Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story Film Review

Based approximately ten years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to escape the shipbuilding planet of Corellia where they live as orphans and are forced too steal for criminals in exchange for protection. Qi'ra is caught as they're fleeing planet, and in order to prevent his own capture Han enlists in the Impeiral Navy as a flight cadet, vowing to return to Corellia to rescue Qi'ra. Three years later while fighting for the Empire on the planet Mimban, Han meets a group of criminals who are undercover as Imperial soldiers and planning to steal an Imperial ship to use for their next job - stealing a shipment of coaxium (hyper fuel) on the planet Vandor. He convinces them to take him and his newfound friend, Chewbacca, as an extra pair of hands on the mission in an attempt to get enough credits to return home to Corellia to rescue Qi'ra.

From there the film is a fast-paced, action-adventure full of fan service moments chase sequences and moments long-time Star Wars fans will enjoy like Han first meeting Chewbecca and Lando Calrrissian.

Solo boasts an impressive cast, playing a variety of entertaining characters. Emilia Clarke is a capable as ever as Qi'ra, despite some questionable characters motivations, as is Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, the leader of group of criminals Han encounters. He is joined by Val (Thandie Newton) and alien Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau), who both end up being underused. Donald Glover is perfect as Lando Calrissian, but his co-pilot L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) steals the spotlight as an outspoken female droid. Paul Bettany plays the most lively and charismatic villain the Star Wars franchise has seen in crime lord Dryden Vos. And for all the concern about Alden Ehrenreich's portrayal of Han Solo, he does well, adding a nice touch of naivety to the young, wise-cracking smuggler.

The film looks spectacular, with a number of new planets and ships for Star Wars fans to admire, particularly in the action sequences. Dryden Vos' yacht floating through the clouds is one such example. And the score is as good as always, with composer John Powell incorporating a lot of John Williams' pieces from previous Star Wars films.

The film only starts to falter when, as hardcore Star Wars fans will do, you begin to think about it too much. It's odd that ultimately a film marketed as the origin story of Han Solo isn't really that at all. Had the entire film revolved around his time and escape from Corellia it would have been, but as it is Han is still very much an enigma. He is a character clearly desperate for an outlaw image, but none of his actions in the film will generate questions of his morality from the audience - he is the hero no matter what he, or the film, wants us to think. This is in spite on him joining the Empire as an Imperial trooper (something I personally find very uncharacteristic), and his actions towards Beckett at the end of the film.

Similarly, a masked gang of pirates called the Cloud Riders skirt around the edge of the film as obvious foes to the protagonists, yet a third act twist sees their previous actions forgotten as they reveal themselves as trying to spark the rebellion against the Empire. The most painful of these character motivation problems lies with Qi'ra, easily the films worst female character. By the end of the film you still have no idea where her allegiances lie, with her childhood sweetheart Han or the criminal syndicate in which she works - Crimson Dawn. It's easy to say her allegiance is to herself, but then give her a reason to act this way. Unfortunately her time between attempting to escape with Han and coming to work for Vos is left unexplored, leaving audiences unenlightened.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Avengers Infinity War Film Review

Aboard The Grandmaster's spaceship Thanos and his henchman, The Children of Thanos, have slaughtered the remaining Asgardians fleeing from a destroyed Asgard. He has traced Loki there, who is in possession of the Tesseract which contains the Space Stone, one of six stones Thanos needs to wield the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos kills Loki after imprisoning Thor and defeating the Hulk, but a dying Heimdall manages to open the Bifrost one last time to send The Hulk back to Earth. He lands at the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City where he warns Doctor Strange and Wong about Thanos' impending arrival. Back in space Thanos destroys the ship using the Power Stone hurtling Thor through space, but he is saved by the Guardians of the Galaxy who received a distress call from the ship. Knowing that Thanos already has two of the stones the separate groups go about trying to stop the increasingly powerful villain from obtaining the others in order to disintegrate half the universe.

With such a large amount of characters to deal with there was always going to be some that featured less prominently than others, but for the most part the film balances them well. The film partciulary excels at grouping them into several sub-plots as to allow specific characters to bounce off each other.

Robert Downey Jr. is as solid as ever as the playboy genius Iron Man, and is paired well with the very similar Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange. They are joined by the enthusiastic yet naive Peter Parker. Tom Holland can do no wrong, and is particularly strong in one of the films closing scenes; his character a perfect balance to the hardened thespians of the franchise.

I found Chris Hemsworth's Thor to have become uncharacteristically funnier, in the same manner of those aforementioned, in his previous film Thor: Ragnorak and was concerned that trend would continue here. The beginning of the film sees Thor suffer a terrible loss and which could have easily seen him transformed into a dour character to deal with, which is again perfectly rectified by having him joined by The Guardians of the Galaxy, particularly Rocket and Groot, to counteract this with their funny banter. Their humour doesn't always fit in with the rest of the Avengers, though, with both Drax and Mantis finding little to do.

Gamora, on the other hand, is extremely instrumental to the film, with Thanos's daughter providing some much needed pathos to the villains motivations. He's surprisingly likeable as a villain because of this, although ultimately he's world destruction agenda still falls flat despite an attempt to character a relatable backstory for the troubled family.

Back on Earth, Paul Bettany and Elisabeth Olsen's Vision and Scarlet Witch are the most focused on characters, due to Mind Stone being his life source. Their relationship has never felt understandable to me, so it's a hard sell here, but it's hard to care too much when longtime fans can't help but get excited when the Avengers and constantly reuniting with long separated friends (I'm looking at you, Steve Rogers with that impressive beard), or even meeting each other for the first time.

The only real problem the film has, as it has been for majority of Marvel's phase two films, is that believable and the motivation behind a lot of the characters actions. The franchise has been running for ten years, so fans gain a greater sense of what they think characters will do, and when they don't it becomes difficult to believe. Loki, God of Mischief has escaped death numerous times, so his demise here - trying to foolishly stab Thanos - is annoying (as is the fact that if he hadn't stolen the Tesseract from a collapsing Asgard none of this would have happened). Despite knowing where the Soul Stone is and asking Quinn to kill her so Thanos can't get it, Gamora not only tells Thanos where is it after her sister Nebula is tortured, but she foolishly doesn't realise Thanos's plan to kill her to get the stone until too late. The moment The Children of Thanos come to Earth to retrieve the Mind Stone from Vision he knows the solution is to kill himself for the greater good, yet Scarlet Witch only agrees to this until it's too late. The most ridiculous of all is Stephen Strange giving Thanos the Time Stone in exchange for Tony Stark's life, a man who he's just met and openly expresses that he doesn't like, the only understandable explanation being that when he calculated the future possibilities the only one in which they win featured Tony playing a significant role, which is why he would save him. One understands that quickly addressing these dilemmas significantly shortens and changes the story, but that doesn't make them any less frustrating.

The movie is fast-paced, has high-stakes, and is surprisingly emotional amongst the abundance of action, while still managing to retain its humour. While it is the longest-running Marvel film to date, fans of the franchise will not notice its longevity in the slightest, and in fact while be left wanting a lot more due to its cliffhanger ending.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Disaster Artist Review

Based on true events, The Disaster Artist starts in San Francisco 1998 with aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meeting the kooky and mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class. The reserved Sestero is instantly drawn to the fearlessness and passion of Wiseau and the pair become fast friends, soon deciding to move to Los Angeles where Wiseau has another apartment to further pursue their acting careers. The pair find it increasingly difficult to follow their dream with Greg's talent agency failing to supply him with any work and Tommy constantly baffling casting directors with his bizarre accent/ demeanour. Frustrated with this, Tommy decides to make a movie for him and Greg to star in in and what follows is the making of 'the best worst movie ever made'.

For those who haven't seen The Room (2003) it's hard to explain exactly what the film is, and interestingly The Diaster Artist doesn't try to explain it all that much. Sure, Robyn (June Diane Raphaelfloats the theory to the rest of the cast during a lunch break on set that the film is semi-autographical and that the characters of Lisa screwing Wiseau around is a metaphor for life itself, but The Diaster Artist doesn't focus on this. Rather, and thankfully so, it focuses on Wiseau's passion for cinema and for life and how this passion created a successful cult film against all odds. 

James Franco is perfect as Tommy Wiseau, so much so that you watch him like one watches Wiseau's actual performance in The Room - perplexed but intently intrigued and unable to look away. And Dave Franco holds his own as Greg Sestero, a character that could have easily become an unlovable straight-man in comparison to Wiseau, but manages to remain loving and authentic. Much like the focus of the plot, the film is greatly benefited by the talent involved in its making, and again, their passion for The Room and wanting to tell its story. James Franco directed, produced and starred (not unlike Wiseau himself in The Room). There's a wonderful short series of interviews from stars such as Kristen Bell, Adam Scott and J.J Abrams at the beginning of the film that feels out of place in the overall picture become again celebrates the films message of passion and belief in cinema that it's hard not to enjoy. The film itself is also packed with well known faces like Bryan Cranston, Zac Efron, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen.

While at the end of the film we know little more about Tommy Wiseau, which may disappoint some, we know a lot more about the origins of The Room, and the strong friendship that created it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Call Me By Your Name Review

During the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy seventeen year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his parents await the arrival of an American graduate, Oliver (Armie Hammer), who his father has invited to live with them for the summer to help him with his academic paperwork in return for him giving notes on Oliver's novel. Elio is initially annoyed by Oliver's presence - he has to give up his room for Oliver and the visitors carefree attitude draws the attention of Oliver's friends (especially the females).

Gradually, though, Elio begins to warm to Oliver and tension between them becomes clear - but of what type? Animosity? The desire to be like one another? The desire to be with one another? This is not made clear until over a third of the way through the long film, where while during a trip into town  Elio reveals to Oliver that he doesn't know anything about the things that really matter. Oliver asks him why he's telling him this, and he he's thinking what he thinks Elio is saying they can't talk about such things. It's a frustrating watch because these characters saying what they truly want to say, and everything they do say can be easily misconstrued. It's a testament to the film that it mimics reality so well in this sense but also detrimental to the audience in understanding the special connection Elio and Oliver seem to develop after this point in the film.

From here the film becomes slightly more comprehensible and relatable when Elio makes a move on Oliver after showing him his secret swimming spot and Oliver turns him down, telling him he wants to be good. The rejection is painful and Chalamet is excellent at portraying a young boy first obsession with a love he seemingly can't have. But as soon as the pain starts to sink in, Oliver gives in to the teens' advances and the rest of the film follows their whirlwind but ultimately temporary romance. It's a shame because there's a lot to be explored from both characters of wanting something that they shouldn't have, the thought process of finally deciding to cross the lone, the idea of age transcending love, and the ramifications of such an affair but ultimately the film seems more concerned with celebrating their love, as demonstrated by a powerful conversation Elio has with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) before the end of the film. And this is fine, but it perhaps makes it a little less entertaining by the time Elio and Oliver get together.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

7 months after the rape and murder of her teenage daughter Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) hires the use of three run-down billboards located near her home and the site of her daughter's death. Frustrated with the police's lack of progress in identifying the criminal she pays her them to read "Raped while dying", "And still no arrests?", and "How come, Chief Willoughby?" The police view this is a personal attack and thus begins a war between a grieving mother and a conservative small town police department.

As always McDormand is great in the lead but her role is more subdued here than one might think from the initial plot. As the film progresses Mildred begins to fade into more of ensemble of intriguing small town characters, particularly that of the Ebbing police department. Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is never portrayed as the villain he could he here, nor does Mildred's character hate him, but the fact she has no closure regarding her daughters death. The news that he is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer adds another interesting dimension to his and Mildred's game of trying to best one another, but is also hinders the films ability to show truly enraged characters and therefore to emotionally move the audience as much as the film could have.

The closest we get is openly racist and seemingly incompetnet Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who snaps after a particularly fatal blow for the Ebbing police department and brutally assaults Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the advertiser Mildred is paying to maintain the billboards. Unfortunately, what the film excels at in creating three-dinmenisonal characters is also its downfall. We see the fervent passion of love and hate from both sides of what turns out to be mostly a series of misunderstandings and minor differences, but ultimately all the characters still remain human enough to be understood and related to by the and receive redemption by the films end.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Lady Bird Review

It's 2002, and Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who goes by the name of Lady Bird, is a senior student in a Catholic high school in Sacramento California. She's started applying to colleges and is eager to attend one far away from home as possible, preferably on the east coast in New York much to her mother Marion's (Laurie Metcalf) dismay.

Lady Bird is not a likeable character, perpetually switching between being completely self-absorbed and spouting every single thought that comes into her head and profound philosopher beyond her years. Ronan is capable in the role but the writing borderlines on parody (and maybe that's the point), and Lady Bird's interactions also leave one wondering whether or not she may have a social disorder.

While the film focuses on Lady Bird's relationship with a number of characters it focuses on that of her mother Marion, which also suffers from a strange sense of polarising absurdity. One minute Marion is letting Lady Bird and her drunk friends raid the kitchen late on Thanksgiving night or picking Lady Bird up and consoling her after her regrettable de-flowering, the next, the pair are squabbling while clothes something, and in the final act scenes of the film aren't even talking at all. Laurie Metcalfe is solid as Marion, it would have been very easy for her to become the bad mother of the story, so it's too her testament that she remains relatable, if a little critical, which is more than can be said for Lady Bird. But again this polarity raises the question of parody so it's hard to know what you are seeing when you watch the film. Is this supposed to be a harsh and realistic portrayal of a mother daughter relationship? Or something more heightened for dramatic purposes?

Ultimately the film does pay off on Lady Bird's growth into a more stable and relatable woman, particularly in one scene where she makes the decision to leave her new popular friends who are ditching prom, to find her old friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and attend it with her. It doesn't feel particularly earned though, nor does her success in applying to schools after the minimal effort and distractions the film shows her having throughout.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Re-watching a film right before a sequel is sometimes a bad decision. On the one hand it ensures you're up to speed with everything that's happened before jumping back into the franchise's world again. On the other hand it means there's more opportunity to draw comparisons and discrepancies. I don't regret re-watching Blade Runner before going to see 2049, but unfortunately for me it meant 2049's validity was put into question almost immediately when the entire premise of the original - that replicants can only live for four years - became superfluous in 2049's opening crawl, stating the Nexus 8 generation of replicants (somehow created around the time the first film look place) have no live span. And once you start to question the validity of a film's continuity the suspension of disbelief is hard to get back.

So when K's (Ryan Gosling) investigation into the bones he discovers hidden by another older model replicant indicates the robot had carried to birth a child you have to just take a breath and go along for the visually breathtaking ride and not think too hard about it. That's a shame though, because much like the original, there are some interesting ideas here, about identity, memory, morality and love but they get lost in translation. Instead of pondering these themes you're trying to uncover 2049's puzzling mystery: who is the child to the replicant and the human, and why does everyone want it so badly? It's a welcome addition to the more straight-forward narrative of the original, but again, there's too much going on to fully enjoy it - which is really quite a feat for a film you can also describe as slow-paced.

Gosling is fine, but he's outshone by the late arrival of Harrison's Ford's Deckard, and he basically suffers from the same problems Harrison had with Deckard in the first film but in reverse. Ford had to play a human that you could potentially believe was a robot, whereas Gosling must play a robot that you just might think is human. Ana de Armas and Robin Wright both perform well, but their characters are mostly unnecessary filler, particularly Armas's Joi whose hologram characters existence confuses me. Sylvia Hoeks is the standout as the beautifully menacing replicant Luv, assistant to the underused Jarrod Leto's Wallace, head of the Wallace Corporation.

If you liked the first film, it's highly likely you'll enjoy 2049 even though it's a highly more convoluted version of the original.