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If this is to be five films, they simply have to improve on this effort
It's been five years since we said goodbye to Harry Potter and the wizarding world in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. With the way Hollywood is now, I'm surprised it's taken Warner Bros. five years to return to one of their most lucrative properties to see if they can bleed it dry.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a film based on a textbook written by J. K. Rowling within the Harry Potter universe. The textbook is one written by Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and is pretty much an encyclopaedia of creatures that he's documented on his travels throughout the wizarding world.
When Newt arrives in 1926 New York, he does so carrying a suitcase full of magical creatures. After a mix up with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt loses the case and as a result, a number of the creatures escape and run amok in New York. While trying to track down the escaped creatures, Newt must evade the clutches of Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), an Auror working for MACUSA (The Magical Congress of the United States of America), trying to protect the wizarding world from human discovery.
It's definitely fun returning to the wizarding world and Rowling has written an entertaining enough story however, my problems with Fantastic Beasts lie with the fact that there is barely any introduction given to this time and setting in the wizarding world. It was something that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone did so well, laying the foundations for the rest of the series however, that was the world of Hogwarts and this an entirely new setting.
We're just thrown into this story with Newt tracking down the creatures and nothing else that happens around this main story is explained very well at all. It's certainly an adventure that is fun to watch but I felt the setting needed a bit more depth, considering this is going to be a series of five films. Don't even get me started on the finale of this film, which becomes a ball of confusion thanks to an unexplained revelation and an incoherent set-piece involving a rampant black cloud (known as an Obscurus).
Which leads me to the special effects on show in this film, which for the most part are very good. The majority of the creatures are well designed and brought to life through wonderful effects, even if they aren't all that fantastic. In places though the CGI looked a tad messy, particularly in the finale I've mentioned previously.
Unlike the Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts doesn't have the likable characters to lead the film. The performances are good enough but the characters were a little lacklustre. Newt Scamander is a pretty weak lead character for a start and Eddie Redmayne doesn't really do enough to make you like him, leaving this as a Redmayne performance somewhere between the heights of The Theory of Everything and the very low depths of Jupiter Ascending. Dan Fogler's effort as the comic relief of the film is admirable but he doesn't do much else other than make weird faces and noises.
Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol play a pair of sisters who Newt meets during his time in New York but I can't help but feel Waterston is massively wasted in a very limited role, as is Colin Farrell as the mysterious Graves. Much has been made of Johnny Depp's casting announcement in this series and his appearance here leaves me fearing the worst for the rest of these films.
Warner Bros. initially announced Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as the start of a new trilogy, which more recently became a pentalogy. While there is certainly enough fun to be had with this film, the films simply have to get better if they are to standalone from the Harry Potter films.
Doctor Strange (2016)
People who claim each MCU film is exactly the same must be blind...
With the arrival of Doctor Strange, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now consists of fourteen films, a franchise that has introduced us to a number of iconic characters who have occupied the pages of comic books for many years, turning Marvel Studios into a box-office behemoth in the process.
The continuing expansion of the MCU is something that each film has to keep in consideration but, while introducing new characters at this stage in a franchise, it's important that these films feel fresh. Doctor Strange does very well in introducing a character I'm not too familiar with, taking time to explore his origin story and becoming one of the most different offerings within the MCU.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the world's leading neurosurgeons who, after a major car accident, is forced to give up his career due to severe injuries sustained to his hands. After hearing of a potential cure, Strange sets off on a journey of healing to meet the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).
Strange's journey takes him to Kamar-Taj, where he discovers the mystic arts. Trained how to use them and taught about the purpose he can serve, Strange takes a path that will change his life forever.
As I've mentioned before, I'm not all too familiar with the character of Doctor Strange in comparison to the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man or Captain America. That worked massively in favour of the film as I was interested to see how a character like this would fit into the MCU and excited to see something new altogether within the franchise.
Scott Derrickson really has done a great job in making a film that offers that something new while feeling right at home within the MCU at the same time. The exploration of the mystic arts is big enough but Derrickson juggles that with Strange's origin story to make sure this is a hero we want to root for. Derrickson's film flows at a steady pace and features some of the better humour we've seen in the MCU so far.
It's no surprise that a Marvel film possesses impressive special effects however, when you see what they achieve with the effects in Doctor Strange, you can only be even more impressed with them. Watching Strange learn the secrets of the mystic arts gets pretty psychedelic at times while the action sequences, including a landscape shifting chase through New York, are quite breathtaking.
Coming to the performances, Doctor Strange features a lead in Benedict Cumberbatch that proves, once again, Marvel have got the casting for one of their heroes spot on again. We know Cumberbatch can pull off the arrogance as we've seen him do it as Sherlock Holmes and he does it so well as Doctor Strange, both during his time as a surgeon and sorcerer. It's a trait that makes him a bit difficult to take to but then it's great to see the character earn the respect of the audience as the film goes on.
Cumberbatch is joined by a mightily impressive supporting cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen. There's been a bit of controversy surrounding the casting of Swinton in the role of the Ancient One, a problem seen quite often in Hollywood unfortunately, but there's no denying Swinton gives one of the best performances in Doctor Strange. I really enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor's take on Karl Mordo and I'm intrigued the direction his character will take in future instalments.
It's the misusage of McAdams and Mikkelsen that leaves a bit of a sour taste, McAdams rather terribly pushed aside to the role of girlfriend while Mikkelsen falls under the curse of weak and underwritten Marvel villain. It's a problem Marvel have really struggled with throughout the MCU with Loki and Ultron being the only stand-out villains. Two memorable villains across fourteen films isn't really good enough though. I mean, McAdams and Mikkelsen both do there best with the limited material they're given but it's a real shame that it has to happen.
As always with Marvel, there's two extra scenes throughout the end credits that tease future projects and it's the one in the middle of the end credits that left me pumped for a particular sequel coming out next year. It also felt like a great subtle nod to Sherlock Holmes, who Cumberbatch has played before. Thanks to a very good introduction to the Sorcerer Supreme, I can't wait to see how he's going to interact with the likes of Tony Stark and Star-Lord when we get to that point in a couple of years.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
I find it very surprising that, in a career that has lasted nearly forty years and with all the popular films he's had, Jack Reacher is only the second character that Tom Cruise has returned to play in a sequel. Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise is the other so it speaks volumes of how much Cruise likes playing this character.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former Major in the Army, is returning to the headquarters of his old military unit to meet Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has helped him solve a few cases in the past, when he begins to uncover a conspiracy theory that has seen Turner thrown in jail.
Together the pair must go on the run and clear their names however, a potential secret from Reacher's past threatens to put them in even more danger.
I really enjoyed Jack Reacher so I was naturally looking forward to this sequel. It's a great shame then that Jack Reacher: Never Go Back fails to recapture what made the first film so good. The first film did the subtle comedy very well but this sequel just takes itself way too seriously. Maybe it's down to the fact Edward Zwick directed this one and he hasn't really made too many comedies in the past.
There are attempts at humour but they don't really work too well. The film deals with a murder case, similar to its predecessor, but the tone of the film feels all too serious. The fight scenes in the first film had the humour that made them so entertaining but there isn't really any of that here. In fact, the action sequences in Never Go Back are sporadically edited, making it near impossible to tell who is who at times.
The commitment Tom Cruise has towards his films is admirable but even he fails to spark life into the uninspired story and script. Cobie Smulders manages to hold her own against Cruise in a male dominated genre but she does get quite irritating by the film's conclusion, as does Danika Yarosh, whose part I won't discuss in case people want to go in without knowing.
With a number of Lee Childs' novels to adapt, we could see more Jack Reacher films in the future. If that is the case, I really hope it mirrors the Mission: Impossible franchise in the way that the second film is by far the worst and they only get better from here.
Good enough but it should have been much better
Oliver Stone has made a number of biographical dramas over the years, bringing us films such as The Doors, Nixon and W., as well as dramas based on events in American history such as JFK and World Trade Centre. With Snowden, Stone tells the story of one of the biggest National Security leaks in American history.
Stone's film chronicles the life of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), from when he joined the CIA in 2004 up until 2013, when he leaked classified information regarding the illegal surveillance of American citizens to journalists working for The Guardian newspaper.
Snowden struggles with the morality of techniques he's asked to deploy while working for both the CIA and NSA, while also struggling to juggle those pressures with maintaining a stable relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).
Snowden is by no means a bad film but I just couldn't help but feel that it should have been better. This is a film about one of the most important government leaks of all time but the film almost feels as if it's trying to play it all down.
I think it's the pacing and the similarity between a lot of the scenes in the film that make it drag a little when it would have worked so much better as a fast-paced drama filled with urgency. The film works best when we see Snowden and the three journalists holed-up inside a Hong Kong hotel room discussing how they can get the story out before they're found by the American government, but we don't get enough of that.
Coming to the performances, Snowden possesses a very good lead in Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's one of my favourite actors and it's so good to see him to continue to work with some of the biggest directors. Shailene Woodley heads the supporting cast as Snowden's love interest Lindsay and she does a fine job but my favourite supporting cast member was Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists Snowden meets with, which is probably why I wanted there to be more scenes in that hotel room.
One of the worst decisions made by Oliver Stone was to have Edward Snowden himself appear in the film right at the very end. Sure, have photos and clips of him during the end credits but when Gordon-Levitt has played the man for 99% of the film, it just took me out of the film a fair bit. It didn't really fit for me.
Snowden rather feels like a bit of a missed opportunity when I think about it. It just felt all too Hollywood.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
This devilishly stylish thriller left me in a trance
Nocturnal Animals is a dark and devilishly stylish thriller from Tom Ford, who knows a thing or two about style having worked as creative director for both Gucci and Yves Saint Lauren in the past. It could have been in danger of being a case of style over substance however, Ford's perfectionism makes this one of the most powerful films I've seen all year.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art gallery owner who spends most of her life at home alone, with her husband often out of town on business. When Susan receives a manuscript to a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), she finds herself immediately engrossed.
As Susan continues to read the novel, she has flashbacks to how her relationship with Edward broke down as well as thoughts that the violent thriller is a veiled threat against her from Edward.
I didn't know what to expect from Nocturnal Animals as I hadn't seen any trailers and Ford's film ended up blowing me away. The way Ford tells the story showcases how inventive and powerful he is as a filmmaker, the narratives of both Susan's life and Edward's novel combining brilliantly and leaving me in a trance like state.
Edward's novel provides the film with its dark soul, the story of Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family who run into trouble when travelling through the night on the road to their country home. It's pretty heavy stuff but it plays an essential part in making this such powerful viewing.
This is a gorgeous film to look at as well, Seamus McGarvey's cinematography echoing the story's bleakness and the brutality of Edward's supposed veiled threat to Susan. The combination of the visuals with Abel Korzeniowski's dream-like score heightens the sense of escapism felt by Susan as she reads Edward's novel.
Coming to the performances, Nocturnal Animals features a very impressive ensemble cast all at the top of their game. Amy Adams yet again proves why she's one of the most versatile actresses with a performance that combines the assurance of an art gallery owner with the vulnerability of someone who knows they've made mistakes in their past. With this and Arrival out in the coming months, expect to see Adams get some form of recognition come the awards season, maybe for both.
Adams is joined by Jake Gyllenhaal, who takes on dual roles yet again for this film. Gyllenhaal has really grown as an actor, particularly in the last five years, and its great to see him continue that in Nocturnal Animals, more notably in the role of Tony Hastings, a creation of his other character Edward.
The rest of the cast features a scene stealing Michael Shannon, who I've really grown to appreciate these last few years, a career best performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is truly vile as the villainous Ray, and Laura Linney who, even in the short space of time we see her, makes one hell of an impact.
I cannot speak highly enough of Nocturnal Animals, a stylish thriller that has more than enough substance to it. I will definitely be checking out Tom Ford's A Single Man after this and I sure as hell hope we see more work from Ford in the future.
This generation's Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The mystery of the unknown is something that doesn't get explored enough within science fiction. Too often we see science fiction films, particularly involving aliens, that are only interested with how we, as a species, would fight back against them.
Every now and then however, we get a film like Denis Villeneuve's Arrival that comes along and offers something totally different. The film uses its tagline "Why are they here?" quite literally to deliver one of the most fascinating films you will see all year.
Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is one of the world's leading linguists, who gets recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications. Along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise attempts to get answers as to why twelve alien spacecrafts have landed at different locations around the world.
I had only seen three of Denis Villeneuve's previous films before yet I have been impressed with the diversity of his films, a trend he continues with Arrival. What I really admire about Villeneuve as a filmmaker is the choice he makes to not spoon feed the audience with every single piece of information. He instead makes films to challenge the audience, leaving them to either complete the puzzle themselves or question the morality of his characters.
With Arrival, Villeneuve has crafted a truly thought provoking science fiction film, telling the story in a slow yet masterful manner, leading to a beautiful pay off. The theme of communication resonates massively with the world today, the moment communication between twelve countries via satellite link breaks down summing it up quite suitably.
Villeneuve's storytelling is aided by some superb cinematography from Bradford Young and a haunting score from Jóhann Jóhannsson. Young's cinematography captures the sense of wonder perfectly while Jóhannsson's score heightens the sense of mystery surrounding the alien visitors and their intentions.
Coming to the performances, Arrival features a real emotional heartbeat thanks to a fantastic performance from the always dependable Amy Adams, who conveys such a wide range of emotions as Louise, growing in confidence with each session she gets with the visitors. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker offer some fine support for Adams but there is no doubting this film belongs to her.
Arrival is one of the best films of the year and a really great example of science fiction filmmaking from Denis Villeneuve, who is perfectly suited to bring us the sequel to Blade Runner next year. I would happily put this film in the same league as something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of the all time greats of sci-fi.
Bleed for This (2016)
Miles Teller is fantastic in this inspirational comeback of all comebacks
When it comes to film, there is no other sport that has delivered such powerful and emotional dramas on the big screen as boxing. It's the personal drama they delve into that makes them so relatable to audiences. That's not to say we've all climbed the Rocky Steps or assaulted family members as a result of paranoia though.
Many have been based on true stories and that is certainly the case with Bleed For This, a film based on the astonishingly courageous real life experiences of Vinny Pazienza.
Played by Miles Teller, Pazienza was a World Champion Boxer who was left not knowing whether he'd be able to walk again after a near fatal car accident caused severe spinal damage. Rather than let it defeat him, Pazienza aimed to get back in the ring, setting in motion one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
The biggest draw of Bleed For This are its performances, particularly the knock-out lead one given by Miles Teller, one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood today. Teller never loses the cockiness of Pazienza, even when he faces a life without boxing, turning him into such a remarkable character.
I really enjoyed the pairing of Teller and Aaron Eckhart as his trainer, Kevin Rooney. Eckhart hasn't really had much to shout about in recent years but I do think he's a good actor, showcasing it here with a good performance. Ciarán Hinds and Katey Sagal deliver fine performances as Vinny's mother and father, taking me a while to realise it was even them with the change in appearance.
The best boxing films are the ones that focus more on the goings on outside of the ring than inside it, and that's where Ben Younger gets it right with Bleed For This. Yes, a big part of the story is Vinny wanting to get back in the ring but Younger chooses to focus on the man himself and how driven an individual he was to get back to his best in the ring.
Younger also delivers some energetic boxing sequences, using quick edits and excellent sound mixing to almost feel like you're taking the punches at times. The brutality of the sport is wince- inducing at times so the film does warrant its rating however, the moment that had everyone wincing was when Vinny has the screws taken out of his head after six months of wearing the halo designed to help his neck recover. It's a moment that perfectly captures the severity of Vinny's accident as well as the aforementioned cockiness, Teller playing it for laughs.
If you're a fan of boxing films, Bleed For This is a film you will want to see. Don't dismiss it entirely if you aren't a big fan of boxing films because there is plenty to admire in this portrayal of one of the most inspirational comebacks in sporting history.
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Thriller that serves up a real mystery
We've all experienced the same monotonous train commute to work in our lives at some point. You go by the same places and see the same faces each and every day. None of us have quite had a commute that changes our lives quite like Rachel Watson in The Girl on the Train though.
Emily Blunt stars as Rachel Watson, an alcoholic divorcée who takes the same train to work each day. On her journey, Rachel fantasises about the relationship of Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), who live a few doors down from her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
Rachel's unstable state leads her on a downward spiral that sees her embroiled in a missing persons investigation that will change her life forever.
Based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a mystery thriller that reminded me of David Fincher's Gone Girl, which is not a bad thing at all. Now, while I don't think this is a better film than Gone Girl, I do think it serves up a worthy mystery that kept me guessing right up until the twist/reveal later on in the story.
The narrative is told from the point of view of the three main female characters; Rachel, Anna and Megan. It could have easily become quite convoluted and messy yet Erin Cressida Wilson's screenplay allows things to move along smoothly and without any confusion.
A lot of my hopes for this film were depending on the twist/reveal that would undoubtedly arrive in a mystery like this. Thankfully I can say that it was very well done and actually offered something totally different to what I was expecting. Yes, it gets a little far-fetched in the final act but if you go with it, The Girl on the Train really is a suspenseful watch.
Coming to the performances, The Girl on the Train features a great lead performance from Emily Blunt and a solid supporting cast, Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson jumping on the paranoia train with Emily Blunt to great effect.
So, if you're a fan of either mysteries or thrillers, The Girl on the Train will be a journey you want to go on. If not, best to wait at the platform for the next train.
La La Land (2016)
You'll be toe-tapping from start to finish
You know when you're watching a film that you just don't want to end, and when it does end you feel as if you could watch it all over again right there and then? I had that feeling with La La Land, the new film from Damien Chazelle, who blew us all away with Whiplash a few years ago.
With La La Land, Chazelle has made an irresistible musical comedy-drama that serves up a real delight for the eyes and ears. If you haven't heard of this film yet (where have you been?), I'm sure you will do in the coming months.
Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress serving coffees to film stars while Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist playing a small time bar to make ends meet. The two meet and fall in love but it's their dreams of success that soon threaten to tear them apart.
The most striking thing about La La Land is just how beautifully crafted a film it is; the story, performances, music, dance numbers and cinematography all playing their part in making this such an unforgettable cinematic experience. I genuinely can't find one single fault in this film.
Chazelle proves yet again just how mature he is for such a young filmmaker, writing and directing such a touching and often funny love story with a meticulous energy. The whole feel of the film is a throwback to the golden age of musicals, a decision a lot of filmmakers would have been too scared to make yet the pay off is massively satisfying.
The gorgeous cinematography from Linus Sandgren brings the city of Los Angeles to life, awash with colour, while his swift camera-work, including some impressive long takes, in particular through the dance numbers, immerses the audience right in the middle of this dreamlike musical.
Coming to the performances, La La Land features two superb lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both giving arguably their best performance to date. Gosling has really grown on me as an actor, maturing into one of the best in the business today. He proved earlier this year that he has a knack for comedy in The Nice Guys and he proves it yet again here. Stone always manages to impress me and she is dazzling in La La Land, singing and dancing her way into our hearts. The pair share an undeniable chemistry and I would love to see them both get the recognition they deserve come awards season.
Justin Hurwitz's score and the original songs in La La Land, along with the wonderfully choreographed dance sequences, including a great opening number that sets the tone for the rest of the film, heighten the film's level of originality, maintaining that energy Chapelle's films possess.
I dare you to try and not fall in love with La La Land. I fell in love with it and I'm sure many more will do so too.
Whatever happened to Tim Burton?!
Tim Burton strikes me as a pretty peculiar man so he was the right fit for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a film based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs. Burton has disappointed me recently and I haven't really enjoyed one of his films since Sleepy Hollow back in 1999.
Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is a boy who doesn't really have anyone close to him, except for his grandfather. When tragedy strikes at home and Jake is left feeling more alone than ever, he goes on a journey to Wales to find out if there was any truth to the fairy tales he was told by his grandfather as a child.
Stumbling across Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, that his grandfather visited regularly when fighting in the war, Jake soon meets its inhabitants and Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) herself. Hearing her speak of the danger the the children could be in, Jake makes a connection between that danger and the cause of the tragedy at home.
This is very much a family film however, where I think it will lose both adult and child audience members is the fact that it really is quite a boring story told in such a dull way. Tim Burton has made fantasy films before but there is no sense of awe or wonder as there was in something like Edward Scissorhands.
The screenplay from Jane Goldman is massively disappointing considering the work she's done on the likes of Kick-Ass and Kingsman in recent years. I enjoyed some of the film but for large parts I was bored thanks to some incredibly drab characters.
The film certainly has a visual appeal but even that was ruined by a final act that descended into utter stupidity. Up until then, I thought the effects were really quite good. Then came the moment a crew of skeletons fend off the enemy creatures from the children. All I will say is that the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts looked better.
Coming to the performances, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children makes a massive error in having Asa Butterfield in the lead role. He hasn't done much of note in his career so far and I just found him so bland in this film. Samuel L. Jackson's villainous turn is just laughable but the film's biggest crime was not having enough Eva Green, an actress who would have done the film a massive favour.
The use of time travel is something that hindered the film for me as well. Events towards the end don't get explained very well at all, leading to utter confusion as the film drew to a close. I'm sure I won't be the only one who thought so. Overall, this is just a totally forgettable film from Tim Burton.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
It's not a masterpiece but it's still worth your time
I'm not the first to say this and I sure as hell won't be the last when I say that Swiss Army Man is easily one of the most out there films I have, and will likely, ever see. This is a film that has to be seen to be believed because no amount of words can do justice to the quite fascinating example of original cinema that Swiss Army Man is.
Hank (Paul Dano) is a man who's been stranded on deserted island for a while and has only one thought left on his mind; suicide. That is until he comes across a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on the shore. After learning that the corpse possesses a number of attributes that could help him survive, Hank and the corpse go on a surreal journey to get home.
On paper, Swiss Army Man is a film that really shouldn't work yet, thanks to the creative minds of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, it's a film that explores the theme of loneliness in such an admirable way, becoming one of 2016's most infectious films to date.
The comedic elements combine very well with the sentimental nature of the film, hard to think when you hear that a film about a man contemplating suicide also features a corpse with incessant flatulence and the ability to use an erection as a compass. You either go with it and enjoy the film or find it too obscure and most likely end up hating it.
Coming to the performances, Swiss Army Man features not one, but two fantastic lead performances from both Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Dano is an actor who continues to impress me with each performance, feeling like one of the most underrated actors working today in my opinion while doing so. Then there's Radcliffe, an actor who continues to break away from his Harry Potter days with each and every film. With this and Imperium out in 2016, Radcliffe has certainly shown a willingness for diversity in his career and he's fascinating to watch in Swiss Army Man.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead's final line of "What the f**k?" is one that perfectly sums up the bizarre yet joyously entertaining Swiss Army Man. Just think if Quentin Tarantino had made Cast Away, it would end up like this.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Very good disaster movie that highlights both bravery and helplessness
It wasn't until the credits started to roll at the end of Deepwater Horizon that I realised just how severe this disaster actually was. I mean, the above poster shows just a glimpse of the devastation caused by an explosion and subsequent fire on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig around 40 miles southeast off the Louisiana coast.
As a result, an oil spill that released an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico lasted for 87 days and went down as the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Not only that but eleven workers on the rig died trying to get to safety from such a powerful environmental occurrence.
Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon follows the crew on that infamous day; firstly as they debate with BP executives over the stability of the rig and then as they try to survive the inferno.
Like his last film, Lone Survivor, Peter Berg tells the story of a real life event with a huge amount of respect for the people that were caught up in it all. Once again, Berg has teamed up with Mark Wahlberg and it's no coincidence that Wahlberg gives his best performance since he last worked with Berg. The two will work together again in Patriots Day, a film about the Boston Marathon bombing, and if they stick to the trend of their collaborative relationship, we should be in for another very good film.
Wahlberg is joined by a pretty impressive ensemble cast that includes Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Dylan O'Brien and Kate Hudson. It's Malkovich who stands out as the detestable BP executive hell bent on getting the crew to drill for oil, even with the signs of an unstable rig.
The film is well made and ends up being pretty spectacular when it gets going however, what Berg does best is the tension he creates as the disaster draws ever closer. You feel the presence of the oil blowout as this unstoppable monster that brings with it an extreme wrath of fire.
As he did with Lone Survivor, Berg closes the film out with photos of those lost in the events that have unfolded to give the film a real sense of respect and honour. Maybe it's just me but I found it pretty disrespectful for people to be leaving the cinema as these showed on screen. Do you really need to get to your car that quick?
Deepwater Horizon isn't trying to show off at all, as it probably would do if Michael Bay was at the helm. Instead, it's a film that does well to depict the desperation and bravery of those on board the Deepwater Horizon oil rig during a time of helplessness against such a force of nature.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Welcome back Mr Gibson
When thinking about war films, it's very hard not to go straight to the classics such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Saving Private Ryan. You have to make something very special to be mentioned in the same sentence as films like those and in Hacksaw Ridge, I think Mel Gibson has made one of the all time great war films.
Some war films use a particular war from history to tell a fictional story, all three of the above for example however, a war film for me becomes something else entirely when it tells a true story, especially one as remarkable as the story that Hacksaw Ridge is based on.
Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honour even though he refused to kill or even carry a rifle while serving as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Doss' phenomenal story of courage saw him single-handedly save the lives of over 75 of his comrades while under constant enemy fire.
Hacksaw Ridge is very much a film of two halves; the first introducing us to Doss, exploring both his personal life and his motivations for choosing to become a Conscientious Objector and serve as a medic, the second depicting the Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge, the site of one of the bravest human feats in history. Both tell the story of the determined individual that Doss was and Mel Gibson does a wonderful job in directing the film.
Gibson has attracted a lot of bad press over the years but there is no denying that he is a good director, and in Hacksaw Ridge, he may just have made his best film yet. It's the emotional power of the story that Gibson taps into so successfully that makes Hacksaw Ridge such compelling viewing, whether it be Doss' arduous journey through combat training or the visceral war sequences. I was an emotional wreck as the credits started to roll.
Speaking of war sequences, Hacksaw Ridge possesses some of the most brutal and harrowing you'll ever see, reminiscent of the opening to Saving Private Ryan. Due to the fact that Doss served as a medic, there are parts where a strong stomach is needed as he obviously has to tend to a number of seriously wounded soldiers. The relentlessness of the sequences is admirable from Gibson and they're wonderfully shot by Simon Duggan.
Coming to the performances, Hacksaw Ridge features an amazing lead performance from Andrew Garfield, who wanted to move away from his days as Spider-Man with a chance to play such an inspiring real life hero. I thought Garfield was always one of the best things about the Amazing Spider-Man films but it's great to see him really grow as an actor. His performance as Doss is one of the best of the year and I would love to see him get some form of recognition come awards season.
The supporting cast threw me a little but they all play their part in excelling the film, expected from the likes of Hugo Weaving and Teresa Palmer but the film surprised me with how good some of the cast were. Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey were two that come to mind but the real surprise was Vince Vaughn, who I never thought I'd see play a part in a war film, particularly that of an Army Sergeant.
Few films this year have hit me emotionally as Hacksaw Ridge did and that's why I have to say it's a most welcome return to filmmaking from Mel Gibson. It's right up there as one of the best films of the year and definitely one to see on the big screen.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
The best zombie film since 28 Days Later. Period.
I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't love zombie films. There's just something about them, no matter how good or bad, that draws me to the them like a moth to a flame. The Walking Dead has played a major part in bringing zombies back into fashion and it's one of my favourite shows of all time.
There have been so many zombie films over the years but there are only a select few that I've been able to label as anything higher than good. 28 Days Later is certainly one of them, as is Colm McCarthy's The Girl With All the Gifts. As with The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later, The Girl With All the Gifts is a film that gives you the vital ingredient for a good zombie film; characters you care about.
Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is a young girl with a very special attribute; one that could lead to the creation of a vaccine against a virus that has wiped out the majority of the population. Alongside Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine), Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), Melanie embarks on dangerous journey of survival that could lead to the survival of the human race.
I mentioned that the film has the vital ingredient for a good zombie film in characters you care about and it's one of the main reasons I loved The Girl With All the Gifts Mike Carey, who also wrote the novel this has been adapted from, has written characters who do more than just run away and make stupid decisions when being chased by a horde of zombies, or "hungries" as they're labelled in this film.
It's great to see a couple of the characters have some form of arc, Considine's Sgt. Parks having my favourite and the most compelling of the film. All of the characters are so different and it makes for a much more interesting experience seeing how their behaviour towards each other changes throughout.
Colm McCarthy tells this story with such a delicacy but gets down to the gritty stuff when necessary very well, and you really do feel the transition, one stand out moment being a disturbing sequence set in an abandoned newsagents. Aided by some beautiful cinematography from Simon Dennis and intricate production design from Kristian Milsted, The Girl With All the Gifts is one of the most captivating films you'll see all year. Cristobal Tapia de Veer's score adds such a haunting element to the film as well.
Coming to the performances, The Girl With All the Gifts possesses a number of experienced actors such as Paddy Considine and Glenn Close, who only help the film excel above other zombie films as they're good actors, an ingredient usually missing from these films. Along with Gemma Arterton, they are both very good in their roles however, the real star of the film, and rightly so, is Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the twelve year old showcasing a performance of complete innocence and maturity beyond her years. I expect we will be seeing a lot more from Nanua in the future.
I fully expect the final scene to become a very polarising one but I thought it suited the film to a tee. It certainly didn't end the way I was expecting and that's what makes it a such a breath of fresh air for me. The Girl With All the Gifts is one of the must see films of the year and I can't wait to see it again and again.
War on Everyone (2016)
Very hit and miss black comedy
Films come out of nowhere sometimes and that's exactly what War on Everyone did to me. Having only seen The Guard when it comes to John Michael McDonagh's filmography, I was just hoping for a film as good as that. I liked what I'd heard of the plot and the film had two leading men I hope would form a memorable duo, along the lines of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys earlier this year.
Detectives Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) are two corrupt as they come cops who definitely don't do most of their job by the book. Their methods of law enforcement catch up with them though when they interfere with the business dealings of a dangerous criminal.
Disappointingly, War on Everyone is a very hit and miss film, leaning more towards the latter as well. I really liked the sound of the story and the film starts off very well, a scene involving a car chase and a mime leaving me excited for the tone this film was going for. It maintains its good start for a little while until the story starts to unravel some more.
McDonagh lets the film slow down far too often and with the story introducing subplot after subplot, I just didn't really care about how it finished. McDonagh is a talented writer mind, penning a script that is not just offensive for the sake of it, instead using its insults cleverly at times to produce some genuine laugh out loud moments. Unfortunately, it does feel that they're trying too hard to be offensive at times and some of the jokes don't really land.
Coming to the performances, War on Everyone doesn't really feature such a memorable duo in the lead roles. I am a big fan of Michael Pena but, while he gives the best performance in the film, he can't do enough to save it. Alexander Skarsgard doesn't really do much wrong, except for that weird walk he has going on, and he shows some good comedic chops at times but he just feels a bit awkward next to Pena, who is much more suited to the role.
Whoever keeps trying to make Theo James happen needs to stop because he's just not that good an actor and he gives a very underwhelming performance as a villain that should have been a little more spectacular.
So, while it does have some funny moments, War on Everyone is undoubtedly a mess of a film that will leave you wanting to watch the far superior The Nice Guys again. One final point; Mr McDonagh I think you're a talented guy but that last scene and closing line? You are far from being Quentin Tarantino.
Blair Witch (2016)
Legitimately terrifying sequel
You know when a horror movie has a quote saying "One of the scariest movies ever made" attached to its trailer and then you see it and feel as if you were cheated by that movie because it wasn't actually scary at all? Well, that's so not the case with Blair Witch, the surprise sequel to The Blair Witch Project, a movie that redefined the horror genre back in 1999. Now, I'm no horror aficionado but Blair Witch is one of the most terrifying experiences I've had in the cinema.
Twenty-two years after his sister and friends disappeared while documenting their trip to investigate the Blair Witch legend, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) plus three of his college friends and two local residents venture into the same woods to try and find them.
Strange occurrences and a strong supernatural presence makes them come to the realisation that the legend of the Blair Witch is true and their lives are now the ones in danger.
First things first, I love how nobody knew anything about this being a sequel to The Blair Witch Project until barely two months ago at San Diego Comic-Con, having been filmed and marketed under the name The Woods, leading to a lot of talk and buzz about Blair Witch prior to release.
It's great to see a director like Adam Wingard take on the challenge of making a sequel that isn't just a carbon copy of its predecessor, instead choosing to take elements and build upon them to create a sequel that, I think, surpasses the original.
Blair Witch once again plays out in the found footage style that the original made so popular however, with the advancements in technology, there are more devices the filmmakers could use such as drones and go pro cameras rather than just the hand-held models.
It makes for a much more intense and fear inducing experience when the cameras used to capture the footage offer more stability. There are a few really good sequences throughout because of this, including a few nailbiting first person shots that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The use of sound too plays a pivotal part in building the audience's fear, Wingard showcasing that he knows how to make an effective horror flick, the moments of silence proving unbearable at times.
The performances and script are always key in the difference between a good and bad horror movie. In Blair Witch, both are good enough for the audience to buy into the story. The stand-outs for me were either James Allen McCune or Callie Hernandez as Lisa, who has to do a lot of terrified close-ups in her role.
Blair Witch's strongest asset, like its predecessor, is the fear of the unknown. I said it about The Blair Witch Project and I'll say the same about Blair Witch; it's so good to see a horror movie willing to not blow its load early and keep the audience in the dark as much as the characters.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Will DC ever learn?!
The DCEU (Detective Comics Extended Universe) hasn't really got off to the greatest of starts with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I liked the former but the latter was disappointingly poor, with critics not really taking to either well at all. Now we have Suicide Squad, a film that many felt could potentially put DC back on track with their cinematic universe.
With director David Ayer pulling the strings and the likes of Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Viola Davis starring, Suicide Squad was easily one of my most anticipated films of 2016.
After the death of Superman, intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is convinced that she has the solution, should something of Superman's power want to threaten the world. Her plan is to assemble a team of the most dangerous criminals to take on any threat too great for regular soldiers.
Task Force X or Suicide Squad, as they name themselves, is made up of; Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Slipknot (Adam Beach), each and every one of them under the command of Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who, like Waller, sees them all as expendable.
When an unworldly threat arrives, the squad try their best to get the job done however, their villainous nature and the Joker (Jared Leto), looking to get Harley Quinn back, might just throw a few spanners in the works.
Just like the film that proceeded it in the DCEU, Suicide Squad is a mess of the film that literally allows the audience no time to breathe, shoving the characters down their throats and forcing them to fall in love with them right away. David Ayer's narrative is so rushed, getting to the finale within around forty-five minutes, meaning there's no real time for any sort of character development. His film also has quite possibly one of the worst villains in the history of comic-book adaptations, and that's not even an exaggeration.
The film is also edited really badly, chopping and changing so much that you'll start to get a headache, and not just in the action sequences. Ayer's script is really disappointing, considering the fact this was rated 15 in the UK, yet nothing here made me feel that was warranted. There's also the fact that every moment that should have got a major laugh was ruined by the fact they were all seen in the trailer. If you've seen all the trailers you've literally seen the whole film.
The thing that annoyed me the most about Suicide Squad though was the soundtrack, which I was really looking forward to see how Ayer would incorporate it into his film. Now, Marvel didn't event the usage of a cool soundtrack to accompany a film but, in Guardians of the Galaxy, the musical choices made perfect sense with what was going on in the relevant scene. In Suicide Squad, random songs play at random times and it just ruined some scenes in particular.
Coming to the performances, which are easily the best thing about the film, Suicide Squad has some form of redemption. Viola Davis is great as the intense Amanda Waller, as is Will Smith as Deadshot. Harley Quinn was always going to be a tough character to bring to life but I felt Margot Robbie did her enough justice, whether it's enough to warrant a solo film is questionable mind. I actually really enjoyed Jai Courtney's performance as Captain Boomerang which is quite something considering I normally can't stand the guy.
Cara Delevingne, who hasn't had too much acting experience, can be used as a bit of a scapegoat as her performance isn't great however, I feel that was more down to how awfully written her character was. Joel Kinnaman doesn't really do anything wrong as Rick Flag, it's just unfortunate that he had to step into a role that we could have potentially seen Tom Hardy in if he didn't have to do reshoots on The Revenant.
The use of the Joker is something that has been bugging me ever since I left the cinema. Jared Leto had huge boots to fill after the perfect performance Heath Ledger gave as the iconic villain in The Dark Knight and I think Leto did well. My main issue was that he just wasn't in it enough for my liking. The Joker has to either be the main villain or not in the film at all, not a side character who pops up for a couple of scenes throughout the film. I was intrigued by what we did see of Leto and it would be great to see him go up again Ben Affleck's Batman in a future film. You can't even consider judging him as the best representation of the Joker until we see more of him.
There are some Justice League cameos in Suicide Squad, one lasting a split second and the other featuring Batman. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but the appearances Batman makes did feel really jarring and out of place. I loved him in Batman v Superman but not quite so much here in Suicide Squad.
While Suicide Squad does offer some form of entertainment, like other films in the DCEU, it does so with glaring issues you'd think they'd learn from. It's not the end of the world mind, remember the MCU had two not so well received films that followed Iron Man and look what they've gone on to achieve. It just means a lot rides on Wonder Woman so no pressure DC.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
I've never missed Will Smith so much before!!!
I went into Independence Day: Resurgence with my brain well and truly switched off. A sequel to one of my favourite films was always going to attract my attention but I was always a bit cautious as this film arrives a full twenty years after the first film.
It turns out I was right to be cautious about this film because Independence Day: Resurgence really is quite rubbish. My expectations weren't high by any means but I certainly couldn't help but feel a bit deflated when I left the cinema. Twenty years to make a sequel and this is seriously the best they could do?!
In the twenty years that have passed since the events in the first film, Earth has used the leftover alien technologies to create the Earth Space Defence (ESD), a united global defence program that serves as an early warning system in case of any more attacks. It's an Earth that has seen humanity united and war free for twenty years.
When a much bigger threat than before arrives in Earth's atmosphere, it's not long before the ESD is well and truly tested. Humanity was able to stave off the threat once before but would they find themselves out of luck when the aliens return bigger and intent on destroying the planet?
I have to say it's quite a noble effort from Roland Emmerich to make a sequel that attempts to evolve from its predecessor. The idea of the alien technology left over from the invasion of 1996 being used to enhance Earth's defence from further attacks is one that stops the film from feeling like a carbon copy of Independence Day. There are a few more elements in the plot that do this as well but I can't discuss them without spoiling the film so I'll leave those for you to discover for yourself.
It's the rest of the story and the script that leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. Now, the first film is ridiculously cheesy however, this sequel takes it to almost unbearable heights with an incredibly rushed story and rather dull script. There's no effort made to break up action sequences with some low-key scenes between characters like the first film did so well. Instead, they opt for the lay down the story and character introductions in the first half hour and then go balls out crazy when the aliens show up until the end of the film.
When I say balls out crazy I really do mean it. The last hour and a half is literally just a destruction montage but not necessarily the good kind. The special effects are very impressive and there are certainly moments that I had fun with however, even with my brain switched off, I eventually got a little fed up of it all. It all just lacks the swagger and grandeur the first film possessed.
As for the performances, Independence Day: Resurgence misses the charisma of someone like Will Smith much more than I thought it would. Think Liam Hemsworth or Jessie T. Usher have the charisma to be a replacement? Think again. Hemsworth faces a career spent entirely in the shadow of his brother, Chris, unless he starts putting in some decent performances while Usher is totally void of any emotion in his performance.
Jeff Goldblum tries his hardest but he ultimately ends up looking lost amongst the mess that this film eventually becomes and Bill Pullman very much hams it up as the President who led the resistance back in 1996 but now experiences visions of a pending attack. Judd Hirsch also returns but in a totally unnecessary subplot that makes it seem like it was a last minute decision just to give him something to do. Oh, and Sela Ward stars as the current President but she's barely worth mentioning and you'll understand why when you see the film.
The film culminates in an unsatisfying finale that possesses one of the most sequel baiting final scenes you will ever see. I pretty much hated the final scene and I didn't really want to hate any of this film. I know I've already said that my brain was switched off as soon as I sat down in the cinema however, there's no escaping the fact that, with twenty years to prepare, Independence Day: Resurgence should have been so much better.
Gods of Egypt (2016)
Well, I guess I'm a diseased vulture then...
There are films that are so bad they're good and then there are films that are so bad they're just bad. Gods of Egypt very much falls into the latter because it really is just an awful film. Weirdly, I'd been anticipating this film for a while and it's finally arrived in the UK, a whole four months after its release across the pond.
Although I'd heard nothing but bad things about Gods of Egypt, I was always keen to see for myself whether it was actually that bad. Alex Proyas, the director of this film, came out in defence of his work and described modern day critics as 'diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass' back when the film was originally slated by critics who got to see this total mess four months ago.
Here I would normally give a brief rundown of the plot however, due to the scattershot nature of this film's plot, I will try my best to keep it as brief as possible.
Betrayed and exiled by his uncle Set (Gerard Butler), Horus (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau) is a god who was to be crowned the new King of Egypt. Under Set's reign, Egypt descends into chaos and human Bek (Brenton Thwaites) takes it upon himself to find Horus and persuade him to return and defeat Set to regain his rightful place as the King of Egypt.
I can't stress enough just how embarrassing every aspect of this film is. For starters, there is not one actor who gives anything resembling a good performance, whether it be Gerard Butler as Set or Geoffrey Rush, yes Geoffrey Rush, as Ra. I've never really been majorly impressed with Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau in Game of Thrones and he does nothing that could possibly change my mind in Gods of Egypt.
Elodie Young is in the same boat in the way that she never impressed me too much in Daredevil and she's not very good here either. The worst of the bunch though has got to be Brenton Thwaites as Bek, who has more or less the same delivery for every emotion; utterly emotionless.
Then comes the writing...
Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are a writing duo who haven't written a well received film yet in their three attempts. This is the only film of theirs I've seen and if this is anything to go by, I will be avoiding Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter. The dialogue is so laughably bad throughout the entire film and the story jumps from scene to scene with no cohesion whatsoever. I don't think I've seen a film where I've laughed at nearly every single line before.
Alex Proyas, judging from his comments about critics, is not a man who can take any criticism lightly. I would be able to describe Proyas as a style over substance director if the visuals were any good but they just aren't. For a film with a $140 million budget, you'd think they'd at least be able to make it look good. It makes me wonder whether they just blew all of the budget on the cast. Gods of Egypt feels like you're watching someone play a shoddy video game rather erratically, particularly during the fight scenes where Peter Menzies Jr.'s cinematography will leave you dizzy and wanting the sick bucket.
Are there any positives I can take from Gods of Egypt? Marco Beltrami's score was probably the best thing about this film and oh, the film did finish eventually which was a bonus. I felt exhausted as I left the cinema because the film is far too long at just over two hours, it becomes a chore to watch, especially when going in to the cinema thinking it was going to be just an hour and a half long.
As of now, Gods of Egypt has surprisingly made a profit on its budget. Not a profit the studio would be hoping for though, coming in at a measly $2 million. Sounds stupid to say that's a measly amount however, in today's market, that's an amount that could well see careers end.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
A horror sequel that actually delivers the horror
There's a reason we get so many horror films released every year; they are relatively cheap to make and guaranteed to make the studio money. No matter how bad the horror could end up being, people love the thrill and rush the experience of watching a horror film at the cinema gives you.
Sequels have become one of the most sinister things in film today, some seeing them as nothing but quick ways of making more money however, if done well, sequels can be one of the more interesting things in film. In the case of The Conjuring 2, it's definitely the latter.
Six years after the events in Rhode Island, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren are called to Enfield, England, to investigate the paranormal events that the Hodgson family have been experiencing in their home, in particular Janet (Madison Wolfe).
Having investigated the Amityville murders of 1974, Lorraine has since had visions that feature a powerful entity, forcing her to believe that the choice to carry on their line of work could lead to tragedy.
What I really have to commend The Conjuring 2 for is the fact that it doesn't just feel like a carbon copy of its predecessor. Don't get me wrong, the two films certainly have similarities but this didn't feel like watching the first film over again.
The film does this by telling two stories; one of the Hodgson family in Enfield and another about the visions that Lorraine has been haunted by after their investigation of the Amityville murders. These two stories connect much better than the stories of the family being haunted and the Annabelle doll in the first film.
I have to praise James Wan for the job he does directing The Conjuring 2, expertly building suspense through the use of sound, camera movements and editing. John R. Leonetti returns as cinematographer and there really are some fabulous shots in this film, some leading to false predictions of when and where something would jump out on the screen. The film uses jump scares but it doesn't solely rely on them to scare the audience, one particular scene with Lorraine coming face to face with the demon haunting her slowly building to almost nerve-shredding levels of suspense.
The performances in The Conjuring 2 are also worth mentioning, with both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga returning to good effect, Farmiga once again being the film's biggest asset. I was really impressed with Madison Wolfe as Janet, the member of the Hodgson family targeted by the demon and also Frances O'Connor who played her mother.
The Conjuring 2 will no doubt have audiences worldwide jumping out of their seats and give Warner Bros. a tidy profit when it finishes its run at the box-office. James Wan is the man they should be thanking and I'd like to thank him also for producing another horror that looks for more than one way to scare its audience.
Central Intelligence (2016)
A little Hart and a big Johnson really does go a long way
Other than having one of the best taglines in recent memory, Central Intelligence also has two of the biggest names in the world of entertainment at its disposal; Dwayne Johnson is literally the most profitable movie star on the planet and Kevin Hart is the biggest name in comedy right now.
I haven't been a massive fan of Kevin Hart's films to date but I've been a fan of Dwayne Johnson's ever since his days as The Rock in WWE, so I was looking forward to seeing how they would play off one another in Central Intelligence. I think we could be seeing a lot more of these two together in future films because they work together so well.
Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the most popular kid at his high school, voted the most likely to succeed, who went by the nickname 'Golden Jet'. Twenty years later and Calvin is an accountant and married to his high school sweetheart, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet).
Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) was the overweight geek that was endlessly targeted by bullies during his high school days. Twenty years later and Bob is a lean, mean killing machine for the CIA. Reuniting through Facebook, Bob drags Calvin into a world of international espionage in order to save the world.
For a film like Central Intelligence, it's of great importance that they get two leads who are both likable and share a chemistry that makes the film work. This is very much the case in Central Intelligence, Hart playing the straight man with Johnson taking on the role of the goofball.
We've already seen a great new double act this year with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys and, while Hart and Johnson never reach those heights, it's very similar in the way that, like Gosling in The Nice Guys, Johnson steals the limelight from his co-star. Johnson has always had a knack for comedy and seeing him like this is just so damn entertaining.
Dawson Marshall Thurber, who directed Dodgeball and We're the Millers, continues to show that he knows his way around the genre of comedy, throwing in some action for good measure. After all, it wouldn't be a Dwayne Johnson film if there wasn't any action to be seen. There's also a little reference to something in Aaron Paul's past that you may recognise which got one of the biggest cheers in the film so, while it's almost impossible to miss, listen out for it.
I have to applaud the film for trying to send out a message about bullying and the effects it can have on victims later in life. While some of it gets lost in the ridiculousness that plays out on screen, it's a message that's done a lot more subtly than the feminism agenda Bad Neighbours 2 pushed onto us.
Central Intelligence is a comedy that doesn't try too hard to make you laugh or like the characters, a problem a lot of comedies face nowadays. However, thanks to the natural chemistry Hart and Johnson share plus the writing and direction of Thurber, Central Intelligence is a comedy that will leave you entertained, doing so with a large likability factor.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Crowe and Gosling are brilliant together in another winner from Shane Black
Yes, oh yes, The Nice Guys is every bit the hilarious and entertaining movie I was hoping for. Part action, part buddy comedy, The Nice Guys is the latest movie from Shane Black and believe me when I tell you, there is so much fun to be had at the cinema with this one.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a hardened private eye who chooses violence as his method of business. On the other hand, Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a bit of a bumbling private eye, not akin to the violent methods of Healy's choosing.
When the mismatched duo are paired together to investigate the death of fading porn star, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), they begin to unravel a web of corruption and lies, pointing toward murder over suicide. They are hired to find Amelia (Margaret Qualley), a girl who holds the key to the whole conspiracy, before others with cruel intentions do.
First things first, The Nice Guys is really driven by the great on-screen partnership of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who share such an unbelievably good chemistry as the two private eyes who couldn't be more different.
This is the best Crowe has been since State of Play in 2009 and he has no trouble at all selling the tough guy persona of Healy. The comedy was something I thought Crowe could struggle with however, having seen him do a few interviews recently and after his performance in The Nice Guys, I had no need to worry.
Crowe is funny in this but Gosling is absolutely hilarious. He proved he could do comedy in Crazy, Stupid, Love but there is so much more to the comedy he performs in The Nice Guys. A lot of it is verbal but there are some moments of physical comedy that Gosling nails, particularly one sequence in the movie's finale that was rather quite brilliant.
The two are aided by a brilliant script, full of enough wit and quips, written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi. Black is no stranger to writing both movies and characters of similar ilk, having written the first two Lethal Weapon movies and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which he also directed. It's not only Crowe and Gosling who benefit from the script either with Matt Bomer shining as the sinister John Boy and Angourie Rice almost stealing the show as Holly March, Holland's rather persistent daughter.
I understand that The Nice Guys hasn't performed well so far at the box-office which is a real shame. I urge anyone who likes to be entertained to go and spend two hours watching this at the cinema. Trust me, those two hours will fly by and we could do with having more movies like this being made.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
The latest X-Men instalment fails to live up to its name
Five months into 2016 and we are already in our fourth comic-book movie of the year. We've had the fast-talking Deadpool, the gladiatorial battle of Batman v Superman and an epic showdown between superheroes in Captain America: Civil War but now it's the turn of the X-Men in X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that doesn't quite live up to its name.
After events in Washington DC, the X-Men are disbanded and living as normal a life as they can. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) runs a school for the 'gifted' mutants and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who is seen as a hero to mutants after her actions in Washington DC, goes in search of Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teleporter.
When the one considered to be the first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), awakens from a deep sleep in 1983 Cairo and gathers his Four Horsemen; Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), he plans to destroy the Earth and rebuild it in his own image.
With this threat against the world looming ever large, the X-Men must unite to save it and its population, human and mutant.
The biggest problem this film had was its titular villain, Apocalypse. He's just so dull and lacks any character that could have made him an interesting opponent for the X-Men. A talent like Oscar Isaac tries his best to make it work but overall, he deserves better from the writing team.
It's the writing in this film that really does hold it back as well. The story feels flat, the dialogue is unbearably corny in places and there is no real room for any real character development. It's a film that runs for far too long also, coming in at just under two and a half hours, meaning there are quite a few moments that feel like they drag. It doesn't help when someone like Jennifer Lawrence is intent on sleepwalking her way through the film.
The film does have some genuinely good moments, and you won't be surprised to hear that Evan Peters' Quicksilver is involved in two of them. He gets a moment similar to that in Days of Future Past, the only difference here is that it's at a really dramatic moment which the comedic elements totally nullify. No surprise either that Michael Fassbender gets a few of the more memorable as both he and James McAvoy are once again the real stand out performers.
These films have never really been about going for all out spectacle however, in this one they go all guns blazing with the finale and try to deliver a huge action set-piece. Some of it works but unfortunately, the whole thing feels all too unimpressive thanks to some some dodgy CGI and uninspired fight choreography.
Introducing a slate of new mutants mightn't have helped their cause in this case because they try to juggle the finale to showcase all of the talents that these mutants possess. I've spoken about the lack of character development already and it just seems strange to me that, apart from Magneto, the villains are totally void of it. Storm, Angel and Psylocke are all poorly served by the story and feel more like mere henchmen than powerful mutants. Out of all the new recruits, I was most happy with Scott Summers, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler played by Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee respectively.
Jean Grey and Scott Summers in particular are dealt a better hand by the story and one of them gets one of the film's best moments, almost feeling like a middle finger to how that same character was treated in The Last Stand. There's also a very familiar face that turns up towards the end and his involvement was more welcome than I was thinking it would be.
I can't say X-Men: Apocalypse is terrible because it's far from being terrible. It just doesn't live up to the standards set by First Class or Days of Future Past, which is quite disappointing. The final part of the finale and the film's closing moments do have me excited for the next instalment. Who knows, with this new team it could be the best yet.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Russo brothers deliver one of the great comic-book films to the MCU
Back when Captain America: Civil War was announced during a Marvel Studios event in 2014, the anticipation I have had for this entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been rising with every single passing moment. Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, stood on a stage and announced the next Captain America film would be named Serpent Society and every single person was left a little underwhelmed. Then he backtracked and revealed the film's true title, as well as bringing out Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. to a deafening noise from the excited crowd.
Taking elements from the popular Civil War comic and rearranging a few things to make it fit the continuity of the MCU, Marvel turned to the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, who did such a good job with The Winter Soldier, to bring this story to the big screen. The Russo brothers have struck gold once again with Civil War, a film that may not only be the best entry into the MCU but one of the greatest comic-book films ever made.
After events in New York, Washington DC, Sokovia and finally, a botched mission in Lagos, the Avengers, led by Captain America (Chris Evans), are brought in by the US government to sign the Sokovia Accords, a document that states the Avengers must work under government supervision rather than their own free will.
Many people still see them as heroes yet there is a growing number of people who see them as nothing more than vigilantes who should be put on a leash, or stopped altogether. Captain America, who also has the trouble of finding his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) before he's taken out for good, decides against signing the document, causing a rift between not only himself and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), but splitting the Avengers right down the middle.
While the Avengers, with the exception of Thor and Hulk, are all in Civil War, it is still most definitely a Captain America film, driven by a very personal story for the First Avenger. I have to applaud the writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, for the job they have done delivering a strong emotional core to Civil War. Captain America's main priority is getting Bucky, operating as the Winter Soldier for years, back at all costs and the effect it has on his friendship with Tony Stark is devastating, culminating in an emotionally fuelled finale that will leave you torn.
These are characters we've spent eight years following so to see them come to blows, especially when you can agree with why both are fighting, makes you genuinely care about the fight itself and the fallout of it all.
One of the highlights of The Winter Soldier was the action, particularly the hand-to-hand fights, and it's great to see the Russo brothers deliver brilliant action once again. The film is full of pulsating action whether it be close quarter combat or blistering chase sequences however, the stand-out action sequence in Civil War comes in the form of an all out brawl between two teams made up of various Avengers in a German airport. It's full of wonderful character moments and some brilliantly executed fun surprises, making it quite possibly one of the greatest scenes in any comic-book film.
One of my worries for Civil War was whether there would be too many characters in one film. It could have been a recipe for disaster and ended in a convoluted mess but that is definitely not the case. The Russo brothers do the characters we are familiar with justice as well as introducing new faces that I can't wait to see again in the MCU.
Both Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. have never been better in their respective roles of Captain America and Tony Stark. Downey Jr. in particular gives a really memorable performance as a guilt ridden Stark who feels the Avengers should be reined in.
All of the other familiar faces are brought to life with good performances but the real stand-outs are the new characters that we'd all been dying to see in action. First up is Chadwick Boseman in the role of T'Challa/Black Panther, a prince and warrior of Wakanda. Boseman cuts a very regal and imposing figure as Black Panther, more than holding his own against the likes of Captain America and the Winter Soldier. Then there is Peter Parker/Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland. This is Spider-Man's debut in the MCU after Sony agreed to share the rights with Marvel Studios so they had to get it right. They didn't just get it right, they nailed it with Spider- Man. This is the Spider-Man I've wanted to see for some time now, quip after quip during the airport fight and a distinct awkwardness as Peter Parker, and I can't wait to see more of him in the future. I will wait to see how his solo film pans out but we could be seeing the best Spider- Man yet here.
Take note DC, this is how you introduce new characters that will go on to shape the future of your cinematic universe.
Juggling a film of this magnitude with the vast array of characters on show is no easy challenge, yet it's one that the Russo brothers thrive on. They have delivered a brilliant comic-book film in Captain America: Civil War and, with the stakes even higher and more characters to come for the next Avengers films, they are certainly the right men for the job.
The Jungle Book (2016)
If you're gonna convert a Disney classic to live-action, this is how you do it!
Making a live-action version of a beloved Disney classic must be a daunting task for a director. Thankfully it's a task that director Jon Favreau flourishes in with his take on The Jungle Book. We've seen other Disney classics such as Cinderella get live-action remakes however, The Jungle Book is by far and away the best of them.
You all know the story however, this is more of a reimagining rather than a straight up remake that finds man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi), raised by a pack of wolves after being found as a baby by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), fleeing the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba).
On his journey through the jungle, Mowgli comes across an array of characters including the bear Baloo (Bill Murray), the snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken), not all of them having his best interests at heart.
With the majority of characters being talking animals and the humans being kept down to a bare minimum, I always thought The Jungle Book as one of the hardest Disney animations to convert to live-action. I was skeptical about how the talking animals would look but thankfully my mind was put at ease within the film's opening scene.
The Jungle Book throws the audience straight into an immersive jungle setting that is rather staggeringly all created with CGI. Aside from a few props and Mowgli himself, everything else you see is brought to life through the use of the latest technologies in special effects. It makes for a truly stunning cinematic experience with the photorealistic animals and jungle setting transporting the audience right into the heart of the story.
The story itself is simple enough and while Favreau clearly wanted to pay homage to it, he also wanted to put his own stamp on it. He's certainly retained the fun side of things while making it that little bit darker with more of an emphasis on the peril facing Mowgli, mainly from Shere Khan. From the very off, The Jungle Book is a rip-roaring adventure film that doesn't let up until the very end. Keep an ear out for one or two familiar songs throughout as well.
Neel Sethi gives an admirable performance as Mowgli, capturing his cockiness and naivety incredibly well but the real highlights come in the voice performances. Bill Murray is just about the perfect casting for Baloo and he nails the essence of Baloo's laid back lifestyle perfectly. Ben Kingsley and Lupita Nyong'o do well with the authoritative Bagheera and Raksha, the latter bringing real emotion to the adoptive mother of Mowgli.
On the villainous side of things, Idris Elba excels as the fearsome Shere Khan, relentless in his pursuit of Mowgli. The voice is so important for a character such as Shere Khan and Elba really can produce a sinister voice when he wants to. Christopher Walken is good as King Louie and I was left a bit disappointed at how little Scarlett Johansson's Kaa was in the film. She did well with what she was in so maybe we will hear her more in the already announced sequel.
The Jungle Book really is a great adventure that provides plenty of entertainment for people of all ages. If further live-action Disney remakes are anything like this then we could be in for some right treats.