Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Logan



Last year Deadpool was held up as being something different and daring in the comic book movie genre. It used it's higher certification to ladle on the violence, nudity and crude humour but underneath that it was basically comic book film by numbers, failing totally to do anything interesting with world of possibility it's source material gave it.

Now with have Logan, another Wolverine story, another story about one of the most seen X-Men characters. Logan too has a higher certificate than the majority of comic book movies. Crucially Logan does do something different, something new with the genre.

What we have here is essentially a revisionist modern day western with a comic book background. It certainly shares elements (and even some dialogue) with the film's title it echoes, Shane. It's the tale of a reluctant fighter trying to leave a life behind but being drawn back to the violence he's trying to escape.

In amongst it there's a comedy-drama about the relationship between two men (Logan and Xavier) struggling with the realisation that their best days are behind them, in this there are echoes of the likes of Unforgiven whilst the determination to do one last thing right (and the Mexican border setting) echo the vastly under-rated The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Crucially unlike Deadpool's ultra violence for the sake of it the much bloodier take on Logan's world serves a purpose. It's quite startling the first time we seen a claw clearly through a head and a limb severed but it helps to really bring home why Logan is the broken man he is. Haunted by years of this he's become a hollow man just trying to hang together long enough to get Charles somewhere away from anyone he could accidentally harm during seizures that shake the world.



A legacy that Logan has to try his best to help young Laura avoid if he can. This is sombre stuff.

Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart both do their best work as in these roles in the series and indeed both put in very strong performances all around from across their careers. Both mixing ably moments of levity in amongst introspection. One notable scene sees Jackman move from the physical comedy of unleashing his frustrations on a car, Basil Faulty style, to packing an emotional punch as you realise what's truly behind his outburst.

Likewise young Dafne Keen excels as Laura building a real sense of a child haunted by abuse but still wide eyed at a world she's not seen who slowly becomes attached to her travelling companions despite being mostly mute for a large part of the run time.

You could argue that Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant's antagonists are under-developed but this is a film centered on the emotional journey of it's three leads more that it is on the tale of comic book conflict.  But you do find yourself caring about a family introduced in an interluding chapter as Charles tries to show Logan what he should be striving for.

The film is beautifully shot, a mix of scorched landscapes along the border, dusty ageing interiors, washed out greys and hazy sunlight is used in the final act as the metaphor of a day coming to end comes towards it's conclusion. Sharpe contrasts, clear images bring a feeling that this is the real world not the high reality of typical comic book fare.

There is imagination in the action (and as mentioned it all serves a purpose; one scene of Logan killing paralysed & stranded men underlying where he is mentally and how desperate things are) but the heart of the film lies in the drama surrounding it.

Deadpool was labelled comic book film making for adults. It wasn't. Logan is.


Sunday, 18 December 2016

Rogue One : A Star Wars Story

So Rogue One is Star Wars with the Saving Private Ryan filter turned up. And it works.




This is a very different feeling Star Wars film and justifies the “A Star Wars Story” tag that sets it apart. Yes, the tone is darker than the other films as expected and don’t be fooled by stories of re-shoots done to lighten things. If anything the lighter material went into the trailers but not the final cut of the film. But it’s other things that set it apart.

The combat sequences are much more intense; dynamic, gritty and in a first for a Star Wars film actually quite harrowing in places. For example in an earlier sequence we witness an Imperial patrol attacked in a city street with innocent civilians very much caught in the cross fire. There are echoes of the likes of Black Hawk Down.

This is maximised in the final third as hopelessly outmatched Rebel forces on a beach sacrifice themselves to create a distraction whilst in orbit above them their colleagues mount a frantic assault to make sure it’s not in vain.

Astonishing is the best word I can think of to describe the climatic space battle, with cinematography that really places you right in the middle of the action as fighters swoop and dive around fleets of ships. It’s the best execution of this kind of action I’ve seen and is peppered with imaginative flourishes.

The strength of the action is backed up by the rest of the writing in deepening the experience. Whilst the basic story is a fairly straightforward men on a mission tale it’s the characterisation of those on the mission that make it work.

Here we get shades of grey as we see Rebels in conflict with each other over the lengths they’re prepared to go to. We’re told Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is an extremist who’s gone too far but this is after we’ve seen Diego Luna’s Cassian shoot down an unarmed colleague without pause to ensure he won’t talk upon capture.

Meanwhile Mendelsohn’s Krennic brings something different to the table as the villain. He starts with a  naked ambition to rise up the Imperial rank but slowly switches to desperately fighting for his position and survival after an encounter with Darth Vader.

Felicity Jones’ Jyn is also very different to any of the heroes we’ve see in the series before. At one point when asked if she’s ok with seeing Imperial flags flying over every planet she replies “It doesn’t matter if you never look up”. She’s not in it for the cause at the start and whilst later she joins the Rebellion her main motivation is a fight for absolution for her father.

A sequence roughly half way through featuring Jyn brings all that works so well in the film together at once. We watch as Jyn witnesses a final message from her father, Jones wordlessly showing the heartbreak and new resolve in her face as at the same time the Empire demonstrate the terrifying power of their new weapon. (Something which now is probably now more impactful as it’s lower setting resembles something sill devastating but with real world familiarity).

A haunting beautiful sequence and for me the moment the film really comes together after a slightly choppy opening.

It’s true that some of the other characters in our team are sketched with out as much detail but even then it’s a different vibe to what we’ve seen before. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are two believers in the Force trying to hold onto their faith and Riz Ahmed’s defecting Imperial pilot is man finding himself suddenly out of his depth.

Many are comparing it to Empire Strikes Back and they are both sombre pieces but I’d argue that Rogue One is the more complex in terms of it’s characters and generally depiction of the central conflict and probably a darker film overall seeing as during a couple of parts it even effectively comes across as a horror film.

Without giving too much away the biggest issue I had with it were some moments of ‘uncanny valley’where CGI has been used to reintroduce some characters into the story. It’s striking but does have that sense of unreality to it.

I also admit I’m not sure how well it would work for people who aren’t a fan of Star Wars to start with. I believe it would still stand by itself if you approached it as a Vietnam or World War II film, I’ll be interest to see if I gauge some people’s thoughts on that.




Saturday, 23 July 2016

Star Trek Beyond

So it seems despite the dodgy looking trailers Star Trek Beyond is a solid entry in the franchise and it seems the newly names "Kelvin timeline" films are inverting the old Star Trek film law of the even numbered entries being the good ones. This time round the first and third so far are clearly the better films and the second entry the misstep.

McCoy, Jaylah and Spock prep for action and banter.
Beyond does what Into Darkness should of done by breaking away from the old entries and being it's own thing (aside from a few nods to the original crew). It tells a stroy of it's own rather than re-hashing a previously told one and takes advantage of it's alternate versions of the classic characters.

For example here we have a Kirk (Chris Pine) who is unsure of the point of his chosen career as the films begins, whilst Spock (Zachery Quinto) struggles with his sense of duty to his now endangered people and subsequently his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

This gives our two central characters strong story arcs to go through in the midst of the adventure whilst the rest of the crew all get a good amount to do. Unsurprisingly with Simon Pegg on writing duties Scotty gets much more to do and it's refreshing to see him strike up a friendship with newcomer Jaylah () instead of her becoming a romantic interest for Kirk. Although I think Pegg still plays it a bit too comically broad.

Indeed Jaylah is one of the strongest elements of this entry in the series, a more than capable engineer and a spiky, lively presence for the others to bounce off. Not quite effective however is Idris Elba's villain Krall. He is revealed to have interesting background and motivation but the pieces only really fall into place in the third act and feel a little rushed.  The first of the reboots probably retains the strongest of the new villains with Nero.

Worries that director Justin Lin would mean a move towards out and out action can be put aside. Of course there is action, including some imaginative sequences in space and on the ground, but the heart of the film remains the interactions of the main cast. The middle act of the film sees them paired in different combinations (Kirk & Chekov, Uhura & Sulu, Scotty & Jaylah and most enjoyably McCoy & Spock) letting all have their moments to shine.

Karl Urban once again stands out as the grumpy but steadfast McCoy amongst pretty strong performances all round apart for a minor character in Commodore Paris whose portrayl feels stilted which is shame because she's a couple of key scenes for Kirk's story arc.

No doubt some will criticise the method used by the crew to turn the tide of battle against Krall's swarm ships but I admit it was something that brought a smile to my face.

It's not as heartfelt as the series best (Wrath of Khan) but it's up there with the likes of Generations (which i think is under appreciated), Undiscovered Country, First Contact and the opening film from the re imagined crew.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Game Of Thrones: Lord Snow

It's episode three and I'm struggling to really think of an angle to really write about this episode as it's all rather a bit well bitty.

Also despite the fact we meet a few new characters everyone else continues basically doing what they've done so far. Ned is staid and moral, the King is brash, Cersei and Joffery show flashes of humanity before flipping back to hating and scheming, summing up their philosophy neatly with "Anyone who isn't us is our enemy"

We do get the first real straight forward mention of the concept of seasons that last literal years. (It does offer up quite a few questions. If a winter lasts literal years how does any plant life survive?)

It's again unclear how much time is passed when get news of Danerys pregnancy, in particular these sections suffer because there is no sense of how far the tribe has travelled. Of course most notable here is the fact that the power balance between Danerys and her brother is very starting to shift, much to his annoyance.

Of the new characters it's the former Mayor of Baltimore that is the most interesting at this stage. And yes that's how i'll know him until I actually remember his proper name. He's clearly a sneaky tricky type who for some reason feels the need to hold most of his meetings in brothels.

Arya's sword instructor is an entertaining character but is so larger than life he does feel a lit bit out of place, almost as if he's wondered in from The Princess Bride by accident.

So not a lot really comes to mind to speak about here, so it's onwards, though from memory things start to get moving again in the next instalment.






Thursday, 14 July 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)



Ok, lets start with getting the main message out first, Ghostbusters (2016) is....terrible because it's got girls in it.

I am of course being facetious. The film is pretty decent, has a lot of good ideas, some good moments and some strong performances but the pacing of it just seems a bit off. It's hard to describe really; some sequences are too long, comic exchanges that feel like they should have snap feel a bit listless, the plot advances in lurches, the filmends suddenly and then what feels like the actual epilogue plays under the closing credits.

It also probably doesn't quite break away from its forbear as much it might. (Not two spoil it two much but there are five old players returning for cameos. Two work really well, one is ok and two feel painfully forced)

The apparently controversial new team for the most part do pretty well. Kristen Wiig brings her well worked smart but goofy shtick to play as Erin Gilbert, a serious scientist now embarrassed by a book about the paranormal she wrote years ago. She's at her funniest when interacting with Chris Hemsworth's dopey secretary Kevin.

Leslie Jones' Patty is much more rounded and capable character than early trailers seemed to suggest. She definitely has more to offer than Ernie Hudson ever did and certainly gets to join in the comedy more than he did.

For me Melissa McCarthy was the weakest link, she's not terrible but I just didn't enjoy how character as much the others, but I'll confess I'm not keen on her as a performer to start with so may be being overcritical. I just didn't quite buy that her friendship with Wiig's character was as close as the plotting told us it was, she can pratfall but she's not as strong at the characterisation as the others.


Now, the missed opportunity I think is Kate McKinnon's Holtzman. An anarchic presence with a real joy in dangerous potentially life threatening engineering (she's sort of like the original's Egon crossed with Wily E Coyote and a sugar rushing small child). She is constantly either producing new crazy devices or pipping up with a series of great throwaway lines and moments. But her performance is the one that suffers the most from the slightly off pacing, her moments are either cut off two soon so the gag doesn't quite land, lingered on a bit too much or she's lost in the background a little bit.

The previously mentioned Kevin portrayed by Hemsworth is also a hit, all comfy charm and bizarre non-sequiters.

Overall the film's humour is lot less cynical the original and is definitely a lot goofier but for the most part it works well with the material, and it is quite refreshing to have somethink like this with humour that does indeed feel different. However the aim to be very much comedy first and fantasy adventure second means the main bad guy and his evil plot is rather flimsy & under developed. In fact by the time we get to the climactic action it's really not clear what he's trying to achieve or how.

Having said that though there a couple of action sequences that are really effectively filmed and the ghosts that need busting offer up a good range of imaginative designs, one particular sequence with Holtzman is as visually striking as anything that's been released amongst this year's summer blockbusters.

So it's pretty entertaining, there is something about it that doesn't quite click into place I feel but I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of these characters.

The last thing to say on it is I hope performs well, and it's hopeful that it will having picked up decent reviews, manging to raise above the ridiculous 'toys out of the pram throwing' small minded hate it's received.

Because young girls deserve heroes as much as anyone else does...





Monday, 11 July 2016

Game of Thrones: Little Lord A*Hole Episode 2: The Kingsroad

Ok, so this episode is a little bit bitty, so probably this write up of my thoughts on it is also going to be rather bitty.

                                      Sansa wonder's in from the nearest Jane Austen..

One aspect of it is Danerys journey which basically boils down to her being abused in her forced marriage until she learns how to use sex to control her husband from her friendly former prostitute handmaiden. Which isn't really all that positive of a story for any of the women involved.(it worse if you stop to consider details like the handmaiden was 'working' at the age of 12, having been trained for it since she was 9 and Danery's walk I don;t think is supposed to imply more than just time in the saddle)

The interesting bits I picked out were that the Dothraki believe in killer grass and that is early stage Danerys seems to feel some sort of connection to the dragon eggs. Oh, I know now I will keep failing to remember Jorah Mormont's name so at those times he will be called Commander Decent Chap which I feel sums him up.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Bran isn't dead much to Cersei's concern and Jon is off to join the nights watch as Ned and the sister's travel to King's Landing with the Lannisters. Now something here which is not so good is the representation of the passing of time.

It all feels like these scenes are taking place within the same couple of days when in fact from Bran's fall to family Stark hitting the road is around a month at least if not two. The only sign is the pet wolves suddenly go from pups to being very big indeed.

Overall it just makes it a bit confusing in understanding how long it takes anyone to travel somewhere or achieve anything. Would Catelyn really find a hair as a clue in the tower a month later?

Whilst we're on the subject of sleuthing would plotters as smart as the Lannister's really give a man hired to kill Bran a big shiny dead give away knife? Seems out of place (though I can't remember if that is part of the plot or not).

Back to the question of time this episode has one of my bug bears about fantasy in it. The total non advance of technology for extended periods of time. We're told the Night's Watch have been guarding the wall for 8.000 years. Eight millennia which apparently has seen no technological advances of note.

Even if magic was real I'm pretty sure technology would advance in that time. In fact probably fairly fast since you'd need to protect yourself from all the mad wizards wandering about. It's just one aspect of fantasy fiction that always pulls me out of it a bit. Ok, you want it to sound like a long time, but could you not at least pitch in maybe hundreds instead of thousands at least?

Anyway poor decent Jon is off to join the Night's Watch in the blue filtered North because his dad's leaving and his stepmother obviously hates him (who's busy doing her best Columbo) and he's really not sure about the whole thing. I'm sure he'll be fine...

We do get a first few hints (and misdirections) about his mother though this week, though not much more beyond the fact she is alive and around somewhere and it's something that Ned would really not get into.

In team Lannister we do get a bit of human side to Cersei this week as she recalls losing her first born son and Tyrion starts to prove himself a man wiser than his debauchery would suggest at one point remarking "A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone". (Plus points for him acknowledging the rest of his family are not good people)

Robert continues to be a bit of an oaf but otherwise a decent man who can't help it if the people around are constantly lying to him (although we do see him put Cersei in her place a couple of times), This example the poor fate of Sansa's wolf. (Sansa by the way is the wettest of blankets this week as the Stark girls struggle emerge from their 'girly girl' and 'tom boy' templates)

But balancing out this display of decency from the Lannisters is Jamie being a condescending git to Jon, Cersei's petty twisting of the knife insisting Sansa's wolf is killed and no doubt having the butcher's boy done in. And of course we have Prince Joffery swerving expertly from skin crawling creepy with Sansa to arrogance, random aggression, utter cowardice and massive amounts of face saving lying.

(To the extent it stretches belief than Sansa would still think anything positive about him)

So that's episode two. A bit of a moving of the pieces er piece. Still, we'll get some new faces turning up next...

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Game of Thrones - time to start catching up!

Ok, here we go. Game of Thrones time.

I'm clearly behind the zeitgeist on this one having not watched this cultural phenomenon since the first series or indeed read any of the books. So I figure it's time and I catch up and write out my thoughts on a series that creates a lot of talking points as I go. A warning now is I am a bit of fantasy genre sceptic so the show will need to work to really pull me in.


 Now in terms of my approach I have seen the first series before and so I am aware of the general course of events although I certainly do not remember a lot of details so I will reference things I've not see yet. Likewise I'm aware of some of the bigger turning points and moments of controversy in series moving forwards so will reference those but I do not know how most things go from second series on.

So time to start;


Episode 1 : Winter Is Coming

"Winter is coming" count : 3

The opening of the first episodes feels very much in terms of tone and aesthetic like a horror film. Lots of dark colours, a bleached filter on the lens and of course lots of dismembered body parts. It's a section that introduces us to The Wall and the fact there are some scary things on the wrong side of it, though we learn little else.

We get enough to flag that there's a dangerous mysterious danger and then it's time for the opening credits..da da dum, da-da-dum, da-da dum...

My first question on the other side of the credits is, "How did that guy survive?" as the poor soul we saw left standing in the prologue is caught for deserting his post on the other side of the wall. Last we saw him he was hopelessly cornered by murderous White Walker types. For him to be alive, surely they let him go? Why have they let him go?

Then it's time for our intro to the Stark family who are pretty much our grounding into this fictional world. The sons are quickly shown in their pecking order as proud mum and dad look over, Sansa is the traditionally feminine daughter and Arya the tom boy.

Introductions done we get a view of Ned Stark's code as he notes to his youngest son after performing the execution of the deserter that "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword". A direct comparison of the honour of characters can be drawn looking at this from the first episode from Ned and Joffrey's double dealing cowardly spite that brings about the end of poor Ned.

Next up we get introduction to Cersei and Jamie Lanister, it's made clear they have secrets but at this stage it's not clear what or indeed how many, what is it they fear the Hand of the King knew?

As we move onto the Lannister's and the King come to the Stark's home as the King seeks help from his old friend and we get a few flashes of events to come; Bran's climbing and Catelyn's worry it'll bring him to arm, Arya hiding in the crowds and Sansa's initial smitten behaviour around Joffery.

Interestingly whilst we get a sense of Ned and King Robert's deep friendship (including intriguing mentions of how they won the throne for Robert from the Targaryen family) it's clear from the start there is a tension and unease between Cersei and the Stark family. At this stage Tyrion is basically a comedy character framed by drinking and whoring.

Then it's across the sea to meet Daenerys Targaryen and scheming brother Viserys. Now from the start here it is uncomfortable relationship and I've not read the books not sure if there is anything in them to make it more explicit but to me it seems fairly strongly implied that Daenerys has been sexually abused by her brother and this is the first indication that as a series Game of Thrones is going to deal with some unpleasant things outside of what you typically see in mainstream fantasy themed fare.

For the general sense of Daenerys exploitation is not helped to a small extent by some of the direction in these scenes. It's fair to say the concept of the male gaze is very much in action as there some lingering shots of her naked body which seem a bit unnecessary, likewise the basically see through dress she is seen in later. It may be intended to frame the idea of Daenerys at this stage being controlled and at the mercy of the men around her but it does feel a little like it tips into the titillation for the sake of it.

This part of the episode did have a couple of moments that drew me out of things a bit too, like Drogo's comedy "power" sitting position with legs spread wide and the fact that the tribe of nomadic warriors all seem to have perfectly white teeth! But we do get the introduction of the dragon eggs, which will of course be very important later. (Plus a clue in the fact Daenerys doesn't flinch as she goes into a bath as the servants exclaim it's far too hot)

Now I know there has been some controversy around a couple of rape scenes later in the series and I've not seen those yet so can not fully comment but there is the rape of Daenerys here in the very first episode and I don't remember there being the same level of controversy around this episode. But I'll have to wait until I've seen the later episodes until I can comment fully.

The last few minutes of the episode are given over to setting up the story to follow with accusations of murder, and Bran's witnessing of Cersei and Jamie's sexual relationship leading to his being pushed out a high window. (Although that boy stood there gawping for a long, long time)

So that's episode one and we've got sketches of the characters for the most part, Ned is noble, Catelyn worries, the Lannister's scheme, the King is an oaf, Arya the tom-boy etc. A few bits of mystery, who murdered the Kings' hand? Who or what are White Walkers? And few markers for what would become the series' darker aspects.

Essentially the ground work for what the series becomes is all here but nothing yet really makes the show stand out from the crowd so to speak, particularly from HBO's strong library of programming. So on we go...