film review

REVIEW: Fast & Furious 8 (2017)

When Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is seduced into the world of terrorism by the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron), his family and crew must join with old foes in order to stop him.

Fast & Furious 8 really steps it up a gear in terms of stunts and spectacle. There’s car chases on the streets of New York, a giant wrecking ball taking out cars and, of course, a submarine vs cars on ice sequence. They shouldn’t work and sometimes it’s a little chaotic to follow where everyone is but it’s best to let the adrenalin start pumping and go along for the ride.

Cipher is a very different kind of villain to what the crew has faced before. She’s almost all seeing and all-knowing thanks to her hacking skills and is powerful enough to get Dom to turn on his family for her. Most of her scenes are with Dom so it would’ve been nice to see her interact with more of the characters and see how characters like loud-mouth Roman (Tyrese Gibson) would react her.

It’s weird going into a Fast and Furious film without Paul Walker being there and they do have a reason why he and Jordana Brewster are not in the film, but the film generally still holds up with the old crew and a few new additions. There’s Eric (Scott Eastwood) Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) new protégée, who takes a while to gel and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is roped in to join the team. The conflict between him and the team is a bit hit and miss, the film quickly brushes off his history with the team (they almost killed his brother and he in turn killed one of their own and tried to kill the rest of them in the last film) and it would’ve been nice to see some more of that conflict. The one place you do feel that tension is between Shaw and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), their chemistry is great and there’s a lot of humour from them two trash talking each other.

Each member of the team has their moment to shine but in many ways, this is Dom’s film. He has the emotional beats of the film, along with (to a lesser extent) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). She, as his wife, is the most visibly torn up about his betrayal and while she does have some cringey lines, she gives a good performance.

What can I say, if you’ve seen any of the recent Fast and Furious films then you know what you’ll be getting into – a world where the laws of physics don’t apply and the main crew of street racers are more like spies or superheroes nowadays. Fast & Furious 8 continues to be a lot of fun with a thrilling finale and a lot of laughs all the way through the film – it’s mad but it works. 4/5.

REVIEW: Free Fire (2016)

In Boston in 1978 a gun deal in an abandoned warehouse between two gangs goes wrong and turns into a shootout as everyone tries to survive the night.

Free Fire is hilarious. Its humour might not be for everyone because it’s kind of stupid and ridiculous but it works really well. The script is razor sharp and witty, every line is brilliant and the cast just look like they’re having a great time.

Sharlto Copley does slightly mad and/or weird very well. Every line out of his mouth was perfection and had me laughing every time. He plays Vernon, the gun dealer, and Vernon has a bit of a screw loose even before the shooting starts. The rest of the cast is great but Sam Riley’s Stevo was my favourite because he was completely off the wall but kind of innocent at the same time.

This isn’t a film that delves into character backstories or anything, there’s the odd line to help flesh out a character but you don’t really need to know anything about them as it’s just focused on one night in a warehouse and how they all react to this shootout they’re in. They’re personalities and values shine through the mad situation they’re in and that’s all you need.

I don’t usually talk about sound design in my film reviews (mainly because I don’t usually notice anything especially interesting sound-related in what I watch) but I’ve got to talk about it in regards to Free Fire. There’s really clever things done in Free Fire with the dialogue. You can hear voices shouting out and you can tell where the characters are in regards to what’s on screen because it comes from all angles. There’s often a lot going on onscreen so to have the sound like that helps ground you and it’s definitely the sort of thing you get the full effect of when sitting in a cinema.

Free Fire is completely mad, absurd and hilarious. It’s a lot of fun and is well worth the price of a cinema ticket. 5/5.

REVIEW: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

A team of scientists led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) aided by a unit of soldiers led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) set out to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific but they soon find themselves outgunned as they venture into the domain of the mighty Kong.

Kong: Skull Island is a lot of fun. It’s an action/war/monster movie hybrid that manages to work most the time. It’s an action movie with colour! Not to the same extent of films like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Pacific Rim (2013) but enough to make it noticeable in a good way. The stuff it does with smoke, fire and shadow is also brilliant, the scale of Kong and the other creatures living on the island comes across great and the film knows how to amp up the suspense.

Kong is brilliant. The scenes with him smashing helicopters or creatures are thrilling and then there’s the quieter moments when you see Kong just going about his life and being a good King. It’s brilliant animation work and every moment he’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off him.

The cast is a proper star-studded cast. Some have more to do than others, for instance Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad is a tracker and is ex-SAS who does seem to be pretty amazing at everything he turns his hand to, while the majority of the soldiers are expendable and don’t always have decent character beats. Brie Larson was great, she played Mason Weaver a war photographer who thinks there’s something up with the expedition and she has good chemistry with pretty much everyone on screen. That being said, a lot of the characters are archetypes. That might not work for some people but it worked for me, most still have a moment where it makes you care about them and you only need

There are jokes in Kong: Skull Island, some fall flat especially at the beginning when it seems as if the film is finding its feet, but the rest of the time they work for the most part – or if they miss the mark, there’s so many monsters and fighting going on then you don’t really notice. The jokes do become more frequent when we meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and his lines tend to work more often than not.

The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. It’s great, full of popular songs from the 1970’s but they don’t always fit what’s happening on screen – there’s only so many shots of someone switching on a record player to show why there’s suddenly some David Bowie or Creedence Clearwater Revival playing before it comes a little tedious.

Kong: Skull Island is great fun. The CGI is ace, the action scenes are fun and exciting and it’s pure, fun entertainment for less than two hours. Oh and there is a post-credits scene and it’s worth sticking around for. 4/5.

REVIEW: Logan (2017)

logan-movie-posterIn the near future, an older and weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) is caring for and hiding an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on the Mexican border. But their isolation is disturbed when a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives, bring dangerous forces with her.

Logan is a magnificent film quite unlike anything in the superhero movie genre we’ve seen before. It’s set in a near dystopian future, most mutants are gone and those who are left are in hiding, and the imagery and setting often feel more like a Western than a superhero film. This almost change of genre makes Logan a much smaller, character driven film. While there are other characters, both good and bad, throughout the film it really is all about Logan, Charles and Laura, their relationships and their journeys.

Also with Logan being a more personal film, there appears to be less CGI. While it’s naïve to think there’s not a lot (every time Logan unsheathes his claws there’s computer work there) it feels more real and there’s not the usual explosions and over the top superhero fight scenes. That being said, there is definitely a lot of violence in Logan (it is a 15 after all) but while it is brutal it isn’t gratuitous. There is also more swearing which, like the violence and both Logan’s and Laura’s rage, fits the characters and film perfectly. Logan never goes over the top with what it’s “allowed” to do with a 15 certificate, every choice is true to the characters and to the story.

In Logan you get to see a different side to the titular character. He’s older, a drinker, his body doesn’t heal like it used to, he’s not a happy man but he’s trying to make a living and keep those he cares about safe. It’s incredible to think that Hugh Jackman has been playing this character for 17 years and in Logan he gives his best performance, mainly because we get to see Logan a completely different man compared to the previous films. Life has gotten Logan down and it takes a lot for him to care for anyone or anything and he definitely doesn’t care about himself. Patrick Stewart also gives a great and very different performance as Professor X – he’s forgetful, he’s cranky and is very much an old man in need of help. Then there’s Dafne Keen as Laura. She is a captivating presence, feral but also has this innocence making Laura someone you’re wary of but also someone you want to protect. She holds her own against Stewart and Jackman and when it comes to the fight scenes she manages to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Dafne Keen is an actress to watch.

Logan is the perfect swansong for Stewart and Jackman as well as being a brilliant and unique addition to the X-Men franchise. Though Logan is a part of the X-Men universe (a universe where the continuity is pretty wonky to say the least) you don’t need to have seen every single X-Men film to understand and enjoy it.

Logan is tense, exciting and thrilling. It has moments of humour that never lessens the stakes and it has moments of heartbreak as you watch these characters’ struggle to achieve what the set out to do. Not to speak too soon but I feel Logan is (hopefully) a game-changer in the superhero genre, showing not everything has to be connected to a wider universe and character driven stories work just as well – in fact good stories full stop are what the superhero genre needs. Simple, character focused stories with a good plot automatically make a good film, while I enjoy pretty much all superhero fare it would be nice for the studios and filmmakers to remember that. Hopefully Logan will join the likes of Spider-Man 2 (2004) and The Dark Knight (2008) as one of The Best Superhero Movies ever made. 5/5.

REVIEW: Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures-posterThe true story of a team of African-American women mathematicians including Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital part in NASA during the early years of the American space programme.

Each of the three leads are brilliant in their roles. They feel like friends who laugh together and support each other but they are also so incredibly smart. Their chemistry is palpable. Katherine is a human computer and can figure out maths that hasn’t even been invented yet, Dorothy is wise enough to get ahead of the game, learn things like IBM computing and make her and her colleagues invaluable to NASA, and Mary wants to be an engineer and while her boss, a Polish Jew, can see her potential, she fights when every door seems to be shut in her face.

The supporting cast is great too. Jim Parsons’ Paul Stafford is one of the mathematicians who doesn’t like Katherine is smarter than him and just about every other man in the room, Kirsten Dunst’s Vivian Mitchell is Dorothy’s boss and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is in charge of the division that works out how to put a man in space and bring him down again.

Hidden Figures isn’t a particularly surprising film as it has the same standard formula just about any true story film has – but that doesn’t diminish how brilliant it is. Hidden Figures knows exactly what it is and it doesn’t need huge twists because the history and these women’s lives are interesting enough.

On a purely aesthetic level Hidden Figures is a beautiful-looking movie. The costumes, hair and makeup are brilliant and the soundtrack is full of catchy songs from Pharrell Williams and Mary J. Blige. The score reunites Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer and they produce music that’s exciting and heartfelt and fits the time period and the film itself wonderfully.

Hidden Figures celebrates those who history, and society, tends to overlook and shows the power of perseverance and friendship. It is amazing to see a film with three African-American leads who are masters in their field. It’s an inspiring yet also frustrating when you see what these women had to put up with, yet they still wanted to be a part of something amazing and contributed to NASA’s success. Hidden Figures will leave you with a huge smile on your face but along the way you may shed some tears, both happy and sad, and it’s really a great, crowd-pleasing movie. 5/5.

REVIEW: Ride (2014)

ride-posterWhen Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) drops out of school and moves to California to live with his dad and to surf, his mother Jackie (Helen Hunt) follows him.

Ride is a delightful little film about family, finding your own path and letting go. Jackie is a workaholic but she is also very overprotective and caring towards her son. She definitely comes across as super clingy and her and Angelo’s relationship is a bit odd. They bicker like an old married couple rather than argue like parent and child. It’s a bit uncomfortable to start with but you soon get used to it and learn why they’re like that. That being said, their weird relationship does lead to a lot of funny moments.

When Jackie follows Angelo across the country she ends up employing Ramon (David Zayas) as her driver and he really doesn’t understand her for a lot of the film, and she meets Ian (Luke Wilson) who attempts to teach her to surf. The scenes with the three of them are often the funniest, especially anytime the trio runs into Angelo.

All the characters in Ride feel real, especially Jackie and Angelo. I feel the screenplay and the performances are what really stands out. You find yourself invested in this mother and son’s relationship, and anyone who has had a clingy parent (or has found themselves being one) will see themselves to some extent in this film.

Ride is a small film but it has a big heart. That’s mostly down to the performances from the cast, Hunt especially is incredible and the scenes she shares with Thwaites are always captivating – whether that’s because they’re funny or surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. 4/5.

REVIEW: Gods of Egypt (2016)

gods-of-egypt-posterMortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites) teams up with the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to try and defeat Set (Gerard Butler), the god of darkness who has taken Egypt’s throne, enslaved its people and plunged the empire into chaos and war.

Gods of Egypt is not a good film. There’s so much wrong with it, the dialogue is awkward and sometimes cheesy, the action scenes are terrible and while it might have a lot of big, shiny things, the CGI can’t really save the film.

Let’s talk about the dialogue. From the first scene with Bek and his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) their whole conversation is clunky and is a full-on info dump. From there it doesn’t get much better. There’s some quips when I think were supposed to be humours but not as funny as I found them – they were so cheesy and said at a really inappropriate time.

Then there’s the fight scenes. Some aren’t so bad, and the special effects on the Egyptian gods sometimes looks pretty cool, but then others are just awful. There’s the slow-mo pans around a character as he leaps towards someone, it honestly looks like the actor has been told to hold a couple of fighting poses and the camera, editing and VFX teams will do the rest.

I can’t not mention that a film set in Egypt, about Egyptian gods, has very few people of colour in it – especially black people. I feel like the scene where there’s a hundred Thoth’s (Chadwick Boseman) walking around is some sort of weird attempt to level the playing field.

All in all, Gods of Egypt is a dull and predictable film, though it does manage to sometimes looks pretty and sparkly. 1/5.