Monday, 19 February 2018

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) - Film Review

Review:

*Originally written April 14th, 2016*

Definitely not the "political thriller" people seem to claim it is. Sure it has elements of this, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier really is just another Marvel affair, although it's one of the best efforts from them.

In Captain America's second solo outing S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised and he doesn't know who he can trust as a new villain emerges in the form of the 'Winter Soldier', a killing machine with ties to Cap's past.

I know it's widely considered so, but Winter Soldier is easily one of the best films in the MCU so far, top 3 material for sure. I wasn't a huge fan of the first Captain America film, so I was pleased at what huge step-up this one was.

The themes of national security play a big part here, although I feel it could have been explored a bit more, but whatever, this is a comic-book film, not a statement on society. The film asks what's more important, freedom or protection, but it never gives a clear answer either way, which is fine. This looks to be explored a lot more in the upcoming Civil War.

What Winter Soldier does better than any Marvel film to date is finally the first decent villain in the form of the Winter Soldier. He's a terminator sort of character, violent, scary and emotionless. He is way more intimidating than anything the MCU has had to offer before hand. It's just a shame that Robert Redford's bad guy was kinda boring and forgettable.


There are some cool nods to other Marvel films. I never even noticed at Dr. Strange got a mention in any of the other watches, but that's probably because he's still in my mind due to the recently released trailer for his solo film. Also gotta mention a fantastic cameo that was Abed from Community in a tiny role.

The action is also far more impressive and less "CGI smashy-smashy". There are some genuinely memorable action scenes like Nick Fury's SUV attack and the now iconic close quarter elevator fight. I'm the directors of this film are back for the next one, they have a talent for creative set-pieces.

I still really like Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America. Still the most likable of all the Avengers. He's modest and easy to get behind, unlike some of Marvel's other characters. Evan's brought the heart to this film, I've always liked the "man out of time" idea and he nails it pretty well, his fight at the end also feels like it has genuine weight to it, mostly thanks to the performance.

My only real complaints are it goes on a bit too long and my problem with all Marvel films. They don't look like films, they look like really expensive episodes of TV and really lack their own visual style, which is such a shame. That said, this looks a lot nicer than both the Avengers films.


The Winter Soldier is one of the most successful films in the MCU to date, filled with memorable set-pieces, Marvel's first decent villain (Outside their Netflix shows) and an engaging story.

8/10 Dans

Captain American: The Winter Soldier is out now on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK
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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Black Panther (2018) - Film Review

Review:

*Originally written February 17th, 2018*

I went into Black Panther with relatively low expectations. I find most of the first standalone films in the MCU to be their weakest. I wasn't surprised by the critical acclaim Panther received though, good or bad, these films get a free pass from the critics, so I went in not knowing entirely what to expect. To my surprise, this was pretty excellent and while it suffers from a few of the problems most superhero films succumb to, this manages to fix a few of them.

This opens an entire new world within the MCU, Wakanda is a gorgeous, fascinating place that mixes futuristic sci-fi ideas with old fashioned tribal aesthetics. I have to bring up the society's backward system of using a monarchy and royal family though, such a stupid and broken system and only leads to the trouble they get into at the end on the film. They had it coming.

Black Panther wasn't the best in Civil War, but Chadwick Boseman really makes the role is own here, a near James Bond like figure with charisma and gravitas to him that makes him insanely watchable. Aside from a few lingering threads to Civil War, his story feels entirely standalone, which I always appreciate in this now 18 film franchise. 


Boseman is joined by a cast of very memorable supporting characters too. Panther's sister is a sort of Q like presence that provides the team with gadgets and weapons, Martin Freeman is given a lot more to do than he did and Civil War, I was surprised at how much screen-time he was given too, I suspected he was going to be nothing more than a cameo, but he's a pretty big supporting character.

On the villain side of things, Michael B. Jordan is excellent, one of the finest villains in the MCU yet, a sympathetic sociopath with clear motivations, motivations you could actually get behind and a surprisingly emotional character arc. He was a far cry from the wasted bad guys the MCU usually put out. Andy Serkis was also great fun in his role, I just wish he got more screen-time in this whole thing.

Coogler directs the 135 minute film with a brisk pace and the whole film does look gorgeous (The MCU seems to have finally broken away from the awful televisual look that plagued Avengers 1-2 and Captain 2-3). Some of the action is fluid and kinetic to watch, it's just a shame the film succumbs to that annoying third act where boring pieces of ugly CGI hit each other. The final fight on the train tracks is disgusting to watch, some of the worst special effects the MCU has had to date. Which is a shame considering how small in scale the early scenes were.

I wasn't a huge fan of all the hip-hop music either, a lot of the time it just didn't fit and felt forced, but at the very least it was far more memorable than the utterly forgettable score here. I'm pretty convinced there wasn't one at all in all honesty?

One of my biggest problems in this series has been the lame humour that ruined some of their films. Thankfully, this is a lot better in that department, the writers know when to shut the characters up and let the tension in a scene breathe, rather than ruin it with an embarrassing joke to make 6 year old children laugh. It's not all perfect though, that lame humour does pop up every now and then, a particular character towards the end ruined some potentially effective scenes.


Black Panther is far better than I was expecting, a gorgeous, beautiful film that expands the MCU, tells its own story and finally delivers a great villain, it's just shame it falls into the third act trap of bombastic garbage CGI towards the end.

8/10 Dans

Black Panther is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) - Film Review


Review:

Netflix surprised everyone at the 2018 Super Bowl, not only did they release a trailer for the untitled Cloverfield film (Now titled 'The Cloverfield Paradox'), but they also made the shocking announcement that the film was released and ready to watch that same day. It's a ballsy move that certainly raises questions and sets an interesting precedent on how films are released, but after watching it, it's easy to see why this was released on Netflix rather than theaters. 

The Cloverfield franchise itself has been a very interesting one. First we had a found-footage monster film that sparked a new age of mystery (I was only 11, but I remember all the hype and excitement of the viral marketing. People guessing what the monster would look like etc), it was the golden age of internet film fandom, back when IMDB had message boards, remember those? That came and went, with rumblings about a sequel which never surfaced until 2016, when a trailer was dropped for 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was releasing only a couple of months after the trailer was shown. 

I was hugely excited for this. I liked the idea of these little anthology horror/thrillers taking place in the same world. Now it's a shame that the series may have just faded into nothingness with this extremely disappointing dud of a sci-fi thriller. Once you look a little closer into the troubled production of Cloverfield Paradox, you start to see why this was released the way it was. It went over budget and Paramount were sure it would flop, so they sold it to Netflix for a small profit and cut their losses there.

On a space station titled 'Cloverfield' a group of bland scientists discover that the Earth has disappeared after an experiment goes wrong, weird shit goes on and things go pretty much how you'd expect. This isn't a problem, I'm fine with formulaic films as long they at least have some character or something to grab you. It's just there's nothing here.

Despite it's $50 million budget, it looks like garbage. This doesn't look like a film, aside from a few visual flourishes, this looks like an expensive TV pilot, and I'm not sure how this happened. I watched the first episode of Netflix's Altered Carbon recently and despite being a TV show, it actually looks more like a film than this does. It feels like some Asylum knock-off of Life (Which was a fairly generic sci-fi horror in itself, but it at least had fun with it).


The cast are nothing, vastly underwritten objects that spout poorly written exposition in ways that get more and more laughable. Chris O'Dowd does bring some fun to proceedings, but his character gets more irritating once you realise he is nothing more than comic relief and absolutely nothing beneath the surface. I'm a week removed from this film and I'm failing to recall anyone's name. 

Things happen in this film without any real explanation. We're told "Parallel Universes are colliding", but this doesn't explain why so much happens, including some outrageous coincidences. Some cool stuff does happen though, the stuff with the hand was morbidly funny in an odd way and last shot of the film is pretty easy to figure out early on, but it still brings back a familiar face and gets me a bit excited for the future of the series, despite the problems this film has caused.

While most of the events take place on the space station, a side-plot (That goes absolutely nowhere) takes place on Earth during what we assume is the first Cloverfield. I was all for this, but the story line is aimless, pointless and leads to nothing. Making me wonder why an extra 20 minutes was added to this mess in the first place. I know this had reshoots to tie it in to the Cloverfield brand, so I assume this was shoehorned in to pay some fan service. It doesn't work.

One of the biggest problems here is the attempts to over explain things for the franchise. They couldn't just let them happen with no explanation, they had to come up with some lame reasons why the events of the first and second films happened, who cares? A giant monster attacks a city, we don't need a franchise to explain why. 


I saw it the day it was announced, which is the most interesting thing about this mess. We're only in the third Cloverfield film and it seems like they've already ruined it in this bland, poorly written mess. Here's hoping 'Overlord' is better than this.

4/10 Dans

The Cloverfield Project is streaming now on Netflix UK
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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Den of Thieves (2018) - Film Review


Review:

I had no expectations for Den of Thieves, a mediocre heist film released in January starring Gerard Butler and 50 Cent, much to my surprise I really enjoyed this throwaway crime-thriller for better or worse. If nothing else, it was great to see Butler give a decent performance.

There's not a lot to the story (Despite the absurd length), cops vs criminals and it all collides leading up to a daring heist the criminals are planning. Only this time the cops are corrupt. It's nothing special or particularly interesting, but I have a real soft spot for both heist films and films about corrupt cops.

Gerard Butler is far and away the best part of this whole thing. His performance is odd, fascinating and unhinged. There's moments of brutality and he's actually quite funny too. Although I'm not entirely sure if I was laughing at the film or with it. This is the sort of role Butler was born to do, not those awful rom-coms or family dramas he seems to get roped into. 

For a first time director, Christian Gudegast does an insanely good job and shows real promise as a director. He films action extremely well, the set-pieces have shades of Michael Mann in them while retaining it's own gritty and visceral style. There's not actually a lot of action here, but Gudegast manages to create tension within most of the scenes (One of the final scenes reminded me quite a lot of the highway scene in Sicario, although obviously not as effective). 


For the problems, the script is a total trainwreck, it's utter trash. Which makes me sound like I hated it, but I actually had a lot of fun with just how bad some of the lines were and the big twist at the end is one of the most outrageous things I'm likely to see from a 2018 film. I was in disbelief at that sequel-baiting final shot.

With such a big ensemble cast of characters, everyone aside from the two leads are very underdeveloped. Butler and O'Shea Jackson Jr. steal the spotlight, but everyone else is just left as blanks. Pablo Schreiber (Pornstache from Orange is the New Black) is just wasted in a forgettable villain that does not earn any of the emotional payoff it thinks it deserves towards the end. Most of the emotional payoffs are actually laughably bad (One involving a single tear drop was outstanding).

Being nearly two and a half hours does this whole thing no favours either, this is barbarically overlong and the could have used some serious trimming in the middle during the build-up to the heist. There's a really breezy action-film here, but at 140 minutes, it is a bit of a slog.


Den of Thieves is what it is, a January throwaway action film with some incredibly directed action, a committed performance from Gerard Butler and it's just a fun trashy time overall, it could have just done with some trimming and a better script. Really hope to see a spin-off starring Gerard Butler's 'Big Nick' though. 

6/10 Dans

Den of Thieves is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Commuter (2018) - Film Review

Review:

*Originally written January 31st, 2017*

For better or worse, The Commuter is exactly what you'd expect from a Liam Neeson action-thriller directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Their previous collaborations Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night have all been perfectly serviceable genre films that entertain and deliver exactly what they're meant to, which is not a bad thing. The Commuter is a blast.

Liam Neeson plays an ex-cop shoved in an extreme situation involving his daily commute on the train. After a woman offers him a large some of money to point out who on the train doesn't belong, he's pitted in a conspiracy with twists and turns that just don't stop till the end.

This is hardly high-art, it's essentially fast-food cinema, you enjoy it a hell of a lot, but you feel it dumbs you down. There are obvious comparisons to a previous film Neeson and this director did, this is pretty much Non-Stop, but on a train. Collet-Serra has definitely improved as a director with each film he's done with Neeson. While Run All Night is probably my favourite of their films, this is a close second.

It opens with a really cool and visually interesting montage of Neeson's daily routine done in a very impressive style. It's much more than I expected from a film like this. It sets everything all up very well, Neeson noticing the regular commuters before things kick-in, building his motivation to take the money and go along with the offer. It all works.


There are extreme lacks in logic, as one would expect and the film very literally goes off the rails in the final act, but I'd be lying if I couldn't overlook these things, as I was having so much fun with it. The twists are mostly obvious and telegraphed very early, that said, I was still very much into the mystery and got wrapped up in the whole thing. There is some some very awful dialogue here and there, to the point where I laughed out loud at the cheesiness of it all and Patrick Wilson's character is named 'Alex Murphy' for some reason and he doesn't even turn out to be Robocop.

Even at the age of 65, Neeson still kicks ass in a lot of great action scenes littered throughout. The action is pretty quick and brutal, edited nicely and packs a punch. A far cry from the incoherent mess of Taken 3's choppy action. I feel I need to mention Liam Neeson smashes a man's head with a guitar. What more could you want?


The Commuter is exactly what you'd want and expect from a Liam Neeson action film, which is no bad thing. Whether you're laughing with it or at it, there is so much fun to be had with this. I hope Collet-Serra and Neeson continue to work together for a long time.

7/10 Dans

The Commuter is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Downsizing (2017) - Film Review

Review:

*Originally written January 31st, 2018*

What a waste of potential. Downsizing has a unique and original idea behind, but one that is squandered after a promising first act. Things quickly go downhill as the characters get more annoying and the situations become more aimless and boring.

I never would have thought a film about shrinking humans to try and save the planet could be see bland. The jokes are exactly what you'd expect and it's brutal. After Matt Damon gets shrunk he checks his penis to make sure it's in proportion to his body, it's that sort of thing. All the real jokes are in the trailer and the film is played straight for the most part, apart from bizarre and unfunny jokes about the word "Fucking" instead, most of the film is played relatively straight. 

Most of the time I was just annoyed about the quirkiness of it all and the film is nowhere near as smart as it believes it is. There's a few lines about the humans impact on the environment, immigration and if little people should have the same rights as fully grown human beings. Any potentially interesting story-line is wasted in place of a boring romance that descends into a grating final act. If I had the choice, I probably would have walked out. 


I need to get my biggest gripe out the way, Hong Chau's character, a Vietnamese woman with one leg who becomes Matt Damon's love interest for the remaining two acts of the film. She is brutal. What shocked me is that the actress was actually Vietnamese and she took this role, as she's written as this frankly tasteless and annoying character that comes off as just a huge bit racist. It feels like a Team America archetype brought to life. 

It's not all bad though, there are some things to like, Christoph Waltz is fun in his role as a party hard European and has a lot of likeable charm. Then there is a lot of creativity on display here, we've come a long way from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in the ability to create convincing effects for shrinking people and in all honesty, it looks pretty good. That's it though, the rest of the film is garbage. Matt Damon is fine I will say, completely fine, nothing special, but he does okay.


Downsizing is a complete waste of potential, a fascinating sci-fi premise that starts well but ends up as one of the worst films I've seen so far this year. A huge misfire from Alexander Payne.

3/10 Dans

Downsizing is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Monday, 29 January 2018

Ratchet and Clank (2016) - Film review

Review:

*Originally written May 3rd, 2016*

I was fairly excited for Ratchet and Clank when it was first announced back at E3 a few years ago, I'm a huge fan of the video games, so I was praying to god that they could make a good film out of it. With the creative team behind the video games working on the film, I was hoping that this could be the adaptations that breaking video game movie curse. It sadly wasn't.

Based on the first game in the series, Ratchet and Clank tells the story of Ratchet, a mechanic and last of his species who dreams of bigger things and wants to join the Space Rangers, a universe defending team. He gets his chance at this when he meets Clank, a small robot with information about an insane villain who wants to destroy the universe or something.

This franchise was always Pixar brought to life in video game form, so it was pretty ripe for an animated film. So it is such a shame that this fails to capture that magic that Pixar usually conjure. The look of game is captured pretty well. The animation does look pretty and the characters and design all look excellent.

Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical, but this was just a pretty run of the mill kids film filled with lame humour and childish gags. I know this is a kids film, but in all honesty, the target audience is people my age (18-20) who grew up playing the games. I'm not saying that it needed to be full of swearing and violence. I just expected funnier jokes than the cheap slapstick we got here.


It tells the same story the first game and the new one (Which is much better than the film). The voice cast from the game all the return, which was nice, including some voice work from Sylvester Stallone and John Goodman. 

The characters are the only real thing that saves the film from utter garbage. Ratchet and Clank are likeable as ever and Captain Qwark is still hilarious and everything that comes out of his mouth is gold, he's basically Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. 

This whole thing just felt like a cheap and cynical ploy to promote the new game. There's no heart or soul to this film at all. It runs at 90 minutes, but still feels so much longer. I wanted it to end so many times throughout.

One of the things that makes Ratchet and Clank so great is the creativity of the weapons, but there is nothing here apart from some guns that make no more than a cameo. All the action itself is flat and uninventive with no emotional weight either. It was all just so bland.


Ratchet and Clank isn't the video game movie adaptation you were hoping for, which is just a shame. It's just a cheap and cynical cash-in to promote the new game. The director of this is also directing the Sly Cooper film, my faith in that has dwindled.

4/10 Dans

Ratchet and Clank is out now on DVD in the UK
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) - Film Review

Review: *Originally written April 14th, 2016* Definitely not the "political thriller" people seem to claim it is. Sure it ha...