Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Marvel are now deep into phase 3 of their cinematic universe, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the first of three being released this year. The other two are Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok, both of which look epic! A few years back, I declared the first Guardians of the Galaxy as my favourite Marvel film, and it still is (tied with Civil War). Vol. 2 wasn’t as slick as the first, but it sure was still a fun-filled ride packed with the same level of action, charm and comedy we’re used to from Star Lord and the gang.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his fellow Guardians are hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), high priestess of the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket (Bradley Cooper) has stolen some of the items they were meant to guard, the Sovereign search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed.

guardians4

Guardians Vol. 2, for the most part, focused on Peter, his “unorthodox” heritage and his father, Ego (played by Kurt Russell). During these bonding times on Ego’s planet, although beautiful and colourful, the pacing was a little slow and the “plot” got a bit lost on me. It never gave me a chance to really engage or care about Ego and Peter’s relationship, but at least Ego’s planet was an incredible sight to behold. And, at least, the audience and Guardians with him were introduced to Mantis (the brilliant Pom Klementieff).

Left behind are Rocket and Groot (Vin Diesel), who team up with Yandu (Michael Rooker) and this is where the fun begins. As always, Rocket shines and was given some of the best lines from interpreting Baby Groot (who was the most adorable yet hilarious thing). Casual and everyday dialogue between characters is Guardians’ strongest feature and I’m glad they’ve kept this formula for the sequel.

Marvel take care of their characters well, taking the appropriate time to develop important ones. This time, the misunderstood daughter-of-Thanos got a turn and we saw Nebula (Karen Gillan) come into her own. Something that excited me, also, was gaining an insight into Yandu and the Ravagers. Yandu is a fascinating character, with the oddest ability, and his scenes were truly quite touching. My only gripe with Guardians 2 was that Sylvester Stallone as Starhawk could’ve been in it more, but, an after credit scene hints this isn’t the last we’ll see of him.

Speaking of after credit scenes, you need to wait out for five. Yep, five! A couple may seem redundant, but all hint to near and distant future plans in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of which confirms Marvel fans suspicions surrounding hero Adam Warlock…

guardians1

As always, the music was spot on (‘The Chain’ is one my favourite songs and I’m currently listening to ‘Wham Bam’ as I’m writing this). Introducing older 20th Century music into a modern film that brings in a young audience is something I always champion.

Wacky, weird and wonderful, the Guardians of the Galaxy still remain my favourite heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, they are made up of talking trees and enhanced raccoons etc, but as the “odd ones out” in the whole galaxy, they are the closest I’ll come to being able to relate to a superhero.

Advertisements

Jawbone (2017)

The sports drama is one that is consistently impressive as a sub-genre, particularly more recently with films like Foxcatcher (2015), Rush (2013), Moneyball (2011) and The Blind Side (2009). New British boxing film Jawbone certainly conforms to the sports drama sub-genre and, thankfully, continues this rule: sport dramas make impressive cinema.

Jawbone follows former youth boxing champion Jimmy McCabe, who hits rock bottom, so returns to his childhood boxing club. Set in grimy, urban South London, Jawbone is not short of violence and alcoholism. But it somehow doesn’t fall into the stereotypical urban “gritty and grey” drama; it’s a lot more subtle than that. It’s hard-hitting, powerful and explores themes of the working class, the struggle for survival and it’s focus on an older boxer (not rather dissimilar to Rocky).

jawbone1

The action is never boring, as director Thomas Napper delves into Jimmy’s life (played by Johnny Harris, who also wrote the screenplay). Napper and Harris have set out to tell a matter-of-fact story of a man who loses everything and tries to get his life back on track by looking in the wrong places. They do this simply and effectively. And, although the cast is all men, it was hard not to connect with Jimmy and engage in his story.

All of Jawbone‘s performances are incredibly strong. Johnny Harris is impressive as protagonist Jimmy McCabe. Harris strikes the right balance of determined and vulnerable, as if he is still that young teenage boxer who’s lost his way, and was utterly compelling. Ray Winstone as gym-owner Bill was a pleasure to watch also, as the angel on Jimmy’s shoulder. He had a graceful, lovable air about him, yet is harsh but fair: “if I find booze in here, you’re out.” The only real smiles we see from Jimmy is when he’s with Bill, and their scenes are genuinely heart-felt.

Michael Smiley as corner-man Eddie brings candor to the boxing gym and also delivers some my favourite lines: “he’s just a bully, surrounded by other bullies. I want you to break his heart.” And if Winstone’s Bill is the angel, the devil on Jimmy’s shoulder is the temptation to fight unlicensed for large amounts of money, and that temptation comes from Ian McShane as Joe. He’s brief but memorable, and still has one of the best voices in film today.

jawbone5

The boxing fighting and training sections are gripping drama. Forget “Gonna Fly Now”, Jawbone has it’s own unique soundtrack driving it forward, composed by legend Paul Weller. The fight footage is skilled and brilliant watching. There is movement as the camera sways with Jimmy; he’s not as in shape as his undefeated beast of an opponent, but will fight all the same. It’s here when you suddenly root for him, and slowly Eddie does too. Eddie’s growth from passive corner-man to supportive friend during the fight is truly moving. Jimmy finally has someone believe in him, which is, perhaps, all he ever needed.

Jimmy, Bill and Eddie’s stories are sometimes admirable ones, but we must also admire the men in real-life who put the time and energy into sports clubs like these. South East London is a place renowned for gang culture, and there are so many communities who use sport and, more specifically, boxing to pull boys off the streets, to nurture them so not be tempted to walk the wrong path.

Jawbone reminds us that even the hardest of men can be broken by life. It’s painfully frank and, at times, heart-breaking: Jawbone is definitely one I’d watch again.

Jawbone‘s premiere is screening at selected UK cinemas on 8th May. It’s official release is 12th May. Check out the trailer here:

Mad To Be Normal (2017)

In a time where electroconvulsive therapy for mental illness was acceptable and old men were still stuck in their ways, Mad To Be Normal tells the story of controversial world-renowned Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing (David Tennant) and his unique community at Kingsley Hall, East London, during the 1960’s. But, with growing liberalism and equality, “The Sixties” fought against close mindedness, which was exactly what Laing set out to do also.

From the opening scene, it’s very clear what time period we are in: patient Maria (Olivia Poulet) dances, hands in the air, in a gloomy room. It’s close on her, blurry and psychedelic. Director Robert Mullan sets this tone early on, that Mad To Be Normal is on the verge of experimental, so I thought I was in for an interesting watch.

madtobenormal2

Told in a series of moments, Mullan shows us life in Kingsley Hall, where Laing and his patients simply “live together as people.” The action is often limited to Kingsley Hall, which is decorated with period appropriate props and music. With these series of moments, there are some wonderful ones, but the narrative felt a little lost at times, and the patients psychological studies are under-developed and under-explained. I felt Mad To Be Normal couldn’t decide on what it was; an experimental film about Laing’s controversial treatments, or a straight forward biopic about Laing’s life? Falling somewhere in the middle of these two meant it lost all intimacy and was a little disjointed.

I’m a big fan of David Tennant, especially his TV work (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones etc), and here he turns in an engaging and charismatic performance as Dr. Laing. We can appreciate Dr. Laing for what he was – a broken man who wanted to fix others around him. But this film doesn’t set out to paint Laing as a saint. His genuine life pressures and responsibilities outside Kingsley Hall, including a very ill daughter, are forgotten about. Instead, he focuses solely on his experiments and the film hints that maybe Laing was out to fix himself, not just his patients.

But it’s the older supporting cast who are truly the memorable ones here, namely Gabriel Byrne (Usual Suspects) and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter). Playing patient Sydney, Gambon is a breath of fresh air and often stole every scene he featured in. Unfortunately, though, there weren’t many scenes and I felt he was often side-lined. Byrne is brilliant as patient Jim, and manages to be sweet yet unpredictable all at once. Jim is a character overlooked on purpose by Laing, but his growing estrangement doesn’t go unnoticed by Angie and us. Elizabeth Moss, as Laing’s partner Angie, gives a strong performance also, but I felt her development to be a bit stunted, instead, only used as an emotional tool the audience could touch base with.

madtobenormal

Although slow and breezy,  not dissimilar to the hippie-ish time period, it’s also not for the faint-hearted. It does not shy away from the use of electric shock treatment (ECT), self harm scenes and bouts of violence, and that’s something to be celebrated. Mullan doesn’t sugar coat mental illness or people’s perceptions of it during “The Sixties.”

Although Mad To Be Normal had it’s problems, it did convey a convincing message, that it’s a story about love, respect and acceptance for one another. These messages translate to our modern society today, in a time where we seem to be divided by the acts of politicians and their views. Mad To Be Normal is one I’m not sure I would revisit, but a fascinating watch all the same.

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Being one of few who enjoyed Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake, I was a bit skeptical of another Kong movie. But this time it’s different. This movie is brought to you by the same people who made the 2014 Godzilla remake (which I also thoroughly enjoyed) and not many people know that King Kong and Godzilla exist in the same universe and there are more of these monster movies to come (e.g. Mothra and King Ghidorah to name a couple). It seems then, that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe algorithm is so successful that other production companies are following suit.

Recruited to explore a new uncharted island, officials from the organisation Monarch, a group of soldiers fresh from Vietnam, a ex-military hunter-tracker and a photojournalist travel to Skull Island and disturb the unique and deadly creatures that live there, including a giant gorilla named Kong.

kong4

Kong: Skull Island reminded me of a Vietnam war film – even the poster was resonant of Apocalypse Now! This blended perfectly with the fantastical, i.e a giant gorilla, and the action sequences that followed. The 70’s soundtrack worked brilliantly too, and really paced the film well. I was never bored.

The only quibble I had was that I didn’t care enough about the characters. Whether they got to the other side of the island in time to leave safely or not, I didn’t care. There were so many characters to get to know in such a short space of time, all with little or no backstory, and none of them were particularly likeable either.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island was an all round decent and enjoyable movie. It’s in cinemas now, and, if you’re interested in what’s to come, wait for an awesome after credit scene!

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

There are a few film genres I’m biased towards and War films are definitely no exception. And I’m just going to go ahead and say that Hacksaw Ridge is the best war film I’ve seen in a long long time.

World War II American Army Medic, Desmond Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and is considered a “conscientious objector.” But, his acts of courage and the choices he makes in war means that he might be braver than them all.

hacksaw7

Hacksaw Ridge is true to it’s genre: bloody and brutal. It’s not shied away from, and at times, really shocks and scares. But, Director Mel Gibson has created a film that shows us war doesn’t have to be pain, sorrow and dehumanising. It’s not just the brutality of war that stays with us, it’s the perseverance and love that Doss has that inspires and hits deeper on an emotional level.

hacksaw

Andrew Garfield is riveting and humble as Desmond Doss; he really shines in a role that’s extremely well suited to him. The supporting cast, also, are brilliant. Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s father, is compelling and emotional. Vince Vaughan brings a smile and typical military banter as Sergeant Howell, yet isn’t too comical, and Sam Worthington too is commanding as Captain Glover.

Overall, Hacksaw Ridge is a truly gripping and great war film and will stay with me for a long time. Perhaps, though, what is even greater, is the real man Desmond Doss himself and his acts of humanity in a time of horror.

Spotlight (2015)

Winner of the ‘Best Picture’ academy award this year, Spotlight is one of the most spine-chilling true story cinematic experiences I’ve sat through. In January 2002, not long after 9/11, the city of Boston picked up their Boston Globe newspaper from their front step with the headline “Church Allowed Abuse by Priests for Years.” It’s the story that encouraged so many abused survivors to speak out. And the film conveys the same force and powerful message, and makes for an evocative journey.

When the Boston Globe’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.

spotlight

Spotlight‘s brilliance relies heavily on it’s dot-to-dot pace; we follow the team trying to join them up to unravel a scandal that just expands each time a passing comment turns into a discovery of another priest or victim. It cuts back and forth between victims stories, to one of the team chasing a new lead, back to another in the Court House. The further they delve, the more we witness the fear and paranoia that takes it’s toil on each member who are living in a majority Catholic Boston. Some have kids, some know victims and they each know how narrowly they escaped: “it could have been you, it could have been me, it could’ve been any of us!”

Another factor of Spotlight‘s brilliance is it’s underplayed cast. Michael Keaton is on top form as veteran editor Walter “Robbie” Robinson. Rachel McAdams is at her best as Sacha Pfeiffer, playing comforting and fierce all at once. Liev Schreiber is Marty Baron, non-Bostonian and non-Catholic, and is the new Editor of the Globe, here to make an impact. Brian d’Arcy James, John Flattery, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci are also all excellent, driving the film forward. But the true standout among them is Mark Ruffalo as the tenacious, hard-working Mike Rezendes.

Spotlight5

The victims’ stories of abuse and turmoil are so touching and so real, yet aren’t hammed up for the purpose of Hollywood. As Tom McCarthy and Stanley Tucci’s Mitch Garabedian reminds us, this is bigger than Boston and bigger than America; this is Global because “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” The Church is portrayed as this completely untouchable entity by any distraught parent, lawyer, judges or the police itself: “no-one wants to cuff a priest.”

This is investigative journalism at it’s best, and the choice to tell their story of uncovering the scandal rather than the victim’s itself is original, bold and why this film works. It’s gripping from start to finish, and the ending gives me goosebumps every single time. In my opinion, Spotlight is one of the most important and powerful films produced in this century so far.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Figuring they’re all expendable, a U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret mission. Now armed with government weapons, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and other despicable inmates must learn to work together. Dubbed Task Force X, the criminals unite to battle a mysterious and powerful entity, while the diabolical Joker launches an evil agenda of his own.

Firstly, I’ll say outright that I was not impressed by this film in the slightest, so I’ll keep it short. So prior warning: this is a bad review, but I don’t enjoy writing them.

Firstly, for those who didn’t like Batman v Superman and then think this movie was decent, please explain. Because, in comparison, when I place this film on a pedestal and put it into perspective, Suicide Squad is a regressive “superhero” movie in terms of it’s inconsistent technical filmmaking, stunted storytelling, cliched dialogue, undeveloped characters and feminism.

suicide squad

The objectification of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and her bottom half gained more screen-time than some of the other Suicide Squad characters combined. This is not OK and the Male Gaze at it’s worst.

Suicide Squad is a poor case of too many underdeveloped characters confusing the plot e.g. Killer Croc, Boomerang, Diablo, and that those who are left aren’t evil enough to consider themselves supervillains (especially Will Smith’s Deadshot who one minute is looking for redemption and forgiveness from his daughter, the next is not?) Jared Leto’s Joker laugh was spot on to how I imagined it from comics such as The Killing Joke, however, I’m still a bit bewildered about the emotionally and physically abusive lovelorn villain he’s portraying at this point.

DC need to decide where they identify because this was just a complete mess. Apparently there were a number of rewrites to try and make Suicide Squad funnier, and clearly the constant pop music changes are overcompensating for how unfunny it actually turned out to be- it is not in the same league as Guardians of the Galaxy.

Forget about a Harley Quinn movie, give Katana a few more lines!

suicide squad2

 

 

The BFG (2016)

Anyone my age and older will say that Roald Dahl’s stories inspired us and maybe even helped shape our lives today. Each story is timeless and perhaps the most moving yet most frightening of them is The BFG or The Big Friendly Giant. Excitement overcame me when I saw the posters and trailer for this movie, as it did my friend whose idea it was to watch it yesterday.

One night Sophie, an orphaned girl in London, spots a giant from her window. Fearing she would tell the adult world, he takes her away with him back to Giant Country and his little house underground. At first, she’s afraid she’ll be eaten, but realises he’s actually a very friendly giant, who doesn’t eat children, but the nine other giants in the country do. They form a close friendship, and she calls him BFG (Big Friendly Giant). BFG is bossed around and bullied by the other horrible giants, who also steal children from their beds and eat them, Sophie and her Giant both hatch a plan to stop them, which enlists a certain monarch’s help.

Directed by Steven Spielberg I knew the story would be in safe hands and he created some magical moments, particularly the dream catching sequence. Dotted around London are Sophie’s Dream Jars also, so it seemed like the story was taken seriously before the film even premiered.

bfg3

Admittedly, the opening is a little slow starting and some points in the middle drag despite the quality cast and visuals. I also felt there were certain moments that were a little randomly placed and didn’t fit in with the aesthetic of the rest of the movie. As sweet and light as the musical score was by John Williams it isn’t as iconic or memorable as his previous work such as E.T., Jurassic Park etc.

But these flaws will be soon forgotten as you get swept into the world of the Giants. Even though tailored towards children, who laughed and engaged in it from what I witnessed in the cinema, it is humorous enough that even the parents were laughing out loud. The giant sequences are playful; the two lead evil giants Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler played by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Bill Hader (Inside Out, Saturday Night Live) are unrecognisable and wonderfully evil. Scriptwriter Melissa Mathison did an excellent job by retaining the unique speech of the Giants, originally crafted by Roald Dahl himself.

bfg4

Ruby Barnhill makes a spirited Sophie, and kudos for such a young girl to practically act alone against CGI Giants. And the surprise appearances of Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall are welcome as they bring another smile to your face. But it’s really Mark Rylance who, once again, steals the show for me. The beauty of his acting is that he doesn’t just talk the talk or walk the walk, he also conveys so much emotion and tells a thousand stories through his expressive eyes. When he is on screen, it is never a dull moment, whether it be funny or sad, and he is the perfect BFG.

Overall, The BFG is a lovely film that had me smiling throughout and was a truly charming watch.

Matt Charman Q+A: Bridge of Spies (2015)

So Wednesday 6th April saw me sat in a Q+A session with the incredible Matt Charman, screenwriter of Bridge of Spies. He was a fascinating bloke to say the least, particularly interesting to me as I love writing and have always considered screenwriting a potential career path for me.

Matt Charman’s advice to early writers, or to any writers, is to “write what you want to see.” And as writers, we should be able to tell anecdotes and stories well. I myself am sometimes eloquently fascinating or sometimes lose absolutely all social skills and bore everybody to sleep with my life stories, however this will force me to practice! His work ethic too is incredibly impressive; writing on one project from 7am-1pm, then writing on another project from 1.30pm-7pm. If you want to write, just keep at it!

The idea for Bridge of Spies came from footnote in a book, according to Charlan, about JFK and his administration, where JFK sent a man named James Donovan, an insurance lawyer, to negotiate in Cuba with Castro directly to return American hostages during JFK’s “Bay of Pigs” period. The footnote told Charlan that James Donovan was an insurance lawyer who was known for negotiating in East Berlin in the Rudolf Abel case. His mind was whirling; who is this James Donovan that the American government put all their faith in- twice?

bridgeofspies2

I wrote a short review on Bridge of Spies a while back in November after I had watched the film, but never published it. So here we go:

Three reasons I thought I’d like this film. First, because it is directed by Steven Spielberg- you’ve got an above average film right there already. Secondly, because it’s based on a true story of America in the 1950s – which I am completely fascinated with. And thirdly… It starred Tom Hanks. An amazing man and a fantastic actor, class A, the best- I love Tom Hanks. But what did concern me was that this film could end up being another boring Lincoln. But how wrong I was!

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. The only hope of freedom is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.

ST. JAMES PLACE

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are a reliable combination. And with a killer script by Matt Charman, and Mark Rylance’s support, this film is an engaging, captivating watch. I wasn’t surprised either to see the Coen Brothers being the co-writers on this (alongside Charman), as some of the dialogue and the mood the Coens create in their films was ever present. Mark Rylance (who won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards), is incredible, there are no words (and adding to this review now, he seriously deserved the Oscar, he’s a wonderful actor).

A politically driven film, and topical at it’s time of release with recent terrorist attacks, our society living in fear and world leaders doing what is easy and not right, Bridge of Spies also portrays a society living in fear, but a character like Donovan addresses the opposite; do what is right and not what is easy. Overall, Bridge of Spies is a wonderful film, thoroughly enjoyable and even my American friend grew emotional stating “this film has made me so proud to be an American.” Like 50s America, forever living in fear of the Atom Bomb, we shouldn’t live in fear either as life just goes on and, like Mark Rylance’s Rudolf Abel asks, “would it help?”

M x

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑