Review: Logan

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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This is the ninth time Hugh Jackman has donned the claws of the character that he is arguably best known for. This time the title of the film doesn’t contain the words ‘X-Men’ or ‘Wolverine’, which should give you a clue as to the tone of the movie, even if you haven’t seen the trailers which gave a downbeat, western vibe along with that Johnny Cash song.

 The film itself really is a completely different beast than any of Fox’s forays into the X-Men universe. For a start,all mutants seem to have been wiped out with the exception of Logan, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban – an albino mutant played by Stephen Merchant looking like a very gaunt Richard O’Brien. Instead of fighting back against the people responsible for this perceived cull, they are in hiding, with Logan working as a chauffeur to make enough money to get the drugs Charles needs as he is going senile.

Logan plays more like a drama with some action elements. But even these action scenes work on a much more intimate level than your standard comic book movie where typically, entire cities are being levelled by giant robots or orc-like creatures from space/another dimension. In this film Logan is pitted against gangs and paramilitary bounty-hunters. And, unlike any previous films, you’re aware that Jackman has said this is the final Wolverine movie, plus something is wrong with him, he isn’t healing like he used to and he also seems to have something of a death-wish, so there is real jeopardy when he gets into a fight.

In fact, this movie is like a dysfunctional family drama with the put upon father (Logan) looking after an increasingly frail and mentally deteriorating grandfather (Charles) while looking after a tear away daughter. And what a performance from the young Dafne Keen who plays Laura, or X-23. Although she is mute for the majority of the film, her intensity is palpable an herd physical ability is impressive. As soon as she is forced into Logan’s life and he realises what she is, it gives him a reason to carry on.

Along the way there are some touching moments between all the central characters, especially when they help out and are taken in by a farmer’s family. But there are also some big surprises that really pull the rug from under you with one scene in particular playing with your expectations of how these kind of scenes usually play out.

As previously stated, while Logan is trying to get Laura from Mexico to ‘Eden’ in the North of America, he is pitted against paramilitary-style bounty hunters who are in the employ of Dr Rice (Richard E. Grant) the man in charge of creating a new generation of mutants who wants her back. His character reveals himself to be the son of the man in charge of the original Weapon X programme that created Wolverine. This is a nice nod to the previous films, and there are a couple of these sprinkled throughout the film, but not enough to distract.

Actually, Logan is probably the only film in the entire franchise that isn’t bogged down by being closely tied to the franchise. It’s a true stand-alone where you wouldn’t need to have seen a single X-Men film before. It also stands apart because of its 15 rating. The fact that we finally get to see the violence this character is capable of made a refreshing change and wasn’t used too gratuitously like it was in Deadpool.

One of the main criticisms of the film is its overuse of swearing, especially at the beginning, where it seemed like the script writers were let loose after not being able to use them. But again, rather than the cartoony, gross-out use of violence and language in Deadpool, at least the swearing was used in ‘real’ ways, even if it did feel gratuitous in places.

This is the best X-Men film in the 17 year history of the franchise, and this is mainly to do with the more intimate feel of the film as well as the fact the filmmakers were able to play with different genres. It’s more like a drama or a western, similar in tone and even colour palette to Unforgiven. If you’ve never watched an X-Men film before it won’t matter, the story is that good that it can be watched in isolation. Go see it.

Review: T2 Trainspotting

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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Twenty years on from what is widely regarded as a seminal film in both the career of Danny Boyle and the young Scottish cast but also for British film and the 90s in general, we get a sequel. Is it a cash-in, is it needed? I would say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ in that order.

Although not directly a film about drug use and abuse, drugs still play a large part in the story line and it’s still not glamorous. Just wait until Renton (Ewan McGregor) reunites with Spud (Ewen Bremner), you’ll see!

Yes, Renton is back after running off with the ill-gotten-gains at the end of the first film, his life has fallen apart after living for the last two decades in Holland. Upon his return, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison but, coincidentally, has planned an escape after being looked over for parole, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is a coke addict attempting to set up a brothel above his family’s pub and Spud, as previously mentioned, is still a heroin addict.

Basically, all four of the main characters are still as dysfunctional as they were in the 80s and 90s. Sick Boy and Begbie still hold grudges against Renton for what he did and go about trying to screw him over in different ways: Renton in as violent a way as possible and Sick Boy plans to use his money to front the cash to develop his brothel. Spud is angry at Renton because he left him on his own to succumb to his addictions.

What follows is a brand new story that has very strong echoes from Trainspotting, in some cases some flashbacks to the original film and in others flash backs that predate the film, back to when the four were growing up together before the drugs. One of these even reveals why these films are called Trainspotting.

All the actors are on top form, but the absolute stand-out performance comes from Bremner as Spud who, with some encouragement from Renton, manages to turn his life around by focussing his addictive personality on to other activities, with some surprising results.

Rather than being a cynical cash-grab by the infinitely more famous cast and director who are revelling in nostalgia, T2 Trainspotting is like meeting up with old friends and immediately falling into old habits as if no time has passed at all. This film is not as uncomfortable to watch as the first, but it still retains a jet black tone underneath all the nostalgia and comical situations. If you’re a fan of the original film this is especially unmissable.

Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The popularity of the Batman character, played by the excellently tongue-in-cheek Will Arnett, in The Lego Movie and the popularity of the character itself as well as the Lego games made the idea of a spin-off film a no-brainer.

Rather than being a spin-off however, The Lego Batman Movie is a stand-alone film that exists in its own universe. And what a joyous universe it is. The Lego version of Gotham is the brightest version of the fictional city since the 1960s TV series, the characters are all fun which sets it apart from the live action films of the past few years.

In fact, this movie spoofs virtually every Batman property that has existed in the characters nearly 80 year history. It even references the 1940s black and white series! One of the biggest criticisms that I have of this film is that the break-neck speed with which the cuts are made means that you probably miss around 70% of all the visual gags. It feels as if there are so many things going on that you just want the ability to pause it to find all the references and jokes going on around the frame.

The basic story is that Batman is super self-obsessed and narcissistic to mask a deep-rooted loneliness that he has repressed since his parents died. Through the course of the film the other characters get him to start working with others, including some of the most unlikely characters.

There are so many laughs in this film that it’s impossible to cover them all, but suffice to say that there are some really interesting character deviations from the norm that work so well, you wonder why they haven’t been done before. For example, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) becoming Batgirl virtually as an aside to her being such a kick-ass police officer. Also, every version of Alfred since Michael Caine has been touted as the most hands-on and handy in a fight, but Ralph Feinnes’ version takes this to new levels.

What’s truly wonderful about The Lego Batman Movie is, because it’s an animation, it can go anywhere. The roster of villains is ludicrous, not just the actual Batman rogues gallery that really exist but also the extra bad guys that crop up.

As with The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie has a deeper message hidden behind the jokes about the importance of working together and combatting loneliness, but it’s done in such a joyful way that you barely realise you’re being taught a lesson.

This film is supposed to be a children’s film, but it works so well as an adult – especially if you happen to be well versed in the lore of Batman. I would almost go so far as to say it’s the best Batman movie ever made… it’s even confident enough to take a pop at The Dark Knight, and survives!

Review: Assassin’s Creed

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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After a decade of releasing games, the Assassin’s Creed franchise makes its big screen debut. The fact that the games are so immersive and based on real-world characters and events, the question was asked: Will this be the first genuinely good film based on a video game?

The plot follows Michael Fassbender’s character, Cal Lynch, whose ancestor, Aguilar, was an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition. Cal is sentenced to death at the beginning of the film, but a group called the Templars have doctored the chemicals so that he doesn’t die. Their interest in him is in his genetic memories.

Anyone who doesn’t know the lore of the games may already be starting to feel a bit lost. Essentially, the Assassin’s and the Templars have been engaged in a war for centuries over artifacts from a civilisation that helped the human race on the path to enlightenment. The Templars, now under the name Abstergo, have been using the descendants of Assassin’s to ‘relive’/explore their ancestors’ memories to discover where the Assassin’s have hidden these artifacts, or ‘Apples of Eden’.

To do this, they plug these men and women into the Animus. In the games this is a bed, but that’s not very cinematic, is it? So, in this movie the animus is a huge multi-axis robotic arm that they are connected to via an epidural in the back of the neck, a la The Matrix. It also projects what Cal is seeing in the room in the present. The problem being that the more a person goes back in time (in their mind) the more their brain unravels.

This all sounds very complex, and it is. Fine for a video game that you can explore at your leisure, possibly too complex for a two-hour film. Also, there’s very little in the way of audible dialogue. It’s all beat-em-up action in the past with no dialogue at all and in the present day parts everyone talks in conspiratorial whispers. In fact, there’s a point at which Cal asks Marion Cotillard’s character:”What the fuck is going on?” And the whole cinema laughed, which surely wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers.

The parts set in the past are brilliant and colourful and vital, but the characters don’t have any depth and we don’t get enough time with them. The majority of the film is set in the present day, which is always the most boring bits of the games and though they’ve really tried to put a lot of detail into the characters here, but the problem is that they all talk in riddles and half sentences and never raise their voices above a whisper, which makes it quite hard to follow.

Of course, I am coming at this as a fan of the game franchise, which has had years and multiple games, sometimes more than one focussed around one character. It’s a massive shame that we didn’t get more of the rich history of the past that the games deal so well in, the action sequences set here are brilliant, but they spent too much time flicking between Aguilar and Cal in the Animus. This would have been acceptable once or twice during the film, but not once or twice per fight scene. We get it. He’s acting this out for the Templars to see in the present day, show me the excellent choreography of the scenes in the past!

It’s not a bad film based on a computer game, in fact it’s up there as one of the best adaptations, but it’s not a brilliant stand-alone film. It’s likely that I’m being too harsh on it, so I’d urge you to see it for yourself and if you enjoyed it, whether a fan of the games or not, I’d love to hear from you.

Reviews: Passengers

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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Passengers has been miss-sold to you. The trailer makes it look like Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence wake up in deep space and strike up a relationship while trying to find out why they’ve been woken up. This is not what the film is about, and this makes it problematic.

The actual plot of the film is much more intriguing than that.

In the future, humans have terra-formed planets for communities to start again. En route to on of these ‘homesteads’ a ship is hit by a meteor shower and this damages some of the ship’s systems resulting in Pratt being woken up 90 years early. He tries for years to gain access to the ship’s crew and attempts to get himself back to sleep, all with no success. After a failed suicide attempt he stumbles across the pod of Jennifer Lawrence and he falls for her while watching clips of why she had decided to leave Earth.

The only companion he has had for three years is a robotic bartender played by the ever-charming Michael Sheen, but  this isn’t enough. For months he bats around the idea of waking Lawrence up so he can have a companion… a lover, knowing that he is condemning her to the same fate.

This is such a great premise that it’s difficult to understand why it wasn’t marketed as this in the first place. Possibly because the film’s stars are too big to attract mainstream audiences to a creepy, psychodrama set in space, but this is what the film is.

This could be the film in which Pratt plays his most despicable character yet, at the point Lawrence finds out she calls him a murderer, and his has effectively sentenced her to death with his weakness.

The problem comes with the film trying to tie itself up to a nice ending. The two have to work together along with a fleeting performance by Laurence Fishburne as a crew member that also wakes up just to give them access to parts of the ship that previously were unobtainable to them. And all of a sudden all the bad feelings and the loathsome act Pratt had committed is forgiven by Lawrence in a way that is unbelievable given how her character has acted until this point.

Overall, it’s not a bad film, it was just sold to the world as a different film and it works against it, which is a shame. It taints what could have been a great psychological drama with a brilliant premise.

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The first of the standalone Star Wars movies hit the screens in December after a year of fevered speculation about re-shoots and whether or not this would impact the film negatively or not.

If there were re-shoots to change anything, they must have been changed for the better, because this film is exactly what it promised, and more. It’s an espionage movie set in the Star Wars universe.

Admittedly, it’s a bit messy, especially the first 10 minutes or so when the action moves to about five or six planets with little or no characterisation given to the people driving the plot forward on-screen. But, once it gets into the swing of things it really gets going in a big way.

The new characters are a bit two-dimensional, even Jyn Erso, the lead played by Felicity Jones, and there are plot holes aplenty, but the fun factor more than makes up for that. The film is like a rollercoaster, it never lets you stop long enough to actually think about what just happened before you’re onto the next action sequence or bit of Imperial back-stabbing.

In fact, the power struggle going on within the Imperial ranks is actually more interesting than the plot to steal the plans for the Death Star. Basically, Jyn’s father (Mads Mikkelsen) used to work with the Empire, but defected. However, he is brought back by Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to finish construction of the Death Star. Realising they will finish it without him he decides to go along with it so he can build in a weakness into the super-weapon. His daughter, Jyn, survives and many years later is picked up by the Rebels to help find the plans and thus ensues more action, gun fights and… wars, than in any of the other main saga films.

But, as stated, the power struggle between Krennic and Moff Tarkin, played here by Guy Henry, but morphed via motion capture CG into Peter Cushing circa 1977. His character was in it far more than expected, but it made perfect sense for him to be as he’s a major played in Star Wars: A New Hope. This technology is getting better all the time, but it still doesn’t look quite right. However, it looks a hell of a lot better than the final shot of the film where you see an almost 2D rendering of the face of 19-year-old Carrie Fisher with what sounds like historic ADR thrown in, you can almost hear the scratches on the tape it was recorded on.

The other big Imperial presence in the film is one Darth Vader, a villain that never really lived up to the fearsome reputation he had in the original trilogy and was completely de-fanged in the prequel trilogy, portrayed as a damaged adolescent. Here, Vader gets screen time of around five minutes, but what a five minutes. Apart from a cringe-inducing line halfway through the film, his final scene cutting down rebels in a corridor is tense, exciting and makes you fully understand the unstoppable force (no pun intended) that he is regarded as in the original films.

The best new characters include K-2SO, a sarcastic droid voiced by Alan Tudyk – who is basically Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus played by Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang who are the Force-sensitive character and his muscle respectively.

Rogue One ties in to the original trilogy so well, it makes A New Hope better, for example it explains away how easily the Death Star was destroyed and why Vader is feared by all those rebels with the cycle helmets on in the opening scene.

If you think about it too much it starts to unravel but the sheer joy this film instills in you is intoxicating. Such a great end to 2016, roll on 2017!

Review: Arrival

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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This is easily the best film I’ve seen in 2016. It may be an alien invasion film, but it’s so much more than that; it’s also about bigger issues like communication and working together to reach a common goal.

Where Arrival really stands apart from almost every other alien invasion film, like the recent Independence Day: Resurgence for example, is that the aliens aren’t here threatening the Earth and not a shot is fired. In fact, there’s only one explosion in the whole film.

The hero of the film is Amy Adams’ character, she’s not a soldier but a linguist, who is brought in after the US military realise the aliens aren’t hostile but can’t be understood. So, it’s up to her character and Jeremy Renner’s character to work out how the alien’s language works as it’s unlike any language in the world. All this is going on at multiple sites around the world, but paranoia between nations threatens to ruin everything.

Saying much more about the plot would give things away but the twist – if it can even be called that, as it’s actually there from the off – is a real gut punch even after what you learn at the beginning of the film. But when it’s revealed, you’ll wonder when everything started, how it links and where it ends.

This is a film that makes you think, requires re-watching and is an example of everything that sci-fi can be when it’s done well. If it doesn’t win best adapted screenplay and best actress at this year’s Oscars, I’ll be gob-smacked. See it three times, right now!