Month: March 2017

Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

Source Code and Moon were incredible films, but also relatively small-scale from Duncan Jones. Warcraft: The Beginning marks a huge step up on the silver screen for Jones. But it was always going to target a fairly streamlined audience with it being adapted from the popular computer games.

Previously, video game adaptations have always fallen short of the mark with the less-than-forgettable Resident Evil franchise and the Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider duo. Recently it seems as though the studios have stepped up the mark by producing a Michael Fassbender-led Assassin’s Creed on a much larger scale.

There was always going to be some apprehension going into this film as I have played some of the Warcraft games and thoroughly enjoyed them becoming engrossed in the world of Azeroth. With a film of this size, it was always going to be heavily reliant on CGI-animation, but it was incredible how quickly that is forgotten with how Jones manages to immerse you into the world of Azeroth.

As this was a franchise essentially dipping it’s toes in the pond, the story wasn’t going to be too outlandish, but put an interesting twist on the good vs evil tale when it comes to the fantasy genre. This time Warcraft manifests the good and evil in the Human race and the Orcish race, respectively.

Jones chose to lead Warcraft: The Beginning with the Orcs on the edge of a dying world and passing through a portal into the land of Azeroth to escape their dying homeland. The now-banded together Horde pass through this ominous green portal being powered by the shaman Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu) who glows ominously with the same green glow.

Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is amongst the selected few of the Horde that are to pass through the gate and tasked with pillaging the Human villages to strengthen a portal to bring forth the rest of the Horde. Immediately Jones has managed to beautiful create two lands that could not be more opposite, from the dusty settlement of Draenor to the beautifully wooded greens of Azeroth.

The Orcish Horde are met with opposition from the charismatic Andiun Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the right hand man to the King. And what develops of the next two hours is a battle amongst to the two races, one trying to survive and the other trying to protect their homeland, but Jones manages to have the story go from strength to strength instead of plodding along. Although it isn’t groundbreaking, the story is told incredibly well. (Something Duncan Jones is pretty darn good at doing)

Warcraft would be nothing without some magic involved, but this incorporation could have gone one of two ways, but Jones had the Shaman’s and Mage’s plotted perfectly throughout the story from Medivh’s (Ben Foster) fel-killing spell, to Gul’Dan’s mercilessly sucking souls from helpless victims.

What I found when I was watching Warcraft was that I was becoming more and more engrossed in the story and the characters. This could be down to my prior enjoyment of this world, but Duncan Jones has done an incredible job of finding the right mix of characters, story and action throughout the 120-minute runtime. The leads of Durotan and Anduin were what was expected, but it was the support from Garona (Paula Patton), Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and Medivh all pulling in great performances, especially as the story evolves around these three and their parts to play in the climatic (also, foreseeable) battle.

What I was not anticipated was a couple of twists that are incorporated into the story. Now, it’s not to the level of Moon and Source Code but there was little nuances that worked with the story to make Warcraft: The Beginning that little bit more enjoyable.

I thought that my bias could tip Warcraft in it’s favour, but my bias was insignificant for the amount of enjoyment I got from watching this. The characters were brilliant from start to finish and made the story even better when it was being unravelled. Jones managed to completely immerse me within this familiar world that I hadn’t visited for some years, but it all came flooding back, from that ominous green glow to the majestic capital of Stormwind.

I honestly thought that the CGI-heavy characters would cause an issue for me in this film, but when you are that immersed in the story and the characters it really does take a backseat as the time just melts away when watching. Jones perfectly selected the music for each scene and really became effective and did not seem disjointed in anyway at all.

If you hadn’t of gather. I really, really, really, enjoyed this film. I would be happy for more instalments of this universe. Duncan Jones keeps seemingly going strength to strength with his films, but Warcraft proves he has the grit to hang with the big blockbusters.

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Viceroy’s House (2017)

The tone of Viceroy’s House is set as Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) takes on the role of the last Viceroy of India and announces to a council of his peers that the Indian’s cannot wait to get rid of the British.

Gurinder Chadha has Viceroy’s House take place entirely within the complex of the aforementioned house, which housed people of all faiths and differing political stances during this time of extreme change ij India. What I did not anticipate with this story is the extremely personal touch, as the director’s great grandmother was actually caught in the partition of India in 1947.

The grand spectacle of the house was beautifully shot, as Lord and Lady Mountbatten enter the house for the first time and the screen dances with golds, reds and oranges. But instead of having the story revolve around Lord Mountbatten’s adjustment to the Indian heat and the change of power, the house also welcomes a new member into its staff as Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal) joins the ranks.

The house in itself becomes a character over the course of an hour and forty minutes, as you see the cracks begin to show between the differing faiths that serve the Viceroy’s family. This tension becomes part of the film, as the violence around India wages on whilst Mountbatten and his council try to negotiate a plan that will work for India and it’s people.

But this tension also filters and weighs heavily on the Mountbatten family, as Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) seemingly loses faith in her husband as he tries to maintain a plan that will effectively tear India apart. And her performance is excellent as the humanitarian that wants the British to not be remembered as the people that ruined the country whilst giving back independence.

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Instead of having Viceroy’s House stand alone as a political drama depicting this partition, Chadha instead incorporated a love story that bridges an impossible gap that seems to have been placed between faiths. Jeet Kumar and Aalia Noor (Huma Qureshi) have an infectious love story that takes place during the backdrop of this torn India, which causes further tension between themselves and their faiths.

I had come into this film with no prior knowledge about Viceroy’s or their houses and especially the partition of India. The way Gurinder Chadha managed to relay this historical information was fantastic, and I can’t say I was ever bored during the unveiling of it. The key to the climax of this story was the tension that was rife throughout the household, but also the tension between the Mountbattens and Mountbatten’s staff.

This come downs to the convincing performances from everyone on screen, from Manish Dayal, Michael Gambon and even Neeraj Kabi as Mahatma Gandhi professing his opinion on the situation. The telling of this political drama would have come down to the convincing performances on show and the cast were there the whole nine yards. Chadha managed to effectively add in the love story to bulk out the story, which helped it move through the hour and forty runtime.

Viceroy’s House is a really enjoyable piece of filmmaking, and quite an educational one too. It also provide the social implications of Indians living in India under the rule of the British. As Viceroy’s House takes place in 1947, it also tells how World War II impacted both nations in differing ways.

The real winner in this picture is the tension that is rife throughout. Chadha and the cast effectively made the tension feel real and not just between Mountbatten and his staff, but between the members of staff themselves. The upstairs downstairs dynamic that is reminiscent of Downton Abbey really accentuates this as the Mountbatten’s take residence at the house.

The last moments of Viceroy’s House is what stays with you. The personal story of Chadha’s great grandmother being victim to the partition drives home an event that happened a mere 70 years ago and can be drawn on for relevance to this present day. Although politics in dramas are a grey area in enjoyment, Viceroy’s House managed to have the right mix of political drama and the love story and I think that it comes down to the great all round performances from Bonneville, Anderson and the rest of the supporting cast. If you’re interested the British Empire and it’s impact on India, then this would be perfect viewing for you.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Much of the promotional footage in the lead up to Kong: Skull Island really focused on the sheer size of the king of the apes, as he towers above people silhouetted by a crimson setting sun. Many of the previous incarnations of King Kong have him seem much smaller. (aside from when he fought the gigantic lizard Godzilla)

What differed coming into Jordan Vogt-Roberts second directorial feature was the backdrop Kong: Skull Island was set. There is a quick introduction of the main cast, where Vogt-Roberts washes the screen in vivid reds and blue, reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. John Goodman’s snatches the opening lines with “We’ll never see a more messed up time in Washington”, but he enlists the help of a former SAS solider James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photojournalist Mason Weever, (Brie Larson) both of whom are based in the Far East.

I had a slight trepidation with Brie Larson’s character and whether she was going to become the all-too familiar damsel in distress that has been seen many times in previous King Kong films. But instead Mason Weever manages to provide a stance on the social aspects in 1973 and the ending of Vietnamese War. She disagrees with Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) about whether they lost, or abandoned the war effort, in a quite tense word exchange.

I genuinely thought there was going to be some sort of semblance of a character for Samuel L. Jackson, as he solemnly reflects on his medals, but instead he opts for the vengeful and righteous man that is all too familiar with Sam Jackson. And it has to be said that I wasn’t blown away by any of the performances in Kong: Skull Island as they all seem to just offer occasional glances into the distance at the mythical creature Kong.

As the crew land on the uncharted and undiscovered Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts really indulges the visual aspect of this film and creates some beautiful and awe-inspiring shots of this exotic landscape. But I thought what was really impressive in Kong: Skull Island was Larry Fong’s ability to give the film a strong feeling of a Vietnam War film. If you had taken out the battle with a mythical gigantic creature and placed an opposing army, Kong: Skull Island would be the ideal Vietnamese War film.

Fong’s representation of this is largely helped by the soundtrack choice as they all seem to belong to that period of the late 60s and early 70s as the music has almost become iconic for that time period. This includes the incorporation of characters beginning to question the abandoning of the war effort, whilst the older-grizzled veterans try to look for new enemies to conquer.

The film stands just shy of a two-hour runtime, but unfortunately for me, it seemed to be longer and I think this is down to there being a huge amount of walking through this exotic landscape discussing the next steps and what’s going to happen, which is just not needed. Understandably, some of this is needed, but not for each individual lost in the Skull Island forest.

What was enjoyable about the story is that it was not going to be a third retelling of the 1933 story that started this infatuation of monsters on the big screen. This reimagining of the King Kong story worked, especially as we see him swinging around Skull Island, essentially protecting his territory. But Vogt-Roberts did not forget the roots of this mythical beast, as he has Kong snagged in chains during a fierce battle, referencing the previous incarnations hosting Kong to crowds whilst locked in chains, but also the cinematic battles that featured heavily in Peter Jackson’s forgettable retelling of King Kong.

I have always been a fan of monster films, with Cloverfield and Godzilla being some of my favourites, and what Kong: Skull Island is no different as the battle sequences are just simply mesmerising. Throw in some beautiful exotic landscapes and you got some incredible footage, but was that enough to make a decent film?

No. It was not.

What did not work for me was the wooden characters. The best characters were those of the under Packard’s command and their camaraderie really lifted of the screen, really shadowing that of the main cast. What was effective was the ‘Dear Billy’ included throughout the story as they put detail their own thoughts about Skull Island. Overall Kong: Skull Island works on an action level, but when you begin to scratch beneath the surface, you’re going to come up empty. Just sit back and enjoy the mesmerising battles and beautifully shot landscapes.

Logan (2017)

Wolverine has been the character from the X-Men to receive the most action, from his early days in X-Men to his own trio of spinoffs and of course Hugh Jackman returns to the character we are all so familiar with. However Logan takes on a different task, as it is seemingly set in a not so mutant-friendly world.

What is different to the Wolverine we all know and enjoy, is that he looks incredibly dishevelled, covered with cards and to some extent, broken. But it’s still the same old character as he gets locked into a battle with some Mexicans trying to steal the lug nuts of his car. Thinking we would be treading familiar ground with this battle, I was shocked as Wolverine’s claws slash through one of the unsuspecting Mexican arms, and before one can even process this, someone else’s head is pierced with the same claws.

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My favourite superhero franchise has always been the X-Men Universe and this still holds true with the never-ending onslaughts of films by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ugh). The X-Men Universe housed some of the better heroes and villains during its seventeen-year franchise, but never exhibited this grotesque violence that was appearing on the screen.

But it was just so great.

You can almost feel the weariness of Hugh Jackman’s new-look Wolverine, as he cannot keep up with the speed of battle like he used to. But what becomes clear is that he also taking longer to heal as he pops out shell casings in a truck stop bathroom and wipes the pus from his knuckles. Part of this comes down to Jackman giving one of his better performances. We all know him as The Wolverine, but Logan is the first film since X2 that I’ve been impressed by the character.

As I mentioned previously, my thoughts are that the X-Men Universe has always housed the greatest villains, like Magneto and Brian Cox’s William Stryker. Logan keeps up this trend, as the antagonist is one of the most intriguing, hate-inducing and cocky characters I’ve seen recently. Boyd Holbrook is definitely in his element as Donald Peirce, the man intent on catching X23, or better known as Laura (Dafne Keen).

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The trailers seemed to ruin the big reveal of Laura and her use in the story, which was a shame, as I would have preferred the surprise that would’ve come with it. Her character is really enjoyable and the chemistry that she has with Wolverine/Hugh Jackman is just fantastic, as they become enjoyable to watch interact with each other.

James Mangold managed to take the film in a very different and intriguing direction over the two hours or so that the film was running for. Aside from the upping in the ratings of the film, it is a visceral and haunting look into our beloved hero Wolverine slowly dying before our very eyes. The method that he took the narrative in was not ground breaking, but the characters that he filled the story with were the perfect, without shoving anyone’s character into too much exposure.

Although the basis of the narrative was not very inventive, it was still laced with a couple of well-crafted twists including ones that were ruined by the trailers and ones that were not. Mangold managed to take this film and place it in this surreal future (as it was set in 2029) but leave you with enough intrigue about the past events. I wouldn’t say Logan needs required viewing of the previous instalments of his spinoffs, but it would help as it gives you more of a feel of the characters in terms of Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X.

In amongst the rip-roaring action that unfolds in Logan (which is just superb) Mangold managed to create this surreal future with some beautiful shots of Mexico, making the world seem as though it has become a barren wasteland, echoing the word from Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not often an out-and-out action has the ability to use stunning visuals and create an intriguing storyline that in some instances you really can become wrapped up in.

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Logan is a really enjoyable film, which doesn’t lean too heavily on the comics I felt (but then I don’t actually read them) but rather embraces the violent nature of Wolverine, especially in that first scene. In parts I thought it began to drag it’s feet through the two-hour viewing time, but the enjoyment of the characters mixed in with a few plot twists made me forget those parts quickly.

Mangold has managed to create something that hasn’t previously been attempted in the X-Men Universe and for my money it worked every step of the way. It’s grotesque use of violence was perfect and fitting for this aging veteran, but the antagonists worked perfectly as well. If you’re a fan of Wolverine films and X-Men in general, then this is the perfect film as you see Wolverine is all his glory, but also not so much in all his glory. It’s almost as if he’s human. Almost.

Hidden Figures (2017)

Everyone is aware of the 1960s Space Race that culminated in the 1969 landing on the moon. What everyone may not be aware of is that during the sixties the space race was influenced and helped by a group of African American women working NASA.

The story of the Space Race in itself is just awe inspiring. Include this backdrop of women being victims to racial and gender imbalances in the work place, whilst remaining vigilant and resilient against those that defy them, makes the story even better. Theodore Melfi has managed to tell an incredible story that is wonderfully life affirming coinciding with NASA’s attempts to put an American in orbit.

As well as the racial tensions that are rife in state of Virginia during the sixties, there is also an unbearable tension within Langley’s Research Center as they listen to the reports of the Russians effectively managing to put a satellite into orbit. There is an increasing amount of pressure that is placed on Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and his team of engineers to touch the stars.

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Melfi manages to show the tension, regardless of what tension it is, effectively and the story becomes quite enticing as it develops. He has our three resilient heroes push the boundaries in their respective areas continually to achieve something that seems alien to myself in the present day.

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) is very headstrong in her ambition to become the first woman engineer at Nasa, whilst Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) shoulders the authoritative figure within this film whilst locked in a battle of wits with Mrs Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Melfi has chosen to run the narrative primarily through Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) as helps decipher the math that is missing for their prospective launches into space, which causes tension amongst Paul Stafford and his team of engineers.

The tension does come down to that way that the segregation is shown throughout the film, whether that is the denial of a promotion or disbelieving that an African American woman can solve the mathematics that are in front of her. This comes to a boiling point as Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) exclaims the ridiculousness of having to make a forty minute trip just to use the bathroom in a scene that is breath taking displaying a strong sense of empathy for these characters.

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Everyone is aware of the racial segregation that happened between African American’s and Whites, but the fact Melfi manages to subtlety uses this almost as though we are transported to Virginia in the 1960s during this awe-inspiring age of new technology. His choice to have the characters experience these social in justifications first hand, but take them on the chin and continue to strive for greatness was incredible and managed to make the screening more enjoyable.

Although the narrative was strong and enjoyable with these three women that were played superbly, Hidden Figures feels a little bit longer than it ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, it is a triumphant piece of filmmaking, but some with smart editing could have made the film pack a lot more to punch, rather than drag.

Of the ensemble piece, Jim Parsons’ lead engineer Paul Stafford is the weakest as he professes that a ‘woman’ is unable to help with the advance math he is calculating and of course continually hinders her performance throughout the film. But this is one of the bigger positive points surrounding this film as regardless of her rejection to be accepted within the ranks of engineers, Katherine continually defies Paul and Al’s beliefs and delivers this resilient behaviour every step of the way and manages to enjoy her life regardless of the circumstances surrounding her.

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Melfi with the help of Henson, Spencer and Monae has managed to bring to life the story behind the sixties Space Race in thought provoking way. He doesn’t rely too heavily on the racial tensions, but rather uses them in a narrative means to help progress the story and effectively instil a means of empathy within.

As I mentioned, my main grief is that the film begins to drag as it reaches it’s second hour of viewing as Melfi draws on Katherine’s personal life and her relationship with Jim Johnson, (Mahershala Ali) which for me seems a bit redundant. Not only this I thought some of the song choices seemed a bit displaced and out of sync with the rest of the story.

But Hidden Figures remains an extraordinary story about extraordinary circumstances that just seems so alien to me now, and Melfi’s ability to show this in an effective and justifiable way was a pleasure to watch, alongside the narrative the characters are incredibly life affirming and Hidden Figures just manages to keep you smiling.