Miss Sloane

ho00004196Elizabeth Sloane is a powerful lobbyist in Washington D.C. When asked to lobby against a gun bill by her employer, not only does she laugh in their faces, she moves to the opposite side to lobby in favour of the bill.

Dramatic touchstones for Miss Sloane would be the political thriller Michael Clayton and the Aaron Sorkin television series The Newsroom. It features political intrigue, the sleazy underbelly of Washington, an incredibly driven lead character who thinks ten steps ahead and many speeches about what is right. Overall the plot is one that whilst set in the real world, there are contrivances that allow a dramatic discussion to be had about different facets of the argument. Something you would be used to from The Newsroom, which incidentally shares two of its cast members with this film in Sam Waterston and Alison Pill. If this dramatic license can be stomached then you will be treated to a phenomenal performance from Jessica Chastain.

In fact, Chastain’s performance is so good I would argue you should watch this film regardless of any other reservations. Commanding nearly every scene with steely determination she is a force of nature and whilst Oscar nominations rarely seem to include films released at this time of year I would be surprised not to see her feature next year.

Alien: Covenant

img_20170323_0950491The crew of the Covenant are on a terraforming expedition when a freak solar flare awakens them 7 years too soon. Whilst repairing the ship they encounter a rogue transmission that lures them to another planet that seems even more perfect than their original destination, but when they arrive they find David (Michael Fassbender), the only survivor of the Prometheus mission and perils they could not imagine.

For Ridley Scott’s second Alien prequel following Prometheus, it is clear that complaints about that film have been listened to. The horror quotient has risen dramatically whilst still retaining a heavy science fiction slant in relation to the musings of creation and how we came to be. Covenant is clearly trying to be the middle ground between Prometheus and Alien. Interestingly there are also some direct attempts to resolve complaints about Prometheus, most of which I will not go into for fear of spoilers. A key one I can talk about, as it is the opening scene of the film is that we see Guy Pearce again as the young Dr Weyland. This is how it was always intended to see him, but some scenes were left unfilmed and a TED talk from Weyland was only ever as additional scene rather than part of the movie. But Scott has still perplexingly left out a scene that was openly released featuring the whole crew bonding before they set off on their mission, in fact I am using it as the feature image for this review. Look closely and you will see an actor who suffers the same fate as Guy Pearce in Prometheus.

As a fan of Prometheus I hope that these olive branches are enough to bring those disgruntled by the unexplained back into the fold, because this is a fantastic film. As with all Scott films it is incredible to look at and it features many Alien tropes that most people now know and love. An expendable crew, a bumpy journey to the surface, aliens bursting from people and robots which may or may not be trustworthy. In fact this time we have two performances from Michael Fassbender to revel in as he plays both David and Walter, the Covenants assigned robot. This time we also have a much more fleshed out crew with three key protagonists; Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, the strong female lead all Alien films need, Billy Crudup plays Oram, a man of faith who finds himself in charge of the Covenant and Danny McBride is Tennessee, the cowboy hat wearing pilot.

Overall I felt the film does an excellent job, it is at times gruesome and scary and in others deep and meaningful. Lets hope that Scott gets to complete his Alien prequels and complete the story.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

king-arthur-legend-of-the-sword-uk-posterGuy Ritchie’s take on the Arthurian legend is one filled with classic geezer bravado and filled to the brim with scenes cutting together the explanation of an event and the actual event. So you will instantly know if you are not a Ritchie cinephile that you will spend the majority of this film wincing, because Arthur is quite keen on getting the “lads” together and calling people “sugartits”.

The story itself is somewhat different to how I remember it, a prologue sets the scene of a war between Mage and Man that Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) wins, before a coup results in him sending his infant son down the river before he is murdered. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up on the streets and in a brothel, and as is par for the course for a Ritchie film, fights in slow motion, occasionally with no shirt. King Vortigen (Jude Law) now rules with an iron fist but the rumour of the born king buoys the people’s hopes.

I’m generally a Ritchie fan, in fact his most recent film, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is genuinely brilliant. But this never quite gets going. Hunnam is good as the charismatic rogue king and Law clearly watched Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham when deciding to be an over the top villain. But then there is the bad, the over use of CGI in the opening and final battles (don’t watch in 3D where you will struggle to see in the mirk), an utterly horrendous stunt cameo for David Beckham in a crucial scene (at least in U.N.C.L.E. he was blink and you miss it), the slightly muddled role of mages in this world and if I’m honest a bit too much quintessential Guy Ritchie. After all, you don’t need every scene to be intercut with someone explaining/planning it.

And then Hunnam or Law will bring a smile to your face by being so damn charismatic or hammy and all is forgiven.

Sleepless

mv5bnjewmdayotm4ov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzc4mjmymdi-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Las Vegas undercover cop Vincent (Jamie Foxx) tries to get his kidnapped son back after he is involved in the theft of 25kg of cocaine.

It would be simple enough just to advise this was reprehensible in every way, but I’ll endeavour to give a few examples. Firstly, every single character is a cliche, we have not one, but two cops who don’t play by the rules here. Michelle Monaghan’s character is introduced by way of her refusing to speak to the appointed psychologist after getting assaulted on the job! Secondly, Vincent repeatedly informs everyone he’s actually a good guy, despite everything he does advising contrary. Thirdly, zero police investigative work takes place, everyone shows up at a casino and runs around it fighting and shooting. Fourthly, nothing the villains do make logical sense, seemingly unsure if they want to recover the drugs or kill the only people who can help them do this. Finally, from a technical standpoint the film appears to have been shot with zero lighting and features choppy editing during action scenes, all making for a 95 minute movie feel much longer.

To make it all worse, it ends with blatant sequel bait, but I can’t imagine this will be Jamie Foxx’s Taken or John Wick.

 

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.