Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

ho00004330The sequel to what, in my opinion, is the best film in the Marvel Universe has a lot to live up to and whilst not quite as great it acquits itself well.

Having established a dysfunctional family in the first film, the focus this time round is firmly on exploring family. The main plot focus is Star Lord’s absent father, but we also explore Gamora’s relationship with her sister Nebula and Rocket’s fears of not fitting in. Whilst that may sound heavy, do not fear, writer/director James Gunn knows exactly what made the original so good and this film is probably funnier and even more reliant on an amazing soundtrack.

Drax, Groot and Rocket are consistently laugh out loud funny and both the opening title and ending credit sequence are great to watch. As usual, stay to the end.

Add to that the usual Marvel expansion of the universe with new faces and the Marvel hit maker rolls on.

Alien Day – Alien Director’s Cut & Prometheus

aliensuperticketposterA special cinema event on Alien day gave me the pleasure of being able to see Prometheus, Alien Director’s Cut, two scenes from Alien Covenant and a scene set between Prometheus and Covenant today, and I have to say it was a fantastic experience.

The 26th April in American parlance is 4/26 and the planet that the Alien was discovered on originally was LV-426, hence Alien Day. Paradoxically, of course, the planet was not actually named in the original film, it was only named in the sequel, Aliens. And the focus for today was Ridley Scott’s Alien films, not James Cameron’s.

The marathon started with Prometheus, a film that I feel is unfairly maligned. As a prequel to Alien, it has some drawbacks. Mainly the fact that it is not a horror film as the original is and it does not fully explain a lot of its themes and join those dots back to the original. But this is actually something that I like. This is a science fiction film focused on the mysteries of belief and how we came to be. Fundamentally different from the original Alien, which has practically no lore whatsoever in it. The film looks spectacular and features a fantastic performance from Michael Fassbender is David, a robot who idolises Lawrence of Arabia.

Alien, 38 years on from its original release is still a masterpiece. This is a claustrophobic horror film, dimly lit and set in dark corridors. In the cinema, it still has the power to scare and I found myself jolted out of my seat twice during proceedings leaving me with a sheepish smile on my face. The special effects have aged, it is interesting to see mainframe-like flight computers when this is set hundreds of years after Prometheus, but those are the perils of making prequels to films set in the future. For me though, this is still the original and best Alien film.

Following the two films, we got to see Ridley Scott introduce scenes from Covenant and one set between Prometheus and Covenant. I will be very interested to see if the scene set between the two films features in Covenant somewhere, or if it is just a stand-alone scene created just for this event. Without spoilers, I will just say it continues Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David’s relationship. The scenes from Covenant were exceptionally good at whetting your appetite for its impending release. The most memorable of the scenes showed some brutal scenes of fledgling aliens finding their way into the world.

All in all, a brilliant evening’s viewing and I look forward to Covenant.

Rules Don’t Apply

ho00004106Rules Don’t Apply is an odd concoction but one that I enjoyed a great deal. The film starts by following two young people new to Hollywood brought together by their mysterious employer Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) is a young would-be actress and Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) her driver. We see them slowly drawn to each other as they both await introductions to their reclusive employer. When those introductions happen the film changes tack somewhat to follow Hughes, albeit with the narrative catalyst fuelled by the unrequited love between Marla and Frank. Eventually, the story will turn slowly back to the young lovers but first Beatty wants to have some fun depicting the intriguing recluse that is Hughes.

Beatty clearly still has the magic touch. As writer, producer, director, star he has the ability to draw in an all-star cast (Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Matthew Broderick, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt, Candice Bergen and of course Annette Bening all show up, some for single scenes) and deliver a lightly comedic and romantic film. Set just after the golden age of the studio system in Hollywood, the film’s lighting and sets are made to match the era. Collins and Ehrenreich have great chemistry as well giving us something to route for.

If you want a more detailed film of Hughes life then Scorcese’s “The Aviator” is the place to look, but this is a much lighter way to pique your interest.

 

Their Finest

ho00004327Its 1940 London during the Blitz and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) gets a job as a screenwriter thanks to her ability to write believable “slop” (women’s dialogue). Paired with Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) she is tasked with writing an authentic war movie that also acts as propaganda to both galvanise the British people and persuade the American people that this is a war worth fighting in.

For what ultimately feels a very slight film there is an awful lot going on. Women in the workplace, the struggles people faced during the Blitz, the art of screenwriting and filmmaking, and truth versus a good story all feature.

As with many films he features in, Bill Nighy is a scene stealer as an aging actor who initially is very distrustful of a female writer. But the film still belongs to Arterton who delivers another low-key nuanced performance and delivers some very emotionally affecting scenes in the final moments.

During one scene the filmmakers receive a memo from their American distributors advising that they feel the film being made is too subtle and that their audience requires more oomph. It is advice that perhaps this film could have taken.

The Belko Experiment

the-belko-experiment-8The Belko corporation’s employees are about to have a really bad day. Locked in their office building in the middle of nowhere in Bogota, Colombia a disembodied voice commands them to kill each other or else a bomb implanted in their heads as a tracking device will go off.

Worth noting that this is released the week before its writer delivers us the Blockbuster sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy, because whilst James Gunn seems very adept at marshalling talking raccoons and trees he also likes a good horror film. Wolf Creek director, Greg McLean takes on directorial duties for this one.

Part Running Man, part Cabin in the Woods this has a great opening half and a more routine closing half to what is a breezy 89-minute horror film. The film quickly introduces us to a number of different groups of characters before slamming the shutters down on the building as quickly as possible to discuss whether the greater good is fighting against the idea of murdering innocents or killing some people to ensure others survive,  whilst of course delivering up a huge slice of gore.

All in all, it is a good slice of fun for the gore hound.

 

Table 19

mv5bndk0ndgwotqznf5bml5banbnxkftztgwodgyodmymti-_v1_sy1000_cr006761000_al_Eloise (Anna Kendrick) was meant to be the maid of honour but is now on the worst table at her best friends wedding. During the course of the day, we will understand why she is there and have plenty of laughs and elements of drama from the group of misfits she is sat with.

Everyone at the table delivers humour and emotional weight in their own way in this really enjoyable quirky film. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson play a married couple who seem to have grown tired of each other, Stephen Merchant is a family member with a checkered past, June Squibb is the bride’s former nanny and Tony Revolori is a teenager who is hoping a wedding is the right place to meet girls.

By the end of the film you will be pleased to have spent some time at this wedding too.

Going in Style

ho00003108After witnessing a bank robbery and finding himself in financial straits due to soulless corporations, Joe (Michael Caine) persuades his pals Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) that they should rob a bank.

On paper, this film felt like it was going to be just as soulless as those corporations that leave Joe considering his options. It is a remake of a 1979 film, it has Zach Braff, known for his indie filmmaking as a director for hire, features a fairly standard set up with old guys waiting to check out, corporations behaving badly and therefore justifying the crime and criminals who are downright nice guys. But what it does have is a heart, laugh out loud moments and not an ounce of flab on the story that makes it absolutely endearing.

Running in at 96 minutes, we are not hit over the head with a hammer of moralising and we are treated to some very funny moments. Alan Arkin teaching a saxophone lesson was probably my stand out moment. No one does irascible old coot like that man!

Fast & Furious 8

ho00004170The Fast and Furious franchise is truly a wonder to behold and I would be very interested in an in-depth article on the evolution of the franchise. From moderately bankable racing films to blockbuster action movies, the one thing you are guaranteed is a ludicrous plot and horrendously cheesy lines about family.

The plot this time is whether Dom (Vin Diesel) has gone rogue (no prizes for guessing the answer here) and has truly turned his back on his family to help new villain Cypher (Charlize Theron). Plot aside, this film gives you exactly what you would expect, explosions, car chases, and utterly bonkers and preposterous situations.

Now, more than ever, the franchise is more Bond film than racing film. In fact, this time around we get rid of the mandatory street race scene straight away and from my perspective, they could do with ditching those entirely. The bawdy leering at women and cars the only remnant of the terrible first four films aside from Vin Diesel’s ham acting is something that should be jettisoned. Visiting Cuba, New York, Germany, and Russia with a ret-con giving us a super villain in Cypher, the team now act as spies for Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody.

The cast continues to grow as well. Along with Charlize Theron, there is Helen Mirren and Scott Eastwood. But more importantly, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham now take second and third billing and it is their star power where this franchise now shines. Whilst Theron is wasted calling the shots from a plane and Diesel is failing to emote, Johnson and Statham realise the fun is in the sheer crazy nature of what is happening. It is when Johnson is performing the haka and Statham is channeling Chow Yun Fat in Hard Boiled when this franchise flies.

So, probably not as good as 5 and 7, but definitely better than the rest.

 

Ghost in the Shell

ho00004247Based on the Japanese Manga by Masamune Shirow that began in 1989 and subsequent Anime film in 1995 directed by Mamoru Oshii this is a slick science fiction film that I enjoyed, but possibly too much of that being a result of nostalgia.

Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind, a robot with a human mind. Retaining her ghost (soul) within her mechanical shell, she is put to work in an anti terrorism unit of the police. Her latest case calls into question whether or not she is who she thinks she is and she needs to delve deeper into what is real.

The themes on show in this film will not be new to sci-fi fans, 28 years have passed since the inception of this specific idea and the theme of worlds where technology is interfering with our humanity have been covered by many other films. Where this film excels though is in the style with which it portrays these themes. Set in a futuristic Japan featuring holographic images covering the city, robotically enhanced humans and futuristic tech, its overflowing with great imagery and interesting ideas.

Performance wise it is also strong. Johansson is very good at portraying a consciousness not quite comfortable in its skin. Pilou Asbaek as Major’s partner Batou is efficient at the gruff no-nonsense agent and it is great to see Takeshi “Beat” Katano on a cinema screen as the department head Aramaki.

Overall though, I’m not sure if my love of Anime (this specific anime at that), Beat Takeshi films (Sonatine and Hana-Bi) and Blade Runner casts a big shadow over the fact that I enjoyed this a lot. It might be a case of style over substance, but I think if you are a sci-fi fan you should see this film.

The Boss Baby

ho00004254When the Boss Baby arrives into Tim’s life, it is thrown upside down. His parents no longer give him all the attention he needs and he is pretty certain something is not quite right with a baby that wears a suit and can talk. Soon we find out that the Boss Baby is there to prevent the evil Francis Francis from taking love away from babies by manufacturing cute puppies. Although, of course, none of this is real. Tim has an active imagination and this is just his way of dealing with the situation at hand. It is no spoiler to let you know that here because the film informs you in its opening moments that this is all a flight of fancy. I think, ultimately your enjoyment of the film will be about how that premise sits with you. Did you truly want a Boss Baby?

On a positive note, the premise of dealing with how an older sibling deals with a new member of the family is good family fare, the small moments when we see real events juxtaposed with Tim’s imaginings are pretty funny but are hardly used and most importantly of all we have Alec Baldwin voicing the titular Boss Baby. Baldwin is great delivering his lines deadpan, I particularly liked a fleeting GlenGarry Glen Ross reference and his use of his per diem.

The negative side is that this is not an animated film that truly crosses over in terms of its audience. Young children will enjoy it lots, for its slapstick and baby in a suit antics, but adults are going to get bored very quickly. Maybe watch some episodes of 30 Rock instead?