a perfect film, at 2 hours 31 minutes long Östlund's astute gazing loses its touch within the last act it couldn't have done any harm to add some cuts to the final product. Still, this is an inherently stunning film while it may not be perfect, it's surely something to cherish. VERDICT Despite the sudden drop Östlund's latest project is a powerful, sometimes silly artscape that's ambitious and so jaw droppingly funny that it hurts.
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Annihilation (2018)
10/10
Annihilates your brain
13 March 2018
This review of Annihilation is spoiler free

***** (5/5)

IF YOU EVER need a well-drawn, super-smart and thought provoking sci-fi (and in this world of identikit sequels, remakes and films we've seen done before we definitely do) a film that will take you on a ride of mystery, the paranormal and take you to a whole new world, then writer-director Alex Garland is your man. Though this isn't the first time he's taken you down this road, his brilliant Oscar-winning debut Ex Machina did pretty much the same thing, which had him take us on a winding road through super-smart thrills involving robots basically it was his vision of A.I. Now, we get his visitation of an alien world. Annihilation is Garland's version of Avatar, and in it he makes true to the different sci-fi tropes while still making it feel solidly original.

First off it sets itself as a women-on-a-mission story - a five strong team of scientists each of them with very different skill sets (there's a biologist, a physicist, a geologist, a paramedic and a psychologist) they are sent on a secret, potentially dangerous mission to a crashed meteor site causing different changes in an area of Florida. But that's just the throwaway plotting, as throughout Garland (loosely adapting the best selling novel by Jeff VanderMeer) in it he tackles routes of grief, depression, loneliness and insanity. And with it he's created a story that could change the routes of typical sci-fi. Natalie Portman is Lena - a cellular biologist who suffers from grief after the mysterious disappearance of her husband (Isaac), she also suffers from solidarity and she always feels that her world is not going to be the same again. Normally it would be difficult to find an actress who can portray this kind of personality with such strength, such sadness and such feeling that can make you feel for her, and it looks like Garland has found his true calling in Portman. Of course you have to praise her co-stars too, who each take their roles (with Garland's magnificent guidance) and they each play them beautifully. There's Jennifer Jason Leigh as a sort of general type in charge of their mission, secondly there's Tessa Thompson who's another world beyond the strong warrioress in Thor: Ragnarok etc. And each of them bring the story to the ground. With that it helps that Garland and his visionary creative team make this world feel as authentic as possible, once through the shimmering purple shield like material it's almost as if Garland has placed our heroines on another planet, a world where evolution has escalated to 11, the animals have changed their features, tree like vines grow on buildings, there are different colours of flowers in the same batch. In short it's a world where nature has no rules, a place where time and space are irrelevant. At the same time Garland gives the audience the big questions; what happens in this place? Is it dangerous? What happens to people in the world? etc. The mysteries are relentlessly unfolded. Here Garland has conjured a world that's beautiful and will have you in constant awe. To be fair, it's best if you just go with it as the film drags you in.

Garland was late coming to the director's route; Annihilation is only his second film yet it feels he's been directing for his entire life, but he hasn't been, he started out as a novelist (he wrote the novel to The Beach), later he turned screenwriter going on to write film's such as 28 Days Later and Sunshine to name a couple - this was all years before he took the plunge to write and direct his exceptional debut which was only three years ago. Whatever made him take his time to make these two films it's all been worth it, this is worthy follow-up to Garland's directing career essentially proving that his debut was no joyous accident one that soon saw him become a recognizable figure. And we can't wait to see what he does next. VERDICT Asks questions of mystery but then unravels into something deeper, a film that have you stunned with awe. This is sci-fi at its best.
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Mom and Dad (2017)
6/10
Cage back into madness
9 March 2018
This review of Mom and Dad is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

IT'S ABOUT TIME that we get the Nicholas Cage version of The Shining, he's mad again but this time, he uses more of his frenetic energy to an advantage, his character in Mom and Dad goes bugf*ck wackadoodle while trying to kill his kids. It's unexplained why he does it but what it does show is that if you swing an axe at him he will go crazy, like Jack Torrence he's full on gonzo, and throughout he's incredible to watch. Whether he's singing a messed up version of the hokey cokey while hacking at a pool table or running down a corridor while barking like a dog. Of course weapons are included, and instead of sticking to the axe - Torrence style, here it's a more unique weapon called a Sawzall. "IT'S A SWAZALL" Cage says with his bug eyed stare, "BECAUSE IT SAWS ALL" it's quite a poor pun but you get the picture.

The plot of Mom and Dad is absurd after 80's style opening credits exclusively played to a subtle soul track it starts off calm with Brent (Cage) a bored office drone who spends his time sleeping at his office, then there's Kendell (Blair) who gave up her career as a journalist to become a full-time housewife who struggles to find time for something else. They are parents of two kids - a teenager and her little brother. On paper it starts like an average thriller, but when writer-director Brian Taylor (Crank and Crank: High Voltage) changes the premise he adds crazy to his menu. For reasons unexplained and not properly explored a nasty, mysterious disease turns parents into ravenous murderers - they're target: their children, as Taylor switches the film into Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory, and what he maniacally offers is an idea that's executed in both disturbing and hysterical ways.

Sure around the halfway point the giddy novelty of the bat-sh*t story wears off leaving the execution about as shrill as a banshee's scream after stepping on a Lego brick but happily Taylor keeps things lively when the story needs revitalizing by adding subtle flashbacks of Brent and Kendell's memory showing a happier time with their kids. On occasion as a horror satire it works (Cage's bulging eyes is enough to make you shudder) however due to the film's nature in its disturbing violence it will sometimes leave you divided (a simply jaw-dropping delivery room sequence being a standout). Yet as a Cage mayhem delivery system, it's utterly bonkers and highly effective.

Also there's a hysterically inspired late twist - a punch-line of sorts involving the older generation that kicks in just when it needs to, and there's some muscular zippy camerawork. However it's just not hard to notice that this is indeed a wasted opportunity for Cage -maybe if there was a tighter script and a higher production value, it could be The Shining.

VERDICT Despite the desperately shrill plot that loses steam halfway through, this is a surprisingly enjoyable and endlessly thrilling horror comedy that brings the Cage we know back into madness.
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Wonder Wheel (2017)
4/10
Tired wheel
9 March 2018
This review of Wonder Wheel is spoiler free

** (2/5)

"WOODY ALLENISMS" ISN'T a real phrase, but it could be one as a way to describe the latest yearly installments of Allen's drama's from the opening credits playing an old timey soul track, through the period setting whether it's Paris in 1927 (Midnight in Paris) or 1930's Hollywood (Cafe Society) and the stunning production design that warmly invites you to the setting. Wonder Wheel is no exception to this, set in Coney Island during the 1950's (no specific date) the setting may look familiar to Allen veterans as this is the location he used in 1977's Annie Hall and 1987's Radio Days, the seaside theme park here is beautifully photographed having the titular big wheel bang in the centre dominating the sky - richly plastered in period detail, the beachers dressed in 50's swimming attire, it's a place full of vibrant colours. That's not the only thing that makes it an Allen film, his characters are also surrounded in his style of person - from a middle-aged carousel operator (Belushi), his beleaguered wife who contemplates he unfulfilled dreams (Winslet) an estranged daughter (Temple) and then there's the narrator a life guard who dreams of becoming a playwright like Eugene O'Neill (Timberlake). As always with Allen there's a big name cast to play these people all fulfilled with stunning performances especially the ever-so-good Winslet who yet again gives her best as a starved waitress who dreams of accomplishing better with her life. Given his usual strategy this one is no stranger to the Allen we know, coming off the back of his acceptable Cafe Society it seems here and with most of his later career films he's on autopilot, predictably filling his film's with tropes that are acceptable to him. And that's normally fine but here it's wasted. Like the film's titular big wheel the plot goes around in a circle, there's a love-triangle that he's done better before, there's a wasted gangster plot and there's a handsome starving artist telling his story. If you were to play cards with Allen this one pulls the same cards he's played before in many better ways. And sure he plays them well here, he approaches the love triangle trope like he has done before, he goes through the frantically distressed woman plot (beautifully performed by Winslet). But given his previous record he can and has done it all better. Albeit, Wonder Wheel isn't all bad as the cinematography is marvelled by beautifully vibrant colours and the period costumes are glorious as always. And it may not be the worst of his later films but it might be time for him to try new wheels.

VERDICT Wonder Wheel is plastered in a terrific cast and boasts stunning visuals but due to a clunky script retreading tired storytelling it misses the overall wonder.
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Game Night (I) (2018)
8/10
A winning game
2 March 2018
This review of Game Night is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

IT MIGHT BE possible that the poster for Game Night might put you off, on it we get the following eight words "from the guys who brought you Horrible Bosses" those words there might be a slight indication that the film warns you that it's going to be just as bad, just as dry and perhaps just as messy. But, as the film starts it's almost the complete opposite to those exceptions - directing duo John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein (they only wrote Horrible Bosses) prove to be a winning team, in both the comedy and the crime caper genre.

Dedicated married couple Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) who constantly join their group of friends for a weekly game night which also acts as a welcome distraction to their ongoing debate on whether they should start a family (she's always pro, and well he's against it's a never-ending spiral). However their sacred gaming tradition falls apart like a Jenga tower on a wobbly table when Max's irritatingly successful estranged brother Brooks (Chandler) stages an elaborate murder mystery - complete with fake thugs, blood packets and even going as far to involve federal figures. Only for it to be interrupted, forcing the pair and their group of close pals to save him from the clutches of actual criminals. What follows during the film is a delightfully absurd, terrifically dark and wickedly funny mission to find his brother.

This may sound like it's going to run askew during its particularly tight-as-a-whip 100 minute running time and granted it isn't a perfectly flat-out run of laughs - during a saccharine moment during a game of Pictionary that openly jars given it's surrounding madness - still the film has plenty on offer as Daly, Goldstein helped by Mark Perez (writer of Herbie: Fully Loaded) throw plenty of twists at the audience mostly at the characters' expense it's funny in that sense - in particular it's the physical objects that generate the most laughs. Though it's not as if the film is original in its casting choices though, for this you might blame the choosing of Jason Bateman - a safe bet - but it's one where the film suffers in the long run.

Yet, amid the unfolding madness the film happily gives its supporting players something to do. There's the handsomely dim-witted Billy Magnussen who finds himself unexpectedly falling for Sarah (Sharon Horgan). But the real show-stealer is Jesse Plemmons' creepy westie-loving police-man. But the film isn't just after mindless laughs that will have you wetting yourself (admittedly you still do), it doesn't resort to slapstick territory, instead the film has a razor-sharp screenplay and a fleshed character story given us lead characters that we actually care about. How often can we say that about a comedy?

VERDICT: With a terrifically talented cast turned loose on a loaded premise with a whip-smart script Game Night is definitely more exciting than the real thing.
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I, Tonya (2017)
8/10
Axel folly
23 February 2018
This review of I, Tonya is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

IN JANUARY 1994 - Tonya Harding famous for being the first American woman to complete the most difficult trick in Figure Skating this gained her a reputation as an adored sports-woman she literally had the world at her heels (or in this case her blades). However it wasn't long until she became infamous for an alleged attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan. So more often than not she's remembered not only as having a dislikened attitude towards the pompous judges and sometimes against the audience - also she's remembered for the attack on her rival which not only got her banned from all future Olympic events but she was also forced to retire from skating in general. And, I, Tonya is more than capable of showing her life. We start with Tonya as a child played by Gifted's Mckenna Grace already forced into the world of figure skating only a few years before by the rule of her overbearing mother LeVona Harding (Allison Janney), Grace pulls a terrific performance as the already tortured child who starts to gain a bad attitude especially towards her dance teacher (Julianne Nicholson) - behind that though is a young skater who's ambitions are high, competing at a high level she quickly becomes a world-renowned athlete. On the ice she's dedicated to winning a life that's better than her own; at home she's tortured by her mother who sees it as a way to get her to become a champion. Then we skip to her teenage years - now it's Margot Robbie to take the reins - on the verge of gaining world fame after competing in championships, she finds a chance to escape from her tortured life at home and get away from her mother when she meets Sebastian Stan's Jeff Gilooly, but even after that moment when she feels better for the escape life doesn't entirely get better for her - not totally away from the abuse - it seems that the ice is her true home, she's utterly relentless thanks to a few action scenes that are fast-paced, well-timed and beautifully shot. But that's only the bare essentials; you have to credit the performances too. As Tonya, Robbie impresses, entirely capped in ugly wigs, completely stunning through visceral action scenes, complete with the attitude to be fair if you were to essentially rank her performance on a scale, it would very different from playing Leonardo DiCaprio's wife in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, however her performance here is almost the same as the pure insanity of Harley Quinn - from her attitude on the ice, through the arguments with her husband, to the back-chilling Harley Quinn stare which is enough to make your skin tingle from head to toe. So despite her popularity in Hollywood she's not exactly a poor choice here. Her performance is more than a match for her co-star Allison Janney, as a woman who's not only a keen supporter of her daughter (in her own way) she succeeds as the vicious woman, the result here is even scarily close to the real person, complete with the gold faux fur coat, the bird on her shoulder and the wire of an oxygen tank snaking through her room up to her nose after years of smoking. As a performer Janney has had that streak of cruelty in her roles, but she's also had a nice side to her - not entirely on show her but that's what makes her performance so good (definitely earning her first Golden Globe win). There's only one criticism with I, Tonya, sadly the action scenes aren't as visceral as they should've been, granted they're fast paced but they fail to a noticeable rubbery CG of Robbie's face plastered over the face of a stunt double. Also the film sometimes gets distracted from winding road of Tonya's making it difficult to get into the underbelly of her turbulant life. Yet still the film is consistently gripping, darkly funny, and utterly relentless, ultimately convincing the audience her tale of trial by media, but Gillespie's directing through the dark winding road into sort of Goodfellas type territory, the stunning performances may perhaps ask you to reconsider. Changing her from the villain to the heroine, but really, what's so wrong with that?

VERDICT Robbie and Janney give gold medal winning performances through darkly hilarious storytelling, if you only watch one biopic this year - make it this one.
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Lady Bird (2017)
8/10
It doesn't fly, it soars.
16 February 2018
This review of Lady Bird is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

CHRISTINE 'LADY BIRD' McPherson is an artistically-inclined girl who wants to be in a different place "I want to be where the culture is" she says to her mother. And this stunning story tells it all; 1) She wants to be a better person; 2) She never believes in herself; 3) She always tries to make herself the centre of attention. Writer-director Great Gerwig's directorial debut is a warm, smart and deeply honest drama about the turbulence of teenager's life at that pinnacle moment when they're about to leave childhood and enter the road of becoming an adult. Her writing has humanising moments, as much as she goes through the inspirational routes of other films in the sub-genre; she also hits original straights in her excellent directing. Though she never always puts us on the heroine's side, as her story tackles many harsh turns, however while watching she asks only one task simple task; that we understand the turbulence of Christine's life. And we sure do. Lady Bird is an eloquent, emotional and a warmly original coming-of-age drama that sees director Gerwig as a truly polished filmmaking talent. Christine is frustrated and bored in her small town outside of Sacramento or as she calls it the Midwest of California. She dreams of going to an arts college in New York City, or at least as far away from her current situation as possible - though her despairing family a fun-loving sometimes scary mother (Metcalf) and her out-of-work father (Letts) can only afford a local college. So she's stuck in the turbulent life line of her family life and her school life. Ultimately boarding in the sense of 17-year-old narcissism. Through the film's heart there's a warm breathtaking center as our teenage heroine overcomes many beautifully set up milestones - losing her virginity through breaking up with her boyfriend (Lucas Hedges), via crushing on the cool guy (Timothée Chalamet) to losing her best friend (Beanie Feldstein). And though these moments may inadvertently sound like conventional teen movies, Gerwig's set-up is anything but. Lady Bird is a cute film but it never steps too far into the cutesy, the singular talent of Gerwig is apparent - well, for young women everywhere anyway having previously wrote Frances Ha and Mistress America her talent is clearly nothing to be trifled with. Her debut is painfully hilarious and historically beautiful and certainly unmissable. Her skill at writing cool storyline quirks, a beautiful teen story and Saoirse Ronan's characterisation of Lady Bird is something to be credited too, you have to credit her as she beautifully plays this teenage heroine so well, and you could essentially say that it's from memory. That and Gerwig's direction is something that will live long in your memory. Never has a debut been so bright, so assured and heart-warming, well, until now anyway. VERDICT Ronan gives her best performance ever in Gerwig's beautifully made debut that's better than her previous few films and her hardly poor back catalogue.
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8/10
An underwater masterpiece
14 February 2018
This review of The Shape of Water is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

FROM PAN'S LABYRINTH, through Hellboy, via The Devil's Backbone to Crimson Peak, throughout his filmography Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has always had a way with creating intricate storylines with a simple character you can route for from start to finish. He's always had a way of layering his stories like an onion; firstly there's the simple opening - this can be the lead character or the narration of the story. Secondly there's the development of the character. Then there's the technical stuff; what the film looks like, what kind of visuals there are and what the storytelling entails through the visuals. And lastly there's the intricate ending whether its open ended (the first Hellboy) or it's closed ended (most of his others). This, essentially has given the Mexican native a career that's unlike most other directors, plus he can't be the only director out there who makes fairytale romance and horror work. Previously it was his gothically enchanting creep-fest Crimson Peak, there he went the supernatural route when a woman fell in love with a ghost. With his latest The Shape of Water he has achieved something on the level of La La Land; here he has made a beautiful, delicious and truly magical love story, which is as much of a paean to the world of cinema as it is a visually stunning, beautifully shot love story. One that takes you on a mesmerising ride from start to finish. We start with the simple route in the story; Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute woman who makes her living, working as a late-night janitor at a secret government facility in Baltimore during the Cold War in the early 1960's. At first, she's isolated living in an apartment above a cinema, and the only person she has for company is her neighbour (Jenkins), a has-been advertising artist who is her friend and confidant if she ever feels lonely. Her life revolves around watching old musicals, however despite the war setting there's only a tiny glimpse of war on a TV screen, and that's pretty much it other than that image war never makes an introduction through this story. Like in his other films, and his well-rounded characters here he wants to keep reality firmly at the bay (or in this case the water). But reality isn't an option with del Toro, there's always something that takes his storytelling to a level above reality, and this one is no exception to his fairytale storytelling. Elisa's life is seemingly at a dead-end, constantly working the same shift until the scientists find a mysterious amphibious creature, which looks like a mutant experiment between that creature off The Black Lagoon and Hellboy's Abe Sapien, and she slowly starts to fall in love with the creature. And it's here where the story shows off its true blue-ish colour. Like Pan's Labyrinth before it, this one is visually stunning, it's beautifully shot (a stunning shot of the creature coming out of his pool doesn't go without a mention), its inertly sweet, warm-hearted and charming. Through every moment his story is absorbed by exceptional performances, however full praise here goes to Hawkins who dazzles as the mousy mute lead. Also like Labyrinth, The Shape of Water has its darker routes; here we have Michael Shannon playing as ruthless G-man Agent Strickland, who sees the creature as a freak that must be tamed right away. He does anything to see his asset get hurt in vicious ways, and does anything to stop his escape. Of course you have to credit del Toro's imagination who keeps the story strictly romantic (a standout shot of Elisa seducing the creature) and it truly works on that side up until the end. Sadly, The Shape of Water isn't as good as it should've been it doesn't thoroughly work throughout and as much as it's imaginative storytelling follows original spates, there are moments where the storytelling falls to repetition of del Toro's other fables. Still, the film is a truly enchanting, mesmerising and magical one, that won't be forgotten any time soon. VERDICT Stunning visuals and enchanting storytelling bring del Toro's heart-warming and charming adult fairytale romance to life thanks to a dazzling performance by Hawkins and excellent production design.
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Black Panther (2018)
8/10
The MCU has cat-like reflexes.
13 February 2018
This review of Black Panther is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

WITH ONLY A few films to his name director Ryan Coogler has taken a real turn in the world of cinema, first was tough-bearing directorial debut Fruitvale Station which was only a small indie project but after that it didn't take long for his name to be on the map, it was, inevitably a few years later when he made his second feature Creed (Rocky 7) where the illigitimate son of the late Apollo Creed would take his turn in the boxing world, and finally his third and latest film Black Panther is his chance at a big budget feature. However not only black power a main symbol in his features there's only one actor who has collaborated with the director in every one of his films; Michael B. Jordan. Black Panther opens not long after the death of his father King T'Chalka, which would then conjure up his revenge in Captain America: Civil War. Here he has swapped from being a supporting player to being the main feature, he's just about to be crowned King of Wakanda, the fictional African nation which has made an occasional entry in other MCU movies. For the ceremony he has to take on a challenger in gladiator-style combat, there's African-drum music in the air and the Wakandan natives are chanting to the beat. This is an important scene, one that changes the world of cinema in an excellent way, granted on occasion there have been a few films that make a few homages to a homely place, for example 2009's Avatar had the main character going to meet other tribes and there would be different design's to their clothing. Coogler follows that same insight. Like Taika Waititi before him who paid energetic homage to his home of New Zealand by adding his Antipodean style humour in Thor: Ragnarok, here Coogler is the polar opposite, he swaps the humour for the colour of the country and their natives who dress in African-style colours from bright reds, through yellows to the bright greens, even through the Africani accessories. Coogler's attention to the detail is exquisite.

With that in mind, it's also an important film one that shows how much 21st century has changed and you could argue that it's for the better. After becoming king, T'challa (Chadwick Boseman) has to face his biggest challenge, to protect his country against the invasion of a former soldier with a mysterious past Jordan's Erik Killmonger (which sounds like a gaming profile), who wants to overthrow the king. So that's your average Marvel movie storytelling right there. However, Coogler doesn't make it the average Marvel film apart from his exquisite hand in the Africani detail, it's perhaps the most visually stunning comic-book movie, and the Panther's suit changing colour, the sand-like holograms and the amazing cityscape which shines thanks to Rachel Morrison's gorgeous cinematography. There's so much good in Black Panther, excellent action, stunning visuals, gorgeous cinematography and a director who pays an energetic homage to Africa, but the real standing point here is the female characters, from Danai Gurira, through Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o to T'challa's mother played by Angela Bassett. Who all put in excellent performances along with another standout performance by recent award's darling Daniel Kaluuya. Boseman and Jordan are excellent too, but here they're made into supporting players by these brilliant performers. In short, Coogler's go at the MCU and his third feature is a brilliant entry to his growing filmography one that takes an important scratch in cinema. VERDICT Like Waititi before him Coogler pays energetic homage to his past life in the MCU's latest super extravaganza.
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4/10
Freed of Shades
10 February 2018
This review of Fifty Shades Freed is spoiler free

** (2/5)

IT'S KIND OF ironic really that an erotic series which started out it's history as a Twilight sag fan-fiction where sex, BDSM, and safe words are prevalent the Fifty Shades trilogy has stayed surprisingly safe handed. Granted those points remain as the anchor in the film's storytelling. Also since starting in 2015 it never seems to have celebrated the kitsch like one of those '90s DTV erotic thrillers with boundary pushing titles such as Lethally Blonde. Plus it never takes the serious side of what kind of relationship that the author was aiming for when she initially wrote the books by taking a full-on dive into erotic obsession, it basically ends in the same route thus resulting in something that's horrendously tame, filled with mostly poor affairs, not too bad enough to be audience guilty pleasures or indeed good enough to be, well, entertaining. Fifty Shades Freed largely follows in that same route.

Yet again, the result is as tedious as the previous films; adapted by James' husband, Niall Leonard again Freed doesn't have much of a story as such. Instead after an opening montage of Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) tying the knot of marriage, starting their honeymoon, can you guess where they end up? These moments are essentially stringed up vignettes thus compromising different types of porn. Of course, we get the handful of BDSMarital get-togethers (there are handcuffs on ankles, sex toy teasing, and all sorts of shenanigans involving ice cream, these are almost exclusively played out to a slowed down retro hit). And alongside that the film also gives us a handful of other types of porn, there's a private jet, a flashy sports car and finally workplace porn etc. Are you keeping count? No? We aren't either. If you remember it, the first one centered on an arc for Anastasia to go on, from virginal student to a sexually awakened paramour, but after the tedious second film, here there is no such luck on having that arc again. Then with what slithers of plot this one has to offer, it then takes in it's premise to turn into an afternoon TV style thriller, here it revolves around the return of Ana's former boss Jack Hyde (a terrible Eric Johnson) the creepy guy from Fifty Shades Darker. Often as far as revenge plots go, (some can be good), it is a slow, dull burn with tedious results and as per usual with the thriller premise the final thrill normally doesn't appear until the last few moments but here after some same ol' routes into BDSM it's left predictable and boring. Indeed Fifty Shades Freed certainly is some hokey stuff, but it's not all bad it's beautifully shot and there's a charming performance by Johnson (the female one) but yet again the third in the trilogy is as tedious as the other two and we for one are glad it's over.

VERDICT: A tedious end to a damp squib of a trilogy which sees Johnson as the only one to be freed completely unscathed.
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4/10
A remake of Heat that loses it's heat
2 February 2018
This review of Den of Thieves is spoiler free

** (2/5)

WITHIN THE OPENING section of writer-director Christian Gudegast's directorial debut Den of Thieves there's a brutal shootout where the shooters execute a clever idea when local police call in - it's an idea that claims the summary of, not just the films plotting, but also the execution of most of its meaty action set-pieces. With that and the stunning overhead shot of the light-filled rain-soaked streets of Los Angeles, it's clearly a promising homage to heist thrillers of old, as co-writer Gudegast makes for a confident substitute for those classical directors. However with the film's other action set-pieces, the set-up of the heists and the plans for the police to chase these criminals. With those in mind, have you guessed it? Yes, it's Michael Mann's Heat; in fact the film doesn't just make those references as homage to the classic 1995 thriller, it's a full-on copy-and-paste job. Firstly the cast has been substituted from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro instead we have Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber. Butler plays Nick 'Big Nick' O'Brien; he's the leader of the Regulators, a unit of elite County Sheriff Deputies. He's a man who spends most of his time eating, a lot. But he's also a man who has a hell of a temper, though instead of yelling "this is Sparta" here if you piss him you get bullets in the back. On the other side is Schreiber, he is Ray Merrimen the leader of an elite team of criminals, mostly bank robbers, who plan the biggest robbery in Los Angeles. This surprisingly is within the film's 90 minute mark out of the total 140 minutes of running time, after this, throughout the last 50 minutes the film loses momentum by going through many bad ideas, an overstretched plot and finally a silly end twist which seemingly leaves the one in The Usual Suspects brilliant in comparison. Sure the idea of buffed-up men firing automatic weapons at each other might please some audiences, yet the truth is once the giddy novelty of the brutal, cool opening shootout wears off this is all hokey stuff that, irritatingly, runs for far too long. Though that's not to say Den of Thieves is a bad heist thriller, as director Gudegast does make some novel choices in his filmmaking, there's a keen montage of each side planning their attack and the film boasts some intriguing camera angles. And while the keen ideas show that the first-time director has experience with the genre. Which he does, having previously wrote A Man Apart and London Has Fallen (also starring Butler) so he certainly knows his way around, but here what should've been a smash-mouth, fast-paced piece of entertainment clocking in at 90 or 100 minutes long it ultimately becomes a 140 minute half-baked pie. Perhaps it would've been better if Pacino was walking around these streets, actually maybe not. VERDICT Starts well by paying energetic homage to classic heist thrillers, ultimately finishes dull sadly missing the mark and losing all its heat.
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12 Strong (2018)
6/10
Moderately strong
26 January 2018
This review of 12 Strong is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

BRAVERY, POWER AND strength take their hold through the plot of Jerry Bruckheimer's produced true telling war drama 12 Strong, based on the alleged declassified mission when CIA Paramilitants and American Special Forces would join forces and invade Afghanistan after the events of 9/11 to kill the Taliban. However those points aren't just the central nail for the plot, they're also what carries the film through its pulsating action. Sure this idea is often clankingly direct as the film progresses, yet it gives a scent of the decent layout through its 130 minute running time. However, despite the robustly delivered action and an interesting big-name cast helming it, this core idea sadly falls to the straightforward storytelling of patriotic heroism and a weak script which often has it's actors talking through bombastic poster taglines and not really much else. Saying that though, there's obviously a reason why Bruckheimer attached himself to the film, maybe it's the core material based on Doug Stanton's novel 12 Horses, or perhaps it's the bravery of a dirty dozen who take a chance and fight back - it could also be the chance to do something other than the recently botched plotting of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. It could, in fact, be all of them that gained his attraction, the attraction of Danish first-time director Nicolai Fuglsig and the talented cast. Chris Hemsworth (taking a break from the MCU) plays Captain Mitch Nelson, a man with limited combat experience, who's mostly bunged-up behind a desk, he and his trusty lieutenant (Michael Shannon) are given the task to fight in Afghanistan where they'll be tied with their foreign general (Navid Negahban). While the sandy dozen tour through the gorgeous desert backdrop, there are a few Sergio Leone-ish action scenes - of horse, guns, tanks and giant explosions clashing together. It's an entertaining war-drama which has keen intentions happily carried through its core performances - sadly the action, though stunning, especially with an explosion taking up half the screen, it isn't anything we haven't already seen before. And it's that thinking where the action often falls to repetition, it's almost as if the editor left during production and recycled the same material. Still, that said, 12 Strong boasts stunning cinematography, a big name producer and a hefty cast all with brilliant performances there's even a surprise dramatic turn by Rob Riggle. All are big with their intentions to grasp the powerful premise and to grasp the true intentions of bravery from the core material - yet the truth is the film sadly loses another point for lacking in characterization. Indeed it has problems through its forgettable plot it's an entirely brazen film that comes with power, the determination of odds and a strong heart. VERDICT Invigorating action and a solid cast lead in this fact-based war film that sadly loses its way from limited character a soft core and an underwhelming story.
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Downsizing (2017)
6/10
Big ideas, left short
24 January 2018
This review of Downsizing is spoiler free

*** (3/5)

ALEXANDER PAYNE IS a man of ideas both of big and small proportions, by looking at his brilliant filmography you would see that he's been at the helm of three great American road movies; Nebraska, About Schmidt and the Oscar winning Sideways. Essentially he's Ant-Man, a small man working in a big world - the world is his Oyster and he is the big shiny pearl at the center. On the subject of smell men working in a big world, his latest has moved away from the aforementioned sub-genre in Downsizing. Through the film the evidence of his big heart clearly shows, in large doses his brain is pulsating with big ideas, like a city for small people. In the end it all sounds clever but the result is an overly-ambitious endeavour that produces many big ideas that are sadly small in execution inevitably leaving it squashed. Matt Damon plays Paul Safronik a man working in a dead-end job, living with his wife Audrey (Wiig) in the same place where he grew up. They dream of moving up in the world, of having a better that's better for them in the long-run. So they decide to go under the completely irreversible process known as downsizing where people are shrunk to just 5 inches (12cm) tall. Here Payne introduces a stunning selection of images going through the extensive, painful looking procedure; he's shaved bald, his teeth are removed, he's put on a bed where he's then put into an industrial microwave (get it?) and he leaves at about the same size of a peanut. Then he's moved to a new dream-like mansion that looks like one of those very expensive dollhouses from Argos. And it's here where Payne's biggest ideas are unearthed he beautifully explores the city of Leisureland, a large city filled with dream-like manors, several fitness suites, pools, hotels etc. Complete with a dome-like net protecting the city from the bigger things outside. And the film looks dazzling while doing so thanks to breathtaking visuals and stunning cinematography making the town as beautiful as possible. There's a big heart, a big premise and some big talented names here such as Damon, Wiig, Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau working together at the helm producing brilliant performances. Sadly Downsizing's overly-ambitious exterior falls to Payne's editing techniques i.e. the pacing, at 2 hours and 15 minutes the story often feels stretched as Payne tends to linger on a couple of shots, granted they're stunning but they ultimately end up empty, which also impacts on the film's central heart. Sure this may pass through some thanks to Payne's hilarious light-hearted writing but to others the big premise isn't all it's cracked up to be. Still that said Payne's latest is a beautiful and ambitious idea that's filled with heart, packing heaps of hilarious light charm and hearty warmth. VERDICT Big on heart and big on ideas Downsizing offers them large in size yet the result is left short and often unfinished limiting enthral in Payne's usual calibre.
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Coco (I) (2017)
8/10
Very tasty animation
19 January 2018
This review of Coco is spoiler free

**** (4/5)

DIRECTOR PETE DOCTER'S Oscar winning Inside Out wasn't just a film about four colourful characters with very different emotions. It was also one of the best looking animated features in recent years, with that and a heart-wrenching message at the end it was one of the films that firmly secures it among the Pixar greats with Toy Story (all of them), Up and WALL-E - and to be fair it deserves to be up there. Their latest, Coco happily joins that list from a creativity point of view. The film takes place in Mexico taking a broad focus on the country's art, music, history and the customs including the annual Day of the Dead festival. We open with 12-year-old Miguel (Gonzalez) an aspiring musician who dreams of being famous like his idol Ernesto De La Cruz (Bratt) however his family's ancestral ban stops him from pursuing the dream. With his persistence and guitar in hand he's transported to the Land of the Dead. A musical underground town that's filled with high-rises beautifully lit streets, skeletons and spirit animals and thanks to the bright colour palette and stunning animation the film looks dazzling as Miguel travels through the town. Typically like other Pixar top-formers it doesn't come without their storytelling grandeur, like with Up and WALL-E it comes with love and with Inside Out it hits all the points of emotion - this one is profound in cleanly cut messages; family, love, life and death (yes there's even death in the afterlife). However the toughest truth that the film comes with is the true power of forgetting (a disappearing skeleton is a sensational standout). And director Lee Unkrich's (Toy Story 3) approach to each will leave a soulful tear running down your cheek - and let's be honest we wouldn't blame you. You have to credit Pixar for taking a beautiful look at another culture, yet full praise goes to the entirely Mexican-American voice cast from Gael García Bernal who plays Miguel's crafty skeletal guide, via Bratt as his idol and Alanna Ubach as his vicious Mamá Imelda etc. Still the best performance goes to Gonzalez as Miguel he shows pure confidence even with the film's blissful musical numbers. And it's here when Coco shows off its highest note, the music is fun, it's cheerful and giddy, yet like Disney's other musical gems the notes often hit right at home and this one is definitely no exception to that. Their 19th film is indeed a flourishing return to form for Pixar, however it's not perfect as the story often covers similar ground with 2014s The Book of Life and sadly falls out of tune with that sudden drop. Still with that said Coco is a beautiful, colourful and emotional look into Mexico's artful culture, one that will leave a warm feeling deep in your heart and will have you dancing even after the credits stop. VERDICT The latest offering from Pixar is a true artscape of colourful animation and raw emotional storytelling if the afterlife is this exciting then death truthfully shouldn't be anything to fear.
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