Monthly Archives: February 2017

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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Top 5 Female Marvel Characters Who Need Their Own Movie

I love Marvel, I really do, but it’s flabbergasting that we’ve had to wait so long for the first Marvel female superhero flick to hit the big screen. The DC films may have their issues (a lot of issues) but they’ve still managed to get Wonder Woman to our screens this year. We’ll have to look to 2018 for Evangeline Lily to share joint billing with Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and The Wasp, and then another year for the first solo Marvel female to lead the big screen in Captain Marvel. So who should be in Marvel’s lineup for Phase 4?

5. Scarlet Witch

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With Doctor Strange allowing the MCU to go to psychedelic new places surely the world is ready for a completly bonkers Scarlet Witch movie? Considering Scarlet Witch is a powerful character who lacks control over said abilities she’s ripe for potentially great plotlines.

In the comic Scarlet Witch used her powers to depower 90% of the mutants, now imagine her having accidentily depowered the Avengers and having to go on a quest to restore their powers before the next big bad attacks. It could have the Avengers living without powers and some comedy with Hawkeye and Black Widow feeling like the superior ones for once, having to train the avengers on physical fighting while Scarlet Witch goes to right her wrongs.

Or we could have her finding outthat members of her family are alive, now in the comics her father was Magneto but due to studio conflict her father could be remade into a different villain with Scarlet Witch being torn between family ties and her loyalties to the Avengers. If Marvel really wanted to break the moulds and try something different then Scarlet Witch could be a great way to bring some inventive into the mix.

4. Gamora

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When you think of memorable characters from Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora may not be the first to spring to mind. Having to keep playing the straight man to Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper and co means Zoe Saldana wasn’t able to showcase her full range. However while the rest of the characters would work best in a wacky ensemble Gamora is maybe one of the few strong enough characters to lead her own movie.

Think about it, she’s a strong fighter with a tragic back story and a need to make up for her misdeeds under Ronan. She could split for the other Guardians for an intergalactic adventure, maybe teaming up/ running away from her sister Nebula and the movie can explore their complicated relationship. While also dealing in kick-ass fights of course. Maybe if a bit of broad humour is needed then Rocket can come along for the ride. With Saldana playing second fiddle in an array of blockbusters (Guardians, Star Trek, Avatar) isn’t it about time Saldana leads her own movie?

3. Spider-Gwen

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Now that Spider-Man has been rebooted (again!) and with the MCU having a hand in precedings this time around maybe it’s time to introduce another character from the Spidey-Verse. While there’s a lot of love out there for a Miles Morales feature (and I would love it if the Donald Glover rumours turn out to be true) another character I’d want to see is Spider-Gwen.

Yes in the Spidey-Verse where different Spider-Men, er people, come together we discover in one verse that Gwen Stacey lives! Not just that but she is bitten by that pesky spider instead of Peter Parker. The character became so popular she got her own comic series and she is a delight. She’s a smart, funny and likeable character that male and female fans enjoy. A blonde teenager who juggles friendship, family life and battling evil guys? This film has ‘directed by Joss Whedon’ all over it, and with less pressure than with The Avengers sequel maybe he can be persuaded to make a return to the MCU.

2. Ms Marvel

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Like Spider-Gwen the all new Ms Marvel Kamala Khan has been a big hit since her comic series debuted in 2010. Kamala is an Inhuman Superhero who protects her home of Jersey City with her shapeshifting abilities. What marks Kamala out from the other teenage superheroes is her strong belief in her faith, trying to be good Muslim daughter while fighting the big bads. It would be easy to see Kamala as a box ticking exercise or expect her religious beliefs to be treated as a bad stereotype. However Kamala, and by extension her family and friends are treated with respect, sensitively and also they are asll made to be three dimensional characters in their own rights.

The series is also hilarious with Kamala attempting to quip her way through fights and her delight in being a superhero is great to see. Of course there’s teen angst and romantic entanglements but nothing feels cliche and Kamala is the freshest superhero Marvel has had in a long time. As her character has had interactions with Captain Marvel, Spiderman and even Wolverine it would be easy to throw her into the Marvel mix and the potential for crossover gold would be high. Come on Marvel make it happen!

1. Black Widow

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Making her debuted all the way back in 2010’s Iron Man 2 Natasha Romanov has been waiting a long time for her own solo movie. Having also featured in two Avengers movies as well as the last two Captain America films Black Widow has long put in the work for the MCU. Fans are calling out for her to have her own movie, audiences are familiar with her character and Scarlet Johansson is a big movie star, so what’s the hold up? Surely the stars are aligning for Natasha to get own movie.

So what could a Black Widow movie look like? Considering her past as a spy maybe one of her old missions come back to haunt her or she’s attempting a path of redemption? Her mysterious past could offer a wealth of ideas. As for supporting characters, as much as I like her relationships with Captain America and Iron Man, anything more than a cameo from either of these two would threaten to overshadow Black Widow in her own movie. A more natural companion would be Hawkeye, as the two already have a confirmed on screen friendship but I would like to see Black Widow take Scarlet Witch under her wing. Black Widow is all about control and logic whereas we’ve seen Scarlet Witch struggle with her powers and her emotions. They would make an interesting pair and a kick-ass buddy movie (imagine the scrapes they would get into). It would also give fellow Avenger Elisabeth Olsen a chance to shine (if she fails to get own solo film) and give Johansson new dimensions for her character, allowing her to focus on female friendships which we haven’t seen from Black Widow or Marvel yet. The film could also follow a mentor/student route rather than putting Black Widow with a male character just to force a romantic subplot down our throats (here’s looking at you Age of Ultron).

So what’s it going to be Marvel? Hopefully they’ve got a few big ideas up their sleeves and I can’t wait to hear them.

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Fairy tales, Disney Princesses and the Happily Ever After

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Yes it’s all good for now but what happens after the happily ever after?

Everyone has been brought up on fairy tales and been exposed to the magic of Disney movies. And what little girl hasn’t thought about being their favourite Disney Princess? But then you grow up and start thinking “where the hell is my magic carpet ride”?

Many girls love the idea of having a fairy tale ending and riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming to have their own happily ever after. Then get disappointed when reality kicks them in the butt. Now I can’t say I really prescribed to their whole Prince Charming thing when I was younger, in part due to the fact that most traditional of the Disney Princes are extremely dull. If you don’t believe me look at Snow White or Cinderella, do the Princes exhibit any personality in their admittedly limited screen time? I bet a few minutes after Snow White had her happily ever after she was begging to be put back to sleep again. Anyway I digress, while I wasn’t thinking about my own Prince Charming, I did want my own ‘happy ever after’, where all the struggles are over and you live in peace and harmony. When you later realise life will never be empty of some pain or sadness it can be hard to accept. After all don’t we expect every story to end with those words ‘they all lived happily ever after…’

But is this really Disney’s fault? Yes they do permit the happy ever after myth but then they are at heart in the business of making kids movies. It would be pretty depressing to see Sleeping Beauty struggling with child care or unable to pay her bills (although having said that I feel a pitch coming on for Cinderella 2:The Tax Return Years). Perhaps more of a concern in these tales is the lack of a feminist message. You look to marry a husband-and that’s your life’s goal.  However if we look back to where and when these fairy tales came from (and some date back centuries) then these fantasies were probably many girls way of escaping dreary reality, and at the time there was limited ways to save themselves. So a dream of marrying a kind, handsome and rich young man was the top priority against living a life of poverty and uncertainty.

For the early Disney films it would make sense to embrace these norms based on the values and society at the time.  However passive Princesses like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the animated Cinderella are a thing of the past. Now girls do believe they can save themselves without waiting for a man to solve their problems. These are a new breed of Disney Heroines to reflect that with the likes of Moana, Elsa and Ana from Frozen and even the new live action Cinderella showed more guts and determination than her previous incarnation to pursue her own happy ending.

It would be great if we could herald a new age of ‘happily ever after’ where we redefine the term to mean that life will be full of the occasional and inevitable heartache but also full of excitement and wonder with each person able to be their own hero. Maybe films should end with “and their adventures continued for the rest of the lives…”, after all why should we accept finality when most movies are in the business of making franchises and sequels anyway.

“And with this Lauren finished writing her post and the adventures continued for the rest of her life…”

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Preview: The Lego Batman Movie

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As I went to my local cinema on Saturday to see Hacksaw Ridge for the second time (see the review here), I saw that they were exclusively showing The Lego Batman Movie. Naturally I couldn’t resist a preview so I battled through the families and small kids to attend a screening on Sunday.

It’s hard being Batman (Will Arnett), not only is your awesomeness not appreciated by everyone, Alfred (Ralph Finnes) is always trying to impart some words of wisdom or life lesson or foricng you to lok after the orphaned boy Robin (Michael Cera) you accidently adopted. But when Gothem City is once again under attack by the evil Joker (Zack Galifianakis) can Batman learn the importance of teamwork to save the day

Whereas Batman v Superman: Dawn of Boredom was intent on taking itself so seriously The Lego Batman Movie goes in exactly the opposite direction. Everything in the Batman canon is played for laughs and most of them land well. As the breakout character from The Lego Movie, once again Will Arnett voices Batman and just like before he is hilarious. While he’s still the funniest character there are some great roles, including the optimist and naive Robin (Cera) and the Joker (Galifanakis) who wants to prove he is Batman’s greatest enemy.

While it is undeniably fun it has more to prove than The Lego Movie (which no one expected to be any good) and the film finds it difficult to live up to that film’s inventiveness. Perhaps being restricted, for the most part, to the constraints of the Batman and DC world means it’s unable to be as enjoyably bonkers as The Lego Movie was.

However there are moments of genius in the film, such as Batman’s voice-over during the obligatory logos at the beginning of the film, and when the Joker’s heinous plan comes into action during the last third it allows to film to be more insane and creative, bringing in characters from other Lego merchandise (who knew they did Lego Gremlins?) More moments like this for the sequel please!

Rating 3.5/5 -way more fun then Batman v Superman.

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The Girl with All the Gifts

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When I think of British zombie movies my first thought immediately goes to Egdar Wright’s brilliant comedy-horror Shaun of the Dead. The Girl with All the Gifts promises a completely different tone as well as a new spin on the well-worn genre. But is it any good?

Melanie is not your average girl. Her and her classmates are kept in an underground bunker where armed soldiers restrain them in wheelchairs when they attend class. It’s the near future where a fungal infection has wiped out most of civilisation and turned the infected into mindless ‘hungries’ who eat human flesh. As Melanie and the other children are a particular hybrid the scientists hope to observe them in order to save humanity. All of this is put at risk when a large group of hungries attack the base and Melanie finds herself with a small group of survivors struggling to find a safe haven.

You may be sick of zombie movies or dystopia futures but The Girl with All the Gifts is a pleasant addition to both genres. I have not read the 2014 book of the same name so I don’t know how faithful this adaptation is, but I was enthralled by the world that was created. The fungal infection is a interesting take on the zombie bite (and the inspiration behind it is terrifying in itself). It’s a bleak future and not exactly a laugh a minute but there’s also warmth and small bits of hope to found.

What also makes The Girl with All the Gifts stand out is that it does away with the simple humans good/zombies bad routine. The humans are a mixed bunch and their motivations are complicated, showing all sides have a point regarding how Melanie should be treated. Having a talented cast like Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close also helps make you care for the characters. Melanie herself is also played brilliantly by newcomer Sennia Nanua, who whilst being very sympathetic, still provides a believable threat to the other members of the group.

The film manages to pose moral questions regarding Melanie and her fate while also ensuring that the film works as horror. The attack on the base is thrilling to watch and a scene where the group have to quietly get pass a huge crowd of unstimulated hungries is full of tension in it’s execution. And horror fans should be please to note there’s also plenty of blood and gore to satisfy along with the emotional weight.

 Rating 4/5 – a grounded and intense look at the zombie apocalypse and the moral quandaries it brings

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