The Dark Tower

darktowerintl2Jake (Tom Taylor) has dreams of The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and their battle for the fate of The Dark Tower. A couple of lines of text at the beginning of the film inform us that the tower is important and that people say a mind of a child can destroy it. Aside from this, you won’t find much more out from the remaining 90 minutes.

Based on a series of Stephen King novels published between 1982 and 2004 The Dark Tower is meant to be a sweeping fantasy tale across King’s universe. This film feels barely finished and hollow. I actually remained in my seat as it finished stunned by what I had just seen. Despite four credited screen writers and a supposedly vast canvas to draw from the film literally explains nothing. Why does The Man in Black want to destroy the tower? What are gunslingers? Who are the weird henchmen with fake skin?

Aside from the massive pitfall of zero story, little else is good about the film. The special effects are decidedly ropey in places, McConaughey phones it in whilst looking ill, Taylor is wavering on the annoying child actor side of the scales and Elba is completely wasted with a fairly committed performance. And an end of credits sting is also baffling and seemingly pointless.

It actually seems as though they realised how badly it was going halfway through the creation of this film and just thought they would cut their losses, stop and release it anyway.

 

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

captain-underpants-new-posterSchool boy friends Harold and George love creating comic book stories and playing pranks on their teachers. Their nemesis, Head Teacher Mr. Krupp intends on spoiling their fun however and separating them at school. In a last-ditch effort to stop him, the boys hypnotise him into thinking he is their favourite comic creation, Captain Underpants!

Whilst having a fairly fun and round animated style and a few novel ideas to mix up the story telling (using the boys comics and addressing the camera directly whilst the action is frozen) this is not a film aimed anywhere else but the young members of the audience. The humour is rooted in farts and toilets and a grown man wearing pants after all.

As far as the youngsters are concerned though, there is a lot of fun to be had in some pratfalls and toilet humour.

Atomic Blonde

atomic_blonde_xlgMI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the death of a fellow agent and to retrieve a list of undercover operatives before it gets into the wrong hands. Unable to trust anyone in a world of secrets and double crosses she must navigate her way through the treacherous landscape

This is a film oozing style and filled with breathtaking action scenes. Agent Broughton is introduced to us in an ice bath, battered and bruised. She is an ice queen up until the moments she explodes into action, matching the Bourne’s and Wick’s of this world for inventive defense and clinical head shots. Atomic Blonde is directed by David Leitch, co director of the first John Wick and his history of stunt work and framing are on display here in spades. An action scene set on the stairs of an apartment block is frankly so good it makes this film worth watching on the strength of it alone. Seemingly one cut (it isn’t) we are thrown directly into the wince inducing action and see the consequences and pain first hand.

It is not just in the action sequences that the film impresses. The 80’s soundtrack fits perfectly, Theron’s outfits are exquisite and the supporting cast work well. James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella are Allied operatives also in Berlin whilst John Goodman and Toby Jones are the suits debriefing Broughton in a flashback structure. None of whom feel completely trustworthy as befitting a Cold War film.

So far so good, but there is a flaw. The actual plot and reason for being there is rather weak. The list of names plot device feels pulled from the original Mission Impossible and unlike in that film there never seems to be too much peril about what would happen should it fall in the wrong hands. So whilst the reason for us being in Berlin never feels totally gripping, everything else is.

Style over substance maybe, but what style!

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

hit-body-poster-smallDown on his luck Executive Protection Agent Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) gets a chance at redemption when he is offered the task of shepherding the world’s greatest hit man Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) to the Hague to testify at the International Court of Justice. These two have history, but can they get along to get to the court on time?

This is a film that seems to wear its generic nature as a badge of honour. The plot and casting tell us exactly what we are going to get. Ryan Reynolds is fantastic at playing dead pan world weary sarcasm, so lets get him to do that. Samuel L. Jackson is great at swearing and being a bad ass, so lets have him do that. We can even do that with the supporting roles. Gary Oldman is a good villain and even better as an eastern bloc dictator. Salma Hayek is a bombshell who can handle herself in a fight. And if you need a shifty mole why not get Joaquim de Almeida? On to the story line then, we have an against the clock race to get an ostensibly bad person to a court to testify against a really evil person. That race against the clock will be fraught with moles, protagonists that do not like each other setting aside their differences and learning from each other and lots of car chases and shoot outs.

So, is all of that a problem? Yes and no. If you go in knowing what to expect then that will help a lot. But it is still going to grate during the 2 hour running time. There are some amusing moments and some jokes that really fall flat (Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson singing in a car is not fun) and there are some decent chase sequences and shoot outs.

Entertaining enough, but also painfully generic.

Detroit

ho00004733Set during the race riots in Detroit 1967, this searingly powerful film shows us what started the riots, before focusing in on the events at The Algiers Motel that left 3 people dead and the impact they had on the lives of those involved.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are on quite a hot streak right now. The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and now Detroit. Films synonymous with the words “powerful” and “gripping”. Films full of stunning performances that absolutely must be watched.

Opening with an excellent animated sequence explaining racial migrations and tensions in America leading up to the 1967 riots, we then see the raid that acted as the spark to the riots. The film expertly blends archive footage of the real events to give us the scale of the rioting and how long it has been happening for before focusing in on a group of characters who will find themselves at the Algiers motel. The police officers, security guards, national guards and innocent bystanders all get scenes to establish their motives and feelings towards the events unfolding. Once this has happened Bigelow puts us straight into the pressure cooker of the Motel. Tension builds to an almost impossible level and you will be astonished that human cruelty can be as deep-seated and racism as institutionalised as it was only 50 years ago. Most importantly though, this film does not just stop when morning comes. We get to see the impact of those events on people’s lives and what punishments were meted out to those responsible.

Acting performances are universally excellent. John Boyega is a security guard trying to calm things down, Anthony Mackie a veteran returning from one war zone to another, Will Poulter the racist cop who instigates the violence. But standing out from the crowd is Algee Smith as a singer, terrorised by the events to the point that he would never be the same.

A stunningly powerful film that should be a warning about police brutality that we see in the news today.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

ho00004402Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delavingne) are elite operatives given the important task of recovering the last of its species from black market dealers, only to find themselves embroiled in a mystery about the destruction of a planet and the future of an entire species in this spectacular looking science fiction romp. Unfortunately whilst it excels in visual flourishes there are a number of issues that stymie your enjoyment.

Knowing that this is written and directed by Luc Besson might put you someway towards understanding the tone and look of this film. I will admit up front that the only one of his films that I enjoy and return to is Leon. I am no fan of his other films, including The Fifth Element, which this is a spiritual successor to, right down to hiring a model as the female lead who can not act.

So lets talk about what is great about this film, the visuals and vast science fiction world. This film is utterly breathtaking to look at. Truly alien worlds, varied alien races and great ideas. The largest market in the world which can only be seen through special equipment as it is in another dimension, a space station that has grown from small beginnings to a bustling metropolis and memory eating jellyfish! And as far as acting honours go, whilst slim pickings I have to pick out Ethan Hawke in an utterly brilliant but very small cameo as a sleazy club owner.

The problem is that all of the above can be outweighed quite significantly by the fact that the plot is essentially a very basic skeleton to propel us between set pieces. And those set pieces are not diverting enough to stop you realising how boring the whole thing is. One of the key reasons it is so dull is because of our lead actors, who seem badly miscast. We are supposed to believe they are completely madly in love but there is no chemistry and we are supposed to believe they are elite soldiers but there is no evidence. Dane DeHaan is a good actor, but he is not a charismatic crack soldier. Cara Delavingne is better than she was in Suicide Squad but still seems to be learning how to act and at times is incredibly wooden. As with Paper Towns, her breakout film, she is cast as “the woman a man would become obsessed with” but simply comes across as “a bit aloof”.

I also have to say a word about Rihanna, playing a shape shifting alien called bubble. Almost out acting the leads she gets to play every male fantasy role in a bravura sequence where she shifts between maid, schoolgirl, catwoman and more in a sleazy club. A role that sums up the film, stunning to watch but serving no purpose to plot.