Archive for Idris Elba

Review: Star Trek Beyond

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Star Trek Beyond

The third installment of the new Star Trek franchise is the first not to be helmed by JJ Abrams, with Justin Lin stepping into the rather large shoes of Abrams. Lin has been best known for the Fast & Furious films from Tokyo Drift through to the sixth installment of a franchise that is safe to say has been completely rejuvenated under his stewardship. But, does he have what it takes to carry on the stellar work already done by Abrams?

If the trailers were anything to go by, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Lin had the writers destroy the Enterprise (it’s in the trailer, it’s not a spoiler. The Enterprise is constantly being blown up!) so he could shot a load of motorcycle chases. Happily, there’s slightly more to it than that.

This time around we find the crew of the Enterprise a couple of years into its five-year mission exploring space and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to wonder what the point is of exploring infinity. “Life has started to feel episodic” is one of his lines, which is the first in quite a few call-backs to Star Trek’s televisual origins.

As previously stated, due to a trick, the Enterprise is destroyed by the main villain and a seemingly unstoppable wave of an army. Due to the evacuation process, the various members of the team are split up which makes this film much less of a team movie than the previous offerings. But this, and the fact they are severely under equipped to fight such a large army, forces the crew members to put their heads together and think their way out of the various situations they find themselves in. Again, this is more reminiscent of the TV series, which was always based more on diplomacy than action.

It’s clear that Simon Pegg, as one of the writers, gave himself a prominent role in the plot as his character, Scotty, is partnered up with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the latest kick-ass alien in the Star Trek universe. Her character is the most interesting, the most fleshed out and the most exciting, as the rest of the original cast seem to be coasting somewhat with only one or two other actors to bounce off for most of the film and not much in the way of development. With the exception of the relationship between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) whose bickering and misunderstandings mark some of the comedic highlights of the film.

There are some fairly sizable plot holes in the film, it is a blockbuster sci-fi that has been written by five people after all. For example, who is the henchman of the villain, Krall (Idris Elba), and what’s his back story? Also, there was a distinct lack of emotion from the crew of the Enterprise after the destruction of what had been their home for the past three years, which detracted from what could have been a much more emotional scene.

Another, possibly slightly less important, issue is why would you cast Idris Elba as the main antagonist and then bury him in full prosthetics? Eric Banner was recognisable in the first of the reboot films and in Into Darkness Benedict Cumberbatch and Frank Weller had none at all.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is better than is has any right to be on paper. It’s probably a little less enjoyable than the previous two films, but still more than watchable and one of the closest in tone to the original films and TV series. A laudable effort, that has seen the green light given for a fourth installment already. Can Justin Lin do for Start Trek what he did for the Fast & Furious franchise? He’s not definitely attached to the fourth installment, but don’t bet against it.

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Review: The Jungle Book

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

the jungle book

When Disney let Tim Burton reimagine Alice in Wonderland, little did we know that success of that film would kick-start a slew of live-action remakes of their entire back catalogue, but here we are. When the plan to do this with The Jungle Book was floated a few years back, it was met with trepidation; how could it work? Surely it’ll be rubbish, right?

Wrong.

This film is a triumph. Director Jon Favreau has pulled off something truly magical. The seams between the – minimal – physical sets and the first-time actor, Neel Sethi, who is pretty much the only actual actor in the whole film, and the computer generated animals and sets are invisible. There are times where Sethi, as Mowgli, touches the face of the wolf pack mother, (Lupita Nyong’o ), and it looks like he’s interacting with a real wolf. The fur moves so convincingly it completely convinces you that what you’re seeing is actually happening.

In fact, the trailer gave the impression that the animals may come off slightly cartoon-y. Far from it. The animators have made sure  the faces and mouths of the animals only move to the restrictions of that particular animal’s face would move. This adds to the ease in which you can suspend your disbelief.

It has something for everyone: fantastic special effects; a brilliant voice cast; a couple of classic songs from the original, animated movie; humour; threat; and a really strong core message.

The only criticisms to be found come in the shape of small niggles, such as Idris Elba’s performance of Shere Khan is basically Luther. Which isn’t a problem really, but it is strange to hear a tiger speaking in a cockney accent! The other is that Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) is used quite sparingly. Finally, the ending is quite different from that of the Kipling stories and the original animated film. That said, the Kipling versions are short stories, so there’s nothing to say that Favreau’s film ends before the final chapter of these, but it would have been nice to see the conclusion we’ve all grown up with, and is inevitable.

The positives hugely outweigh the negatives though. Bill Murray steals the show as Baloo, it seems as if he was allowed to go off-piste in a way none of the other voice actors as his dialogue is a lot more casual and contemporary. Hearing Christopher Walken deliver lines (and a song) as King Louie – now a Gigantopithecus rather than an Orangutan, as they don’t live in India – was something that will stay with you.

Watching The Jungle Book is a magical experience you don’t experience too often. It’s most definitely worth a watch in the cinema if you haven’t already.

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Age of Ultron

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to battle a foe of their own making in the latest Marvel behemoth to hit the big screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whirlwind of action from start to finish with a massive cast of characters from virtually all the previous films. So much so, that the story is propelled forwards at break-neck speed to cover the developments in everyone’s lives while also introducing new characters as well as set up the plot.

Sounds like a bit of a mess? It is a bit. Unless you’re a comic book aficionado it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with who everyone is. Especially as there are so many cast members that enough time cannot be afforded to build them up enough to make them 3D.

The most obvious examples of this are ‘the Maximoff twins’, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (though only known by the names Wanda and Pietro – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). They are new characters, but their origins were actually revealed at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Also, James Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie), although big characters in the Iron Man films and Winter Soldier, are marginalised to the point where The Falcon isn’t even referred to by name.

Credit where credit’s due, though, director Joss Whedon does a stellar job with the over-stuffed hand he has been dealt by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He starts the film in the middle of a big action set-piece where we get to see all the Avengers from the first movie doing their thing side-by-side, evoking the big splash pages from the comics.

He then does a balancing act of slowing down to find some human interaction between certain characters, fleshing them out more, namely the scientist bromance between Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the burgeoning relationship between Banner and Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a massive expansion of character in Age of Ultron, he’s always been a B-list Avenger but finally gets a chance to shine here.

There are some stunning visual effects in this film, as we’ve come to expect, but the slower moments between the characters are needed, not just for a chance to breathe, but to showcase Whedon’s knack for writing great, naturalistic and witty dialogue. Some of the standout lines include Hawkeye proclaiming that his role in these apocalyptic battles is ludicrous, bearing in mind his weapon is a bow and arrow. His wife (yep, he’s a secret family man) saying “I totally support your avenging” and The Vision (Paul Bettany – who is a welcome return to the screen in physical form) riffing with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about the balance of Mjolnir (yes, The Vision can weald Thor’s hammer).

James Spader voices the titular villain, Ultron, with real menace but, as with most Marvel villains, is a bit two-dimensional and is easily dealt with in the end. There is a cameo from Andy Serkis as a South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, who will eventually link Black Panther to the Avengers’ roster, as well as the mention of Wakanda. But this is a digression.

It is clear that Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to these films. He knows what the fans want to see and how to write snappy dialogue as well as handle massive effects shots. The problem is, that there are almost too many characters to fit into one movie and after the addition of move characters in the coming years before the next Avengers film, Infinity War in 2018-9, has been split into two parts. However, the end of Age of Ultron introduces the idea that certain characters can be written in and out to solve this problem, something Marvel will, surely, have to think about. Bearing in mind that people coming out of the cinema today couldn’t remember the red bloke’s (The Vision) name or who that purple guy at the end is.

It’s a bit of a mess, but Whedon is the only man who could have made sense of it all, despite the fact it felt like Marvel’s marketing department were insisting on certain shots or the inclusion of certain scenes. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films you won’t have a clue what’s going on. The Marvel films are starting to get further away from stand-alone as they go. But, if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. Can too much of a good thing be bad for you?

Review: Thor: The Dark World

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

thor-the-dark-world

The latest in the never-ending march of the Marvel Studios films was released in the UK last Wednesday after what seemed like an age since the first trailers and leaked posters. And it’s landed with a clap of thunder.

A lot of familiar faces are back from the first Thor film as well as Avengers Assemble including Chris Hemsworth & Tom Hiddleston as the titular God and his tricksy half-Brother Loki, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings & Stellan Skarsgård return as the group of scientists who are always on the lookout for the return of the extra-terrestrial Norse deities. The other Asgaardians are also back in the shape of Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo as Odin and Frigga, Thor and Loki’s parents; Idris Elba as the gatekeeper, Heimdall and the Warriors Four; Sif, Fandral, Volstagg & Hogun played by Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson & Tadanobu Asano respectively.

In fact, the only notable new face is one you probably wouldn’t recognise at first glance as he is hidden under quite a lot of make up and speaks the majority of his lines in Elvish & with quite a deep voice modulation: Christopher Eccleston plays the Dark Elf leader, Malekith, whose race ruled the universe under a dark veil before the Asgaardians defeated them and brought light back the Nine Realms. All sound a bit sword-and-sandals and less super hero-y? That’s because Kenneth Branagh has been replaced by Alan Taylor as director. Taylor has most recently directed the ultimate fantasy TV series, Game of Thrones, which may explain the change in setting and tone.

In fact, the opening 30 minutes or so of Thor: The Dark World are a bit bleak and low on energy, even though Thor and his band of warriors are off battling evil across the Nine Realms while Jane Foster (Portman) and Darcy Lewis (Dennings) are trying to find both Thor and their professor, Erik Selvig, who has gone AWOL.

It’s only when things have gone really bad and Thor releases Loki from his cell in the dungeons (for his crimes against the universe in Avengers Assemble) that the film really picks up speed. Tom Hiddleston really does steal the entire film from everyone; the interplay between his character and Thor, who is limited by the character’s emotional range, is really funny but also highlights the fact that it’s easier to write for a slimy villain than for a benevolent character.

However, there are some comedy Thor moments, such as him having to ask for directions while in the Tube in London (where all the plot set on Earth is based). Though the directions he is given by the commuter are probably more laughable, if you know London! The majority of the laughs come from Loki though; as the God of Mischief he is the one able to let go and have real fun with his character, especially in the scene where he shape-shifts both himself and Thor a number of times. Darcy is there for comedic effect as well, but I found her injections somewhat forced and her character grated on me very quickly.

It was good to see both Natalie Portman and Idris Elba having more to do in their roles this time round as both their stars have risen since the first film. Elba has even become so famous outside the UK that they let Heimdall take his helmet off! He also has one of the more bad-ass action sequences as he single-handedly takes down a cloaked Elvish ship with nothing but his bare hands and a couple of daggers.

The action sequences are what make this film as the plot can be a little hard to keep up with if you aren’t ‘au fait’ with the Nordic character and place names, not to mention the plot about dimensions aligning and Malekith’s plan to bring darkness to the universe again using ‘The Aether’, a strange, almost sentient, fluid that infects a host body and wields untold power. The final fight sequence leaves you breathless but, thanks to the fact Taylor has kept the film under two hours, doesn’t drag on and on like quite a few of the big super hero films of late – even if it does span dimensions.

All in all the plot is a bit all-over-the-place (but this is a sci-fi/fantasy film after all); the costume, set and world designs are spell-binding and the action sequences are thrilling and tense. This is a worthy sequel, not better than the original, but different enough that it doesn’t matter. Who knows how far the character can be taken, but judging by the two post-credit sequences he will be back in at least the next Avengers film.

P.S. The first of the two post-credit scenes stars Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, who is tasked with looking after The Aether. He will be a main villain in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film due for release next year.  This film will be a mix of live action and animation with characters like Rocket Racoon (whose name speaks for itself) and Groot, a living tree. This has worried me since I heard about it as the whole universe started off based in semi-realism and seems to be heading in a very cartoonish direction. I will try to reserve judgement until a trailer is posted – but things are starting to look and sound a bit weird.

Roll on Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Brand new UK trailer for Thor: The Dark World

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

thor-the-dark-world

The new trailer for Thor: The Dark World was released today and this time we get more! More plot, more characters, a better look at the locations including London and Asgaard, Idris Elba has taken off his mask as Heimdall, Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki and seems to be playing everyone against each other as usual, the voice-over is done by Anthony Hopkins.

Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman are all back, the latter seemingly transported with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Asgaard and put in danger by the protagonist Malekith, whose face you can’t see in this trailer, but is played by Christopher Ecclestone. It looks like it’s going to be big. Very big!

Review: Pacific Rim

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Pacific_Rim-poster

Transformers versus Godzilla with a bit of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers thrown in is how Pacific Rim first struck me. And I wasn’t far wrong. The premise of this film is that monsters, called Kaiju (Japanese for strange creature), have been appearing from a chasm at the bottom of the Pacific ocean and have wrecked havoc across countries around the Pacific Rim. The seemingly unstoppable Kaiju have forced mankind to forget their differences and pull together their resources to build giant robots, dubbed Jaegers (German for hunter). Thus ensues huge, loud fights in the sea between gigantic… things!

But to say that this is anything like the Power Rangers movie (probably the closest live action film to Pacific Rim that comes to mind) is like comparing an ant to an anteater. Because of the subject matter of the film initial thoughts turned directly to Michael Bay type films like the recent Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Battleship, but as soon as Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct ears started to prick up.

Del Toro’s work is varied, but always visually stunning from fantasy films that border on horror like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone to out-and-out action films like Hellboy and Blade II. So for him to take on a film of such scale was a challenge, but not one that was insurmountable for him. Heck, he was even supposed to have been directing the Hobbit films. Thank god he didn’t because this film is an absolute joy!

Not for a very, very long time has a film transported my back to the age of 12, but this one certainly did. The first scene where the Jaeger pilots are being fitted into their machine just makes you smile from ear to ear as this giant mechanoid jolts into life and wades into the ocean to take on a giant shark-like humanoid while trying to save a tiny fishing boat.

The scale of this movie is truly befitting of the overused term, epic. You frequently see 300 foot monsters take on 250 foot robots in battles that are both tense, comic and unbelievable… except you totally let yourself get swept along with it. For example a robot piloted by two people would never be a reality. The monsters? Forget it. But when they go toe to toe in a harbour and are knocking seven shades out of each other with cargo containers, cranes and even a cargo ship you believe this could actually happen.

This is mainly down to the flawless special effects that are seamless, except for one scene where the hero Jaeger is stalking a Kaiju through the streets of Hong Kong which does look a bit like a computer game. But then that only made  me want to own the game, which is rare for a game of a film. The second part of the reason for this suspension of disbelief is the cast and the way in which del Toro manages to tread the line between the enormity of the action sequences and the drama between the human cast.

In any other hands *cough* Michael Bay! *cough* this could have been just another by the numbers action blockbusters where death tolls are insignificant and the characters are completely overshadowed by the banging and crashing of the giant constructs. But del Toro is a better director than most and somehow manages to make you care about the characters piloting the machines and even the supporting cast by making them fully rounded characters with complex back stories which make you sympathise with them, even though they are all basically playing stereotypical roles.

The lead actors in this are relatively unknown, except for the leader of the Jaeger forces, played by the incomparable Idris Elba, who gets to be British for once! The pilots of the hero Jaeger are played with rather naïve sexual tension by Charlie Hunnum and Rinko Kikuchi. What is great about this relationship is that you know how they feel for each other and that they also know it, but they never even kiss or even embrace, there are no leering shots of her straddling a motorbike or not wearing any clothes. This is so refreshing.

The scientists who are working on theorising  and predicting the Kaiju’s appearances are the perfect comedic relief and stick very close to the standard formula in so many anime and manga cartoons where one is uptight and math based (Burn Gorman) and the other a hot-headed, sharp-talker (Charlie Day) who prefers physical experiments. There is also a cameo from a certain Ron Pearlman to look forward to.

This movie really does need to be seen in the cinema to appreciate the size and sound of these titanic beings beating each other up. It’s also worth a look to see how Michael Bay dropped the ball with the Transformers franchise or even how Zak Snyder could have injected some humour into Man of Steel so that it wasn’t so dull. But mainly, you should go to let your inner child resurface, if just for a little over 2 hours.

New Thor: The Dark World trailer

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Here’s the trailer for Thor: The Dark World, feast your eyes! It’ll need to work hard to be better than the first film, but it does look damn good. Not only are Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleson back as Thor and Loki, but so are the other supporting cast including Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Kat Denning. This time there’s a new bad guy in the shape of Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleson (yes, that’s him at 1:15!). As far as I can make out he’s a Dark Elf, another race of people from the 9 realms who are conjurors of magic and he looks like he means business with Thor’s girlfriend Jane. Also it looks as though London get’s ripped apart by something huge. The next installment of Marvel’s Avengers saga will be released in October.