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.

47 Metres Down

47-meters-down-2017-06Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are on holiday in Mexico when they decide to go on a daring dive in a cage to see sharks. When catastrophe strikes they find themselves 47 metres down at the bottom of the ocean, running out of air and fighting for survival.

This film owes a lot to the vastly superior “The Shallows” which came out last year, not just for its shark content but because this film was destined for a straight to DVD release before its success. But it can not match that films tension or pacing unfortunately. The set up feels straight from a soap opera. Sisters, who look nothing like each other, are on holiday in Mexico, one of whom has split up with her boyfriend because he thought her boring and is spurred into doing something dangerous to make him jealous. The fact that this is mentioned multiple times to get her into the cage feels like terrible motivation to move the plot forward. Once at the bottom of the ocean there are occasional jumps brought by the claustrophobic dark. In fact it is in these parts that it feels most inspired by another superior film, “The Descent”. Claustrophobic darkness and squeezing through gaps at the last moment to avoid sharks feeling remarkably similar to the potholing of that film.

All in all though, this 89 minutes feels far too predictable and pales in comparison to its peers.

Cars 3

cars-3-us-posterLightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returns for the third installment in the franchise with him now the old-timer threatened by a new rookie on the Piston Cup circuit, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). In his quest to find the speed he needs he revisits the life of his old mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) accompanied by his new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

Cars, for me, has always been the weakest Pixar offerings and unfortunately despite some nice touches and phenomenal looking animation this is no different.

Flipping the story from the first film is one of those touches, it is nice to see the themes brought full circle from McQueen being the rookie coming through the field to the veteran racer. But it does not really give the new rookie any screen time to be more than just a rude annoyance given that he disappears for the entire middle section of the film. Then we move on to McQueen’s new trainer Cruz, who gets a few establishing scenes and a crazy demolition derby before we move to Doc Hudson’s home town. Here we are treated to a bar scene where a band sings a Bruce Springsteen song (nice touch) and an underlining of Doc’s name being Hud, because of course he is voiced by Paul Newman who played Hud (sledgehammer subtle). This, like in the first film is where we have the moral centre of the film. Again, the echoing of the original is a nice touch and having Newman’s Hud pop up for flashbacks is great, although I am not sure about the moral standpoint. Newman died 9 years ago and all of his lines are cuttings from the original film. The ending will be a crushing disappointment to any adult watching as well, not because of how it ends, but because of the way we get to that moment.

But for all the underwhelming nature of the film, the moment the final race ended prompted my 6-year-old son to utter “Yes!” under his breath and that just proves that the target audience will be thrilled by what they see. It is just that unlike Toy Story, Up, Finding Nemo or the many other Pixar offerings out there, the adults in the room might just be thinking “finally!”

The Big Sick

the-big-sick-posterKumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling stand up comic who meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his gigs. Romance blossoms but Kumail’s Pakistani heritage and a sudden illness threaten to break them apart.

Kumail’s family want him to marry a Pakistani girl and constantly arrange awkward appointments at family meals for him to meet girls. But Kumail’s fear of telling his family about the white girl he is in love with creates a rift between him and Emily. And her sudden illness results in him having to bond with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) in hospital waiting rooms.

Where this film succeeds over so many other comedies right now is that it is a well scripted and well acted comedy with a rounded story. There is little to no ad-libbing on show here and every character feels fully realised. Even one of the many girls who has to awkwardly meet with him gets a moment to explain the difficulties attached.

Based on a true story, this is a remarkable romantic comedy that succeeds in being charming, funny and heartfelt. Written by the real life Kumail and Emily it also manages to accurately reflect cultural differences and the bond people have with family and country (thanks to Kumail’s amazing one man shows). Stay for the initial minute or so of the credits and you will be treated to some real family photos of the couple.

Dunkirk

ho00004397Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a masterpiece from a master film maker. As with Nolan’s other films as much as possible is kept under wraps until release date, something rare in a world filled with trailers for trailers when entire plots can be gleaned from the teasers leading up to the release of a film. But surely, we all know the story of Dunkirk? That may well be true, but where Nolan surprises constantly is the way the film is structured and the emotional impact wrought from the intensity of the build up.

The story unfolds across land, sea and air. One week on land, one day at sea and one hour in the air. All of those stories cut together with events seen from different perspectives. Nolan has proved he is a master of bending time and space before in Memento, Inception and Interstellar and he does it again here in such a way as to make events almost unbearably tense even when you know what is going to happen.

And whilst it will be already clear that this is a must watch movie, I want to underline how much this film should be seen in the cinema. Much is made of Nolan’s use of 65mm film and the larger image this provides, but the most outstanding technical achievement in this film is the sound design. You absolutely should watch this in an IMAX screen if possible, but just having the benefit of a cinema sound system is going to be a vitally important element to the experience. When enemy planes are bearing down on the troops it is the sound that has you gripping your arm rest. And when bullets start to fly it is the sound that have you jumping out of your seat.

Finally to the cast, all round excellent at portraying the gravity of their situations. Fionn Whitehead leads the story on land, a naive young man desperate to survive, Mark Rylance leads the story at sea as a diligent man prepared to do what must be done and Tom Hardy leads the story in the air as a stoic RAF pilot. And it is Hardy who I would single out for an exceptional performance, mostly told through his eyes.

An all round exceptional experience.