Justice League

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18th November 2017

The eagerly anticipated coming together of DC world’s most famous creations finally arrived in cinemas this week. Originally helmed by Zack Snyder, Joss Whedon took the reins after Snyder departed due to a personal loss. Both leave their mark on a film that fails to live up to its hype and ends up a disjointed, clumsy let-down.

Three powerful boxes crammed full of energy are hidden on earth and are being hunted by the evil Steppenwolf. If he finds them he’ll get his motor running and take over the world. Step forward the Justice League to try and stop him. Simple. Maybe too simple.

The rather flimsy plot is far too dependent on CGI (yet again – didn’t they learn anything from Man Of Steel?!) and there’s a distinct lack of threat to the human race, simply because we hardly see any humans. Lois Lane, Superman’s mother, and Commissioner Gordon (if you’re going to cast someone as good as J.K. Simmons then give him something to do, dammit) crop up, but that’s about it. You’re not given anyone to care about as a swarm of big buzzy robot insects fly about smashing and blowing things up. Repeatedly.

Then there’s the Justice League heroes. A bored looking Ben Affleck’s Batman does nothing but harrumph his way through the film. Oh, and use a Gillette razor in a jarring piece of product placement.

Henry Cavill’s Superman turns up for long enough to do what Superman does, but fails to add any excitement to the proceedings. It should be noted that Cavill had his upcoming Mission Impossible:6 moustache edited out in post-production and boy can you tell.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman looks cool, but doesn’t have anything to do apart from get wet, throw his trident about and shout things like, “My man”.

Ray Fisher’s Cyborg simply isn’t interesting enough to invest in at all. That’s not his fault, he’s just not written for.

Ezra Miller’s wise-cracking Flash attempts to bring some humour to proceedings and his youthful enthusiasm is infectious, but it’s as if the scriptwriters are trying too hard and an awful lot of his jokes fail to hit the mark. Miller tries his best and does well, but his performance feels slightly upstaged by Tom Holland’s turn as Spiderman simply because he got there first as the geek turned superhero.

The film’s saving grace is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. The best thing in Batman V Superman followed by her own superb standalone film, the awesome Amazonian competes with Affleck for screen time and brings some much-needed stability and gravitas to the table.

Seeing all these iconic superheroes on the big screen is still a buzz, but one that doesn’t last and leaves you feeling a bit flat. It seems that DC keep trying and trying, but consistently fail to live up to the high standards achieved by their Marvel counterparts. Somebody needs to take this franchise by the scruff of the neck to get it right, but it may already be too late for that.

Stick around for two extra scenes during the credits. If you can be bothered.

Paddington 2

Paddington210th November 2017

Ben Whishaw swaps James Bond for Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear in the sequel to 2014s hugely successful Paddington, simply named Paddington 2. Simply named, but ingeniously signalled by Paddington himself in the film’s opening.

In search of the perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy, Paddington discovers an old pop-up book in Mr Gruber’s antique shop and takes on a series of odd jobs to pay for it. When the book is stolen, Paddington enlists the help of the Brown family and some new-found friends to retrieve it and unmask the thief.

Director, Paul King, unveils some wonderfully creative moments; an interactive sequence involving the pop-up book utilising some of London’s most famous landmarks, a hilarious slap-stick Mr Bean-esque barber scene, a beautifully lush tropical jungle sprouting from a single tear and concluding with an exciting train-top chase reminiscent of Skyfall. Seriously.

Joining King are writers Simon Farnaby and Jon Croker. Their terrific script makes full use of the glittering cast’s comedic talent and they all seem to be having an absolute blast.

None more so than Hugh Grant as washed-up thespian, Phoenix Buchanan. Grant plays a plethora of characters and it’s a welcome reminder of just how good an actor he is. The twinkle in his eyes, lacking from some of his films over the years, that infectious grin and his positively charming accent are cranked up to 11 and he lights up the screen whenever he appears. Whether he’s a not so noble knight or an unusually attractive nun, Grant is having a ball as his pantomime performance hits all the right notes.

Brendan Gleeson also has free reign to exaggerate his character, a grizzly convict by the name of Knuckles McGinty, to superb effect. Gleeson leads a host of some fine comedy actors, including Tom Davis and Noah Taylor, to make their jailhouse rock.

Leading the way as the voice of Paddington, Ben Whishaw’s impeccably pitched innocence, naivety and comic timing, combined with some exceptional CGI make you forget you’re watching an animation.

The supporting characters are all played to perfection by an impressive ensemble cast including, Julie Walters, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Jim Broadbent with excellent turns by Tom Conti, Peter Capaldi, Joanna Lumley and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

Dario Marianelli’s delightful score is also a highlight, with a There’s Something About Mary style band, Tobago and d’Lime, appearing every now and then to belt out a tune.

Paddington 2 is a joyful smile all the way through. I grinned and would happily bear it again. The ending, although predictable, is surprisingly moving and the perfect conclusion to a wonderful family film full of charm and love. As Aunt Lucy would say, “If we’re kind and polite, the world would be right.” It’s a simple message and one we could all learn from.

Oh, and do stick around for a little treat during the credits. Prison has never looked so much fun!

Murder on the Orient Express

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3rd November 2017

Agatha Christie has sold somewhere in the region of three billion books. Yes, three billion. I’ve not read any.

There have been numerous adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express for the silver and the golden screen. I’ve not seen any.

Yes, I know. I’m embarrassed for myself too. But this is a good thing. I could watch Kenneth Branagh’s version with, almost, a clean slate. My viewing wasn’t tainted, corrupted or influenced by anything I’d seen or read before. All I knew was that there’s a murder on a train and a Belgian detective with a moustache plays his own version of Cluedo to figure out whodunnit.

(Takes a deep breath) Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe and Branagh himself, amongst others, star in what must be the most stellar cast line-up in recent memory, at least until the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here contestants are announced next week.

Whilst most of the supporting cast have their fair share of screen time, others are sadly overlooked. Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp and Tom Bateman all shine, but Judi Dench, Olivia Colman and Derek Jacobi are left somewhat in the background. Of course, with such a large cast it’s incredibly difficult to give everyone a fair bite of the cherry, but these three are such good actors it was a shame to see them so underused.

Underused is certainly not the word for Branagh’s Poirot. Virtually in every scene, bar some flashbacks, his interpretation of Christie’s famous sleuth is simply spellbinding. His reassuring presence, dry wit and obsessive quirks, not to mention a thoroughly convincing accent, are quite mesmerising. Whilst Poirot’s success has birthed arrogance, “With murder, there are two who will know. Your God and Hercule Poirot!” Branagh also offers us a more human side as he confides his insecurities to a photograph of a lost love in moments of poignancy. He’s even something of an action hero. Let’s just say that his cane does a little more than simply help him to walk. Branagh is the glue that holds this film together and this is surely a career highlight for him.

Branagh’s longstanding collaboration with composer Patrick Doyle shows no signs of running out of steam as Doyle’s excellent use of piano, strings and percussion combines perfectly with Haris Zambarloukos’ stunning cinematography. Branagh and Zambarloukos previously worked together in 2015 on the spectacularly delightful Cinderella. Whether it’s the majestic beauty of Israel’s The Wailing Wall or the cramped confines of a train carriage, the scenery and music feel like extra characters as we explore nature’s natural glory and the intimate revelations of the melancholic, tragic reasons that are revealed in Poirot’s quest for the truth.

Wonderfully atmospheric, tense and charmingly old fashioned, Murder on the Orient Express looks superb on the big screen as does Poirot himself. I hope this does well at the box office as I quite fancy a trip to Egypt next time…

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor-Ragnarok-Banner25th October 2017

Exploding onto the screen in a kaleidoscope of colour and Electro-Pop, synthetic, funk music, Thor: Ragnarok grabs you by the ponytail and takes you on an adventure that’ll leave you wanting more and questioning whether you’ve just watched an outright comedy rather than an action film with funny moments.

Director Taika Waititi and writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost make full use of the cast’s excellent comedic talents to create the daftest, silliest and darn right funniest of all the Thor films, indeed even of all the Avenger’s films.

The Goddess Of Death, Hela (a spectacularly sultry Cate Blanchett), is coming to claim the throne of Asgard for herself and to initiate Ragnorak, the end of Asgard’s civilisation. Thor (the always brilliant Chris Hemsworth) and some of his pals have to stop her.

Along the way we crash land into the fighting pits of Sakaar, run by The Grand Master (a deliciously eccentric Jeff Goldblum – was he really going to be anything else?!), who sets up Gladiatorial fights for his own amusement. Here, Thor bumps into a friend from work, a forgotten Asgardian and the three team up to return to Asgard to try and prevent Ragnarok from happening.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is an awful lot more eloquent this time round, and his verbal sparring, not to mention physical, with Hemsworth’s Thor is a joy to watch. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is also a highlight as his bumbling, scientist geek persona attempts to come to terms with his predicament and he somehow manages to keep a straight face whilst delivering lines such as, “We’re coming up on the Devil’s anus!”

Chris Hemsworth is proving himself as an incredibly versatile actor. Appearing in some recent comedies, regardless of how bad the films were – Ghostbusters, I’m talking to you – has helped him to hone this area of his repertoire and his turn is effortless and accomplished.

Bum gags, inside jokes, A-list cameos by both Hollywood actors and Marvel characters, even a masturbation joke are all, ahem, finished off with style. But the film’s highlight is the director himself, Taika Waititi, lending his voice to the CGI character, Korg. A total scene-stealer, Waititi’s dry New Zealand delivery is a masterclass in comic timing.

If I’m being picky, Cate Blanchett’s character, Hela, is a little too petulant. The squabbling between Thor and Hulk or Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been earned and established and therefore tolerable and often funny, but Hela arrives like a spoilt child that’s been taken home early from a party for throwing a tantrum. Granted, her tantrum actually involved genocide and slavery as she got carried away with her powers, but let’s try to keep this light.

There’s also the death of a major character in this film. I only say that so I can write the line; By Thor’s hammer, by the sons of Odin he shall be avengered. Clever, I know.

Thor: Ragnarok is a delightful hoot and a smile all the way through. Thord times a charm.

Oh, and stick around for two extra scenes during the end credits.

Geostorm

geostorm_lead22nd October 2017

Storming into cinemas in the wake of some horrific, domestic natural disasters, Geostorm arrives with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to remind us that we need to look after our planet or it’ll find a way to destroy us all.

Gerard Butler is Jake Lawson, a scientist who designed the Dutch Boy, an International Space Station that controls the weather and keeps our planet from annihilating us from above.

Someone high up in the American Government has managed to unleash a virus into the space station’s servers to utilise it as a weapon of mass destruction and soon some famous cities are being wiped out in spectacular fashion. What follows is a race against time before the virus helps to unleash a Geostorm, essentially the storm to end all storms where it’ll be raining more than just men.

Mix this up with a plot to assassinate the American President and you’ve got yourself a frenetic thriller that encourages you to disengage your brain, sit back and enjoy the ride.

It’s been a while since Earth faced extinction on a blockbuster scale. Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 spring to mind and Geostorm ticks an awful lot of the boxes that are required for such a film. Yes, there’s a young child with a dog in some serious trouble and many famous landmarks get the Roland Emmerich treatment.

The destruction scenes have all been seen before, and probably better, but there’s still a cinematic thrill to be had by watching a tsunami approaching and freezing (yes, freezing) everything in its wake on the Copacabana beach in Brazil.

Gerard Butler shows a little more humanity in this role, rather than the almost indestructible tough guys he’s known for. His charming relationship with his daughter makes him more accessible and you find yourself rooting for him when he’s up against it.

Jim Sturgess, and his continuity defying hairstyle, plays Jake’s estranged brother, Max, and the pair have excellent chemistry as they work together to prevent disaster.

Abbie Cornish, as Max’s Secret Service agent girlfriend, is a capable ass-kicker, but Andy Garcia is sadly underused as President Palma. Ed Harris as Leonard Dekkhom, a member of Palma’s Government, disappointingly phones his performance in. A cameo from Richard Schiff, as Senator Cross, channels his inner Toby Ziegler as he SHOUTS every OTHER word WHEN he’s ANGRY. Zazie Beetz as Dana provides some excellent comic relief and Alexandra Maria Lara as Ute Fassbinder, Commander of Dutch Boy, shines in a rather dull ensemble cast aboard the station.

Geostorm certainly isn’t going to win any prizes, but for pure popcorn entertainment it certainly deserves a place on the podium.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

kingsman20th September 2017

“How do I look?” Enquires a dapper Harry (Colin Firth as British as ever) in his sharp suit and new custom eye (literally – he only has one) glasses.

“Like a fucking faggot looking for an eye fucking”, drawls a redneck itching for a fight.

The first Kingsman film wasn’t exactly subtle, and you’ll be pleased, or maybe you won’t be, to hear its sequel continues that tradition.

Barely a minute old, we enter the first action sequence which is a frenetic car chase through London’s West End culminating in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, one of many doffs of the bowler hat to the James Bond franchise. Indeed, even Rosa Klebb is referenced early on.

An enemy from the past resurfaces to finish off the Kingsman once and for all by teaming up with Poppy Adams (a delightfully insane Julianne Moore) and her Golden Circle gang as they plan to hold the world to ransom by unleashing a virus which targets drug users. She alone has the antidote which she’ll relinquish if drugs are legalised. Simple. However, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) survive the attack and team up with their cousins from across the pond, Statesman.

Here you meet Tequila (a sadly under-used Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal auditioning for the Burt Reynolds part in the Smokey and the Bandit remake), Ginger (a hardly in it Halle Berry wearing glasses to illustrate she’s Merlin’s equivalent) and their boss, Champ (Jeff Bridges harrumphing and mumbling his way through his dialogue as he did in Crazy Heart).

The characters take a back seat to the driving force of the film, the action. Matthew Vaughan keeps it fresh, energetic and exciting with what appears to be a single camera swerving and swooping its way through the fight scenes and set pieces to triumphant effect. Played against a succession of ironic pop songs, a country rendition of Cameo’s Word Up is particularly memorable and Merlin taking on John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads manages some poignancy amongst the mayhem, it’s almost impossible to not get caught up in the glorious ludicrousness of it all.

Bruce Greenwood pops up as the suitably smarmy American President (a part he also played in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets), and it would’ve been nice to have seen him play the character with a bit more edge, rather than for laughs. But, if it was laughs you wanted, then look no further than Elton John, playing himself. Yep, you read that correctly. He’s hilarious and it just goes to show that Wednesday’s alright for fighting.

Taron Egerton’s Eggsy is an action hero for the Snapchat generation. He effortlessly combines his working-class roughness with the smoothness and suavity instilled in him by Colin Firth’s charming, English gent Harry, he looks damn good in a suit and pulls off the action scenes with confidence and style. Egerton and Firth work brilliantly together and the film shines when the two are blasting their way through the bad guys.

Accompanying the onscreen delights is a majestically triumphant score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson. Their soaring strings and heroic horns make a rousing and rip-roaring addition to the action. Movie scores are often overlooked, but this one is so in your face it’s almost impossible to ignore.

As enjoyable as it is, this film is 20 minutes too long. Harry recovering from his amnesia could’ve been sped up, and the whole Glastonbury sequence was totally unnecessary, crude and left a sour taste (reminiscent of the end gag in the first film), even if you did get to see an awful lot of the beautiful Clara (Poppy Delevinge).

With a third Kingsman film in the works, Matthew Vaughan has a chance to make amends for the small failures in this instalment, but I imagine he’s having so much fun making them he probably won’t even care.

American Assassin

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15th September 2017

The late Vince Flynn wrote thirteen Mitch Rapp novels until his untimely death at the age of 47.  The series was continued by his friend, and fellow author, Kyle Mills who is still writing them to this day. American Assassin seems a sensible place to start a potential new franchise as, although it was written as the eleventh book in the series, it’s a prequel charting the beginnings of Mitch Rapp’s rise to the top of the CIA’s covert anti-terrorism programme.

Opening with an horrific terrorist attack on a picturesque beach, Mitch’s (Dylan O’Brien) life is thrown into turmoil as his fiancée of only a few moments old is brutally murdered in front of him. Left for dead, Mitch begins a one-man mission to seek revenge on those responsible.

Eighteen months later, an angry Mitch (we know he’s angry because it’s rammed down our throats a little too much through a series of violent episodes and even a telling off from his landlord) has managed to infiltrate a terror cell, which is, worryingly, something the CIA couldn’t manage with all their resources. Rapp is headhunted by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) of the CIA to join their elite anti-terrorism squad known as Orion.

Not convinced by Rapp’s abilities and his tendency to disobey orders, Mitch is reluctantly trained up by ex-Navy Seal, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), and the team set out to prevent a nuclear war after one of Hurley’s old prodigies gets his grubby little mitts on some uranium. What follows is a frenetic race against time and some good ol’ fashion cat and mouse chases.

O’Brien is a charismatic and capable lead, portraying the young Rapp’s arrogant naivety and thirst for revenge with coolness and style, and when Michael Keaton’s grizzled military veteran joins the story things really kick off. Hurley is pretty much Mitch Rapp with a bus pass. His gruff, experienced no nonsense attitude combines perfectly with Rapp’s youthful exuberance and the pair have terrific chemistry together.

Shiva Negar impresses as Annika, an ally of Mitch and Stan’s. Excellent in the action scenes, it would have been nice to have seen more of her character during the film and the same could be said of David Suchet who has a couple of scenes as CIA Director Thomas Stansfield.

The film is very gung-ho and you can almost hear the chants of, “USA, USA, USA” echoing from cinemas in certain parts of America, but that’s an accurate reflection of the books. They’re very much America versus the terrorists. Vince Flynn was a Republican and not afraid to let it show. This makes for some cheesy dialogue at times, “Out there you’re a ghost. You don’t exist!”, but I expected this and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. It’s extremely difficult to write about this subject matter without throwing in a few clichés.

The fight scenes, although nothing new, are well choreographed and very Bourne-esque in their delivery. The cinematography and costume colours change from bright and vivacious to grey and flaccid reflecting the change in Mitch’s personality after the death of his fiancée. Indeed, the only bright colour I remember seeing for the majority of the film was blood red, and there was an awful lot of it as Mitch Rapp double-taps his way through the enemy.

American Assassin does have its flaws. Why on earth would you select a trainee that’s just had a hissy-fit and thrown his toys out of his pram after failing miserably in an Artificial Intelligence inspired test to lead a high risk mission the next day?! The plot is a little flimsy, Taylor Kitsch is a paint by numbers baddy and the finale relies too much on CGI, but there was just enough energy, excitement and entertainment to look forward to a sequel. Dylan O’Brien has apparently signed on for more Rapp films, but I’m not too sure the box office takings will allow that.

If you enjoyed American Assassin, have a look at Vince Flynn’s books. Political thrillers don’t get much better. 24 meets The West Wing. What’s not to like? You may also enjoy Brad Thor, Ben Coes, Marc Cameron, Brad Taylor and Rick Jones.