Kong: Skull Island

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Its been 12 years since the last Kong movie (which is like 1000 years in Hollywood’s remake/reboot happy world) so now the world is given Kong: Skull Island. And as Kong is due to battle Godzilla in 2019 Godzilla vs Kong, this Kong is bigger than we have ever seen him before. But does bigger ultimately equal better?

As the Vietnam war is coming to an end a group of scientists, soldiers and (somehow) a photojournalist are sent on a secret journey to a mysterious island. When they get there they are quickly met by a gigantic ape (guess who!) and he is not pleased to see them. However Kong is the least of the problems as the island is full of many dangerous creatures that may prevent them from ever leaving Skull island.

Considering I was not particularly bothered by another King Kong movie Kong:Skull Island is way more fun then it has any right to be. Unlike 2012’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island has a lighter tone allowing some laughs to come in and makes sure we see plenty of Kong from the off. This newer, bigger Kong looks great thanks to the special effects with much attention made to small details such as the palm of his hands that really works. The various creatures are also respectively cool and/or creepy. Those who have arachnophobia like me should watch out for the giant spider scene!

The human characters are perhaps not as engaging as they should be considering the talent involved but neither are they such a drag that you’re hoping the islands inhabitants would east them already. Maybe cutting a few characters out would have helped give the film more focused.  Also a little more depth should have gone into Tom Hiddlestone and Brie Larson’s characters to really make them stand out, but I’m mostly relieved that Larson has broken the best actress Oscar winners curse of following a win with a dreadful genre movie (Halle Berry and Charlize Theron, I’m looking at you). The most memorable character is John C. Reilly’s former soldier whose been stuck on the island since the 40’s and may have lost some of his marbles but provides a lot of the movie’s humour.

The move away from the 30s setting to the 70s setting is a risk that pays off as we’re viewing Kong in a new way and through the eyes of characters who’ve seen the horror of the second world war and the Vietnam war. The movie tries to draw more parallel and references between these experiences which is not always successful but at least it tries something different. Its more successful as an entertaining action/monster movie than when it takes itself too seriously.

Rating 3.5/5 – not a classic but a fun monster mash adventure for a night at the cinema

 

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Hidden Figures

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Hidden Figures tells the story of three African-American women ( Taraji P Hepson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae) who worked at NASA during the Space Race and the struggles and achievements they faced.

This is one of those movies where you can’t believe you never heard of it before, and yes Hidden Figures a Hollywood-ised movie but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of course the Hollywood treatment does lend itself to some cheesy moments like when Kevin Costner breaks down the coloured bathroom sign, something that didn’t happen in real life and you suspect only put there so that not every white character comes across as racist and give Kevin Costner a big movie moment.

But what’s good about giving Hidden Figures the big Hollywood style treatment is that the story of these women deserves a big, epic film about their achievements. Their story is well served by director Theodore Melfi and especially by the actresses. This a big crowd pleasing movie (the audience at the screening I attended actually clapped when it ended) that’s also inspirational.

Rating 4/5 – prepared to be inspired as well as entertained

 

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Get Out

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Horror movies are often accused of being dumb, with bad acting and terrible scripts. However recent US Horror flick Get Out has been a hit in America and praised for its satirical edge. I managed to see an advance screening of this before it’s out in the UK next week. So is it worth your time?

Meeting your girlfriend’s parents can be scary enough, but Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous that his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) hasn’t told her parents that he’s black. Turns out he was right to be nervous of this trip, but not for the reasons he expected, and as things take a disturbing turn, Chris may not make it out of there at all.

Get Out seems to be one of the most talked about movies of the year, and not just because it covers some serious themes regarding racism and stereotyping but also because it’s also a brilliant movie. One of the things this movie takes delight in is making you feel uncomfortable, whether it’s because of the horrific events in the film or how the so-called liberals in the movie talk and react to Chris being in their neighbourhood. As well as thrilling the audience Get Out also wants to make its audience think about racial and social issues.

Director Jordan Peele is more known for comedy in the US and while Get Out can be really funny at times, it is first and foremost a horror, and an effective one at that. While there are a few jump scares to be had Peele is more concerned with leaving his audience in a constant state of tension. Just like Chris, you know something isn’t right but not sure exactly what is going on and the movie keeps you on edge throughout. Then when the film does play its cards out and you see where the story has been heading this entire time you start thinking about earlier scenes in a  different way.

Brit actor Kaluuya has impressed before in TV series Skins, and movies like Sicario, but he really gets to show off his acting chops in Get Out. Kaluuya’s face is brilliantly expressive, conveying every possible emotion throughout this movie, and makes Chris a sympathetic and likeable lead that you really are worried about his safety (and indeed has you screaming “Get Out” at the screen). While Kaluuya shines the most the rest of the cast are also great in particular Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose’s parents who are creepy even when they are trying to come across as pleasant. As the girlfriend Rose, Williams also shows there’s more to her then we’ve seen in Tv series Girls.

There’s very little wrong with this film, in fact the more I’ve thought about it days after the screening the more I liked it. Perhaps the only thing is that towards the second half of the film we keep cutting away from the horror of Chris’ predicament back to his friend Rod (a hilarious Lil Rel Howery). This does undercut some of the tension that’s been building as his scenes are lighter then the rest of the movie. However Rod also provide some much need laughs when things get dark so it may just be me being picky.

 Rating 4.5/5 – an effective horror that also makes you laugh and think, look out for more from Peele and Kaluuya in the future

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Fifty Shades Darker

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Guess whose back? Yes after the huge hit that was Fifty Shades of Grey we now have the sequel with a third movie coming out next year. But can Fifty Shades Darker set pulses racing?

The plot (if you can call it that) sees Ana (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) reunite as Christian says he wants to try a ‘normal’ relationship. But obstacles involving a previous submissive (Bella Heathcote) and Christian’s former dominant Elena (Kim Basinger) who is also his mum’s best friend (you know your usual relationship problems).

It’s a shame Sam Taylor-Johnson left the series as she managed to turn Fifty Shades of Grey into something watchable. Considering the film is meant to be about passion and excitement it’s unfortunate the end result can be boring for long periods. There is no real plot. Anna and Christian argue, have sex, add a few antagonists and repeat.The film is just too long for such a flimsy plot.

There is also the same issue which plagued the first movie in that Jamie Dornan is sexy, Christian Grey is not. Stalking is not sexy! It’s like the only way they could think of making Christian look like the bad guy is by making her boss even worse. Just when you think he can’t get any creepy you then realize that Christian has relationships with submissive that look exactly like his mother. Please someone get him some therapy!

Once again Dakota Johnson shines above the material she’s given, bringing strength and a backbone to the otherwise docile Anna. Her chemistry with Dornan still works which helps keep a bit of investment in the relationship and see why Anna is drawn to Christian. She’s the saving grace of this franchise but it’s not enough to make this film sizzle as it should.

Rating 2/5 – a disappointing sequel but Johnson still stands out above the dross

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Logan

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Since the first X-Men film 17 years ago (17!), I’ve been a huge fan of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. And it’s not just me, as his popularity with the fans have seen Jackman appear in 9 different films across the X-Men universe. Now as Jackman prepares to hang up his claws we are promised a Wolverine solo movie that will put the others to shame. But can Jackman’s Wolverine end on a high?

It’s 2029, most of the X-Men are dead and no new mutants are being born. Wolverine spends his days drinking and working as a limo driver looking after a senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart). When he’s forced to take care of a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who’s being chased by bad guys, Logan is forced into one last adventure.

Have you ever seen Wolverine in a movie think ‘what I really want to see is him older, drunker and really, really violent’. Then you’re in luck as Logan is the film for you! From the start this is a very different Wolverine movie to what we’ve seen before, more brutal, more sombre and surprisingly with a heavy emotional weight. Oddly enough this is one trilogy that does the opposite from what most movie trilogies achieve, in that they get better with each film. Not only that it’s one of the best comic adaptation and not just for an X Men movie. It may be because Director James Mangold takes inspiration not just from the Old Man Logan comic but also from Westerns, Shane in particular being a huge influence while there’s also hints of Children of Men and even Mad Max. It’s as far away from the quips and yellow spandex universe as you can get. In this near future we get to see Logan as we haven’t seen him before and it really allows Jackman to show his acting chops and emote in a way we haven’t witnessed him do in this franchise.

As for the supporting cast there’s no weak link. Teaming Logan with a kid could have been a disaster, instead Dafne Keen is a revelation. This girl will be one to watch. Then there’s Patrick Stewart in what is rumoured to be his last turn as Professor X. It’s great to see different sides to his character then what we’ve seen in previous films. This Professor X is much more frail but still potentially as powerful as before. If this is his last time as Charles Xavier he ends it with the gravitas he deserves.

If the film has one flaw it’s that at 2 and a half hours it does feel long. In the middle stretch I really started to notice it. However for the majority of it’s running time there’s enough to keep you glued to the screen to make you forget how long you’ve been sat there. I must admit I had a little tear in my eye as the film came to a close.

Rating 4.5/5 – a beautiful swan song for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

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John Wick: Chapter 2

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It turns out if someone kills your puppy an audience can forgive you a lot. The first John Wick saw Keanu Reeves go on a roaring rampage of revenge against those who killed said dog. But for Chapter 2 can he still keep the audience on side?

This time around the new dog is safe (phew!) but John is still ready to kick ass. This time when an undoubtedly stupid guy  (Riccardo Scamarcio) decides to call in a debt John Wick owes him, he soon wishes he left him alone.

If you liked John Wick then its safe to say that you’ll enjoy Chapter 2. It keeps all the things you like about the first movie and expands on it’s secret assassins world. It also keeps the same great action scenes from the first movie. Considering the director Chad Stahelski was a stuntman it’s no wonder he knows a thing or two about shooting a good fight scene. Its so nice to watch a Hollywood fight that isn’t heavily edited so you’re unable to see all the action. The film also wouldn’t work without someone like Reeves also learned how to fight so that he could do these shots himself.

Although for such a secretive bunch they don’t have fight a lot in public! You’d think they’d be a bit more subtle. Then again the general public don’t seem to have much awareness of the action happening right next to them. Then again if the film is anything to go by half of New York’s population seem to be assassins so who knows?

While the film has a great supporting cast trying to make this outlandish world seem grounded, Lawrence Fishburne sticks out like a sore thumb. Don’t get me wrong I like the actor but his acting style is completely the opposite to the tone of the rest of the movie as he hams it up when the Matrix stars reunite. His character also has some weird underground messaging service using pigeons. Pigeons!

Overall though John Wick is a stylish actioner with great fight choreography, and as the ending teases us with Chapter 3 it’s only going to get bigger.

Rating 3.5/5 – Chapter 2 lives up to the standard of John Wick on an even bloodier scale

 

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The Great Wall

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There are a lot of eyes on The Great Wall. Not only is it the biggest film co production between US and China, The Great Wall is also the most expensive film ever shot entirely in China, is the English language debuted of director Zhang Yimou and has had to battle accusations of whitewashing. No pressure then?

Set in China during the Song dynasty two Western mercenaries (Matt Damon and Game of Thrones Pedro Pascal) find themselves at the Great Wall of China and learn that the wall was built to keep out alien monsters that threaten to destory the whole world.

There’s plenty to admire in The Great Wall with Jin Tiang standing out as Commander Lin (and we’ll be seeing plenty more of her as Tiang will be seen in Skull Island and Pacific Rim). I was also glad she wasn’t shoved into a love interest role just because she’s the female lead. Instead her relationship with William is a platonic one based on growing mutual respect. The rest of the cast is stable such as Infernal Affairs Andy Lau as stategist Wang and Pascal provides light relief as a morally dubuious mercenary but very few other characters are memorable and Matt Damon appears to be phoning it in.

It does at least look good. The details of The Nameless Order’s armors look impressive and while the colour coding of the five units look a bit jarring close up  the wide shots during the battle scenes shows the colours lights up the action and becomes more effective. The sets, such as building three versions of their own walls, are also striking. Unfortunately the aliens are too CGI to be any real source of terror or menace to the audience.

Any worries beforehand about whitewashing turn out to be unfounded considering Matt Damon’s role was always going to be a Westerner and while there were fears at the beginning that it would head into white savior mode ultimately the film goes to great length to show the strength of The Nameless Order and William is not treated as superior to anyone.

It’s just a shame that after all these attempts to make a film to please Eastern and Western audiences that the film is just OK. I was hoping that a joint operation would produce something a bit more original and exciting. While it’s engaging enough the film never truly sparkles as much as you hope.

Rating 3/5 – an interesting attempt but not memorable enough to stand out from the crowd

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