CHiPs: Law and Disorder

ho00004202An undercover FBI agent and an ex-extreme sports motorcyclist join forces in the California Highway Patrol to take down corrupt cops robbing armoured cars.

Loosely based on the television show that ran from 1977-1983 this is a very uneven and only mildly diverting comedy. Personally, I have never seen the TV series, but my understanding is that this shares as much in common with it as the Starsky and Hutch film did with its show, including cameos from the stars. Where that film was a knockabout screwball buddy comedy, this is tonally all over the place. The two main characters are a sex addict and prescription painkiller drug addict unaware that his wife is cheating on him, whilst the action scenes feature some over the top gore for the genre.

Writer, director and star Dax Shepherd seems to be unsure what he was going for. The result isn’t the worst film imaginable, but it’s not really worth your time either.

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Life

ho00004250Scientists on the International Space Station await the first ever soil sample from Mars and on examination find a single cell organism that proves the existence of life beyond our planet. Unfortunately, for the crew of six on board, this is not going to end well for them.

This science fiction horror film owes everything it is to films such as Alien and The Thing. And whilst it is never as good as those, it is fast paced and interesting enough to be a really good watch. An alien wiping a crew out one by one – check. A harsh unlivable environment – check. A dormant alien ready to adapt and survive – check. This may all sound a little rote, but actually, this film takes those tropes and uses them as a shorthand to make a very enjoyable and tense film.

The biggest negative is that unlike the films mentioned, it does not take the time to introduce us properly to our crew. But with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal able to make a children’s book seem creepy and dark and with an intriguing alien that seems somewhere between spider and squid it makes it work.

The Lost City of Z

ho00004222Based on a non-fiction novel by David Grann this tells the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett and his expeditions in the amazon. It spans a period of 20 years, following multiple expeditions and his growing obsession with the idea of a Lost City deep in the Amazon following a find of pottery deep in the jungle. Fawcett’s home life with his independent wife and 3 children is woven in underlining his obsession for exploration.

The film is a slow burn, old-fashioned affair, but one really worth the effort. There is so much worthy of mentioning in terms of its merits that it is hard to know where to begin. The cinematography and locations are exceptional, with the film being split between the Amazon Jungle and the upper-class clubs and societies of London. The relationships between characters are intriguing and many. Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) builds a brotherly relationship with his men Costin and Manley (Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley), fences with the upper echelons of society, has a progressive relationship with his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and a strained one with his eldest son Jack (played at his eldest by Tom Holland). Holding all of this nuance together is easily Charlie Hunnam’s best performance to date. He manages to convey a man obsessed and driven with his lost city whilst at the same time caring about his family’s place in society and his relationships with his men and family.

If you are looking for a complex tale of obsession, beautifully shot and acted, at a slower more old-fashioned pace, this is for you.

Beauty and the Beast

poster_f47b88c7Disney’s latest film to get the live action treatment is arguably their greatest animated film. The story of an enchanted prince learning that beauty is not on the surface but what comes from within.

Where I felt Disney stumbled with The Jungle Book last year (I know I am in the minority) is that they removed the majority of the well-known songs and tried to ground the story in reality. For me, that resulted in it losing the fun and magic of the original. Thankfully, here they have kept all the songs and in fact, the film plays out almost identically to the Disney original with an added prologue and some new songs. As a result, I found this to be mostly a triumph.

The look and feel of the film are exquisite, the casting is spot on, the additional songs good and the additional scenes embellishing character back story are useful additions, even if they do extend the film past the two-hour mark. But where this film soars, is in the staging of the original songs. The opening song where Belle walks through the village (pushed further into the film due to the new prologue) is where the film takes off and Gaston’s song in the bar is still hilarious especially with the comedic singing of Josh Gad playing Disney’s first openly gay character LeFou.

If I were to gripe, it would be in the pacing. It is a lot longer than the original, but I can understand the merit in the additional scenes and I enjoyed the new songs. All in all, I hope Disney’s pursuit of turning their classics to live action are more like this than the dour Cinderella and Jungle Book.

Get Out

ho00004242Jordan Peele’s feature film debut as a director (he also wrote and produced) is a stunningly good horror film that echoes the eerie suburban world of Society (1989).

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is visiting his caucasian girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams)  parents for the weekend and things are a little bit off. Her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) and their friends are all very keen to meet an African-American and are all overly eager to get to know him. To say much more would be ruining the fun.

The first half of the film builds the peculiarity levels up to Lynchian levels and the second half lets the pressure off with a spectacularly elaborate denouement.

Highly recommended.

Free Fire

ho00004379An arms deal gone wrong sets the scene for a shoot out in a disused warehouse in a darkly comic and violent film by Ben Wheatley.

Frank (Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) are IRA operatives planning to buy guns from Vern (Sharlto Copley) in a deal set up by Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Unfortunately, hired muscle on each side have had a less than pleasant encounter the night before and events turn for the worse. With a running time of 90 minutes, what we have here is a half hour of set up and an hour of shooting. What makes it so much fun is the darkly funny script and great turns from the small group of 10 actors who seem to be able to make each character interesting.

Copley and Hammer steal the film playing a truly hideous gun runner (I guess it goes with the job description) and a pot smoking narcissist (so cool, he even has time to check his hair in the wing mirror of a car mid-shootout).

There are moments of lethargy when I started to wonder how many bullets were in each gun and where it was going, but every time it started to meander a little too much it snapped back with another whip-smart comic moment.

Kong: Skull Island

332239id1d_Titan_Intl_Teaser_27x40_1Sheet.inddAt the tail end of the Vietnam war a scientific expedition heads to an uncharted island. A place untouched by man and ruled by monsters.

The film features a diverse cast, none of whom really get to shine, with perhaps one exception. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is the head of Monarch Industries who gets the expedition under way who has a secret reason for going, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is the stoic ex SAS mercenary hired to help, Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is a soldier unhappy his war is coming to an end and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is a photo journalist asked to document the trip. The exception comes with Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a World War 2 fighter pilot shot down over the island nearly 30 years earlier. His slightly crazed soldier brings plenty of entertainment to the film. In fact, from the human standpoint, he is the only one of interest.

Do the monsters make up for this? Mostly, they do! Kong features heavily from the start, there are no slow reveals here. His fights are impressive and the effects work strong. Other creatures feature as well, mostly of the giant variety and are also pretty impressive.

All in all though, I would much rather have seen Hank Marlow’s “Enemy Mine” storyline, when he crash lands on the island with a Japanese fighter pilot and learn more about the indigenous human tribes than spend time with the characters we do.

Kong’s return to the big screen is part of Warner Brothers planned “Monsterverse” which began with Gareth Edwards Godzilla reboot in 2014. If you want to see the link you will need to stay to the very end of the credits. The next film planned, is a sequel to Godzilla in 2019.

Patriots Day

ho00004194The true story of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings and subsequent man hunt is an accomplished film with some powerful scenes. Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg team up for the third time, after Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, for another based on fact American disaster film. Each time they have improved on their previous effort.

Wahlberg plays an amalgam of three real officers, allowing him to be the Everyman that shepherds us through the events, by being everywhere during the investigation, whilst actors such as Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J.K. Simmons play real life people involved in the man hunt.

Taking us through the lead up to the event we are introduced to a number of different characters, including the bombers, various law enforcement and victims. It effectively invests you into the well-being of a number of different people resulting in the bombing scenes becoming more impactful. There are some key scenes that really hit home, the aftermath of the explosions and an interrogation scene in particular stay with you.

American Jingoism marred Lone Survivor for me to a huge extent, but as with Deepwater Horizon, Berg has managed to tone it down enough and ground it in real people’s stories in such a way that it was much less noticeable here. As a result the film is so much more enjoyable and worth your time.

Fist Fight

ho00004192The premise of Fist Fight is high concept and low coherence. On the final day of school, cut backs are being made and permanently flustered teacher Andy (Charlie Day) through a series of random events accidentally gets colleague Strickland (Ice Cube) fired.

Strickland, who appears to be the school disciplinarian, counter intuitively decides this situation would be best resolved by a fight. Will Andy weasel out of the fight using any means necessary?

Ignoring comprehension, the key question is, “is it funny?”. And unfortunately, aside from the culminating 10 minutes the answer is a resounding no.

Aside from wasting some prodigious comic talent in supporting roles (Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell) the general underlying theme is nastiness. And with two leads famed for their loud and “shouty” roles it’s all a bit much.

Logan

ho00004154Hugh Jackman returns as The Wolverine for reportedly the last time in a much more adult take on the comic book movie. Logan is a 15 rated movie and features gory violence, lots of swearing and most interestingly is much more of a character led story.

The year is 2029 and mutants are all but extinct. Logan is trying to scrabble together enough money to escape civilisation with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) when a young girl comes into his life. What follows is a road movie, interspersed with violent action scenes as Logan struggles with his fear of building relationships.

Easily the best solo film outing for Wolverine, but still with faults, this at the very least feels like the perfect swan song for the character.

Jackman has described the film as a “darker version of Little Miss Sunshine” and it’s here that its key strengths lay. The scenes with Logan, Xavier and Laura (Dafne Keen) as a surrogate family are where the film soars. Elsewhere it brings in lesser known character actors to fill out the supporting roles, Boyd Holbrook (of Narcos fame) and Richard E Grant are intriguing bad guys whilst Stephen Merchant and Eriq La Salle play crucial roles that are there to reflect Logan’s emotional turmoil.

Faults are still there, initially it feels quite jarring to see the character in such a different, more adult setting. The timeline and world setting are loosely sketched, is it fair to blame this film for the previous X Films confusing us all so much? Most crucially though it loses momentum at points, the goal being sought by the group isn’t as important as the relationships they form, but it would be nice for it to have a more tangible purpose.

If only they had explored this side of The Wolverine to begin with, as it’s one worth exploring.

Finally, don’t wait till the end of the credits for a scene. The film is over when it fades to black.