Category Archives: Reviews

Rapid Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

ghost in the shell

In the new future the difference between human and machine blurs as humans use cybernetics to enhance themselves. Among even them is Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first of kind as the sole survivor of a terrorist attack who has her mind placed in a mechanical body.  Now working as a super soldier with very few memories of her past Major finds herself facing an enemy who may know more about her then she thinks.

Before it was even released Ghost in the Shell, which is based on a Japanese anime, faced criticism for whitewashing its main character. It’s a shame that the film didn’t take the ‘risk’ in casting an Asian actress in the role but I’m not sure even that would have been enough to save this film.

It’s not an out-and-out disaster for example there are some nice visual effects on display and the opening fight scene which includes a creepy geisha bot is good. The idea of he cybernetic enhancements could have led to some really interesting themes about the blurred lines between humans and robots  and what really makes someone human. Unfortunately none of these plot threads anywhere compelling and the film is devoid of much originality. A shame really because from what I understand of the anime and manga it had a huge influence on a lot of talented people like the the Wachowski siblings. Ghost in the Shell also has the misfortune of being released after a whole host of films and TV shows have successfully explored the same thing (Ex Machina, Westworld and Humans to name but a few). It also doesn’t help that Major is by her nature a blank slate, which is not a criticism of Johansson’s acting who is fine in the role, but it’s hard to root for a character who is mostly emotionless.

Rating 2.5/5 – a missed opportunity by Hollywood this sci-fi actioner lacks substance and originality

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Power Rangers

Power_Rangers_(2017_Official_Theatrical_Poster)

Five high school students discover an ancient spaceship and they must become Power Rangers in order to prevent an attack by the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). It’s morphin time!

Ah yes the popular 90’s kid show is back on the big screen. This time the do-gooder teens are introduced in a Breakfast Club type situation and all come from different cliques. We have Jason/Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery) the jock, Kimberly/Pink Ranger (Naomi Scott) the popular girl, Billy/Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) the smart one, Zack/Black Ranger (Ludi Lin) the rebel and Trini/Yellow Ranger (Becky G) the loner. Attempts are made to give the Power Rangers some personality to varying degrees of success. Billy/Blue Ranger is the most likeable as the geeky one who is the most excited about being a Ranger. Jason/Red Ranger is the least interesting as a former jock with the obligatory father issues-yawn!

You can feel the film trying to be more modern and diverse such as giving us Power Rangers that are autistic and LGBT and making them sympathetic and relatable. However the LGBT moment is a blink and you miss it, so while the intention is good, you half wonder why they bother. It’s just a shame the film couldn’t take more risks in more areas and be more than a by the numbers adventure.

It might not be so glaring if the action were up to standard, but while the Rangers discovering and testing their new-found powers are enjoyable the majority of the movie is afraid to be fun. The climatic action scenes are underwhelming and you don’t get that wow feeling when the Rangers morph for the first time. It’s almost as if fun is a dirty word.

Still Elizabeth Banks brings enjoyable campness to the villainous Rita Repulsa. Of course she is nowhere near as hammy as the screeching T.V version, but she is the only one to revel in the ridiculous of the premise.

 

Rating 2.5/5 – Banks and Cyler aside this Superhero franchise is average at best

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Rapid Review: Life

Life_(2017_film)

Six members of the International Space Station find evidence of life on Mars. However as the organism grows and develops it would appear that this discovery could be deadly!

Life starts off very tense as you wonder what this new being is and what does it want? The scene where Calvin (yes they named the organism Calvin!) reacts badly for the first time is nail-biting and horrific. As the film carries on you really squirm with every bone crunching and blood splatter moment that happens. There are also some good surprises which I wasn’t expecting to happen.

However after a solid start in the second half the pace starts to drop and the action slows down. Despite attempts to give each character a bit of back story and depth they still manage to do really stupid things. For example the idea of ‘let’s poke an alien life form and see how it reacts!’-spoiler it ends badly. You also can’t help but feel this film might be received better if everyone wasn’t waiting for Alien: Covenant to arrive.

Rating 3.5 – tense and gripping at times but not original enough to really stand out

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017_poster

The animated Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is great and bookish Belle is a classic Disney heroine. So the live action adaptation of the Best Picture nominated movie has a lot of expectations behind it. Can it enchant a new audience?

Belle (Emma Watson) is an outcast among the people in her village, and longs for something more in life. She soon gets her chance when her father (Kevin Kline) is held prisoner in a mysterious palace for stealing a rose (the fiend!) and swaps herself in his place. However the prince of the palace is an enchanted Prince (Dan Stevens) who will remain under a beastly appearance unless someone can see beneath th beast and fall in love with him. Who could that be?

It can come across as Beauty and the Beast Karaoke as the live action film follows the same plot, characters and songs as the animated version. But considering how popular that movie is the studio would be crazy to change too much and most of the changes are to enhance characters (such as making Belle an inventor) or explain plot holes from the animated movie (such as why no one knows about the big freaking castle nearby). Most of these changes are welcome addition however it’s a shame the new songs don’t shine as much as the classics.

After the new prologue feature Dan Stevens in pre-Beast get up the film properly gets going as we follow Belle around her village set to the song ‘Belle’. From then on the audience is easily drawn into the story all over again. It has to be said the sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes, and while they can’t match the gorgeousness of the animation there’s still something striking about seeing this all come to life in live action.

Emma Watson is wonderful as Belle, bringing warmth, intelligence and modern sensibilities to Belle. At first I wasn’t sure about Dan Stevens’ Beast however the more interaction he had with Watson’s Belle the more I was drawn to his character. The stand out character though has to be Luke Evans’ Gaston who looks as if he was ripped out of the animated movie to play the dastardly villain. Evans strikes the right balance of humour, menace and over the top theatrics to bring Gaston to life. His and Josh Gad’s LeFou have a great rendition of the song ‘Gaston’ and is one of the many highlights of the film.

Theres been much made about Disney’s first openly gay character being present in this film and the ‘gay moment’ will have most people saying “is that it?” However on reflection it is still a big step in Disney history and the fact that Disney knows their box office will be restricted because of this (with some countries rating it adults only or banning it outright altogether) means it’s a brave move on their part. As this movie is also the first to feature an interracial kiss, one can hope Disney can continue taking further steps towards diversity in its future films.

Beauty and the Beast is an easy film to be swept away and charmed with, and with everything that’s going on in the world its nice to whirl yourself into a world where kindness and inner beauty shines through.

Rating 4/5 – sure to be a new family favourite, allow yourself to be their guest at a cinema near you

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Kong: Skull Island

Kong_Skull_Island_poster

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

Hidden_Figures,_2016

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

Get_Out

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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