Rocketman (2019) review

If the last ten years were the age of the superhero film, perhaps we’re moving into the era of the music biopic. Rocketman follows the tumultuous and often difficult life of Reginald Dwight, better known as the most famous British solo artist of all time, Sir Elton John. While liberties are undoubtedly taken with the truth for the sake of a compelling narrative structure, the heart is in the right place.  And boy does this film have heart to spare. This, combined with innovative camera work and a stunning soundtrack, make Rocketman something really special.

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Biopics can have a tendency to be a little formulaic, predictable. They flirt with both the drama and documentary genres, steering clear of anything creatively bold, filmmaking wise. In a refreshing twist, however, this film is as flamboyant and brave as the man himself. Combining the drama and musical genres is nothing short of genius and the bombastic broadway dance numbers that take a 180 turn into formalist filmmaking are as exciting as they are frequent. All of the cast are able to have a stab at re-vamped classics alongside the bafflingly excellent Taron Egerton, which keeps things varied. These formalist elements extend to bizarre trip sequences that manipulate time and space to evoke the feeling of a drug addled mind, while concurrently taking us on a masterful musical voyage.

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The cast is wonderful. Egerton leads the charge as a truly believable and unapologetically angry Elton, hitting every emotional beat with an electricity that strikes you through the screen. Richard Madden may as well be twirling his non existent moustache for how evil he plays manager John Reid, but his initial suave charm just about makes it work. Slightly more questionable is Bryce Dallas Howard as John’s mother, who not only doesn’t seem to age, but also acts a little too ditzy, so when the big emotional confrontation comes in the third act, it falls a tad flat.

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Overall though, Rocketman is phenomenal. The soundtrack provides beautiful re-orchestrations of so many hits, performed incredibly by the shockingly amazing at-singing Egerton. The writing is spot on, hitting the key beats of John’s life while not shying away from his demons. The dialogue is both witty and appropriately dramatic, yet it somehow feels organic and real. Finally, and most wonderfully, is the brilliant cinematography, editing and sound design. This is a technically fantastic film, bearing a strong resemblance to the innovative shots and transitions of La La Land, which is certainly no bad thing. Don’t let the sun go down on this incredible flick, and make sure you come back for several viewings.

★★★★

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) review

When Disney announced that they were buying Lucasfilm way back in 2012, people were skeptical. On the one hand, their beloved Star Wars was being bought by a corporate conglomerate that, by its very nature, has to make things child friendly and applicable for all audiences. However, on the other hand, this is the same company that hired Kevin Fiege and now has a near monopoly on the superhero genre, even more so with their recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox. 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ was met with considerable fanfare at the time, with articles commenting that it ‘perfectly captured the tone of the original trilogy’ and audiences seemed to love it too. However, in the following months and with the lukewarm reception to 2016’s ‘Rogue One’, it became the increasing norm for people to hate ‘Force Awakens’ for being a clone of ‘A New Hope.’ While that’s a story for another day, director Rian Johnson had a real challenge when putting together ‘The Last Jedi.’ Expectations were incredibly high with many questions left lingering from TFA, in a typically J.J Abrams fashion. Supreme Leader Snoke, Rey’s parents, The Knights of Ren, how Maz obtained Anakin’s lightsaber and perhaps most pressingly of all, the character of Luke Skywalker, who made a 15 second, non speaking cameo at the end of TFA, were all on the top of reddit posts and speculation articles. Not helping matters was fan darling Mark Hamill himself, who publicly stated that ‘disagreed with every choice that he [Johnson] made with the character [of Luke Skywalker]. And though it’s sad to say, as a true, loyal Star Wars fan, I not only agree with that statement, but think the film suffers from the hubris of the director and the ‘Disneyfication’ if you will, of the whole saga, a great deal. With full spoilers ahead, lets dive in.

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First the elephant in the room: Carrie Fisher. Every scene with Carrie is made immensely more melancholic thanks to her tragic passing last year. That aside, she gives a wonderful performance. In fact, all but one of the main cast absolutely nail their characters. The scene where she uses the force should’ve been amazing, but was done in such a cheesy and stylised manner, that it came off as weird and out of place. A big shame. The question of how Leia, who is very much alive and still in charge of the resistance, will be written around in the next film, is a lingering one. It’s a very tight and unfortunate spot for J.J to have to deal with in episode 9. Other performances worth highlighting are the fantastic Adam Driver, who matures and develops Kylo Ren far more effectively with his emotive face, than the script ever does. Daisy Ridley continues to do a sterling job as Rey and the reveal that she comes from nothing, actually really worked for me. The idea of greatness coming from anywhere, not just the Skywalker family, is a nice direction. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac also continue to ooze charisma and likeability and charm, but both fall victim to dreadfully boring and/or stupid and incoherent storylines. More on that in a bit. But the show stealer in terms of performance is Mark Hamill. Working with such a warped version of the character we know must’ve been infinitely challenging and frustrating, but the feelings of anguish, fear and sadness are portrayed beautifully, even if the surrounding script is weak. The decision to have Luke turn into a curmudgeonly old man who hates the idea of the Jedi and has disconnected from the force, is not something that I think fans ever expected or wanted. The final action scene is a great twist, I’ll say that much, but I also strongly disagree with Luke dying at the end of it. Firstly; why? And secondly; no really, why? Both films seem to relish in being rid of any familiar elements from the original trilogy for seemingly no reason. There’s passing on the torch and then there’s just sloppy writing. I guess Chewie’s next for the chop then? All in all, this is not the Luke Skywalker I wanted to see and the lack of a reunion with Han Solo, or even a meaningful reunion with any of the main cast bar Leia, is deeply disappointing. Luke for me, is the main area where this film fails. It destroys years of established Star Wars lore, all so that the director can say he ‘did it his way.’

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The Luke mess as well as Snoke’s random death, no mention of the Knights of Ren and the ‘destruction’ of both the Jedi and the Sith all seem to stem from the issue of having multiple directors for the trilogy. J.J had set up so many questions and Rian didn’t want to answer them, simple as. He wanted a self contained, smaller scale story that shook up the formula. I can understand that and even agree with a bit of a shake up, but this went way, way overboard. Going back to Snoke, to have him as such a presence and encourage so many questions about his origin, only to unceremoniously and abruptly kill him two thirds into the movie with no questions answered is inexcusable and pointless. It makes the world seem smaller and gives us even less players on the board going into episode 9. I know that in theory, both Luke and Snoke could appear as force ghosts, but the damage to the fans has already been done.

Also made completely irrelevant in this film is fan favourite ex Stormtrooper, Finn. The B storyline here is so pointless that it manages to make the whole half hour on the Casino planet, incredibly boring. If there is one thing Star Wars should never, ever be: it’s BORING. Even the prequels for all their crappy love scenes and overuse of CGI were at least entertaining. The introduction of completely random love interest ‘Rose’ doesn’t help either, with a very dull and irritating performance from Kelly Marie Tran, being the closest thing to Jar Jar Binks that the new films have got. The whole segment is one massive toilet break and comes off not only as dull but also preachy. I’m a big animal lover, but did we need that animal cruelty message hammered in so hard along with a dreadfully cliché ‘rich profiteering off of war’ message. Come on Star Wars. We’re better than this; we can get messages like this across in smarter ways. Like teddy bears killing trained Stormtroopers with logs.

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So, after four paragraphs of venting and angst, you probably think I hate this film. Well while I certainly don’t love it, it does have its merits. As said, apart from Jar Jar Rose, all the performances are spot on and I love the evolution of Kylo, Rey and Poe in particular. All of their character arks are strong, but unfortunately come at the expense of stupid plot developments or unanswered questions. Where credit must be given though, is in the visuals. Stunning shots of the salt planet and in particular the hyperdrive destruction of a Star Destroyer are real highlights. The movie also starts off strong, with the brilliant opening action scene being reminiscent of the ‘straight into the action’ approach of the original trilogy. While the MCU-style humour can become tiresome, most of it landed for me and Poe was as funny as likeable as ever. However, you can bet I was pissed when Luke through that lightsaber though; I’m fuming just thinking about it. John Williams’ score is stronger this time around too. It felt a little rushed for TFA and lacked any memorable action scores. The decision to reuse the asteroid chase music for a Millennium Falcon dogfight was a welcome return. Yoda’s cameo scene along with his iconic theme, were also welcome returns that did help to make this mess actually seem like a Star Wars film. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the action scene following Snoke’s death. It’s fantastic. Watching Kylo and Rey destroy those red Imperial guards was just amazing. The shooting of all the action was great, with wide frame shots showing the characters whole bodies, giving a Samurai vibe to the action.

So, closing thoughts. When I walked out of ‘The Last Jedi’, I told my friends that I loved it. Luke’s badass closing confrontation with Kylo was fresh in my mind, there were new ideas and it wasn’t just another ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ However. After a few days of festering thoughts and discussions with friends, I’ve decided that this is a deeply flawed film. It has all the makings of a great piece: amazing actors, talented director, John Williams doing the score, stunning shots and angles and a stellar first film to spring board from. Where this film fails isn’t on any of those technical levels, its in two fundamental and crucial areas; the core philosophy and lore, and the commercialisation and incorrect filmmaking approach for a Star Wars film. The first, I’ve touched on a lot here; I believe that Johnson wanted to make his mark and make Star Wars the way he thought it should be and to subvert expectations following backlash from TFA. I can understand that, it’s a stylistic and creative choice. I think its absolutely the wrong choice and it sounds like Mark Hamill and many other fans agree with me, but I can respect a directors artistic vision. What I can’t respect, is the way Disney is trying to make Star Wars films in the same way they make Marvel films. Star Wars should be made every couple of years and really get people excited for it, with some time to flesh out wonderful scripts. With the vast volume of Marvel characters, you don’t feel suffocated with a new film every 4 months or so, Star Wars has a deeply entrenched lore that at present doesn’t lend itself to multiple films a year. If we started going Old Republic years, then perhaps that approach could work, but thats a gripe for another day. Star Wars also doesn’t lend itself to humour in the same way as Marvel. It has a generally more serious tone and the ‘Marvel’ approach of inserting humour into what first appears to be a more serious scene, clashes terribly with the established way of things and the characters we all know so well. Ultimately, Disney needs to make money, I get that. I can forgive them including Porg to see a billion toys like I forgave the inclusion of the Ewoks to do the same thing. What I can’t forgive is sacrificing creativity and a coherent story in order to get something out the door quickly. I wanted so badly to love this and have it be my new ‘Empire Strikes Back’, but there is just too much fundamentally wrong with it.

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And oh yeah, Captain Phasma sucks and is pointless. AGAIN.

I give ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, with sadness in my heart, two stars (★★). And my updated ranking of the series is:

Empire Strikes Back- ★★★★★

Return of the Jedi- ★★★★★

A New Hope- ★★★★★

The Force Awakens- ★★★★

Revenge of the Sith- ★★★

The Last Jedi- ★★

Rogue One- ★★

Phantom Menace- ★

Attack of the Clones- ★

The Disaster Artist (2017) review

After the disappointment of an underwhelming ‘Star Wars’ film delivered a lump of coal in this festive period, getting a last minute treat within ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a welcome way to round off the festive film period. ‘The Disaster Artist’ is the story of Tommy Wiseau, the infamous and incredibly mysterious director of cult classic ‘The Room’, which is often affectionately dubbed ‘the worst film ever made.’ If you’re interested in film analysis and criticism, it’s likely that you’ve come across Wiseau’s directorial debut. ‘The Room’ is well known as the absolute peak of terrible cinema, with beyond tragic acting, production and especially woeful direction. The film was described by one critic as ‘seemingly being made by an alien who has never seen a film, but just had one described to them.’ However, the film has achieved extreme cult status and has copious celebrity fans such as Jonah Hill as well as widespread cult appeal, frequently being shown in late night movie theatres around the world. The film is a phenomenon to be sure, but a full theatrical biopic with an all star cast, was something I never thought I’d see.

Enter James Franco. Along with brother Dave and longtime creative partner Seth Rogan, Franco is clearly a huge fan of Wiseau’s work. He’s simply faultless as Wiseau; picking up his mannerisms and intonations to an almost frightening level of authenticity. The film ends with a side by side comparison of scenes from ‘The Room’ and all of the performances are scarily close to their real life (awful) counterparts. Brother Dave plays Greg Sestero, second leading man of ‘The Room’ and author of the book the biopic is based on, of the same name. While Wiseau is clearly the focus and is obviously the more famous of the duo, this is Sestero’s story and it’s through his eyes that the audience get out look into the story. Like Sestero, we see the ups and downs of Wiseau’s wild and unpredictable nature on set, seeing both the sweet side of his personality as well as his incredibly frustrating whims and wants. While the two are clearly the films leads, the rest of the cast are also strong. Ari Graynor is perhaps even more accurate to her real life counterpart than Franco and Zac Efron’s cameo role is too good to spoil.

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I enjoyed every second of this film and found it delightfully endearing. I’m sure it helps that I was well aware of the source material and have enjoyed exchanging cries of ‘Oh, hi Mark’ with my friends for many years now. However, ‘The Disaster Artist’ will be an enjoyable watch for those who aren’t familiar with its real life origins. Franco as a director very quickly establishes all that you need to know about Wiseau, in a stunning opening scene. It’s just an extra treat for us fans getting to see him perform the iconic ‘ah ha ha’ laugh and relive some of our favourite scenes on the big screen. Franco is clearly a huge fan of the film and milks every inch of the ‘so bad its good’ appeal, with wonderful attention to detail. The sets are perfect, with the authentic terrible green screen backgrounds being so similar, I thought they may have just acquired the original sets. The pacing of the film is also glorious and whilst it has similar arcs to previous Franco-Rogan ventures such as ‘The Interview’ (which I also adored), the emotional climax here feels completely earned and manages to evoke a real emotional reaction, or at least it did for me.

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It would’ve been very easy for Franco to create a film about ‘The Room’ that simply reenacted some of the key scenes and made everyone involved look like a joke. But he didn’t do that. Half way through the film it dawned on me which existing picture it reminded me of: 1994’s ‘Ed Wood’ directed by Tim Burton. If you’ve seen both, its actually quite uncanny how similar the source material of both films are. ‘Ed Wood’ also happens to be one of my favourite films, so this was a big plus for the picture. Franco took a bold move and instead of making Tommy Wiseau, as he might say, ‘their fool’ he created an honest, moving and ultimately inspiring picture that has a great message of never giving up on your dreams, the same empowering message as ‘Ed Wood.’. I actually walked out of the cinema feeling uplifted and inspired and the penultimate scene where the audience relentlessly laughs at the premiere actually choked me up a little. Yo see Wiseau’s reaction to having a room full of strangers ripping into something he put in his heart and soul into, hit very close to home and really got me invested. However, it ultimately has a great message, as Wiseau very quickly changed his tune and told everyone that ‘The Room’ had always been intended as ‘a black comedy.’ Whatever the case, James Franco got me tearing up about a film I’d been ridiculing for years, so props to him.

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I’d also be really interested in seeing just how historically accurate the piece is; it certainly made me buy the book! As I said, the narrative follows a pretty typical comedy structure of ups and downs within its lead characters. The falling out of Tommy and Greg near the end of the third act, only for the premiere to bring them together, is typical of this format, but feels much more legitimate here with the stellar performances of both Franco’s. You, like Greg, find Tommy to be weird and annoying, but also can’t help but feel for him and be endeared by him. When he succeeds (in a way) at the end of the picture, you’re there with him and feel genuinely good for our hero. Similarly, as Greg gives up potential acting jobs for his relationship with Tommy, we feel conflicted. These are all great signs of excellent performances and writing. Like I said, I don’t know how much of this is embellished to create a compelling narrative, but whatever the case, it is indeed very compelling and shows a great deal of respect to everyone involved.

All in all, ‘The Disaster Artist’, polar opposite to its source material, is an absolute masterpiece. It’s not only hilarious, but its emotionally charged and incredibly endearing and likeable. If there was any criticisms to be made, while our two leads get centre stage and sell their performances, some of the supporting cast don’t get much of a time to shine. Josh Hutcherson, for example, doesn’t particularly sell it for me as one of ‘The Room’s’ oddest characters; Denny. This is a minor complaint though as the story really does belong to Sestero and Wiseau (or Franco squared). I can’t recommend the movie enough, and as probably the last new release film that I’ll see this year, it was an excellent way to round off 2017. I would recommend you see the original movie for the full level of enjoyment, but it’s not a necessity. Truly Franco’s best work to date. A masterpiece.

★★★★★

The Greatest Showman (2017) review

On paper, the life of circus producer P.T Barnum must have seemed to be perfect fodder for a biopic movie. The man epitomises the American dream of self success and is renown world wide for popularising the modern circus and turning it into a viable business venture. He is also well known, however, for sensationalising and exploiting his performers, exposing their deformities and quirks to the paying public, popularising the common ‘freak show’, popular during the 1800s. ‘The Greatest Showman’ pushes the term ‘loosely based on’ to its limit with a derivative plot so full of clichés that even a Disney adaption might blush at this adaption. This of course, is less of a problem for animated offerings such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ based on obscure literature, whereas this film tries to present a warped version of events of people who lived and breathed only a few hundred years ago. The irony of exploiting the story of a man who notoriously exploited others for profit, for profit is not wasted.

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Director Michael Gracey makes his debut and despite a very weak script, manages to make the film highly appealing to watch through a strong visual style, quick and integrated scene transitions and a glorious colour palette that evokes the feeling of a broadway musical. While the characters and story are all paper thin, the movie at least has a highly appealing tone and look to it; the choreography, costume design and sets are all fantastic and a feast for the eyes. What Gracey lacks in character development and narrative structure, he makes up for with gorgeous cinematography and a fast pace. The brevity of scenes acts as both a detriment and a benefit to the film: on the one hand, the characters are allowed no time to just breathe and develop thus feeling more like singing and dancing puppets as opposed to real people. However, the breakneck pace does mean that very few scenes are dull or uninteresting as the film is constantly throwing a new set, song or Hugh Jackman riding an elephant (?) at us.

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Though the cast have very little to work with the weak script, most deliver serviceable performances. Hugh Jackman is unsurprising though ultimately likeable as Barnum. Zac Efron and Zendaya also deliver fairly warm performances as the typical ‘star crossed lovers’ sub plot. The rest of the cast are all fine, but just fine. There are no terrible performances but nothing that will be remembered a few hours after watching. However, as performers of song and dance, they are faultless. The choreography and songs are loud and bombastic with high energy vocals and dance steps being spot on from the entire cast. Most Broadway musical loves will likely adore this movie, as the ‘showy’ aspects entirely hit the mark. However, if you’re a musical lover looking for something that has both fantastic songs and show-stopping numbers to compliment an engaging story, you might leave disappointed- ‘Les Miserables’ this is not.

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In this sense, I find myself quite conflicted about ‘The Greatest Showman.’ I listen to at least one song from the soundtrack every day and find the whole score incredibly appealing and exciting. The songs are expertly crafted with clever lyrics that tell a story through a song (which every musical song should do, but so many fail to) and crucially, they are all memorable and catchy. I find myself humming ‘The other side’ far more often than I should. So then why don’t I love this movie? Why wasn’t it one of my favourites from 2017? I think its because it feels transparent and shallow. The filmmakers are trying to create a big, bombastic musical and have chosen the flimsy narrative of Barnum purely due to the array of striking visuals and characters that the story can lend to a musical. I get it, but it means that the film ends up with very little heart as a result. Character motivations are blurry at best and despite shying away from Barnum’s more capitalist and obliquitous ways of exploiting people for money, when they actually do touch on his treatment of the performers, the movie has no idea what it wants us to think of Barnum. Its the classic end of second act slump where the lead is at his lowest, however its not because of his realisation of how he’s treated the performers, its because his wife has left him. The performers just forgive him and start singing the (admittedly exceptional) ‘From now on’ and all is very, very quickly forgiven for some reason.

So all in all, ‘The Greatest Showman’ has completely polarised me; I both love and dislike it. The songs are fantastic and are up there with some of the modern greats like ‘Book of Mormon’ or ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’ But as a story, it is beyond weak and flimsy. Creating an uplifting story about the man who famously popularised freak shows and said ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ is bold enough, but the creation of fake and supposedly important people in his life like Phillip Carlyle (Efron) is pretty shallow. Putting any historical inaccuracies aside, the film just doesn’t have very engaging characters. Jenny Tunt, Charity Barnum and even P.T himself are just not very well developed and are one note caricatures rather than feeling like real people like say, Jean Valjean does. However, its still worth seeing and is a spectacle in terms of visuals and especially in terms of songs- the soundtrack really is fantastic. If you go in expecting a flashy performance of excellent songs with equally excellent choreography and just treat the plot as a means to an end to go from song to song, there is enjoyment to be found. A shame however, that such incredible music is weighed down by such an underwhelming plot.

★★★

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) review

To quote a great fictional man, ‘there was an idea.’ Never has a movie quote been so appropriate in the context of an idea within its universe and the production of said universe in real life. The idea of establishing four lesser known comic book characters in their own movies that would be largely alien to a mainstream blockbuster audience only to bring them together in one singular event seemed to beg for disaster. But, in hindsight, what almost feels like projecting, the watchful one working eye of Nick Fury in universe and Kevin Feige in our reality both knew that this was a winning idea. As we know 2012’s ‘The Avengers’ was a sensational hit and quickly rose to become the third highest grossing film of all time. So what’s more mad than trying to set up a superhero film that juggles six protagonists, a functioning narrative and an effective villain? Well, how about throwing twenty plus main characters, a narrative that follows three different groups across the galaxy and a totally fresh villain that has no prior film establishment (I’m not counting three minutes in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ as extensive character building). If ‘The Avengers’ was a gamble, then ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is Marvel throwing everything, quite literally, onto the table. With the exception of one shrinking Paul Rudd and a confused normal man who wondered onto set with a bow and arrow for some reason, literally everyone is present here. 

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So, big question: is it any good? Quite amazingly, by some alignment of the stars and the moons (we probably have Thanos to thank for that), this movie somehow manages to live up to the hype and also pay appropriate respect and homage to its previous ten year long legacy. Feige makes a decision worthy of the intellects of Bruce Banner, Shrui and Tony Stark combined by giving directing reigns over to the Russo Brothers, whose previous work for Marvel includes ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’, otherwise known as two movies that are in literally everybody’s ‘Top five MCU films’ lists. The meandering pace, bizarre villain choices and tangents to set up for solo films from Whedon’s underwhelming ‘Age of Ultron’ are firmly abolished here, with the focus being where it should be: Josh Brolin’s Thanos. It has been an excellent year for Marvel villains, as they once again learn from past mistakes and give the ‘Mad Titan’ exactly the right amount of screen time and backstory necessary to make him thoroughly compelling and simultaneously hateable. The true mark of a great villain relies on two things; An understanding (not to be confused with agreement) of their motivations and an incredible on screen presence. The combination of the writing and Josh Brolin’s breath-taking performance achieve this in spades; I genuinely feared for the lives of my favourite characters whenever they came into contact with him.

Though the story is firmly told from the viewpoint of Thanos, the obvious appeal of the movie for any fanboy such as myself comes from the sheer number of heroes in one flick. In the hands of less competent directors, combining the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers and the numerous subsequent heroes and side characters could’ve been more of a disaster than the DC movie universe (cheap shot, sorry.) Thankfully, all of your fAvengersInfinityWaravourite heroes are represented and almost all of them have witty lines and adequate roles to play to drive the story forward. That said, not all heroes are created equally and if I had one criticism, it would be a little too much reliance on the Guardians of the Galaxy and not quite enough love for the likes of core Avengers ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Captain America.’ This is of course a super minor nit-pick and with the state of the universe at the end of the film, I’m sure they’ll have much more prevalence in next years as of yet untitled ‘Avengers 4.’ But we’ll get to that ending later. My other nit-pick regards the generic evil henchmen- ‘The Black Order’ As you might expect, they don’t receive a huge amount of development and despite being pretty tough, are killed off without much consequence. As I say, another minor point as the main villain is so engaging and there is so, so much going on, but I feel that a bit more personality wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

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So if those are my two tiny problems, what did I like about the film? Honestly, nearly everything else. The now well established cast bring their ‘A game’ here, with everyone (except Elizabeth Olsen’s ‘Sokovian’ accent) being on point. Stand outs include Chris Hemsworth as Thor, who honestly just gets better in every movie he’s in. He not only nails the dramatic moments, but his comedic timing rivals even the greatest stand up artists at this point. ‘Sweet Rabbit’ is my new favourite thing and his interactions with the Guardians in general made the Marvel fan boy in my squeal with excitement as well as laugh. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is also amazing here. I was one of the few not actually sold by ‘Spiderman: Homecoming’, but I’m totally on board following a soul destroyingly real death scene. Move over Toby; I have a new favourite Spidey. As I said, there are too many other characters to give individual praise to, but the interactions between our favourite characters weaved in with that trademark Marvel wit, make this a surprisingly humorous affair to begin with, that slowly sits you down and rips out your heart as it brutally murders your childhood heroes… 

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…we best start talking about that ending then. Despite a few early deaths, things seemed all good in the hood for most of the cast and I thought we’d wrap things up with Thanos in some intergalactic prison, with the emotional weight coming from the (very well done and suitably respectful and brutal) deaths of Loki, Gamora and Vision. Not so. After Thor stabs Thanos and he smirks with a reply of ‘you should’ve aimed for the head’, I knew this wasn’t going to be a happy ending. Thanos savagely rips the mind stone from Vision’s head and achieves his goal of wiping out half of the population of the universe. Yep; an MCU movie where the villain wins, without question. The death toll is more akin to the kind of body count Jason Vorehees or Michael Myers (not Austin Powers) tend to rack up; Star Lord, Groot, Drax, Mantis, Black Panther, Falcon, The Winter Soldier, Dr. Strange and even poor Spiderman are all kaput. The movie then ends on a dour note of hopelessness with a cliff-hanger more enticing than ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ It punches you in the gut and is the only Marvel movie to end with a solemn, quiet credits soundtrack to signify the severity of the situation. Now while that is all bleak, it is slightly undercut by the fact that the Marvel diary has already confirmed: ‘Guardians 3’, ‘Spiderman 2’, and ‘Black Panther 2’ post ‘Avengers 4.’ So while I’m sure no one seriously think these flagship characters were dead for good, it does slightly undercut the emotional weight of the scene. While Spidey’s death genuinely nearly got a tear out of me, I was at the same time relieved as I knew that meant this is likely to be undone. It leaves us in an interesting place though, as the remaining Avengers (by no accident) are the core members from phase one with the addition of Rhodey, a few Wakandans and one angry ‘Sweet Rabbit.’ The focus will undoubtedly be on the original team in the follow up and I for one, can’t wait for next summer to see the real conclusion.

 

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It should also be noted that this movie doesn’t waste time introducing newbies to the franchise; quite frankly it doesn’t have the time. It fully expects its audience to be up to date and have knowledge of all previous 18 (!) movies. This also applies to character development as the key dynamics between Tony Stark and Peter Parker for instance are far more compelling with the established relationship from previous flicks. I realise I’ve spent a lot of time talking about plot and not much else in this review, but its such an overwhelming experience that I feel a splurge of information from my brain is the best approach. Taking my fanboy hat off for a second though, it is worth noting the phenomenal production values and stylistic choices. The visuals are more ambitious than any film prior; even the insane, ‘Inception’ style visuals of ‘Dr. Strange’ are dwarfed by one cosmic set piece after another, with the effects highlight being an entire moon being lobbed at Iron Man. I was also very pleased to see the return of Alan Silverstri as composer, who has been absent from the MCU since ‘The Avengers.’ As the composer of easily the most iconic tune in the franchise, it was great to hear his bold, heroic, hype inducing score make a triumphant return here to signal strong character moments. This, balanced with the ominous drone composed as the theme for Thanos really added a lot of weight to the film. One minor (very nerdy) nit-pick, is that I would’ve loved to have heard a reprise of Tyler Bates’ equally excellent motif for the Guardians of the Galaxy when they made their appearance. Motifs are severely lacking in the MCU and it would’ve been equally good to have heard the familiar fanfares for Iron Man and Captain America established previously.

So in conclusion, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is about as amazing a comic book movie that you could ask for. It felt like a true crossover ‘event comic’ come to life. While I still feel that ‘The Dark Knight’, with its compelling themes, complex characters and Oscar worthy acting will always reign supreme as the greatest comic book movie, this movie achieves the seemingly impossible task of juggling so many characters, bringing the pages of a comic book to life and, perhaps most impressively of all, being a satisfying first part of a conclusion to ten years of hype. While it won’t make any great shakes in the Oscars or as a piece of high brow cinema, it isn’t trying to. It knows what it is; a smart action blockbuster and a reward for comic book fans everywhere who have followed and supported Marvel eagerly for the past ten years. Now they have the equally daunting task of finding a satisfying way to conclude this monster of a story. But with Feige, the Russo brothers and the rest of Marvel Studios at the helm, I have every faith that it will just as exhilarating, hilarious and satisfying as this was.

★★★★★

Also pleeeeease, please can this film beat ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’ at the box office? I’d kill to see the look on James Cameron’s pretentious, smug, comic book hating face.

Wonder Boys (2000) review

Wonder Boys is a charming and likeable comedy-drama with an all-star cast that examines the pressures to replicate success after a killer hit and how we can find ourselves resting on our laurels in all aspects of our lives. It unfortunately panned at the box office (twice!) but from a critical point of view, it’s an absolute delight. It takes an irreverent and amused approach to the career of both a university lecturer and a writer and paints an exaggerated picture of what that world consists of (weed smoking, party attending, dog shooting etc) pulling it all together for a close, intimate story that leaves the audience feeling good, but not at the cost of cheapening the established drama.

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Michael Douglas gives perhaps the performance of his lifetime in the lead role, with supporting actors Robert Downey Jr, Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes all giving stellar performances. Despite excessive character development for Douglas and Maguire’s characters, the supporting cast sometimes come off a little shallow. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Holmes’ character, Hannah, exists purely as a hurdle for Douglas to overcome and is presented as a little bit of a stereotypical, horny university student who fancies her lecturer for his brains. Similarly, many of the female roles here do seem designed to act as character development for their male counterparts. This is the only real critique of the film I have and, to be fair, it stems more from the source material, rather than this adaptation.

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From a filmmaking point of view however, everything is perfectly executed. The pace moves along nicely and trims the fat of some of the less important scenes of the novel that have little purpose other than to show the lead character’s own lack of direction. The soundtrack is beautifully eclectic and uses the directors own favourite artist, Bob Dylan, to emphasise some of the film’s most emotionally charged moments, or in some cases, the calm directly after these moments. Finally, the cinematography is equally excellent. The cold winter setting allows for some beautiful shots in the snow that give the film an almost fantasy or folklore tale. As the antics of the characters get more outrageous and the stakes get higher and higher, the cinematography matches this and quick editing techniques are used throughout to give the film a really unique, art house style feel.

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In review, I completely fell in love with ‘Wonder Boys.’ The acting from Michael Douglas is simply flawless. Both Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr are excellent in their respective roles and appropriately convey the emotions both outlandish and subtle that their characters are going through. The narrative is simply wonderful despite slightly side-lining most of the females, even relegating one to a completely unseen character! Nevertheless, it’s a true and honest tale of a person regaining direction in their life and putting aside their issues, excuses and procrastinations to truly prioritise what matters.

★★★★

 

The Lego Batman movie (2017) review

As a 24-year-old man-child, I love Lego. I also love Batman and am a massive fan of almost all interpretations, yes, I can even tolerate ‘Batfleck’. Thus, I was excited to see what the team behind the surprisingly deep and hilarious ‘Lego Movie’ could do with the caped crusader. I was not disappointed. I haven’t laughed so hard at a film in a long time and whether you’re a long time Batman fan like me, or a casual viewer, there is plenty of enjoyment to be found for kids and adults alike in this clever, fast paced adventure-comedy.

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This movie loves to bask in self-referential humour at the expense of both properties, pulling off almost all of its jokes seamlessly. Jokes about being made of Lego, satire of wider pop culture and most amazingly of all; in jokes relating to Batman’s history on the big screen. In no world should a Batman movie with both the serious, gritty Tom Hardy interpretation of Bane and the shark repellent bat spray from the 60’s be allowed to exist. And yet ‘The Lego Batman movie’ makes it happen by creating an atmosphere that is driven purely by fun and sheer escapism. In a genius move, it also reinvigorates a tired, traditional Batman plot involving the inability to accept support and translate it in a way that is far more emotionally affective than most prior interpretations on the big screen (I’m looking at you, Joel Schumacher).

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The voice cast is extensive, eclectic and random but totally works for this kind of film. There are far too many to name, but clear frontrunners are Will Arnett, who hilariously and overtly parodies the Christian Bale style voice, a common criticism of the newer versions of the Dark Knight. I also never knew how much I needed Michael Cera as Robin. The dude is just side splittingly hilarious in every scene he’s in. Zach Galifianakis is passable as the Joker, but doesn’t give quite the large enough presence to play the crown prince of crime, coming off a little too subdued. ‘Subdued’ is not a word I ever thought I’d use to describe Zach Galifianakis. The wider supporting cast is also tremendous, though I’m hasty to comment on anything due to it drifting into spoiler territory. Just remember how many franchises Lego have available to them and imagine the most insane plot. It’s probably not as mental, yet hilarious, as this movie’s.

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Though it worked within the context of the picture, the soundtrack isn’t to my taste and mainly consists of cheesy current pop songs, or cheesy covers of older pop songs. However, they are consistent with the equally cheesy and ridiculous tone of the movie, so the soundtrack gets a pass. As a Bat-fan, I would’ve liked some orchestral allusions to the work of Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer or Shirley Walker as well as the iconic 1966 tv show theme, though I’m probably just being greedy at this point.

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In review, ‘The Lego Batman movie’ achieves what it sets out to do in spades. It’s a celebration of the entire history of the caped crusader acknowledging even the most obscure elements of the Dark Knight’s past. It perfectly satirises the darker renaissance of the post-Burton world, while also paying tribute to it. Perhaps the funniest film of last year, it relies on a sharp wit, a bright, colourful visual style that is a feast to the eyes and a brilliant use of the various intellectual properties available to Lego. It’s highly recommended to viewers of any age, but in particular to long time Batman fans who aren’t above poking fun at the sillier elements of their favourite hero.

★★★★

 

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