Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017) - Film Review

Review:

I don't really enjoy Anime at all, I try my hardest and I want to explore it more, but for the most part, I have a hard time connecting with it. My expectations at this were at an all-time low, the trailers did nothing for me, aside from the music, and being forced to see the trailer over and over again made me sick of the film before I'd even seen it. Much to my surprise, I actually quite enjoyed Ghost in the Shell, far more than the original Anime.

It is very faithful to the Anime visually, but it is bulked up to a longer runtime and is inarguably dumbed-down for a mass audience. The story is far more straight-forward and less abstract, which I appreciated. It's pretty simple, a woman's consious is bought back to life in a cyborg body and is part of a high-tec police force that have to bring down a cyber terrorist. There's more to it than that, but it is nowhere near as complex as its source material.

There was a lot of contreversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson's casting with even complaints of "White-washing", at one point I seem to remember an article claiming they were going to use CGI to make Johansson look "More Asian". Thank god that never happened, what a misguided step that would have been. Johansson is great though, she plays it similar to her role in Under the Skin, a character who is alien to everyone else, not truly sure what she is and because of this she is cold and almost emotionless. There's some surprising family stuff added here, which didn't always work, but added more depth to Johasson's Major.

Scarlett Johannson as Major
The rest of the cast are good for the most part. Pilou Asbaek was decent as Major's enhanced partner, Batou. Takeshi Tikano is always great to see, although I wish he had more to do. Michael Pitt on the otherhand, I wasn't entirely sure what he was going for, I can't decide if he was brilliant or terrible, but he talked like he was doing Nicolas Cage's Adam West impression from Kick-Ass, it was bizarre to watch.

Where Ghost in the Shell really shines is its visuals, action and score. This is a gorgeous film that was reminiscint of other sci-fi films and games like Blade Runner, Deus Ex and it even takes direct shots from the original Ghost on the Shell. This really was a sight to behold, there was no expense spared in the special effects department. I was a little worried about excessive slow-motion during the action scenes thanks to the trailer, but there wasn't a lot and it's used sparingly.

There were people complaining about the PG-13/12A rating, but it didn't really make it difference. It might lack the visceral violence of the original, but it makes up for it in visual style. I had no idea Clint Mansell scored this until reading the opening titles. The score was one of the few things I really liked about the original and he did a fantastic job with this.

Dan Bremner in Ghost in the Shell
My real complaints with Ghost in the Shell was it just felt lacking in some parts and a few scenes really didn't work. This is also one of the shorter blockbuster films at just over a hundred minutes, but I felt an extra half hour or so could have made for a much meatier film. The ending felt pretty rushed and while I appreciate it was more subdued than your usuall CGI mash-up of explosions, it was pretty underwhelming and wrapped up far too quickly.

Ghost in the Shell will probably be hated by a lot and loved by others, but for me, I really enjoyed this adaption of an Anime I'm not too keen on. It's a visually spectacular, simple and beautifully scored sci-fi, and I wouldn't mind seeing more films in this universe.

7/10 Dans

Ghost in the Shell is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - Film Review

Review:

Edge of Tomorrow always surprises me with each watch. I doubt many people asked "What would Groundhog Day be like as a sci-fi action film?". But amazingly, the concept works far better than it should.

It's insanely entertaining and a brisk 2 hour watch with an excellent performance from Tom Cruise who plays against type here as a coward Major who is forced into a battle and obtains the ability to repeat the day every time he dies after an encounter with an "Alpha Mimic". I was surprised at just how funny this was too, Cruise manages to balance both comedy and bad-ass action hero both effortlessy.

Cruises character builds more as the film goes on, going from an incompetent soldier who doesn't even know how to turn the safety of his weapon to a bad-ass who doesn't even have to look when killing an alien. It's almost like a video game, it even feels like a video game at times. It'd probably go as far as saying this is the best video game movie ever made, except it's not based on a video game.

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt
The design of the mech-suits and aliens are really creative and so much better than alien designs we've had from recent films (Battle: Los Angeles). The action is inventive and fun, the opening scene that was very reminiscent of D-Day, but with aliens and soldiers in mech-suits. The whole dying and coming back to life thing could have made for some very repetitive action and scenes, but they manage to keep it interesting all the way through from beginning to end.

Emily Blunt provides the highlight of the film as the 'Full Metal Bitch' a hardened soldier who helps Cruise as she went through what he did at some point. She manages to outshine Cruise at points, making for a compelling co-lead, delivering some great action too.

The only thing that lets Edge of Tomorrow down is its ending, which in all honesty doesn't make much sense. That aside, It is one of the best and most enjoyable blockbusters of recent years. A sequel has also been announced, but I'm not entirely sure what the point would be?

9/10 Dans

Edge of Tomorrow is out now on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK
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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Free Fire (2016) - Film Review

Review:

I've honestly not got on with a Ben Wheatley film since 2011's Kill List. I hated Sightseers, have yet to see A Field in England, and High-Rise I found to just be a mess. Free Fire is the most fun I've had from a Ben Wheatley film in a long time, but I was still oddly disappointed.

Free Fire is a fun film. It's a real-time action comedy that takes place in a warehouse after a gun deal goes wrong. I have soft-spot for single location films, and for the most part, Free Fire is succesful. It sadly loses momentum in a lot of places, even with its brief 90 minute runtime, leaving me a bit bored at times.

The films saving grace is its wonderful cast. Sharlto Copley gives his best performance since District 9, delivering a fun, silly and quotable character. The whole cast are great in fact, everyone is pretty much on top form. Even Armie Hammer was tolerable. I always love seeing Micheal Smiley too, he's great, I wish he was in more. There's even a surprising amount of heart between Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson which I didn't expect.

Brie Larson
The parts I did also love were the moments of grotesque violence among the dark comedy. It was quite refreshing to see a film where people are constantly shot until they bleed out and it was fun to see the cast limping more and more, getting closer to death as the film progressed.

Wheatley keeps a variety of interesting techniques and camera uses to keep the single location going. The camera pans through warehouse giving us a clear sense of geography in the single location of where everyone is.

Free Fire isn't always succesful, but for the most part its a fun and ambitious action comedy with a great cast, plus its pretty damn funny.

6/10 Dans

Free Fire is out March 31st in cinemas in the UK
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Monday, 27 March 2017

Power Rangers (2017) - Film Review

Review:

I didn't grow up with Power Rangers and I had no real excitement for this at all. I, at the very least expected some mind-numbingly entertaining action in here somewhere in the way of Michael Bay's Transformers series. Instead, I got none of that, I got something closer to Josh Trank's 2015 Fantastic Four reboot.

I know Power Rangers is a very campy and outdated TV show, so I'm not entirely sure what this was going for. It tries to be dark and gritty, but opens with a joke about wanking off a bull. Amongst the dark and fairly ugly cinematography, we get these faux, bright colours, reminding me almost of Zack Snyder. The design of the Power Rangers were actually quite terrifying up close too, they had these cold dead eyes that would scare the shit out of me if that was in my face.

The new Rangers
None of the Power Rangers themselves have any kind of chemistry and to be honest, they're pretty unlikeable. I sort of appreciate them trying to spend more time with the characters rather than non-stop action, but what we were left of was mostly just boring. The lead actor, Dacre Montgomery is a bland, charisma vacuum that looks like the love-child of Zac Efron and Chris Pine. The use of a lesbian character is a nice touch, but they do absolutely nothing with it.

Contrasting the bland, lifeless cast of the Power Rangers is Elizabeth Banks villains, who is appalling. It just adds to the problematic mess this film is. This tries to be a grounded and gritty superhero film, but then they add Banks going full pantomine mode with a performance as laughable as the character's name, "Rita Repulsa".
Elizabeth Banks as "Rita Repulsa"
When the film finally does explode in the last 20 minutes with some action. It couldn't save it. It's just an extremely bland, CGI shit-fest of momentously boring giant things hitting eachother. They even throw in the original Power Rangers theme, which I laughed at, I'm not entirely sure the use of it was ironic or not? But it got a laugh out of me.

I have to mention the abhorrently obnoxious use of Krispy Kreme. Product placement is fine as long as it's not overdone. Power Rangers 2017 is a joke. I never thought I'd see a film where Krispy Kreme is actually a location of a secret object. There's even a scene during the final battle where Elizabeth Banks stops fighting in order to eat and savour a donut. I am not making this up. It was so vile and cynical.

I wish I had fun with Power Rangers, but there was nothing in it for me. It's part boring superhero origin story, part weird version of Breakfast Club, part Transformers (There's even a reference to Bumblebee) and part campy nonsense. It's a tonal nightmare that doesn't know what it wants to be. There's 5 sequels planned, I'm open to giving this series a chance to evolve, but if the next one is anything like this, then I'm out.

2/10 Dans

Power Rangers is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Life (2017) - Film Review

Review:

Life isn't a particuarly new or even interesting film, I had not much hope for it, but it thankfully turned out to be a very fun film that does what it does very well. A really pleasant surprise and an insanely breezy and entertaining genre film.

There's obvious elements from other films, Gravity, Sunshine and most of all, Alien. It's a fairly simple B-movie concept, a team of scientists on a space station discover a new form of life that they name "Calvin", the new life form quickly becomes a vicious killer and sadistically hunts them down one by one.
Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal
Bar its surprisingly dark and nihlistic ending, Life lacks originality and is quite predictable, but at the same time it's all done extremely well due its cast, fun script and sense of urgency in some really intense scenes of space claustraphobia. Like, I said, it borrows heavily from Alien, but that doesn't mean Life doesn't stand on its own as an entertaining genre film.

The characters are underdeveloped, but the cast do a good job at bringing life to their personalities. Ryan Reynold's does his usual smart-ass routine, which works, although they go a direction with his character I did not expect. Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal fare better as the stars of the film.

Rebecca Ferguson
But the real star of Life is "Calvin", who really is a terrifying force of nature. Designed to look like some sort of sea creature nightmare, almost like a jellyfish or stingray. When Calvin starts his killing spree, it really is nasty and sadistic. I did not expect the violence to be this grizzly or disturbing. 

There was some violence here that even got a reaction from me, and that honestly takes a lot. I really do hope to see a franchise based around Calvin's race. Maybe a sequel that goes in the way of Aliens and bring a lot more Calvins into the mix?

It's worth noting that there were some rumours going round that this might be a prequel to Sony's upcoming Spider-Man spin-off 'Venom'. This was complete nonsense and has nothing to do with that. The producers refusing to confirm or deny it was purely to create some sort of promotion for the film.

Life is nothing new, but it is a lot of fun, a dark, violent sci-fi horror with some really grotesque body-horror and a pleasantly surprising ending.

8/10 Dans

Life is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Friday, 24 March 2017

The Lost City of Z (2016) - Film Review

Review:

I'm having a hard time putting James Gray's true life adventure film 'The Lost City of Z' into words. It's a compelling and beauty piece of work, but difficult to talk about. There's a sort of quiet majesty to this. It's not a loud, fast-paced adventure film. It's much slower and more meaningful than that.

It all feels classic. Like an older film made with todays technology. In some ways it feels timeless. Rather than bombarding you with set-pieces we instead get a much more character focused piece about Charlie Hunnam's true life explorer Percival Fawcett who went missing during one of his expeditions to the Amazon to find a lost city he calls "Z".

There really is a fascinating true story here of Percival, who led an incredible life. Never giving up his fateful search for this city, despite the danger and warnings not to. Hunnam is an actor who's not head the best luck on the big-screen, but this is easily his best work since Sons of Anarchy ended, playing a tragic and determined character who loses a lot in order to discover something greater.

Charlie Hunnam and Tom Holland
Robert Pattinson is also pretty good. He's an actor it's easy to mock due to his role in the Twilight series, but much like Kirsten Stewart, he has more or less shedded that teen vampire nonsense and gives an almost unrecognizable turn here.

This is also a beautiful film and Gary directs the hell out of it. Giving us a gorgeous and timeless historical feel of the early 1900's. The set designs and costumes really are something to behold. As are the lavish jungles where the majority of the film takes place.

I wish I had more to say. The Lost City of Z truly is a hard film to take in. It might be a little too long and the pacing suffers at times, but for the most part, this is a gorgeous, classic and compelling adventure that I would recommend seeing on the biggest screen you can.

8/10 Dans

The Lost City of Z is out now in cinemas in the UK
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Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) - Film Review

Review:

Jesus. I finally got to this again. Transformers: Age of Extinction. A soul-crushing, exhausting and draining piece of trash that is easily the lowest point of both the Transformers series and Michael Bay's career. Nothing in this film works. It's 165 minutes long. 165 minutes.... Who let this happen?
Working as a soft-reboot of the series, Age of Extinction gives us a new protaganist in the form of an inventor, Cade, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is at the very least, more tolerable than any of the Witwicky family. It's just a shame he's shoved in the middle of such a bloated, boring and dead-brained script.

Bumblebee
You should know what to expect from this series by now, but it's just not been fun since the first. The story is needlessly convoluted once again. The characters are all horrible. Wahlberg brings some of that wide-eyed goofy charm, but his character is oddly racist to the Irish boyfriend of his daughter.

The script makes every character just awful. The boyfriend of Wahlberg's daughter comes off as a creepy pervert as he carries round a bit of paper stating a law that gives him a loophole to date a 17 year old girl (He's 20). It's just so unneeded, weird and disgusting. No one else at particuarly memorable. T.J. Miller has a couple of funny lines, but leaves the film very early.

One of the biggest problems with Age of Extinction is its absurd length, which I mentioned before and with all the previous films in this series. This is the longest one so far, as it borders 3 hours. It's insane. I nearly cried when I saw there was still an hour left. It broke me and wore me down until there was nothing left of me.

Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz and Jack Raynor
Not even the action or CGI hold up this time. Most of the character models still look great, as much as they did in previous films, but there is some weird stuff that looks like it was pulled out the '90s. It's unacceptable that a film this expensive should have special effects that bad.

The action is all borderline incomprehensible with its abhorrent shakey-cam and Bay's lack of self-restraint, making it near impossible to make out what was happening at times. There is just too much going on during the scene, making everything just seem like noise. I started zoning out and started thinking about all the collateral damage caused by all this chaos rather than enjoying it.

The score is trash too. Adding cringe-worthy lyrics into the music in order to try and earn some sort of emotional response from its audience, who should not care at all what is happening based on the poor storytelling and horrible characters.

Age of Extinction really is the worst of Bay. He's a director I despise, who sometimes surprises me (Pain and Gain, The Rock), but for the most part, his filmography is nothing more than the adolescent wet dreams for 13 year old boys. As a 20 year old, Bay really has nothing to offer me anymore. I always forget that Bay is also a 40 year old man. It's embarassing.

Optimus Prime
The only real thing I can think I liked about Age of Extinction is that it at least carries on from the aftermath of the events of the previous film and sees humanity turn on the Transformers for all the death and destruction they caused in Chicago. Which is something Batman V Superman and Captain America: Civil War did better, but that's not the point, Age of Extinction beat them to it.

Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't a film. It's a near 3 hour barrage of overdone action, CGI and spectacle in favour of anything close to good storytelling. The action and spectacle aren't even well done or exciting, it's just boring and tired by this point.

This was also meant to be Bay's final film in the series for him (As was Dark of the Moon), but he's returning for this years 'The Last Knight'. I don't expect much from it, but if it's any worse than this one, then god help us all.

1/10 Dans

Transformers: Age of Extinction is out now on Blu-ray and DVD now in the UK
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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) - Film Review

Review:

Kong: Skull Island is a stupid film. There's no way round that. It's stupid. It's also about an island that contains a giant monkey and dinosaur like creatures, so I guess I expected it to be stupid? As the second entry in Warner Brothers "Monsters" universe, it's tonally miles away from 2014's Godzilla (Which I loved), a much darker, humorless film, but was still great and I preferred it to this.

Kong is a character that hasn't been on screen since Peter Jackson's film 12 years ago, as far as I know. Skull Island is a welcome return for the King of the Apes. In a vibrant, beautifully shot and overall, fun film that throws all logic out the window.

Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson
My only real complaint is the lack of character. Despite the cast of John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston, every character is pretty much a non-entity. I could not remember the name of a single one of them. Who does steal the show at least, is John C Reilly, as an inhabitant of the island for nearly 30 years. He's the only character with any real characterisation and an arc. So much so, that the end credits even wrap up his story. Which was weird in all honestly.

What you really care about is King Kong though, and he was spectacular. He's also the biggest incarnation of him we've ever recieved. Which is for the best considering this is the version we'll be having fight Godzilla in 2020.

Kong isn't the only creature though. Skull Island is resident to a variety of really varied and terrifying monsters. Each unique looking and quite creative. My favourite being a giant spider with bamboo for legs. I was a little disappointed we never got any actual dinosaurs like a T-rex or anything, but what we got was interesting enough.

Kong himself in all his glory
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts previous film is only a small indie film called The Kings of Summer. It must have been weird jumping from that to such a huge-budget blockbuster like Kong: Skull Island. He did a great job directing the action. There's a huge variety of gorgeous visuals in this vibrant, beautiful looking film. Being set in the 1970's we also get some very strange Vietnam imagery, which I wasn't sure how to react to.

Henry Jackman also provided an excellent score which reminded me of classic monster movies. On top of that there's a lot of great use of 60's rock music including David Bowie. Which I loved.

The main thing that put me off from the trailers was the humour. In all honesty, it's hit-and-miss, but when it does hit, it's extremely funny. John C Reilly being the standout. The humour is sometimes tonally at odds with the nature of the film. It jumps from some really grizzly and surprisingly violent scenes to a gag, which was more jarring than funny. That's where the jokes fell flat for me mostly.

Kong: Skull Island might not have the best characters, but it makes up for it with a gorgeous, fun and exciting film that does its job wonderfully and expands Warner Brothers Monsters Universe in an exciting way. Kong is back, and I'm happy about that.

8/10 Dans

Kong: Skull Island is out now in theaters in the UK
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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017) - Film Review

Review:

Since I don't have the same attachment to the original Disney film most people have (I only saw it for the first time a few days ago), I was much more open to this new live-action adaptation. I've found Disney's live-action reboots pretty succesful for the most part, The Jungle Book in particuarly being spectacular.

I didn't have much hope for Beauty and the Beast, but to my surprise, I ended up loving it far more than I possibly imagined. While it might not be as strong as the 1991 version, this holds up on its own as a beautiful, heartfelt and funny romance that mostly hits all the right notes.

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson as The Beast and Belle
What struck me first is just how beautiful and elaborate everything is, from set-design to costumes to special effects, everything on display is a feast for your eyes. It's a bring, colour and vibrant film. It was hard to take everything in on a first watch, but it was wonderful. My only fault with the designs had to be the Cogsworth and Lumiere, whose designs look a bit weird to say the least and the lack the simplistic charm of the original Disney film.

In terms of performances, everyone was pretty great. Dan Stevens was fantastic as the Beast, jumping from anger, sadness and genuine warmth and giving a compelling performance even under all that CGI. Emma Watson was decent as Belle, her singing may have been a bit autotuned, but she did a good job overall. Their relationship is touching and genuinely worth investing in, making for a some emotionally resonate moments I had no idea would reach me the way it did. It was really funny too, a scene with a snowball came out of nowhere and nearly killed me.

Luke Evans stole the show as Gaston, who played it much less disgusting and rapey than the previous version. His inherent narscissism and self-obsession led to some of the films funniest moments. As did his assistant, LeFou, Disney's first openely gay live-action character. He might not have been "openely" gay as what I'd heard, but it was fine and I'm glad Disney are adding equality and diversity to the film. I'm hoping they go a step further in future films.

Josh Gad and Luke Evans as LeFou and Gaston
I may have criticised the design of Cogsworth and Lumiere, but Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor both do scene-stealing jobs. I had my worries about McGregor's French accent (His career has a fair few misguided accents), but he pulled it off extremely well. Ian McKellen may have given me the biggest laugh of the whole film one of his final scenes.

 
Lumiere and Cogsworth voiced by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen

Despite my apprehension towards musicals, I was pretty won over by most of the songs. A fair few of them I quite liked. A lot of them were lifted directly from the original animation, but even some of the new ones were good in their own right. My biggest problem with last years Jungle Book film was how out of the place the musical numbers were within the film, luckily Beauty and the Beast did not suffer from the same problem.

Beauty and the Beast was a pleasant surprise, a visually astonishing, funny, heartfelt and worthy remake that stands its own ground against an already fantastic film. More of this, Disney.

9/10 Dans

Beauty and the Beast is out now in theaters in the UK
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The Fast and Furious (2001) - Film Review

Review: *Originally written January 2nd, 2016* "Live life a quarter mile at a time" Whatever that means. It's always i...