3 stars

REVIEW: Hardcore Henry (2016)

Henry wakes up with no memories as his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) is putting his body back together with the help of advanced technology. When Estelle is kidnapped, Henry must find and save her from a warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) who has his own special abilities.

Hardcore Henry is a unique film. It’s a shot entirely from the first person perspective so it’s as if you, the viewer are Henry. This makes the viewing experience interesting as you can only see as much as Henry sees, so sudden gunfire and attacks are often surprising. When there’s a lot happening and a lot of people attacking Henry at once, it can be a bit disorientating as the camera/Henry’s vision is moving so rapidly trying to follow everything that’s happening.

Hardcore Henry is a film that’s all about the action, rather than being character-driven. Henry as a character gets little to no personality, which is probably because he’s a stand in for the audience, and Estelle and the villain are cardboard cut-out characters. The character you get to know the most is Jimmy (played by a brilliant Sharlto Copley), he’s a guy who appears to have multiple personalities and is the only one who is trying to help Henry figure out what’s going on and how to find his wife. While the majority of the characters aren’t that compelling, the world of Hardcore Henry is intriguing. It appears to be set in the near future and with all the technology and evil corporations, it has the makings of a very interesting setting to explore if there is ever a sequel.

Henry is played by multiple stuntmen and it really is impressive how the filmmakers made this film. The stunts are on the whole brilliant and thrilling, and the action and violence gets bigger and more insane with every confrontation Henry has.

Hardcore Henry is completely bonkers but it’s also strangely enjoyable. It’s a film that knows it’s doing something different, and asking a lot from the audience because of that, so it makes sure it has humour and gracious violence to make it a fun experience. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) starts his sixth year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) starts to teach him more about Voldemort’s past. Meanwhile emotions are running high as Ron (Rupert Grint) gets a girlfriend and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) appears to have a secret.

At the heart of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a mystery, in fact there’s a few of them. There is the secrets of Voldemort’s past and what the new Potions teacher Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) has to do with it. There’s the mystery of the old potions book marked as “the property of the Half-Blood Prince” that Harry is using to get him to the top of the class. And there’s the mystery of what Draco’s planning.

With all these potentially heavy plot threads, it’s a good thing The Half-Blood Prince is very funny at times. That comes from these teenage characters acting like teenagers and the great chemistry a lot of them have. There’s romance, heartbreak and miscommunication and it all comes together with these young actors who have grown into their roles. Rupert Grint has always had great comic timing but Daniel Radcliffe shines in this film and it turns out he can be pretty funny too.

Draco is such a tragic character in this film. Every time we’ve seen him previously he’s been horrible and mean for the sake of it, but in The Half-Blood Prince he’s clearly conflicted. While he doesn’t have a big role, when he is in on screen Tom Felton is wonderful.

While the performances are great, The Half-Blood Prince left me feeling a little bored. It’s a very informative film and the pace of it really slows down at some points. When there are big computer-generated set-pieces they are often thrilling, but in between them with all the teen angst it can feel a bit dull.

The colour palette of this film is also dull. It leaves everything feel very cold and looking washed out, though admittedly when there’s scenes with fire those bright orange colours sure do make an impact. In scenes in Dumbledore’s office it almost takes on a sepia tone which is a bit odd too.

While Rupert Grint is still great as Ron, Ron is unfortunately side-lined a lot in pivotal moments. This is never more noticeable than in the final scene where Harry and Hermione (Emma Watson) are having a meaningful discussion and Ron doesn’t say one word, just sits in the corner looking glum. I don’t know if he did have some lines that were then cut but having him not say anything makes him look like a third wheel to Harry and Hermione’s friendship which is simply not the case.

I think (though we’ll have to see what I make of the two Deathly Hallows films on rewatch) The Half-Blood Prince is my least favourite Harry Potter film. There’s (naturally) a lot of stuff from the book left out but this is the first film where you notice that, for instance there could have been more about Voldemort’s past to flesh him out as a villain and cut down on some of the romance stuff.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a film that’s building to something big, but it doesn’t really have the payoff one might be expecting. Still, it’s by no means terrible and it’s a decent addition to the series. 3/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) warnings of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) return are ignored as the Ministry of Magic sends Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts to be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. With her failing to teach them how to defend themselves, Harry and his friends’ band together to learn how to fight, as darkness grows

As I was rewatching this film, I realised that now I’m in the latter half of the series, these are the films I haven’t seen as many times and don’t necessarily remember everything about them. As I said previously, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite and I’ve probably watched that film the most out of all of them, but I’ve also ended up seeing pits and pieces of the first four films on TV, as those are the films seem to be on TV the most. Anyway, onto the review.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first film in the series that David Yates directed, and he goes on to direct the rest of the films in the series. It’s a film that’s a lot darker in tone. Harry is having nightmares after seeing a fellow student killed in front of him and he’s feeling isolated especially as Dumbledore appears to be avoiding him. The colour palette of the film is colder too, everything seems slightly blue which is especially noticeable in contrast to the previous films where scenes at Hogwarts seem so full of warmth.

The scenes where Harry is teaching his classmates is wonderful. He’s so encouraging and it’s fun to see these kids skills progress – when Neville (Matthew Lewis) masters a spell everyone is so happy for him. Together these young people have made a supportive environment, which so many of them need when there’s outside forces working against them – including Umbridge.

Umbridge is a brilliant character and one of the most evil villains in the series. She’s a bureaucrat on a power trip, convinced she’s right and is better than everyone. Seeing other teachers disapprove of her, even in small ways, is great as it shows that the teachers are human too.

The Order of the Phoenix is full of highs and lows. When there’s action set-pieces they are well-shot and exciting, but as there’s so much talking between characters, sitting around a table discussing what they should do next, the film can be slower and less interesting at times.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a lot darker and is full of new information that helps make the threat of Voldemort and his follows more real. The finale is a bit lacking as due to the script, and Goblet of Fire’s script as well really, characters aren’t utilised enough so when tragic things happen, it doesn’t have as much of an impact as it should. 3/5.

REVIEW: Lizzie (2018)

A psychological thriller about the murders on the Borden family in 1892.

I had never heard of Lizzie Borden or the murder of her stepmother and father until earlier this year. To be honest, I’m not sure if it was something I was just oblivious to, or if it’s a story that never really became well known here in the UK.

Chloë Sevigny is captivating as Lizzie Borden. There’s a simmering rage beneath almost everything she does that you cannot look away from. This rage is because of her father (played by an icy Jamey Sheridan) who controls everything she does and belittles her interests.

Lizzie forms a friendship with the family’s new Irish maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart), with her Lizzie finds comfort in an otherwise cold home. The romance and tension between Lizzie and Bridget is electric to begin with but it’s unfortunately lost as the film progresses. More could’ve been made of their relationship but both Sevigny and Stewart give powerful performances.

Costuming and set design are both beautiful and haunting in equal measure, making this relatively small budgeted film look lavish. Lizzie is a film which seems to fall into a lot of the negative stereotypes of period-dramas, there’s lots of scenes of characters walking slowly down hallways or staring at each other across tables. In some scenes this builds the tension, but in others it seems to be dragging everything out when you’re waiting for the violent act to finally arrive.

Lizzie is an interesting film with a lot to say though it never finds the balance of what it wants to be. It’s a family drama, a crime thriller, and a lesbian romance, but it never gives any of these elements the time to be fully fleshed-out. The performances of its leads are better than the script their given, making Lizzie a straightforward and unremarkable retelling of this classic case. 3/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Jessica Jones Vol. 1, Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier and FABLES: Cubs in Toyland

Jessica Jones Vol. 1: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth

Newly released from prison, Jessica Jones has got a lot of problems. Her latest client wants her to investigate her husband, who thinks he’s from another universe, and Jessica’s own husband, Luke Cage, wants to know where their daughter is. Jessica’s got a lot on her plate when a new threat appears, one that wants to destroy all heroes.

I liked how this book managed to keep Jessica Jones and her story relatively grounded, while still having cameos from other superheroes like Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman and Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. It made Jessica and her PI business a part of the wider superhero world, but it also shows how Jessica is constantly fighting against the title of “hero” and being a part of that world.

Jessica and Luke’s relationship is strained, but I did enjoy seeing it and I hope they can work things out. Jessica has given a lot up to do what she thinks is the right thing, and it’s meant keeping a lot of secrets from the few people she cares about.

The main story in Jessica Jones Vol. 1 was interesting but I wasn’t that scared or intrigued by the main villain as I couldn’t really get their motives. This might have been something

I liked the art style in Jessica Jones, and I loved the monotone colours, it really set the tone of the story. While I didn’t love this comic, it does enough to make me want to continue the series to see how Jessica can possibly sort her life out. 3/5.

Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier by Matthew Rosenburg, Travel Foreman and Rachelle Rosenburg

The Black Widow is dead, but someone is killing her old enemies one by one. With a broke heart and a bloody trail to follow, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is looking for answers. The only place he might get them is from another of Natasha’s ex-boyfriends, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Solider. Will Clint and Bucky be able to trust each other enough to get to the truth, or is the truth deadly and out to get them?

I really enjoyed this. It’s a sequel to everything that happened with Secret Wars, Captain America apparently being an agent for Hydra and a lot of bad stuff happening, but you really didn’t need to know any of that to read and enjoy this comic. I only knew the concept of Secret Wars and haven’t read any myself, but this book does enough to give you all you need to then enjoy these characters and their interactions.

I’m a big Clint Barton fan and I really enjoyed how he and Bucky interacted. It was great how in the fist issue it’s told from Clint’s point of view and then the second issue is from Bucky’s, giving you an insight into both of their minds. They both don’t like each other but they have a common goal in finding out what’s going on with Natasha’s past. They have some really funny moments, and Clint is his idiot but capable self which I loved.

I liked the art style and the colours too for the most part, though some facial expressions were a bit overexaggerated for my taste. Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier is a really fun, character-driven mystery and I’d love to read more about Clint and Bucky’s reluctant partnership. 4/5.

FABLES: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha and Gene Ha

Theresa has a lousy toy boat that she doesn’t really like but it talks to her, encouraging her to run away to a land that she can be Queen of. Theresa travels to Toyland, where broken-down playthings dwell. Wooden, metal, plastic or stuffed, they’re all looking for a queen to fix their bodies and their realm. But these toys are broken in more ways than one. As Theresa’s family search for her, including her wild brother Dare, what will become of her when she discovers the truth about Toyland? And what will staying in that realm cost?

This graphic novel has been sitting on my shelves for years. A friend bought it for me for Christmas one year, but I had never gotten around to reading it as it’s Volume 18 in the Fables series and thought I wouldn’t be able to follow the story without reading the previous 17 volumes. Recently I did some googling and as everyone seemed to say this was a standalone volume I gave it a go.

I do agree it’s a standalone. I could follow the story and the various characters and their relationships easily enough, though there were the few odd moments that seemed to be tied to the larger story that I was unaware of.

The magic system and how all the characters are versions of the classic fairy tales is interesting. Cubs in Toyland was surprisingly sinister and dark at times – these weren’t the fluffy Disney-versions of the fairytales we all know. There were some bloody and violent moments too, which were even more disturbing as they featured young children.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much of a connection to the characters as I hadn’t read the previous volumes, or maybe just the story wasn’t for me, but I did find Cubs in Toyland a bit of a slog to get through, especially the last 40 pages or so. I just didn’t really care to find out how the story would end or if Theresa would be OK. 2/5.

REVIEW: Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

When all the identities of MI7 Agents are revealed in a cyber-attack, the government is forced to recall retied agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), who is the only agent left that might be able to find the hacker.

This is the third Johnny English film and to be honest I have a bit of a soft spot for the series, mainly because of the memories I have of who I was with when I saw each film.

The plot is simple, future events are signposted incredibly obviously, and the villain is so obvious it’s almost painful, but a convoluted plot is not what you get with these movies. There is fun to be had though – a virtual-reality-induced escapade across London is innovative and funny.

It’s Rowan Atkinson’s physical humour that is the best thing about this film and the character, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more of it. there’s a scene where English has taken some adrenalin drugs and Atkinson’s body movements, alongside the different songs playing was brilliant. English’s incompetence that verges on accidentally brilliance is charming albeit predictable, but Atkinson makes it fun.

Johnny English Strikes Again is family fun for all ages. The showing at the cinema I was at had grandparents with young grandkids, and people of all ages between. It’s nice to watch a film that’s silly and fun without violence and sex-references (thankfully the mysterious Ophelia played by Olga Kurylenko is not set up as a love interest at all) and it’s an easy-watch with its less than 90 minutes runtime. 3/5.

REVIEW: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee. Both of her parent’s want her to fulfil the dreams they never could. Lydia is dead in a nearby lake. Her family doesn’t know that yet. And when they do, it will shatter everything they thought they knew about Lydia, and each other.

I attempted to read Everything I Never Told You a couple of years ago for the #DiversAThon but only got about 50 or so pages into it as I couldn’t connect to the characters and the story didn’t grab me. This time, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell and I found the story easier to consume via audio. I think that’s because while the story is told from multiple points of view there’s also an omniscient feel to the narrative voice. For instance, there’s moments when it comments on the future, or makes an observation that a character couldn’t have known at that moment.

There’s a mystery element to Everything I Never Told You as you don’t know how Lydia died, whether it was suicide or if there was someone else with Lydia on the lake. But it’s not as if a character is being an amateur detective trying to solve it, instead it’s more about the repercussions of Lydia’s death on her parents, her older brother Nath and her younger sister Hannah.

One thing I did like about this story was that it featured a biracial family. James is Chinese-American, and Marilyn is a blonde white woman so there’s interesting commentary on how their relationship is seen from the outside and also the pressures placed on Lydia and her siblings for looking so different to their peers. Everything I Never Told You is set in the 1970s in a small town in Ohio so there’s no one else but the Lee family that looks “out of place”. It also explores the sexism of the 1960s and 70s as Marilyn dreamed of becoming a doctor and as she tried to pursue that dream, men in her university classes would persistently make comments and her own mother expected her to find a husband and settle down rather than have a career.

Everything I Never Told You is frustrating in a way because the whole Lee family is terrible at communicating with one another. No one tells anyone how they really feel about something, what they want to do in their lives, or even honestly share how their day was. They are all putting on a front in different ways, talking to each other in half-truths and bottling up everything they feel they cannot say.

Everything I Never Told You is mostly a study of a family. A family who has suddenly experienced something tragic and are all grieving differently. There’s a distance between the reader and the characters due to the narrative voice, however that does fit in well with this book as the characters are distant from one another too. 3/5.