5 stars

REVIEW: Crawl (2019)

When Haley (Kaya Scodelario) goes to check on her father (Barry Pepper) during a category 5 hurricane, she finds herself trapped in a flooding house with deadly alligators.

Crawl is a combination of creature feature and disaster movie and with that it has a lot of the usual tropes, but it uses them well. There is a fair few jump scares, but they feel earnt as the film knows how to crank up the tension, leaving you almost constantly on edge. The jumps care’s release the tension just for a moment but then you realise something truly horrifying is happening and it’s hard not to look away.

One thing about Crawl that makes it feel extra tense is how something like this could happen. Not the deadly alligators going on a rampage in a hurricane, but the hurricane and the dangers it brings. Characters must rely on wide-up torches and radios as the water levels rise and the threat of flood defences failing and making everything worse is a real problem. It’s not just the alligators Haley and her dad have to survive, it’s the elements as well.

Crawl tells a simple story well – it’s runtime is under 90 minutes and the pacing is so incredibly tight that you encounter the alligators much quicker than you’d think. Scodelario and Pepper both give great performances as Hayley and her dad’s interactions feel believable as they fight to survive together. Also, the script is great as through their short conversations throughout the film you learn about their history which helps flesh out their characters without it ever feeling like a big exposition dump.

Crawl has all the makings of becoming a classic creature-feature. It’s tense, scary, claustrophobic and suitably gory and knows how to give the audience a brief reprise through humour every now and then too. The song that plays over the credits is so unexpected but also ridiculously perfect. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Someone Great (2019)

When Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) break up after nine years, a week before she’s set to move across the country for work, she’s determine to enjoy one last NYC adventure with her two best friends Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow).

Someone Great is like a love letter to the friendship between women. Jenny, Erin and Blair have been best friends for years and the way they interact feels like such a real relationship. They’re at different points in their lives both in terms of work, romance, and responsibilities but they all have fears about growing up and how they might not have reached their goals. Erin is a lesbian and scared of commitment and putting labels on her relationship with Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), Blair is in a relationship with a guy who annoys her and Jenny has just got her dream job that she’s worked so hard for but getting the job is the catalyst for the end of her relationship. But no matter what is going on in their lives, they are there for one another to listen, to make each other laugh, and to try and make things better.

Besides the wonderful relationship between the women, the honest portrayal of romantic relationships is great too. Sometimes you grow apart and don’t love the other person, but you don’t hate them either. Other times it can hurt as you still love them, but you know you’ve grown up into a different person to the one you were when you got together. Relationships evolve and they don’t always work forever, and it can be heart-breaking but there can also be someone there to help you through it.

The trio of female leads have great chemistry but the chemistry between Rodriguez and Stanfield really stands out. The way their relationship is told through flashbacks, as Jenny hears songs that reminds her of different times, is great as you can see the ups and downs but it’s bittersweet as you also see how young and happy they were.

Someone Great is funny, sweet and touching as it shows the realities of growing up and growing apart. The soundtrack is fab and every element of it is balanced so well; the humour, the drama, the characters, the relationships – it all comes together in a surprisingly heart-breaking yet heart-warming romantic comedy with a twist. 5/5.

REVIEW: Furious 7 (2015)

My original review of Furious 7 is here.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks to destroy Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their family in revenge for what happened to his brother in London. As he starts to pick them off one by one, Dom is approached by secret government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who wants them to rescue a kidnapped hacker and in return will help them find Shaw before he finds them.

Furious 7 takes the action and the fights up to a whole new level for this franchise. Everything that is shown in the trailer – cars flying out of airplanes, Brian running across the top of a bus that’s falling off of a cliff, a car jumping between two skyscrapers – it’s all just a taste of the over-the-top yet thrilling spectacle that this film has to offer. Everything in Furious 7 is bigger and bolder, from the international locations to the stunts, but it never loses what is at the heart of this franchise – these characters and the fact they are indeed a family.

There’s a lot happening in Furious 7 in terms of villains and plot threads. While Shaw is set up as the main antagonist to begin with, there’s also terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) who is after the kidnapped hacker and their tech for the team to contend with. Luckily, the film speeds along and it has a good balance with these villains and the different obstacles Dom and his family have to face.

That is probably the best way to describe Furious 7; it knows what it is (almost ridiculous but always entertaining) and how to make all of its parts come together cohesively. There are the fights – the one between Shaw and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is brilliant – the car chases, the jokes, and the emotional character dynamics. Furious 7 never lets its foot off the gas but at the same time, you never feel like you’re missing anything.

Furious 7 is action-packed and it has a lot of emotional weight to it. It is the most perfect and respectful send of to Paul Walker and it wraps up Brian’s story so well. In lesser hands the sequence with flashbacks of Brian in the various films across the years could’ve felt cheesy. But here, it fits with the tone perfectly and it ends up being a wonderful tribute to Paul Walker and his time in this franchise. Honestly, the ending of Furious 7 leaves me speechless (and in tears) because it is handled so well. 5/5.

REVIEW: Fast Five (2011)

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) along with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster and friend and former-FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are on the run and backed into a corner. After they cross paths with a powerful Brazilian drug lord in Rio, they call in old friends to pull off one last job to buy their freedom. But all the while federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on their tail.

Following on from Fast & Furious, Fast Five continues the trend of stepping away from its street racing roots becoming a heist film and it’s all the better for it. It still has some great car racing action, but a lot of it either pushes forward the plot or is a nice character moment. It has all the usual heist tropes, but they come together with characters you’ve seen across the previous four films means which makes them extra fun and enjoyable.

Moulding characters into the roles of heist archetypes like the techy (Ludacris’s Tej), the quick talker (Tyrese Gibson’s Roman), and the social chameleon (Sung Kang’s Han) is handled really well and it feels like an extension of the characters we’ve already meant rather than a complete reinvention.

Having all these characters come together and become friends, some of which previously knew Dom before while some only knew Brian, fully cements the key theme of this franchise – family. It’s a theme that had been there from the start but really, it’s once this cast of actors and characters are finally together that you properly start to connect with that message.

Dwayne Johnson is a brilliant addition to the cast and he is a formidable foe for Walker’s Brian and Diesel’s Dom. Really, Hobbs is a combination of the two of them; he has the knowledge of the legal system of Brian, the physical strength of Dom, and is just as loyal to his team as the two of them are to their own family.

The action spectacle of Fast Five is top-notch too. There are foot chases through a favela, an opening set piece with a heist on a train, brutal fistfights, and then there’s the climax which sees a lot of destruction on the streets of Rio. All the action sequences are exciting, well-shot and easy to follow and above all, they are really fun.

Fast Five is a thrill ride from start to finish. The false starts, and not so great films that came before it, can be forgiven because this one is a fantastic blend of action, intrigue, fun and above all – likeable characters that are one big family. Fast Five really set the bar for what the rest of the franchise could be. 5/5.

REVIEW: Rocketman (2019)

A musical biopic about Elton John’s (portrayed here by Taron Egerton) life as he makes a name for himself in the world of music.

Rocketman is a fantastical, over the top musical and it totally works as a way to tell the story of Elton John’s life. Given the time span of the film, there’s certain events that are no doubt abbreviated or missed out completely, but you do get to experience the rise and fall, and rise again of Elton John’s career, relationships and life. Rocketman hits all the usual biopic clichés but it’s easy to forgive it for that as it hits them with the full force John’s discography and a magical take on this man’s life.

Taron Egerton is brilliant as Elton John. He captures the many facets of John’s personality wonderfully, the anger, the love, the despair and the joy, it’s all there to see. Egerton’s minute facial expressions show the conflicting emotions as his relationships become strained as he goes into a downward spiral of drink, drugs and sex. His singing is great too, with echoes of John’s distinctive voice while never imitating it.

Jamie Bell and Richard Madden also deserve recognition for their work here. Bell plays John’s long-time song writing partner Bernie Taupin and he is full of charisma as he and Egerton have such chemistry that even though their relationship is purely platonic (and seeing two men openly say they love one another in a mainstream film is great) you can feel the love and respect they have for one another. Madden portrays John Reid, Elton John’s manager and boyfriend, and he’s perfectly charming yet calculating.

Rocketman is joyful and fun though it never shies away from the darker side of Elton John’s life. The dialogue can be cheesy but with the full-on musical numbers, outrageous costumes and brilliant performances make Rocketman a fantastically weird yet wonderful experience. Rocketman manages to juggle and unite all its contradictions, it’s silly yet serious, earnest yet outrageous but overall it is really quite wonderful. 5/5.

REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

After the events of Avengers: Infinity War the universe is in chaos as half of all life has been wiped out. Those that are left behind struggle to move on and assemble once more to try and undo Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) actions and bring back those they’ve lost.

Avengers: Endgame is incredible. This film is so impressive in terms of plot, character and spectacle. There are so many surprises in Endgame. There’s twists and turns and what you could call fan service moments, but the way the film never manages to lose its way is admirable. It is three hours long, but you don’t notice that runtime at all. There are quieter moments in the film but that’s when it’s more character-focused and they are no less compelling than when these characters are trying to save the universe.

Compared to Infinity War which, while there were stakes it was also a lot more jovial film, Endgame is definitely more character focused. That’s not to say there isn’t action sequences or jokes or exciting moments, but after the events of Infinity War, the characters who survived are not who they once were. They have all experienced loss, they are all hurting, and they are all going through the various stages of grief – with some getting stuck on certain stages longer than others. The characters don’t just brush off what happened and that makes the catastrophic loss of life even more affecting.

The entire cast are amazing. The relationships these actors have made in real life, make the character relationships even more poignant and every character gets their moment in the spotlight. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets more screen time and character development compared to previous films, and Renner really gets to show not only what a great actor he is, but also what a layered character Clint Barton is. Captain America (Chris Evans) is more central to the story compared to Infinity War and Paul Rudd gets to show off his dramatic skills as Ant-Man while still never losing who that character is.

Avengers: Endgame is the finale to an eleven-year, twenty-two-movie saga. It’s the culmination of all the films that have come before it and it manages to pay homage to them while still being a satisfying conclusion – the third act really is indescribable and is unlike anything we’ve seen before in a film of this scale.

Really Avengers: Endgame does mark the end of an era. While the MCU will no doubt continue, Endgame is the finale to this story arc and what a finale it is. 5/5.

FYI I will post a probably very long spoiler-filled review of Avengers: Endgame in the next week or so. I have a lots of thoughts and feelings to get out.

REVIEW: Unicorn Store (2017)

Kit (Brie Larson) is trying, and in her eyes failing, to be an adult. Her passion for art and glitter is almost snuffed out as she gets a temp job and feels her parents are constantly comparing her to more successful people her age. But then she receives a mysterious invitation to The Store, where she meets The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) who gives her the chance to fulfil her childhood dreams.

Brie Larson’s directorial debut is assured, colourful and magical. From the very first scene, the way characters faces are framed give you no choice but to experience with them what they’re feeling. The use of colour and glitter throughout is wonderful and Kit’s wardrobe is just the right blend of childish and mature.

Because that’s where Kit is stuck. She’s an artist with dreams of magic and colour but the “real world” doesn’t see the value in such things. She’s a twenty-something that’s now having her coming-of-age story as she goes through that dilemma a lot of young people have – should she try and be a “proper grown up” or should she still try and follow her dreams, even if they seem out there.

The script is funny and genuine and it’s due to both the script and Larson’s performance that Kit never becomes unlikeable. She’s strong-willed and sometimes selfish, but she also apologies when she has a temper-tantrum and is friendly and kind. Kit can come across very naïve, firstly because of the promises the Salesman makes are truly fantastical, but also due to her low self-esteem and the fact she’s never been in the workplace before she can’t figure out if her boss is harassing her or not. A simple yet brilliant moment was when Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), a hardware store worker who Kit pays to help her achieve her dream, states that what her boss is doing is wrong. Virgil and Kit’s friendship is so sweet, and their conflict comes from Kit being obsessed with the seemingly impossible, and not appreciating what she has in her family and friends.

Kit is a messy human who’s trying to figure out what she wants from life, and when life gets hard, she reverts to chasing the dreams of her childhood. But it’s seeing how she starts to understand who she is and what she wants that’s truly touching.

The basis of Unicorn Store’s story is weird but the themes it has, figuring out who you are, learning to love oneself and let yourself be loved, keeping the sense of wonder in the world, are universal. Unicorn Store is whimsical and heartfelt and just delightful. It’s a proper laugh-out-loud funny film but then it will also make you cry a lot too. It’s sweet and touching without ever being cringey and Larson really captures all the different sides of someone who is trying to figure themselves out and to be OK with who they are. 5/5.