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Solo review- Is the Force strong with this film?

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It seems like only yesterday the film world was divided over the quality of The Last Jedi. In reality, it has been five months although that is admittedly a short time for Star Wars films to premier. Solo, the stand alone Han Solo prequel film, has been mired with some difficult behind the scenes issues and a bizarre marketing campaign, but now it’s here the whole world can experience the finished product. Is it worth the wait? I think it is. This is a fun and unique entry into the Star Wars saga and well worth a watch.

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Ready Player One review- Spielberg’s still got it

Of all the filmmakers working today, Steven Spielberg has been fortunate enough to stay relevant and beloved. In a career of over forty years, he has rarely put a foot wrong and still makes films to this day, tackling every genre imaginable and captivating the minds of millions. Everyone has their favourite Spielberg (mine is and will always be Jurassic Park) and his rare ability to effortlessly switch from serious drama to fun spectacle is what makes him a cinema giant. His recent films have mostly been more focused on slower, more mature historical dramas, which is why his return to big budget, spectacle driven film making has been so anticipated. I could not wait for this film to come out, although I was slightly worried that it would just become “Nostalgia- The Movie”. Well, Spielberg made sure it was a lot more than that.

In 2045 (tune in when that year actually happens to see if we have the OASIS. It’s 2018 and we don’t have Jaws 19, replicants or crazy Mexican scientists who look like Patrick Troughton) the world has advanced to the stage where virtual reality is the norm, and the OASIS is where the world’s population to escape the grim real world. The OASIS was built by James Halliday who built the simulation around his childhood nostalgia. After his death, his avatar reveals to the gamers that he has hidden three keys in the OASIS that will lead one gamer to unlock an Easter Egg that will allow them control over the OASIS. Parzival, real name Wade Watts, wants the Egg desperately, and his quest to find it leads him to come into conflict with the sinister Nolan Sorrento and IOU, who want to commercially exploit the OASIS.

First thing first- it’s clear what film will win Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. This film has highly innovative and amazing visual effects that show how Spielberg is the master of innovation. Not content with jump starting the blockbuster and revolutionising CGI, he and his team of effects artists create a fully realised world made entirely of computers that both looks real and does not suffer from uncanny valley like motion capture. The OASIS looks amazing and I have a hunch this is the start of a revolution of technology in film. It’s worth watching this film on the big screen.

Like Jurassic Park before it, this is a very loose adaptation of the book. It’s not completely different, rather it takes the plot and characters and changes them to fit the film format. The references are toned down a lot, which is a good thing. Here, the references are more subtle. There’s the Delorean (I only watched Back to the Future this year so I actually get the reference), DC heroes, Godzilla, even a sneaky Jurassic Park reference (nice one Spielberg) and a great Serenity appearance that I missed but got told was there. My favourite reference is the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. I won’t spoil anymore, but it’s a great reference nonetheless.

Despite all the references, the film is still strong even if you don’t understand all of it. The action scenes and dynamic direction make the film hugely entertaining, and despite the characters not being too complex, they serve the functions of the plot well. The third act gets really good and emotional, as Spielberg effortlessly turns the film into something deeper than it appears. The film is also surprisingly funny, especially iRoK, a snarky weapons expert who helps the villains but clearly cannot be bothered with it. The plot is different from the book but very clever, and I loved seeing the characters work everything out through clever investigation. Even though I’ve read the book, I was left guessing as to what was going on and there were several great twists that I didn’t see coming. The film builds and builds to an epic and bonkers final fight. I didn’t get all the references, but my screening did.

There are many interesting questions raised about whether or not nostalgia is good and how people can be corrupted by it. Sorrento is a great villain who isn’t just pure evil- despite his actions you understand who he is as a person. This is juxtaposed with Halliday, who is given a lot of depth for a character who dies before the film begins. I like the central conflict between Parzival and Artemis, as one treats the quest as a game whilst the other is more serious about it. My favourite character in the film is Ogden Morro, played by one of my favourite actors, Simon Pegg. He’s not in the film too much, but his scenes have big impact and are very entertaining.

In conclusion, if you were unsure whether or not to check this film out, I recommend it. Even if you don’t understand all the references or in-jokes the film is entertaining enough in its own right. Spielberg still has his touch and I hope the success of this film will lead him to more innovative blockbusters like this (though not Indiana Jones 5. Please not). If sci fi isn’t your thing I don’t think this will change your mind, but if you are interested in checking this out because of Spielberg then it’s worth it. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Pacific Rim retrospective: Diving into Guillermo del Toro’s original film

In three days time, one of my most anticipated films of the year comes out. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a long time coming, as the first film is one of the few recent original films that deserves a franchise. To celebrate the second film, let’s look back at the original 2013 film, already gone down as a cult classic and an action masterpiece, all brought to life by the masterful skills by Academy-award winning director Guillermo del Toro (it feels so satisfying saying that. Never before have I agreed with the Oscars so much).

The world of this film is expertly constructed. In the opening ten minutes, the audience is told everything they need to know about the backstory of the Kaiju and the Jaegar, with a fully detailed future established before the first action sequence. Every frame is gorgeous and packed with immense detail- as soon as the movie is over you instantly want to return to it, which thankfully we will. What makes this film stand out amongst the crowd of CGI blockbusters is the fact that it feels real and tangible. The Jaegars look real, the Kaiju look real, the world presented is worn down and believable. It’s all down to del Toro’s magnificent eye for production design and attention to detail throughout. His use of colours and practical set design complement the amazing visual effects perfectly. How this did not win at least Best Visual Effects, I do not know. Every creature in this film was designed from the ground up, and it shows.

But it’s not just the visuals and direction that make this film work. The characters are also great. They aren’t the most complex or fleshed out, but it’s the simple characterisation that works. Raleigh Beckett is a character afraid of living up to his brother’s name and afraid of failing. Throughout the film he is told he must help Stacker Pentecost fight the Kaiju, but Raleigh is frequently hiding from doing the right thing.  Through his connection with Mako and the realisation that they must work together, he decides to lead the charge against the Kaiju.  It’s a simple and satisfying arc. Mako Mori is one of del Toro’s best female characters, being fully independent and fleshed out. Her arc is brilliant, as she learns how to use her past as a motivation to keep fighting. Rounding off the best characters is del Toro regular Ron Perlman stealing the show as Hannibal Chau and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, being plain awesome every second he is one screen.

The themes in this film are quite inspiring and meaningful in today’s world. The multi-national characters present a world that has overcome differences to fight a greater threat and it’s a great message about how the human race can work together. Of course, with this being a del Toro film, expect lots of rain, contrasting colours, thing in jars, dissection, water and common themes. Like other del Toro protagonists, Raleigh refuses to be shaped by what society and circumstance dictates them to be and is able to forge his own path through his personal choices. Of course, this is just subtext, and the film is mainly focused on the spectacle of watching giant robots punch giant monsters in the face. The action is incredible- yes, it’s mostly CGI, but it’s done so well and so engaging, thanks to the amazing music, great buildup and stunning landscapes. The gigantic Hong Kong battle works so well because the film already established the characters and the combination of location filming, real sets and meticulous computer effects are mind blowing. I do not know how this battle was made to look so good, but I’m certainly very impressed.

The script by del Toro and Travis Beacham is clever and witty. I love how the film gives everybody subplots and actions that move the story along and expand the world. Newt’s trip into the neon drenched streets of Hong Kong is so detailed and Hannibal Chau is so fun I could watch an entire film focused on him. Everyone in this film has a purpose, right down to the other Jaegar pilots. The film is so fun to watch and never takes itself seriously. I’ve heard people complain how this isn’t like del Toro’s other films and how it lacks the depth of his Spanish language films, and I agree. But this isn’t trying to be Pan’s Labyrinth, this is trying to be a love letter to giant monsters and is del Toro’s way of recovering from the turbulent production of the Hobbit and the failure of At the Mountains of Madness getting produced. He would return to his usual style after this, but this stands as his most fun and accessible film, which anyone who has an inherent passion for giant monsters and giant monsters (which is nearly everyone, I guarantee) can enjoy. As I’ve mentioned, this film still has the master of monsters’s regular style, themes and auteur signature present. It may be simple and is at the end of the day a summer blockbuster, but it’s the vivid world, great style and underlying messages that make this stand out amongst the crowd.

So, am I looking forward to the sequel? Of course I am. I have faith that Steven S DeKnight can give us a satisfying sequel. It’s always good to see John Boyega in a leading role and based on the trailers it looks like del Toro’s unique visual style has not been completely lost. I’ve decided to not have the long gap between the first and second film put me off (after all, there was seven years between Alien and Aliens) and instead focus on how the second could improve on the first. It’s great to see an original franchise get recognised, and del Toro’s producer credit will certainly get people watching. How can you turn down an award winner? And no, I will never not be satisfied with saying that. Here’s hoping Uprising can live up to the first.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection review

Yeah, I was gonna review this the week it came out but… stuff happened. Annoying GCSE sized stuff. Well, now I have the time, let’s dive into the latest entry of the awesome Skulduggery Pleasant series. A warning that there will be spoilers, but seeing how you’ve probably all read it by now it doesn’t matter. In short, read the book. But you know that already.

The book takes place five years after The Dying of the Light. Roarhaven has become a giant, fully functioning society and Skulduggery is still solving mysteries and crime. Valkyrie has gone into hiding to make up for her actions as Darquesse and everything seems to be fine. Until a group of fanatics led by a mysterious masked figure called Lethe appear and form an “anti-Sanctuary” to rise up against the mortals, who they see as inferior. This forces Skuldggery and Valkyrie back together.

There are many new elements and characters in this book. The most important new character is Omen Darkly, a schoolboy who is not the Chosen One. The Chosen One is his brother (I love this aspect of Derek Landy’s writing. He’s constantly subverting cliches.) Omen is just a normal kid who happens to be the exact person Skulduggery and Valkyrie need for their investigations. He’s a great character and serves as a strong new protagonist, although the focus is of course on the two main characters.

Skulduggery is one of my all time favourite characters, and I am happy to report that Resurrection is a great showing for him. He’s still just as snarky and deadpan as ever, but his experiences over the past books have made him more moral and grounded. A very shocking event happens in the book, when Skulduggery is turned evil by one of the protagonists. In any other series this would have been very brief, but Skulduggery is working for the villains for quite a while. It’s nail bitingly tense whenever he meets Valkyrie, as you’re never too sure whether he’s still evil or turned good. The nature of his character means you cannot tell. Funnily enough I read this the same week Doctor Who aired The Lie of the Land, where the Doctor had also (supposedly) turned evil. Imagine my disappointment when he hadn’t. Obviously Skulduggery is back to normal by the end but the brilliant thing about him is that he’s never been a true hero, so his turning in this book raises questions of his Lord Vile days.

Another positive of this book is how the world has changed. Every character has changed- Valkyrie is no longer a teenage girl, she’s a young woman who still gets visions of Darquesse. China Sorrows is now the Supreme Mage and Tanith is nowhere to be seen. The entire universe of Skulduggery has shifted dramatically, and the tone of the book has too. It’s still funny and action packed, but it’s darker, more character based and more introspective. It’s easily the darkest book of the series but it’s still distinctly the same series that gave us “The sparrow flies south for winter”.

My favourite part of the book is how the other characters have to work around Skulduggery’s new alliance with the villains. The stakes are raised considerably and the book alternates between the heroes desperately trying to figure out how to stop the anti-Sanctuary and Skulduggery working with the villains to resurrect Abyssina, a powerful sorcerer who they believe will lead sorcerers to supremacy over humans. The story is epic and spans many characters. There’s even a subplot dedicated to the American President, who just so happens to be an egotistical billionaire who believes himself to be superior to everyone else. I don’t think I need to comment any further.

The ending of the book is open ended and leaves many unanswered questions, which I assume will be answered in future books. I would be reading them anyway, but leaving the book on a mild cliffhanger means that the consequences of this book will be far reaching. This is a staple of the series, and it’s why I believe a Sherlock-esque TV show of three movie length episodes per series will be the best way to adapt Skulduggery Pleasant, as the episodic format of each book is clear. This book was one of my most anticipated pop culture events of the year, and it did not disappoint. If you’re a fan, you’ve read it already. If you haven’t, start from the beginning and immerse yourself in the brilliant world of Skulduggery Pleasant.

 

 

 

Age of Ultron review

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As you all know, I love superheroes, and superhero movies, especially ones based on Marvel. The old Spider-Man films, the X-Men films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all great in my opinion, with my favourite MCU films being The Winter Soldier, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy. But, having now seen Age of Ultron twice now, I think I have a new favourite Marvel film.

 

While I normally review things spoiler free, the fact that this film is now a month old and that there is a lot to discuss, I will discuss spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen it (why?), I’ll give the short version-

AWESOME!

So now, let’s dive into the details of the film. Since this is spoiler filled, I won’t need to summerise the plot, as you’ve probably already seen it. Let’s discuss my favourite parts.

avengers assemble

 

The action is amazing, with every character having at least one brilliant moment in the action scenes. The film opens in a spectacular manner, with a massive tracking shot to introduce the Avengers storming a HYDRA base. My favourite action scene is the final sequence in Sokovia, with the whole third of the film being one massive fight. The Hulkbuster/Hulk fight in Wakanda (a much appreciated Black Panther Easter Egg) is also brilliant, with traditional Tony Stark witty dialogue mixed with great visuals and music.

Despite this, the film doesn’t forget to have great character moments and development. The second act of the film slows down to have about 20 minutes of no action in Hawkeye’s home. It is this section where the characters can calm down and talk about their feelings and emotions. Every main Avenger goes through an arc: Iron Man learns the dangers of his technology, Banner becomes afraid of the Hulk and his power, Captain America discovers where his home and friends truly are, Black Widow is forced to confront her past and Hawkeye becomes the heart of the team and keeps them together. The one character who doesn’t change is my favourite Avenger, Thor. While he isn’t as prominent as he was in the first movie (he disappears in the second act of this film), he still has plenty of funny lines and awesome moments (the Thor/Captain America combo is amazing).

With Thor pushed aside, the star of this movie is Hawkeye. While he didn’t do much in the last film, here he is full of one-liners, clever trick arrows and is a central part of the movie. He is now one of my favourite Avengers, as he hasn’t got any powers yet he still fights to save the world. He’s an ordinary guy, and if I had to be a character in this movie, it would be Hawkeye.

The themes in this movie are very deep for a superhero movie, and it shows that blockbusters are just as deep as any other kind of film. The main theme I can gather from it is the theme of legacy. Tony creates Ultron to help preserve the Avenger’s legacy and avoid future conflicts, while the Banner/Black Widow relationship is about how their inability to have children means they have no legacy so they bond together as a result. In contrast, Hawkeye’s family shows he has the most to lose out of all the characters and he eventually continues Quicksilver’s legacy by naming his newborn Nathaniel Pietro Barton (while I’m discussing Quicksilver, he isn’t as cool as X-Men’s, but the one here is a slightly better character and is closer to the comics. But they’re both great).

My favourite new character has to be The Vision, introduced in the final part of the film. Not only does his character tie into the idea of legacy (as Ultron creates him to continue his plan to make the perfect person) but he is a great character in his own right, with a cool design and fascinating ideals about himself and Ultron. I am excited to see him in further films, especially seeing how he has the Mind Gem, which may or may not motivate Thanos to invade Earth. Four Infinity Gems have now been revealed: The Mind Gem (Yellow, in the Vision’s forehead), The Space Gem (Blue, Tesseract), The Reality Gem (Red, Aether) and The Power Gem (Purple, Orb in Guardians of the Galaxy). The other two (Time and Soul) are Green and Orange. I predict Doctor Strange will have one, and the second one either in Thor 3 or Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

In conclusion, this is my new favourite Marvel film, and one of my favourite comic book movies, along with Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I cannot wait for Civil War and to see what the consequences of this movie will be for the characters.