Dunkirk Review

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s last effort released last year that I finally saw last weekend. Considering the film is lauded for its visuals and sound design over its story, it was interesting to see how this film hit for me as someone who really appreciates the art of filmmaking but feel story should always come first.

The first thing to notice about Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan goes for an original way to tell the story. Whilst the actual plot isn’t particularly engaging on its own, the way its shot is the main reason you’re engaged as you try to put everything together ahead of the film revealing it to you. It could be considered a bit of a spoiler, but the film essentially has three situations happening at different times that all come together towards the end of the film. This method of storytelling is certainly different, but I’m not entirely sure its effective.

Unlike in Nolan’s film Memento, a film which also tells a story using multiple timelines, I felt in Dunkirk it was more of a gimmick for gimmicks sake. Christopher Nolan is an innovator, and every time he makes a movie he has to do something out of the ordinary. Normally the twists or quirks of his movies are compelling but in this one it just didn’t seem to add anything.

Once you figure out what’s happening with the plot, Dunkirk tells part of the story of the historical event which saw thousands of soldiers rescued in the second world war. It’s a pivotal event and the film does do a good job of looking and sounding very realistic. Gunshots, explosives and crashes sound incredible, and I can imagine in a cinema it would be mind-blowing. The dogfighting Spitfire’s are pretty spectacular, but in a more real way. Things don’t explode into a thousand pieces like in some films, but more realistically engines are shot apart, and that failure causes the planes to head towards earth.

The films unusual structure means its hard to really pin down who is the lead character, but id say the 3 most obvious leads are Tom Hardy as a Spitfire pilot, along with Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles as two soldiers awaiting their rescue at Dunkirk. Mark Rylance leads the story on the boat, but I found the ship based elements the least engaging. Nobody is bad in the film, as you would expect from a Nolan film, every actor gives a good performance, including One Direction star Harry Styles. He genuinely surprised me in the film and I’m interested to see what is next in his acting career. He shows in this film a good range of acting, and its intriguing to see an actor transition from another entertainment industry and go for a more dramatic serious role to start with.

Dunkirk is an incredibly well made, beautifully shot movie, with some spectacular visuals. However the novelty of its story telling technique wore off pretty quickly, and I think seeing this film cut into a more standard edit would possibly make the film a little more interesting. Nolan doesn’t necessarily stumble with this movie, but considering how he normally amazes with his movies, this one was a little bit disappointing. When it comes to Christopher Nolan’s catalogue of films, Dunkirk is not quite as awe-inspiring as his other attempts. Compare it to any other filmmakers however, and it is still a very good film, but it’s hard to lose that feeling of wanting more from one of the most talents guys in the business.

Good: The pre filmmaking skill on show is astounding, from Cinematography, to sound mixing, to the wardrobe, it’s all executed brilliantly.

Bad: The time jumping nature of the film feels unnecessary, and only served to hinder my enjoyment, as you could see what was coming before it happened hence losing some of the mystery behind the film.

7/10 – Nolan makes just a good film for once, rather than an excellent one.

Avengers Infinity War Review (Spoiler Free)

Its been a long time coming but finally Avengers Infinity War is here. Ten years, eighteen films, dozens of characters and a million fan theories have led to this and my excitement for this film was through the roof but with a lot of caveat questions. Could Marvel deliver on a decade of hype and build up? Would Thanos work as a villain? Could all these characters work in one single movie?

We have seen all the heroes in this film in at least one other movie so far, and the majority in 2 or 3, so the avengers, guardians and friends are all familiar to us which is gives the film a fantastic starting point. This is a film that would be simply impossible to attempt without having done what Marvel has, bringing so many characters into the public eye. You don’t necessarily have to see every marvel film that’s been released to this point, but you certainly have to have seen at least the two previous avengers films, Guardians Vol 1, Civil War, and Ragnarok. Going into this film having seen all 18 of marvels offerings is certainly the best preparation though and it definitely aided my enjoyment of the film.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Infinity War is getting to see so many of these characters we have grown to love meet for the first time, whether its Thor and Drax, Tony Stark and Star Lord, or Dr Strange and Spiderman. The Russo Brothers, directing this project, do as great a job as possible to give every character at least one moment, big or small, to shine. The trademark Marvel humour is there in spades and has some great moments that break up the overall serious tone and dire situation that all the characters find themselves in. The tones of so many various movies mix together wonderfully somehow, the comedic light-hearted guardians not feeling out-of-place with the avengers or the “not avengers but kind of are” characters who have had more serious films previously. Nothing in this film quite reaches the comedic fun of Thor Ragnarok, but the consequences of that film do weigh quite heavily on Infinity War and in particular on Thor, who probably gets the most screen time as a hero.

It an incredible achievement that I didn’t feel any character was grossly underused as I can remember a moment for every one of them where they caught the eye. Of course, we always want to see a bit more of every character but in a movie so packed of both characters and development of Thanos it’s impossible to have that without a preposterous run time of something like 4 hours. The two and a half hours of infinity war fly by, and fits in a lot. There may be a bit too much going on for some people, as the film does switch from place to place at speed. I was engaged throughout so didn’t find it too hard to follow what was happening, and each location was noticeably different so I always felt within seconds i knew which storyline we was going to.

I have gotten this far, and praised this film a lot, but the biggest strength of Infinity War is, for the first time in the MCU, the villain. Thanos has been a shadowy figure throughout 18 films, reference with reverence by everyone who knew him and feared by all. Paying off on that is a huge ask and this film manages it. He is the main character of the film, and he is, in my opinion, the best villain the MCU has ever had. He is incredibly powerful on his own, a point which is made abundantly clear in the opening scene, and once he begins collecting more power from the infinity stones he is out to collect, he becomes more and more formidable. That isn’t what makes him great though, the best part is the motivations he has and the reason he is trying to wipe out half the universe. Writing that like that it sounds preposterous, but much like Killmonger in Black Panther, Thanos believes wholeheartedly that what he is doing is the right thing for the entire universe because of his life experiences. We learn about what he’s been through, what he cares for and why he’s so determined to win.

Everything Marvel has done to this date has been in build up to this in some way, you can draw a string from Infinity War to any previous MCU film, which is a completely ludicrous statement. The action, whilst never reaching the height of that airport fight in civil war, is consistently brilliant, among the best use of powers and abilities we have ever seen. Infinity war takes all the best parts of all of marvels decade of films, and combines them into an incredible crescendo that rivals Empire Strikes Back in terms of impact and memorable moments.

Good: The culmination of a decade of work, fans will be blown away by this film. It delivers.

Bad: If you haven’t been keeping up with the MCU, you will not get anywhere near as much out of this film. Prior knowledge being a requirement is rare for films but Infinity War is no place to drop in.

9.5/10 – They did it. 

Blockers Review

Blockers is a comedy aimed at both teenagers and their parents, and I am exactly between the two demographics but still thought the trailers were exciting. Being a twist on the American Pie formula, it follows three young girls looking to lose their virginity on prom night and their parents battling to stop that happening.

The three young actresses playing the teenagers are fantastic. The trio of Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon have fantastic chemistry is an immediate hook and you buy into the characters being best friends despite all being very different girls. They also share chemistry with each other their respective parents, and this dynamic between the cast does wonders for the film. Their prom dates are also pretty solid, with Miles Robbins as Connor the stand out there.

Leslie Mann is great as the single mum struggling to let go of her coming of age daughter, as the reality of her daughter no longer being there every day sets in. Alongside her also dealing with that struggle is John Cena, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how well he does in the role. He has some of the funniest moments in the film for me which he sells well, a lot of this coming from his willingness to do anything for the laugh. Ike Barinholtz rounds out the trio, an actor who you’ve seen in several films but never known his name until now. He is great in the film, initially seeming like a one note character but developing a lot through the film and we learn a lot about his journey.

The cast’s chemistry is the driving force behind what makes this film a thoroughly entertaining film to watch. The jokes landed throughout for me and the heartfelt moments scattered into the film are effective because you have bought into these characters by the time those moments arrive. There is a case to say some of the moments aren’t quite as earned as they should have been, but considering the one hour forty-two minute run time I think the film does well to get any emotional pay off in there alongside all the laughs.

The film does clip along at quite a frantic pace, with a bit of a messy first act where the film stutters a little whilst it gets going. There is also a touch of odd editing choices, and one scene in particular where there seems to be something missing to explain how the parents get out of a situation (the naked marco polo scene, if you see the film you will know what I mean).

I honestly have to say Blockers is a surprisingly funny and entertaining film, and one that I would recommend to anyone with a similar sense of humour to me. Once it gets going, the laughs start flowing regularly and I think this comedy will end up as one of the funniest of the year.

Good: The cast’s chemistry alone makes the film entertaining, and the introduction of Butt Chugging to my life is something I will never forget.

Bad: Some questionable editing and a stumbling start the only real issues, some may find the humour to be a little juvenile or crass.

8/10 – Thoroughly entertaining comedy with a WWE star that isn’t Dwayne Johnson.

Ready Player One Review

Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg returns to the big blockbuster movie game with Ready Player One, based on a book by Ernest Cline. Trailers bursting at the seams with pop culture references promised a film that would be great fun but I didn’t really get a feel for what the film was about. 

Straight from the off the exposition begins, and i noticed myself thinking “This is a lot of explaining being done right off the bat”. Lead actor Tye Sheridan talks us through the world as it is in 2045, and the escape provided by this virtual reality game world called the Oasis. There’s no subtlety here, its being explained to the audience to leave them with no uncertain idea about what the core of the story is, and from there the film shoots off into one of many hectic action scenes.

That first action scene is great fun, seeing the motorbike from popular anime film Akira race alongside the DeLorean from Back to the Future is surreal to think about, let alone see on the big screen. This type of pop culture crossover happens several times throughout, and these moments provide a great sense of satisfaction to nerds like me who lap this kind of stuff up. The Oasis is pumped full of references and every frame set in the virtual wonderland has something for you to pick out from another franchise.

The film doesn’t just boast nostalgic pop culture references, it also has an awesome soundtrack and score. Opening with Van Halen’s classic “Jump” is always a great idea, and the track list is up there with great movie soundtracks in recent years like Guardians of the Galaxy. It adds to the immersion in the film, and is backed up by an excellent score by Alan Silvestri.

This excellent mix of worlds from seventies films to noughties games serves to make the world the film is set in incredibly engaging. This engagement doesn’t quite extend through all its characters, particularly not the lead Tye Sheridan as Parzival/Wade. He is not bad by any means but lacks the real charisma to carry the film. Olivia Cooke as Artemis/Samantha is by far the most interesting character for me, and her character steals some of the key scenes in the film. The rest of the “High five” gang are very much background characters, with only H/Helen played by Lena Waithe given anything meaningful to do through the film.

The antagonist of the film is played by Ben Mendelsohn, also the bad guy in Rogue One. This time round his villain is very much in control and Mendelsohn exerts the authority of someone who is used to getting what he wants. Some decisions he makes in the final act of the film do feel out of character but that’s more a script/story problem than anything to do with the character himself.

The plot of the film revolves heavily around the clues left behind by Oasis creator Halliday, played by Mark Rylance. This character is fun to see on-screen, and Rylance does well in the role, but there was just too many elements that all lined up perfectly for the main characters to make it very believable for me. There is also several times when a device previously found in the film is revealed to be the perfect solution for the exact situation the characters find themselves in.

The film does touch on some interesting issues in the real world, that being the disconnect from the real world many people, young and old, feel with the advancement of technology. In this film the Oasis represents the escape that many gamers, me included, look for when playing an immersive game. On another level, we all now have our own avatars which we show off to the world through social media, and this film, perhaps clumsily, tries to reiterate that the real world is still the real important thing, even as our lives are increasingly dominated by our internet presence. Of course I am saying all this writing on a blog which I share through social media in search of some modicum of recognition from other people, so I’m just as much in the oasis as anyone else.

Ready Player One sets up an incredible world, and boasts some real memorable action sequences just due to the mix of popular characters we have on-screen. At times the references can be overwhelming, with your eyes not knowing where to look, but i think repeat viewings would be a good idea as you could easily spot 25 things you missed the first time round. Ready Player One takes you to a bright, colourful land of wonder, if only the lead character was as interesting as the world he escapes to.

Good: World building and set up is brilliant and the fun action and pop culture references combine well to make it a fun film. Olivia Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn are great fun to watch too.

Bad: Lack of an interesting character in the lead role hurts the film a little, and the film drags a bit at times, not quite justifying the two hours and twenty minutes run time.

7/10 – Spielberg returns to blockbusters with bags of style. 

 

Tomb Raider (2018) Review

Ah video game movies. The bastard child of the movie industry. So much potential is there, and in recent years we have had Warcraft and Assassins Creed both attempt to make something of it. Years ago Angelina Jolie took on the role of Lara Croft in an adaptation very much in the vein of the early games in the late 90’s. This time round oscar winner Alicia Vikander steps into an adaptation based on the more recent Tomb Raider games.

I played both of the newer Tomb Raider games, and they are genuinely fantastic. Taking Lara Croft in a more realistic direction and away from the crass nature of the early games. The initial set pictures from this film looked very similar to the 2013 game, with the outfit Vikander is in almost exactly the same as the game character.

Getting away from the video game comparisons, Tomb Raider starts off by introducing us to the character of Lara Croft, and showing us the belief and determination that’s a key part of the character. She has reasons for not accepting the inheritance and it’s just about believable. This was the first time in the movie where I felt it was a little far-fetched, as there is obvious answers that are just ignored a few times throughout.

Aside from that the first half hour builds Lara up well, getting us engaged with the character and Vikander is excellent in the role, commanding the screen. She is great as the lead and carries the film well. There are some issues I have with the characters abilities and toughness, but more on those later. The antagonist played by Walton Goggins, threatens to be an interesting villain but falls into a few too many tropes and standard bad guy things to make him a really intriguing villain for me.

The film builds out Lara’s history with flashback scenes to her father, played by Dominic West, and its used to try to build out her motivations for going on the adventure we follow her on. It’s done quite well, with just the right amount of cheesy-ness to remind you this is a video game movie not a serious drama. Once her motives are established and she has the clues she needs to push her towards it, she sets out on her adventure.

From here the movie does slow a little, and it feels like a transition between 2 different kinds of movies. The first half is a believable story about a daughter who wants to find her father, and the second half an action adventure film aiming for Indiana Jones but Tomb Raider hits closer to the average Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than the legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark. It even has some puzzles very clearly inspired by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The action scenes contain moments right out of the 2013 game, and as a fan I appreciated the moments. However the one thing that sticks out at a few separate times is the strange laws of physics in this world, seemingly borrowed from the Fast and the Furious franchise. Lara can jump and catch onto ledges and objects with spiderman like reflexes, as well as withstand an incredible amount of damage. From falls to shrapnel wounds, you regularly see her in pain, only for her to be sprinting and jumping around minutes later. This is a regular thing in video games, Call of Duty infamous for allowing you to recover from 2 bullets to the head and a grenade by just crouching behind a wall for 10 seconds. However in a movie it feels little ridiculous to see the lack of wear the character feels from all of her heroics.

The plot of follows a similar path to the game, but tries to stay a little more in the realm of believability, kind of, barely, a little bit I guess. It seems to me like the filmmakers were a little unsure of whether to go full on with the video game story, or make a film that makes logical sense in the real world. I think they should have committed fully to the wacky, more fantastical elements of the games, or gone with a more realistic plot device to keep things more grounded.

A lot of this seems like a bad review, but honestly I did actually enjoy big parts this film for what it was. Vikander is the star of the show, and her Lara Croft is a character I would like to see again, it’s a promising start for the franchise, with potential there, but this one didn’t hit it out of the park like I was hoping it would. The wait for a truly great video game movie goes on, but this one is a respectable step in the right direction.

Good: Alicia Vikander, Fun action and puzzles, easter eggs for video games fans, some excellent leaping for ledges, and the bit at the end of a dungeon in a lot of games where you have to run away whilst everything falls apart.

Bad: One note villain, some ridiculous physics, and the bit at the end of a dungeon in a lot of games where you have to run away whilst everything falls apart. Yes, that’s both a pro and a con, fun easter egg but looked ridiculous.

5.5/10 – Tomb Raider just about gets a thumbs up.

Game Night Review

Game Night is a comedy starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams and tells the story of a couple and their friends who regularly meet up to have a game night. One of these nights takes a sinister twist and the film follows the couples on this impromptu adventure. Given the trailers seemed a little silly to me, I wasn’t expecting big things from this one. 

I have to say I did find myself chuckling quite a few times, one scene in particular really getting me and the rest of the cinema laughing (Bullet removal, that’s all I will say). There is a good mix of slapstick, one liners and set up and pay off jokes throughout that serve to give you consistent bang for your buck in terms of laughs.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are the clear stars, and their chemistry is great together. McAdams in particular has come into her own in recent years with the variety of films she’s done, adding this adult comedy to solid work in Marvel’s Dr.Strange and the hard-hitting drama Spotlight. She’s come a long way since her turn as Regina George in Mean Girls, even if that’s still her most famous character.

The rests of the cast have fleeting moments of hilarity, with subplots between the other couples providing some laughs and all adding a little something to the film. The real stand out for me among the supporting roles is Jesse Plemons as the strange and awkward neighbour. He has a great stare for making you feel uncomfortable and he plays the role perfectly. His versatility is amazing, playing Todd in Breaking Bad, his role in the USS Callister episode of Black Mirror, and now this, all calling on different skill sets. I think he is one to watch in the future if he can land the right roles.

The movie does get a little far-fetched, with some of the plot elements just being a little too convenient and one character being so dumb you struggle to believe they could ever be a real person. These moments do provide some laughs, and that is the aim for a comedy so its hard to hold it against the film too much. It also provides a role for Michael C Hall, which is fun as I was a big fan of his work in Dexter. In this he is a little wasted for me, and i would have liked his character to be a little more realistic and used more in the film.

Ridiculous elements aside, Game Night did exactly what a good comedy should do, and made me laugh consistently throughout. Some great comedic performances help make this one of the better films at the cinema right now. If you are looking for a laugh, Game Night won’t let you down.

Good: McAdams, Bateman and Plemons’ performances along with some really funny scenes that will have you chuckling.

Bad: Some of the more ridiculous elements don’t pay off quite as well and can make the film seem a little silly at times.

7.5/10 – Had a laugh, and got the urge to play a game of scrabble. 

 

 

Lady Bird Review

Lady Bird did, for a time, maintain a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that kind of hype led me to have quite high expectations for the film. I knew nothing about the film, beyond its name and that it was about a girl. I had no idea about the tone or themes of the film and was intrigued to learn what all the hype was about.

At its core Lady Bird is a story about a girl coming of age, and the relationship between her and her mother through this tough time. As with most teenage girl coming of age stories, there is a love story element, but the film doesn’t focus on that aspect. In fact it almost refuses to focus on any one element entirely, and instead shows you various different moments in Ladybird’s life and expects you to keep up with the pace and quick editing.

It is a shorter film, coming in at just over 90 minutes, but it packs in a lot in that time. This is excellent film making, with scenes often starting midway through a conversation but still giving enough context to allow us to keep up with what’s happening. Writer and director Greta Gerwig deserves a lot of praise for this and deserved her nomination at the academy awards, she possibly would have been my pick for best director if I was a voter myself.

The girl we follow, and the titular role, is played by Saoirse Ronan. Don’t worry, I have no idea how to pronounce that either. She is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, with the mother Marion played by Laurie Metcalf and love interest Danny being particularly strong. Every character feels believable, meaning it feels very real and raw, and you find yourself hooked on the story.

I think this is a bit of a frankenstein movie. Part dark comedy, part Romance, part coming of age, and part drama, it manages to make it all work and this results in the film having something for everyone. You follow Ladybird on her journey growing up and all the questions teenagers face, without falling into the traps of cliché. Again it all feels very real, coming across as a look at a bunch of real people who just happen to be on film.

It is so honest and true to life that it may not have that escapism that some desire in their movies. I know some people want to be taken on a journey and allowed to forget the ups and downs of real life. Ladybird is not that kind of film, and there are several moments that you watch unfold which are directly relatable to things you will have experienced in your own life. I can only imagine this applies even more if you’re a girl who grew up in the early 2000s, especially at a catholic school similar to the one in the film.

Given the hype after its rotten tomatoes score, I think Lady Bird is still a surprising film that will really give you food for thought. Excellent performances and great direction combine to make this one of the best of the years oscar contenders, It may have been beaten to the Best Picture gong by the fantastical Shape of Water, but Lady Bird’s realistic story holds its own regardless.

Good: An accurate portrayal of life, without becoming too cheesy or cliché. Greta Gerwig’s direction and Saoirse Ronan’s performance elevate it beyond others in the coming of age genre.

Bad: Maybe a little too realistic for those that want an escape.

9/10 – Excellent film, I feel unlucky not to win any awards.