AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


Leave a comment

Wonder Woman (2017)

As DC tries to combat the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, they have begun by building towards the Justice League film. In the meantime, we are treated to their standalone backstories. Wonder Woman is the latest film to get the treatment with Gal Gadot returning as the legendary Amazonian.

What I have recently disliked about the comic book movies is that they all seem to be using the same framework. (mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe) But what is more enjoyable about the DC Cinematic Universe is the darker and grittier undertones they have taken, which was present in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman even though the latter wasn’t as enjoyable.

Wonder Woman is continuing this trend, but referencing the picture that was seen in Batman vs Superman with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) herself stood with four men during World War One. Before Wonder Woman leaps into how Diana found herself there, they divulge in the backstory and the mysterious land of Themyscira, home of the Amazons.

What was great about Patty Jenkins’ interpretation of this story was that there was enough in the narrative to allow for the audience to interpret things themselves, something that has been missing in my recent cinema outings. And there was some gorgeous graphics in the opening sequence as Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) reveals the origin of the Amazon race and of the battle between Zeus and Ares.

Zeus cast out Ares, and hid the Amazons from the world until Ares rises again. The rest of the Amazons and Diana train on the beautifully landscaped island of Themyscira away from the worlds view. That is all until Steve Travers (Chris Pine) crash lands on their private island.

And this is where the film really picks up the pace as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine come into their own as characters. Gal Gadot becomes the focal point of her scenes as Diana believes that the atrocities of war are at the hand of Ares, the God of war. Although he has found a new form in the body of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as his sidekick Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) concocts a poisonous gas capable of killing everyone. Diana forces Travers hand in taking her to front line to help the war effort and she just looks fantastic whilst doing it.

It has to be said though that she isn’t objectified in anyway, she rather manifests Wonder Woman as a character in such a way that she is incredibly strong and rather independent, especially as she continually defies her mother and Steve. With Batman v Superman the film felt long, Wonder Woman on the other hand doesn’t. This could down to the enjoyment of the characters and the narrative actually being enjoyable instead of the usual cut and paste method Marvel and DC films are currently using.

As I mentioned, the DC Universe films like to be grittier and Wonder Woman has majority of the film centred around World War One. Patty Jenkins effectively manages to instil the atrocities of war and it really works from the dirt of the Belgian trenches to the empty celebrations of a victory for one evening.

My only grief is the overbearing music that is used. The musical cues aren’t established very well, as it clearly tries to evoke emotions at the correct times and at times this took me out of the picture and made the enjoyment considerably less-so.

Gal Gadot is truly a wonder as the titular character as the film progresses into it’s climax. The final third of the film looks as though it is going to enter the realms of similarity as with previous comic book films, it still tiptoes on those, but doesn’t dive head first into it. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is electric, especially as Jenkins’ captures Steve Travers occasionally glancing at Diana with astonishment at her beauty, but not in that objectifying way that I mentioned earlier.

Just as I thought I was losing patience with comic book adaptations, Wonder Woman comes along and manages to give some life into a merciless machine. I realised after coming out of the cinema that Wonder Woman tried something new, it left the comedy (that has become a staple point for comic book films now) to a minimum and perfectly integrated it into the film. This worked and garnered appropriate laughs when needed, but on a whole, Wonder Woman was an enjoyable and terrific watch and this has to be down to the enjoyable narrative and brilliant characters that can be connected with.


Leave a comment

Free Fire (2017)

Hot Fuzz tonally set the benchmark for me for Action Comedies, as every other action comedy film just does not seem to get the correct blend. For whatever reason, Hot Fuzz had this blend perfected and it’s never aged since its 2007 release.

Enter Free Fire, the trailers seemed have this balance tuned to perfection, which also gave me that sense of apprehension when going in and whether this carried over into the film. But regardless, it has to be said that Ben Wheatley has been on an incredible rise since Kill List, and he seems to be showing a diverse range of talents behind the camera.

One thing he has nailed for Free Fire is the perfect running time of 90 minutes, but I could have easily sat in and watched another hour of this film as the narrative unfolds. It’s not often that nowadays an action film takes place in just one setting, with the big blockbusters jetting to various locations before reducing them to rubble. And that’s become a bit boring and well, farcical.

Ben Wheatley has managed to bring some normality back to the action genre with Free Fire, but it’s the character’s nuanced movements that signify this. Justine’s (Brie Larson) trip as the enter the abandoned warehouse, or Gordon (Noah Taylor) getting a splinter during an incredibly tense moment during the gun deal, really give Free Fire that sense of reality. These directions are what is brilliant about this movie, as you wince with them at the glass being stuck in the hand, or getting a needle embedded in a palm.

And to carry on with this grounded approach take on the action genre, the gunshots are excruciatingly loud as they echo and ping around the empty warehouse. Wheatley has managed to inject some life into the action genre that goes against the humdrum affair of tearing cities to the ground in the name to protect civilians.

Peculiarly though, Free Fire doesn’t have a straightforward villain. You have some assholes in an empty warehouse, but no one is the standalone antagonist of this film. I believe this is done intentionally to give the characters more of a chance to express themselves in their own way, from the chipper Ord (Armie Hammer) to the apprentice-like Harry (Jack Reynor). But the screen-time that is allowed with each of the characters, as they try to outgun and outsmart the others in the room is excellent. But amidst all the anarchy that does ensue between the two sides, a confusion arises especially as Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) screams “I forgot whose side I’m on”.

It has to be said Free Fire becomes an incredibly funny film, with the characters interactions with each other. Much of the comedy is driven through Sharlto Copley’s Vern and his ego is just impressive. His comedic gestures and one-liners are just brilliant, including “Just watch and Vern”. But there doesn’t seem to be that reliance on the comedy within this film, as it just flows as the narrative naturally progresses.

It seems as though Wheatley has hit the sweet spot when it comes to the blend of action and comedy in Free Fire as all it all seems to flow together and enclosed within this warehouse space, which is just fantastic. It’s almost as though you can feel the dirt underneath the fingernails and feel the agonising shots that are placed in the characters calves and shoulders. But this displacement and not-very-accurate shooting is effective, because as I mentioned previously, it carries on that sense of reality, but still has that twinge when the shots do find their target.

Free Fire is worlds apart from High Rise, which really shows a depth in the talent that Wheatley possesses. The narrative of a gun deal gone wrong really works, especially as the characters spill off into different areas of warehouse. There isn’t one true shining star of the film, but rather a collaborative effort from all involved as they actually interact with the story and surroundings. I could’ve happily sat and watched another hour of this film as the chemistry that is on-screen is just enigmatic and brilliant to watch. I think Free Fire will not age, much like the aforementioned Hot Fuzz.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are the centrepieces of this remake of the 1960s classic. (Which is in turn an Americanised remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai) Now, I’ve not seen the original The Magnificent Seven, so I have approached this film without any prior knowledge to go off aside from the trailers.

The Magnificent Seven takes place in America in 1879. The small, sleepy town of Rose Creek comes under siege from Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Realising the potential gold mine it is, Bogue decides to lay siege to the town of Rose Creek and tries to buy out the town for a measly sum.

Now, Bogue isn’t armed with a few exceptional shooters, no. It’s more of a small army that out populates the town. Bogue sets his terms for Rose Creek and in a scuffle some townspeople are shot, including Emma Cullen’s (Haley Bennett) husband, Matthew. (Matt Bomer)

themagnificentseven_05

You can see where this is going right?

Although the film does have the all-star casting and excellent backdrops, majority of the film is foreseeable for what will happen next. Emma Cullen meets Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) and enlists his help to take back Rose Creek. Much of the next twenty to thirty minutes of the film is Denzel enlisting other well-known gunslingers of the West including Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and a wanted Mexican bandit Vasquez. (Manuel Garcia-Ruflo)

The titular ‘Magnificent Seven’ is completed by Chris Pratt’s Faraday, Billy Rock (Byung-hun Lee) and the Native American Comanche warrior Red Harvest. (Martin Sensmeier) They arrive at Rose Creek to be met with resistance from Bogue’s men. A quick battle ensues where Bogue’s men are killed rather skilfully.

magnificent-seven-2016-cast

This film is enjoyable for what’s on screen, and my personal enjoyment ends there. Whilst the characters are fun and are seemingly having fun on screen, I didn’t care for their outcomes. Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue exhibits the most captivating performance, as he is painted as a corrupt industrialist man, but remains calm and collected during the sieges of Rose Creek.

As I mentioned above, the story offers little or no twists and turns but chooses to focus on the large-scale fight sequences, which are very entertaining in the big-screen surrounding. Antoine Fuqua chose to include a light-hearted effort to counter the action-heavy sequences through Chris Pratt’s not-too-serious Faraday. Fantastically Fuqua didn’t overuse this method and created the perfect balance.

magnificent-seven

The Magnificent Seven is a good film, if you’re after a pretty backdrop and enjoyable action sequences. But with the story and the character (aside from Bogue) I found that it let the film down on a whole. They are two sides to the coin though, as Fuqua seems to be a master at creating tense scenes, which he did twice in this film quite superbly. In between these tense scenes and the fights the film does tend to drag and unfortunately it seems longer than the 130-minute runtime.

In the grand scheme of things, this film is enjoyable, it just doesn’t pull its weight when compared with this months earlier releases like Hunt for the Wilderpeople or Kubo and the Two Strings. The story takes on a darker role late on the finale, but this is too late to save the film, but this dark change in pace is still expected. The characters are an enjoyable ragtag bunch who are having fun on screen, but offer nothing in terms of caring for them. This film is just very, middle of the road and straight shooting. But that’s fine because it makes for an entertaining viewing, just not as good as films released earlier this year.


2 Comments

Jason Bourne (2016)

I am a complete novice when it comes the Bourne franchise. I haven’t seen any of the Matt Damon trilogy, nor the Jeremy Renner addition. I’ve always imagined that Bourne was the American answer to James Bond. (that or Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt)

I was fairly apprehensive going into this as the last action-heavy film I saw Matt Damon star in was The Green Zone, which wasn’t that enjoyable. (However, he did The Martian, which was fantastic). Either way, I settled down to Paul Greengrass’ third instalment and the fifth overall of the Bourne franchise.

960

Greengrass opened the film in possibly the most gripping way possible as Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is pulled back from the fringes of the Greek border into an anti-austerity rally in Athens by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Immediately we are thrown into a quick-paced motorbike chase away from an unnamed asset (played by Vincent Cassell) and the CIA.

Parsons was responsible for a hack on the CIA, which revealed information that they are planning on launching another program similar to the Treadstone one, which Jason Bourne is a product of. Thankfully Jason Bourne has a quick catch-up part for the fools like myself that went into this without prior knowledge.

This hack of course sends the CIA into a meltdown, led by a very haggard Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his second-in-command Heather Lee. (Alicia Vikander) As this film catches up with Jason Bourne nine years after The Bourne Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass rightly references the changes in the world with the addition of added security from the internet and the impact of social media and the fears of privacy.

Jason-Bourne1

Although I am unaware of the previous films, I imagine that they follow a similar cat-and-mouse chase between Bourne and his continual efforts to elude the CIA, but how Greengrass managed to play this out was fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable. Against the backdrops of Athens, London and Las Vegas the film becomes very easy to become lost in quite pleasantly.

As I am fairly new to this franchise, majority of this was fresh to me and thus very enjoyable, but how that it stacks up against the previous four films of the franchise, I cannot comment. The mystery element that surrounds Robert Dewey, his relationship with the Asset and of course his eagerness to overturn and backstab Heather Lee in her mission to bring Bourne in, was rather impressive.

This also helped with the tense scenes throughout he film as I completely unawares what was going to be result of Jason Bourne’s escapades. Jason Bourne is very much on par with the likes of James Bond & Mission Impossible films, as the chase scenes are fantastically done and the mystery surrounding the narrative was well worked throughout.

Admittedly, the Las Vegas tear up scene with ‘The Asset’ in tow was a bit needless, considering the rest of the film didn’t have a large amount of destruction, but from the anticipation building point it was very enjoyable, and of course a chance to see the two slug it out between one another.

Jason Bourne (2016)

I thought the cast did an excellent job, Matt Damon is very much in his element as Jason Bourne especially with Vincent Cassell working opposite to him making for a fantastic duel of fates. This tension between Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones worked fantastically as they both represented different ages of the CIA, and carried their respective narrative through perfectly.

It has to be said though, it’s outstanding how little Matt Damon actually says in the film.

I am unsure why I’ve never actively pursued watching the Bourne films, but if they hold up anything like Jason Bourne that I eagerly anticipate my catch-up with that franchise. Paul Greengrass’ latest instalment is such an enjoyment to watch, with the correct amount of action and tension throughout the runtime which is a touch over two hours. But that feels like nothing due to sheer enjoyment from the film.

I actually saw this film in the same week as Suicide Squad and Star Trek Beyond. I was astounded leaving the cinema feeling that my best cinema experience in that week was with Jason Bourne. 


Leave a comment

Suicide Squad (2016)

Due to the overconsumption of films from the war waged between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe, I wasn’t that bothered when Suicide Squad was first announced. Less bothered when Will Smith was heading the charge. Then the temptation grew with cast photos of Jared Leto’s Joker and Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress.

Villainous characters have always been my favourite when it comes to cinema, as they have to more interesting story rather then the standard framework of the typical ‘hero’. A film about Anti-Heroes banding together to save the day? Fantastic. Sounds right up my street. What could possibly go wrong?

Joker 1

Suicide Squad plot takes place shortly after the events of the Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) begins to formulate her plan to bring together the baddest of the bad in the war against the ‘metahumans’. Each character is then introduced including their rap sheets with little background, other than Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. 

It’s clear who the studio wanted to run with.

Deadshot and Harley Quinn are made to team up with Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewake Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) as an expendable task-force. Although it’s not that basic, there is an intertwined hatred of The Batman (Ben Affleck cameos) and the Harley Quinn/Joker love story happening. Amanda Waller’s grand scheme goes a bit pear shaped when the Enchantress (Dr. June Moore played by Cara Delevingne) escapes from the clutches of the watchful bodyguard and lover Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and starts to reek havoc on Midway City. Hence the expendable crew.

Jared Leto’s Joker was probably the most intriguing character throughout the film. Decked head to toe in the finest clothes and flashiest jewellery, his shrill laughter striking the very soul. His relationship with Harley ventured on an intriguing backstory and teased just enough of it to keep the hope alive that Suicide Squad’s narrative may get interestingbut unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

picture-of-margot-robbie-suicide-squad-photo

For me, the problems really lay with the narrative and the characters trying to band together, only witnessing chemistry from the very dysfunctional relationship between Robbie and Leto. (I would really enjoy a spin-off exploring this) Suicide Squad’s narrative seemed to have an abundance of anticipation and build up, for a very meagre finale. Played out correctly, this could’ve been the best finale to date as it had the flashy sequence to go with it, just not the narrative, as the villains plan is only brief shown and discussed for a matter of seconds.

One noticeable difference between the two franchises (Marvel & DC) is the comedic value that is taken away from the two films. Marvel is miles ahead in the comic relief, but DC makes up for the lack of comedy with the grittiness shown in it’s film, most noticeably as the grizzled Batfleck is very rough around the edges. However, Jai Courtney provides that comic relief as he doesn’t offer much else than a boomerang, a pink unicorn and a drinking problem.

Careful now, there may be spoilers up ahead. 

Although it sounds like I’m slating the narrative, parts of it worked for me. The Witch or Enchantress worked for me as a character, including her background and her relationship with Dr. June Moore, but I feel it wasn’t used to it’s full potential, much like the rest of Suicide Squad. El Diablo didn’t have nearly enough hype surrounding his character considering he probably was more impactful than the rest of the team. I really would’ve being interested in a narrative involving his character more.

As the film ran it’s course, it occurred to me that I did not care for any of these characters and their fates. Whether this was due to how the narrative played out and how the Anti-Heroes fitted in, I couldn’t tell you, but I simply could not care less regarding their outcomes. (Maybe except for the Joker)

End of spoilers.

I was left feeling largely underwhelmed by Suicide Squad. The direction the film was poorly thought out and seemed a jumble of narratives happening at once. There are enjoyable parts to the film, including the adrenaline-fuelled action sequences which are entertaining and Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley. However, Will Smith’s ‘Poor Old Me’ routine became really tiring, very quickly. The characterisations were interesting from afar, but for me, it seemed as though Deadshot and Harley Quinn led the charge leaving the rest in the dust.

maxresdefault

There are some enjoyable parts to Suicide Squad but unfortunately the joyous sections are vastly outweighed by the frustrating narrative, annoying characters and confusing message the squad are trying to convey.

Unfortunately for Suicide Squad, I feel that films of this calibre and containing an ensemble of heroes (anti or super, whichever) are always going to be compared with Guardians of the Galaxy due to the how enjoyable the Chris Pratt-led Marvel film turned out to be after little expectations.


Leave a comment

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond is the third instalment of the recently rebooted Star Trek franchise, however, this time Justin Lin (of the Fast and Furious franchise) has put his spin on this.

After the events of Star Trek Into Darkness, released three years earlier, the enterprise crew undertook a five year mission, which they are currently three years into. As expected when being cooped up on a ship, they are starting to get a little bit antsy.


As expected Spock and Jim’s (Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine, respectively) chalk and cheese chemistry continues to thrive on screen, rising a few laughs from the audience. But Star Trek Beyond sees a mix-up of the crew as they are ambushed by the villan Krall (Idris Elba) and his ‘bees’. Due to their swarming attack and the destruction of the SS Enterprise, we see Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock team up, Jim and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) together and Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) lead the rest of the Enterprise crew.

It’s clear to see Justin Lin’s influence on the rebooted franchise of  Star Trek with the dizzying flight sequences teamed up with action-fuelled chases (in particular the bike sequence is where Justin Lin is having his fun) which is entertaining for the big-screen, but unfortunately doesn’t make up for the lack of story behind Star Trek Beyond especially the backstory of Krall and his mysterious powers. Who happens to look more like the Villian out of The Mask than an otherworldly villain. 


However, I won’t delve too much into that due to potential spoilers!

Justin Lin has seemed to create a very miss-mash film as some sections of the film are really enjoyable and other parts became frustrating to watch. Lin managed to capture the essence of the characters and continue the trend that JJ Abrams began with Spock and Kirk’s constant bickering. However, this time round the characters role are switched, as Bones and Spock are stealing the show. It all worked, creating laughs from the cinema and becoming the enjoyable scenes throughout the film.

On the surface the film is very entertaining and a good popcorn film, which helps the two hour runtime pass by with ease, unfortunately this becomes the weakest of the three instalments as there doesn’t seem to be a great deal going on underneath the flashy surface. However, the cast are still continuing with their already successful roles from the first two instalments creating that chemistry that was already established. Lin has also chosen to add Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who could be a more than a bitpart in the future instalments. 


My immediate feeling from Star Trek Beyond is ‘meh’. Although there are some really enjoyable parts, there was that certain finesse missing from the first two. Whether JJ Abrams would have told the story different I am unsure, but considering previously Abrams developed a slight backstory to Khan and Nero, whereas Krall is left largely undiscovered and left me feeling rather underwhelmed considering the fantastic use of villains in the previous two.

P.S. During the aftermath of this film, Sulu’s sexuality seemed to become a point of reference in reviews and talk alike. I thought this was completely irrelevant and doesn’t create the controversial point the media seemed to create out of it. 

Also I realise this has been a shorter post than usual, however, I feel the film in general just chunters along without any outstanding plot points other than the splitting up of the crews and their shared irritation setting in on the SS Enterprise.