Review: Blade Runner 2049

Review: Blade Runner 2049

Denis Villeneuve astounds with a film that easily deserves to stand in the foot steps of an all time classic.

The original Blade Runner became such an important film because of how it managed to defy its own context and represent some of the vital discussions of the generations who grew up watching it. Deckard’s story painted a world that was dystopian and damaged, yet idyllic enough that we have arguably taken great strides towards it in the real world ever since. Whilst it’s far too soon to tell, it’s not hard to get the feeling from 2049 that Villeneuve has achieved with this sequel, a film of similar cultural impact, which will contribute to the zeitgeist far beyond its release.

Blade Runner 2049 is a film school’s wet dream. It’s main characters and story are a masterpiece of subtext  and structure. It wants the audience to draw their own conclusions and it starts to provide the material by which to do so from very early on. As a result, by the end of it’s slow, tense (and nearly three hours long) burn the average audience member will be throwing out hypothetical what if’s like there’s no tomorrow.

Luckily this is also not a rare case of substance over style in fact to some extent they are one and the same. The film is bursting with visual nods to themes and concepts that, as well make the film look beautiful, add to the huge level of depth that is being aiming for with the films narrative. It’s about Slavery and racism, but it’s also Slavery and entertainment, identity and self in a digital age,  creationism and playing god and it doesn’t stop there. it’s capitalism versus revolution, it’s nostalgia versus progressiveness, The deeper you read into it the deeper the themes you will find, it’s a very rare film in that it doesn’t stop at a certain level, it has something to offer to every level of its audience.

Technically everything 2049 has to offer is at the top of it’s game. The sound track is equal parts emotive and eye melting, it’s performances are Oscar Worthy in almost every case and the visuals are of an equally high calibre. Villeneuve deserves incredible praise for his vision and stylistic approach to the film but so too does every team who brought it to life so convincingly.

But technique is only as good as the narrative allows it to be and the personal story in this film is as good as it gets.  The audience’s disbelief is perfectly suspended, the film is always smarter than you but it always makes you feel like the smartest person in the room and it’s all paced perfectly (a perfect example of the Bait, switch and resolve technique). On top of all this, away from the more personal narrative, there is a deep, multilayered and intense story about a world, it’s context and the people within it. Blade Runner 2049 is very much a caricature of our own society, with many of the same debates, conflicts and underlying tensions. And all of this weaves together and functions seamlessly as one whole. The story of the world is the story of the characters and visa versa, the level of storytelling (both visual and traditional) on display is truly stunning.

Blade Runner 2049 is not a film, it’s a dystopian neon tinged painting, it’s a deeply satisfying novel, it’s a Vangelis inspired orchestral suite, it’s a dissection of life, technology and society all presented in 24 frames a second. The word Epic is used a lot these days but usually it’s to sell films, to encourage audiences that this film will be epic and filled with action and explosions. Blade Runner is slow, patient and profound, epic in the truest sense, not because of its ability to overwhelm the senses, but its ability to overwhelm with ideas and possibilities. This is  Blade runner is not a film, it’s an example of what film can be.

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Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Spider-man properly joins the MCU in a great movie, despite its general lack of direction and balance.

The narrative of Homecoming a good, if slightly basic, super hero story. Paired with a good, but slightly basic, high school story. Unfortunately it struggles to strike any form of balance between the two. When it’s letting Spider-Man do his thing the film is great, mostly because it doesn’t lay out Spider-Man’s hero origins. It’s a shame then, that it does try and lay out Peter Parker’s high school beginnings, and as a result the first act of the film is far too slow. The two sides of the film do interact, becoming more akin to what the audience wants, but mostly the traditional High School elements feel more stilted than they mean to.

The cast of the film are fantastic. Tom Holland is great as a more youthful Spider-Man and good as Peter Parker although he’s still not fully believable as a high school-er. Jacob Batalon is very good fun as Parker’s high school friend Ned, Zendaya as Michelle is a sharp refreshing character (although she ends the movie on more of a low note than a high) and Robert Downey Jr is of course as good here as he has always been. However, Michael Keaton plays the most memorable part of this film. He barely lifts a finger but has an incredibly menacing presence, until a twist at the end of the third act that turns him from a one-dimensional villain to a deeper, more intelligent character with interest and motivations of his own.

In many ways, every aspect of the film gets better from the half-way point, especially the visuals. In the first half of the film the use of special effects seems far too heavy as characters often seem floaty or separate from the surrounding scene. But after the half-way point the scenes become much less static and so the audience gets a much more fluid viewing experience and  the action looks and feels much more natural as a result. In many ways the film looks unremarkable. It’s an enjoyable film to watch and there are some occasional stand out shots but for the most part it looks exactly as you’d expect.

The biggest issue the film faces is a lack of any kind of unique angle to this well-known character. This is the latest reboot in a long running series of reboots and it’s arguably the most generic approach yet. That doesn’t mean it’s bad – quite the opposite. In fact, it’s a well-made action film that’s engaging throughout. But the story it tells, the characters it presents and the themes it’s working with are all pretty basic. It’s undoubtedly an engaging film, and it’s even very good at times, but a lot of what makes Homecoming unique is stuff you’ve seen before, and is, frankly, better in other films.

Spider-Man Homecoming is a very good film that struggles in many ways with balance. it can’t balance its fresh approach to casting with its same old, same old character tropes. It can’t balance its slower, plodding first half with its bright, lively and tense second half. Quite simply: it can’t balance the “Spider-Man” with the “Homecoming”. If you’re after a fun Spider-Man film that fits with Marvel’s more unimpressive but enjoyable standards, this is the film for you, but be warned: it’s peers were far more ambitious and just as successful.

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This review was edited by Joanna Hollins, for more of her work click here: Joanna Hollins.

Review: Baby Driver

Review: Baby Driver

Edgar Wright gets behind the wheel of a film that will drive its way into the classics very quickly.

(Before we begin… I’ve never done this before but I feel here that I must. Don’t read this review before seeing the film, it genuinely will ruin the experience as there is no way to discuss Baby Driver without discussing the things that make it the film it is. If you have to read a review then I would suggest scrolling down, looking only at the score I give it, immediately booking tickets and then bookmark this page for afterwards. Trust me, you won’t regret it.)

Baby has been stealing cars since he was very young, after an accident he was involved in at an even younger age. Now he drives heist crews in and out of hits, all to the sound of whatever music fits best, he’s talented, reliable and quiet, unlike many of his criminal peers. Doc (Kevin Spacey) runs the heists, chooses the heisting crew members and makes sure to know everything he can about each of this crew members, Baby included. It’s a world full of guns, power, sex, violence and music, although for Baby, it’s a reluctant one.

It’s here that the film reveals the first of many surprises and that surprise is the depth of each one of its characters. Baby is not just a heist driver, he’s a talented driver with a debt to be repaid to Doc and a deaf adoptive father who he bonds with over music that his guardian feels through his speakers. Deborah is his love interest, but she’s also a struggling young woman with an equal love for music, working a dead-end job to try and get by because of her difficult circumstances. But it’s not just these core characters, it’s almost every single character in the film; they all have deep and complex shades to them and as a result their conflicts, passions and relationships feel incredibly genuine and tangible. As a result of this, the film’s build ups, tensions and pay offs are always perfectly paced and rightfully earned. And this barely scratches the surface of the characters portrayed in this film…

All of this would mean nothing if it wasn’t supported by a stellar cast but Wright has pulled out all the stops here to direct this incredible cast in equally incredible performances. Jamie Foxx is twitchy and violent, but honest and intuitive. Jon Hamm is likable and amenable, but loyal to a fault as Buddy. Lily James is innocent and trustable but bored and desperate for adventure. Her chemistry with Baby (Ansel Elgort) is so naturally flirtatious that the audience almost feels voyeuristic, at times, watching them develop their relationship. Kevin Spacey is utterly unnerving as Doc, grasping huge amounts of power with quiet precision. But it’s Elgort who is this band’s front man, charismatic from the word go, he is brimming with life, fired up by music but focused enough to always be a threat. He says only what he needs to, only when he has to and his actions, gestures and playlist do all the extra speaking necessary. If he isn’t picking up Oscars this year then the academy is blind, and likely deaf too.

But Baby Driver has another surprise up its sleeve, and the next one is its stylistic brilliance. In terms of the films visuals it is as diverse as it is stunning. It brings together influences from a wide range of genres and combines them at the perfect moments, often enhancing the tension or interactions between characters. There is colour everywhere throughout the film, often enhanced by gorgeous lighting and fluid camera movement. But it’s the soundtrack that sets this film truly apart. Baby’s choice of song is the vital framing device that sets the tone, pace and feel of a scene. But the scene also moves in tandem with the music; gunshots follow the rhythm of the drum beats, lyrics are working their way in to the background dialogue or briefly glimpsed as a clever part of the mise-en-scene. Stylistically Baby Driver is arguably closer to a musical than it is an action movie. It’s far more than style over substance; here style and substance go hand in hand to deliver a movie that’s fascinating to watch, but contains layers and layers of depth too.

Baby Driver is a triumph of a film, brimming with sheer brilliance in every aspect of its production. Vibrant, clever and profound all at the same time, it treats its audience with a huge amount of respect whilst keeping its cards close to its chest. It’s going to surprise you, it’s going to impress you and it’s going to connect with you all whilst looking and, even more importantly, sounding gorgeous. It could have easily been a film about driving, heists and little more, instead this is film making on a level that few can hope to achieve. Wright has taken a fantastic concept and, much like his protagonist, driven it to perfection.

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This review was edited by Joanna Hollins, for more of her work click here: Joanna Hollins.

Review: Wonder Woman

Review: Wonder Woman

Patty Jenkins gives DC’s cinematic universe its best outing yet in a movie that is wonderful all the way up to its final act.

Diana is a hero brought up in a society of Amazonian women, who are trained to fight to defend their world. When a pilot flies through the barrier to her world she discovers the horrors of war, specifically World War One. She decides to leave her home in order to fight to end this great conflict and bring peace to both the pilot’s world and her own.

Diana herself is the biggest and best part of this film and Gal Gadot deserves huge praise for the way she handles the character. She captures a sense of childlike wonder discovering the joys of a new world, whilst also portraying shock and dread at the horrors of World War One. It’s a dichotomy that in lesser hands could look muddled and inconsistent. But Gadot balances these fantastically, creating a character who is experienced and immature all at the same time.

She’s made even more important by the way she interacts with the world around her: she’s willing to stand up for her beliefs no matter her opposition and she’s also not afraid to stand at the front of the battlefield. As a result the respect she earns from her fighting peers, both male and female feels totally earned, and we the audience, are right there with them, rallying behind Wonder Woman as she leads the charge in larger and larger military victories. The film manages to tell a horrific story of World War one through the focused lens of this woman’s journey and for this it deserves major praise.

The supporting cast also deserve major kudos for the work, Chris Pine in particular is charismatic enough that Diana (and the audience, by extension) develop a natural and well cultivated connection with his character Steve Trevor. But he’s always just charismatic enough to make it clear that he is playing a supporting role despite his huge amount of screen time. This is helped in no uncertain terms by Jenkins’s clear directorial focus on Diana and her journey. The only problem member of the supporting cast is Etta Candy, who often feels like a character used for comedy relief and little more.  In a way it’s good that Diana has a comedy foil, rather than being that foil herself (and lesser films would have taken this much lazier approach to the “fish out of water” character study). But Diana doesn’t feel like she needs any comedy to establish how powerfully progressive she is, and so as a result Etta comes across as more of a wasted opportunity than a meaningful addition to the supporting cast.

The biggest letdown of the film is, by far, the third act where this brilliant focus on character development is switched out for heavy action sequences that undermine the tight story in favour of more traditional, bombastic DC fare. It’s a huge shame because it occurs at what could have easily been the high point of the film, with setting, characters and plot points all converging  together only to be undermined by the awful pacing and tone of DC’s trademark “final boss battle” style of format.

This is even more of a letdown when you consider how different the first two acts of this film for a DC movie. It’s packed full of beautiful cinematography and the World War One setting really matches DC’s more muted, moody use of colour. The music is also much more vibrant than usual, gone are the over the top ‘BWAM’ sounds of a typical DC fight-fest, traded off instead here for a genuinely tight orchestral soundtrack. That is, of course, all except that tedious guitar riff which turns up on a number of occasions, each time more grating and silly than the last.

Wonder Woman is, for the most part, a film defined by Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s triumphs. It does a brilliant job of taking a character and building them a deep and meaningful backstory, whilst also leaving more than enough room to have them grow in the future. Unfortunately, it’s kept just shy of greatness thanks to the silly final conflict and the twists and turns it takes in logic, pacing and tone in order to get there. Wonder Woman has very much set the bar by which the next few DC movies must be measured. It’s just a shame that it’s the cinematic universe that feels like it’s holding this film, and this character, back from something more.

Wonder Woman Scored: 7.3/10

This review was edited by Joanna Hollins, for more of her work click here: Joanna Hollins.

Review: Mindhorn.

Review: Mindhorn.

Beta Papa

Washed up actor Richard Thorncroft sees a golden opportunity for a career boost when he’s called in to assist a murder investigation with a suspect obsessed with Mindhorn, a character he played in a 70’s cop show.  It’s a clever premise although it must be said it’s not the most original in its genre and even less so amongst its peers. Although the production does stand out somewhat because of its 70’s style. Time has clearly been taken to study and replicate dated police shows, this is in many ways, a love letter to Midsomer Murders and John Nettles whom the film makes reference to so often.

One of the most obvious ways that this 70’s style comes through is in the visuals. Locations, costumes, props and framing are often designed to feel retro, with one of the main locations: the police station, being a perfect example.  Whilst it can clearly be seen that this is director Sean Foley’s intention it can feel as though it lacks a little polish here and there, which makes out of date sets look even less appealing. Mindhorn often looks like a TV show that has hit the silver screen and it’s clear that the budget has not allowed a final layer of polish that is often needed.

It makes you wonder whether other areas of the film were hampered by the small budget as well, there are a few notable moments where scenes feel curtailed or where one doesn’t flow in to the next, as though there was something more to add here but it never made the final cut. There’s also times where a scene builds up to a seemingly risqué punch line only for it to not come. For the most part the Humour lands well (and the third act deserves special praise, as it’s laughs come fast and funny) but it leaves you wondering whether there’s a funnier draft of this script that, for one reason or another, had to be left on the cutting room floor.

In terms of the film’s peers the obvious comparison is Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, as whilst the minutia and details of both films differ, the initial premise is very similar. Mindhorn, however, often can’t get away with the selfish antics that make partridge so funny, as he lacks Partridge’s bumbling charisma. The other main difference is that Mindhorn feels as though it lacks the focus of Alpha Papa. Where Partridge’s hostage situation focuses on a tight set of locations and characters Mindhorn seems to expand in ever more twists and turns as it goes. It’s third act is absolutely its strongest and it’s not hard to follow, by any means, but it’s many converging paths make it hard to really care about a number of the motivations or tensions at play in the later stages

Mindhorn is a film with a good number of laughs, a good cast (not to mention some stunning guest appearances) and a fine core story. But by its conclusion you’ll be left feeling that  somewhere there exists a slightly better version of this film which is more focused, more polished, better paced and a little sharper. As a result it’s hard to give Mindhorn a glowing recommendation, especially considering the calibre of its peers.

Mindhorn scored: 6.2/10

Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2.

Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2.

James Gunn’s sophomore Marvel film is an out and out sequel which turns up the volume on almost every aspect of the original film, though occasionally to the sequel’s detriment.

Guardians 2’s story is best dissected as two parts of the same whole, The action plot and the emotional plot.  The former side of the story is consistently enjoyable, with imaginative designs for weaponry and space ships making the set piece scenes visually engaging from start to finish. But the Latter is more inconsistent, it attempts to add great depth to almost every character on screen but it suffers from some massive pacing issues. This is furthered hampered by the fact that many of its core tensions and motivations are massively clichéd, which feels lazy and lacklustre in this, a franchise so known for its surprising nature.

The even bigger problem here is that both sides of the core narrative feel disconnected from each other. Where one reaches a high point the other is often at a low, or nowhere to be seen. Guardians 2 feels more like a collection of important scenes than a film that organically flows from one essential aspect to the next. The third act is by far the strongest part of the film, but with the first and second act being so tonally mismatched it serves merely as a functional pay off, to an equally functional build up.

A vital part of the film’s plot is it characters and most of the titular heroes benefit greatly from another entry in their franchise. We delve more in to their back story and get more of an understanding of their internal conflicts, though some benefit more than others.  Gamora and Nebula, for example, whose sisterly issues are cleverly explored,  leading to an aggressive, but eventually meaningful, dynamic between the two. Whereas Peter Quill’s, to put it lightly, daddy issues often feel lost under the weight of their own twists and turns.

The film’s construction is equal parts hit and miss. The music used in the film is excellent, as expected. Though some songs hit harder than others, leaving those others  (mostly in the film’s second act) to feel a bit more filler-y this time around. Visually the film is notable for its vibrant use of colour, as rainbows saturate vital scenes throughout the film. This visual story telling often strengthens the best moments of the narrative. But where colour is a strength of the film it’s also a weakness, as an overuse of CGI creates a sense of disconnect between the action on screen and the back drop against which it happens.

Disconnected is in fact the best way to describe Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, it has two story lines that rarely come together to be anything better than functional, it’s got characters that both benefit from and struggle with their own development, whilst the team as a whole seems to make little progress. It’s got visuals that are as stunning and vibrant as they are fake and off putting. Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 is a film made up of very good parts, which don’t come together to elevate it to another level. Despite these issues, it’s a fun watch, if little more. It won’t stay with you in any meaningful way and you certainly won’t need to give it much thought. It fits Marvel perfectly in that it’s fun but it doesn’t have much more to offer.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2 Scored:  7.0/10

Review: Logan

Review: Logan

James Mangold directs Hugh Jackman in one of the most Brutal, gut wrenching and bravely directed films to ever come from the Superhero genre.

Hugh Jackman returns for the final time, for a film that see’s him struggling to protect those around him from evil forces and an impending sense of mortality. It’s a story which takes the X=Man you know, and forces him to face up to a very human struggle and as a result of this the emotional weight that it carries is heavy, genuine and very tragic.

All of this is made even more painful because at the centre of it is Laura. Laura is a young girl who falls in to the care of Logan thanks to her extremely dedicated mother. She’s a vulnerable, damaged soul, who is aggressive and incredibly violent as a result of her past. She’s simultaneously an extremely emotive character and a stone cold badass. Dafne Keen deserves major respect for her creation of this character. It’s very rare that a movie leans successfully on an actor of her age, never mind an actor of her age who is given so little dialogue. More often than not Laura is saying nothing, mostly because she doesn’t need to.

This principle is applied to the films visual story telling as well. The film is shot beuatifully, with light being treated as necessity rather than used to excess.  The movie’s cinematography is grounded in the old western classics. Light is always treated perfectly whether it’s harsh, soft or nonexistent it’s whatever is needed in that frame, nothing more, nothing less. The film is beautifully presented despite the content being so difficult to view.

But Dafne Keen is just one member of a truly stellar collection. something that gives serious weight to Logan’s  distressing tone is the cast, their connection to these characters and their dedication to their roles. Patrick Stewart is utterly haunting in his final portrayal of Charles Xavier but Hugh Jackman steals the show, going above and beyond as Logan. His Physical dedication to the character is second to none. His raw on screen talent makes it impossible to avoid the pain of Logan’s later years and the path the story takes him down. Emotionally, mentally and physically Jackman goes to prove how perfect his casting was 18 years ago.

But of all the incredible parts of this movie the most important, by far, is it’s story. Logan is, at it’s core a very human story in a very inhumane world. Right from the beginning the film does an amazing job of establishing a time line for it’s world and the franchise that has came before it, giving an entire back story in smart, well placed moments of visual story telling or dialogue. Thus setting the stage for a seriously painful finale, whilst satisfying those who have been here from the beginning all at once.

It’s these perfect moments of tiny attention to detail that make Logan stay with you for a long time after you leave the screening. The story which is presented at face value can be a lot to take in all at once, especially with emotions running as high as they are, but the film manages to have an answer for all your questions, and a pay off for every build up. It’s a testament to James Mangold’s truly stunning craftsmanship that Logan manages to be so believable and powerful, despite it being such a different direction for a beloved Character. Calling this movie brave is one hell of an understatement.

As I was leaving the screen I was asked if I enjoyed Logan. No. You don’t enjoy Logan, you survive it, step away from it and reflect back on what you have watched. Logan is a dark, heavy, brutal, death march of a film crafted of beautiful visuals, violent sounds and an attention to detail rarely seen in this kind of movie. it’s fair to say that it transcends the super hero label in a number of ways. James Mangold deserves a huge amount of kudos for stepping out and taking this beloved franchise in such a bold brave direction and pulling it off with this much Flair, precession and emotional weight.

Logan Scored: 9.7/10