“First Man” (2018, 12A)

Is “First Man” an out-of-this-world biopic or an Apollo mission atrocity?

“First Man” is the true story of Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), the first man to walk on the Moon, and follows him from his beginnings as a NASA test pilot right through to his lunar landing in 1969. It’s an intimate, personal story of the man behind the helmet, focussing on his life at home and his work at NASA, and his famously modest and quiet personality.

“First Man” is the third major picture from director Damien Chazelle, and his previous 2 films — 2014’s “Whiplash” and 2016’s “La La Land” — are amongst my favourites of all time. I was understandably excited, then, when I heard Chazelle’s latest film would be a biopic of a hero of mine, Neil Armstrong, but also apprehensive; “Whiplash” and “La La Land” were both completely original scripts, with fast-paced narratives featuring emotive and intense characters, all fuelled by jazz music. How did Chazelle cope then, adapting a story known to almost all, about a calm and level-headed astronaut, visiting a place where you can’t even hear a breath, let alone jazz music!

I must say, if you’re someone who suffers from motion sickness, this film probably isn’t for you — all the shots in the film gives the appearance of being handheld, and this affect is brought to the maximum when the film cuts to scenes inside the cockpit. The opening is a brilliant example of this as it follows Armstrong on a test flight in the early 60s. At points, it’s almost impossible to work out what’s occurring on screen as the camera shakes with the movement of the plane, and the lighting is subtle and constantly moving, only adding to the intensity and drama of the scenes. Chazelle also utilises a technique he used a lot to good effect in “Whiplash”, focussing on the details of sets to convey the story, such as an altimeter clicking up and down, or an attitude indicator rolling from side-to-side. This, coupled with the shaking camera and also shots almost from the perspective of Armstrong himself, really immerses the viewer in the scene and I couldn’t help but hold my breath in some scenes on-board.

The intimacy of these scenes are only added to by Ryan Gosling’s strong performance as Armstrong. He does well to capture the subtlety of the astronaut’s character, his quiet, subdued and somewhat stern personality, but also there are moments of real emotion in his performance. It was Claire Foy’s performance as Janet Armstrong that was really powerful, though, and she really emphasised the fear but pride felt by the astronauts’ wives back home.

This film does have some problems, however, namely it’s third act. The final set-piece, depicting the climactic launch of the Saturn V rocket that took Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas), featured some pretty below-par CGI, and for a film that has been without music for the majority of the run-time, it is only for this scene that a generic score is introduced and it almost disconnects the audience, especially after the intense, near-silent scenes in the cockpit before.

Overall, “First Man” is an intimate story about a man whom many know little about, featuring some really excellent scenes within the cockpit. It’s stripped back storytelling at it’s best, and so earns a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10

https://youtu.be/w4GtJB5WAlQ

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“King Of Thieves” (2018, 15)

Is this based-on-a-true-story, star-studded heist movie a diamond in the rough or does it not make the cut?

Based on the true story of the Hatton Garden robbery of Easter 2015, “King of Thieves” follows a group of veteran, over-sixty burglars headed by Brian Reader (Michael Caine), who break into the highly secure Hatton Garden jewel vaults and make-away with an extraordinary amount as a final farewell to their life of crime. But, when the lure of money and greed takes hold, the band of robbers (headed by a cast including Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay and Jim Broadbent) soon turn on each other, and their masterplan begins to unravel, with dangerous consequences…

When news of the Hatton Garden robbery first broke back in 2015, people were already predicting it’s silver-screen adaptation, and this is the second time the astonishing narrative has been adapted after last year’s “The Hatton Garden Job”. The advantage that “King of Thieves” has over it’s counterpart, then, is its outstanding cast of British veteran actors, none more famous then Michael Caine, who is excellent in one of the lead roles. Jim Broadbent also does a great job of capturing the character of Terry Perkins, one of the real-life burglars, and giving a slightly unsettling performance at times. That is one thing this film does well: it doesn’t do too much to try and “de-villainise” the main characters and the film always reminds us through some often witty but also cruel dialogue between the characters that these aren’t pleasant people.

Though branded as a heist movie, the actual heist in “King of Thieves” doesn’t really take up much of the run-time and occurs pretty early on in the plot. It’s also a little lacking in drama and adrenaline-pumping action, but is probably much more accurate to what really took place, which I prefer for a film like this. My only issue, though, is that the plan for the heist — and other plot points of the film — weren’t clearly shown to the audience, and though I’d rather not have an awkward, forced scene where a character explains a plan to the group for the sake of the viewer as is common in most heist films, it was at times a little tricky to full grasp what was going on.

Overall, “King of Thieves” is a well-acted, exciting heist movie, that does well to tell the latest “too-good-to-be-fiction” to come from the world of real-life crime, and deserves a solid seven-out-of-ten.

7/10.

https://youtu.be/AkQHNgeg–Q

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“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (2018, PG)

Is “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” a super-trouper sequel, or does it leave you calling S.O.S?

Set five years after 2008’s musical hit “Mamma Mia!”, “Here We Go Again” tells the story of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she discovers what life was like for her mother, Donna (Lily James/ Meryl Streep),  before she became an overworked hotel owner, and how she lived and enjoyed her life with the young Sam (Jeremy Irvine/Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), all to the soundtrack of some of ABBA’s greatest hits.

If the first ‘Mamma Mia!” film isn’t your cup-of-tea, then I doubt you’re going to enjoy this one. However, that’s not to say that “Here We Go Again” is just a re-run of the original — there are some key differences to this sequel that really set it apart from its predecessor and make it even more enjoyable to watch.

I think the best thing about “Here We Go Again” has to be the cinematography — perhaps not what you’d expect from a feel-good musical film, but it has to be said. The composition of the shots, use of colour, and especially the transitions from scene to scene (especially when the film cuts from present to past) show that there must’ve been a creative eye behind the camera on this film, one who was keen to make this more than just a mash of ABBA tunes. The choreography of the dancing in the musical scenes was also superb, and though some of the actors’ and actresses’ singing could be better, the songs were all enjoyable and fitted with the plot very well — even if they weren’t ABBA’s biggest hits for the most part, though some of the fan favourites from the first film were repeated in this one.

My biggest gripe with the film, really, was its plot inconsistencies across from the first film, such as dates that really didn’t add up, and some bigger things to do with the characters’ personalities as a whole. However, if you take the plot an film at face-value, and don’t overthink it too much as I do, it’s reasonable, if a little jumpy at times as it cuts from present to past. I found this was mainly at the beginning, though, and by about thirty minutes in the cuts across time all felt natural and made for, as aforementioned, some really creative camera work to transition across.

I felt most of the actors gave good performances, especially those who had leading roles, though I do feel that the writer’s did seem to create completely different characters for the younger versions of Sam, Bill and Harry than what we’re told they were like in the first film. There is, though, one performance from the film that stands out as being a little lacklustre, and that’s from Cher — her character is briefly shown in the trailer, and (without giving too much away) that’s about all you see of her in the film, along with a bit of an underwhelming rendition of one of the more well-known songs that feature in “Here We Go Again”. Her character didn’t add anything to the movie, and neither did her performance.

Overall, though, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is a fun, well-produced musical with some strong performances and excellently choreographed dance pieces. It’s also shot exceptionally well, and for the most part does well with cutting back-and-forth across time. It does have quite a few plot inconsistencies and does miss-out on featuring most of the more prominent ABBA songs, but is an enjoyable movie to watch and so deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

 

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“Incredibles 2” (2018, PG)

Is “Incredibles 2” an awesome animated sequel, or a superhero-family-flop?

Picking up straight after the events of 2004’s “The Incredibles”, this long-awaited sequel follows Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) and the rest of the Incredible family as they embark on a mission to bring superheroes out from hiding and revoke the law banning their existence. But as Elastigirl continues her crime-fighting life, Mr. Incredible is left to look after their super-powered children, and is finding domestic life a challenge.

This film has been awaited since the first one came out fourteen-years-ago, and so when it was first announced by Pixar in October 2015, there was much excitement and hype surrounding it. Has it lived up to it? For you to decide, but hopefully this review can help.

Right from the start, this is a Pixar film and so has all the beautiful animation, art and design that you’d expect from the minds behind “Toy Story”, “Cars” and, indeed, the first “Incredibles” movie. Unlike most Pixar animations, though, “Incredibles 2” is rather long, clocking-in at a 1-hour 58 run-time, around a third-longer than the usual 80-90 minute run-time you’d expect from an animated film aimed at children. However, the film never felt long or dragged as the plot was quick and packed with action, though at points did feel a little jumpy and some points and details seemed a little underdeveloped. “Incredibles 2” also featured a somewhat predictable twist in the plot,  but overall it was strong and entertaining.

As with all the best animated films, “Incredibles 2” raised some moral questions that apply in the real world also, namely about our modern obsession with screens and consuming entertainment through televisions and devices, rather than enjoying things such as conversation with family and friends. This point, however, was only touched on briefly and lightly, and was easily overshadowed by the rest of the narrative of the film, and I think if Pixar had wanted to leave more of a meaningful impact on their audience and successfully put this view across, they could have developed it further into the plot. Maybe they decided not to because they realised the irony of telling people to stop looking at screens when they are in a room dedicated to looking at a giant screen?

This film does have quite a few comedy moments, mainly from Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), the super-powered baby of the Parr family. It’s there, and it is funny, but it’s not the main draw of this film — it’s really about the characters, those re-ocurring and also some new faces on the screen. Overall, they weren’t really that memorable, and seemed to me to only be there to fill the crowd-scenes and also sell some more toys in Disney stores. It was quite good to see the familiar faces of the Parr family, though I would say that the film doesn’t go out of its way to develop and progress most of these characters from their first appearance in the 2004 film. The one exception to this is Mr. Incredible, who’d I’d argue progressed a lot and has a clear arc throughout the story, even though Elastigirl is seen to be the protagonist of this sequel, changing from quite selfish and arrogant in some respects at the beginning of the film to being more understanding by the end.

Overall, “Incredibles 2” is a strong animated sequel with a good, if sometimes jumpy, plot, excellent animation and design and some real funny moments. For that, it earns a seven-out-of-ten.

7/10.

 

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‘Deadpool 2’ (2018, 15)

Is ‘Deadpool 2’ a dead-funny superhero-comedy, or is it a sub-par sequel?

After the events of 2016’s ‘Deadpool’, the titular anti-hero Wade Wilson AKA Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds) has gone on a global mission to serve justice in his hilarious way. But, when disaster strikes, Wade’s life is turned on it’s head, and he realises he needs to protect a mutant teenager, Russell (Julian Dennison) from the ruthless time-travelling cyborg, Cable (Josh Brolin).

‘Deadpool 2’ is just like it’s predecessor, being full of it’s uncensored, uncaring comedy from beginning to end. However, I felt with the first ‘Deadpool’ that they hadn’t quite got the balance right for me of comedy to action, whereas this sequel definitely improved on that as it lent more toward the action-side of Deadpool’s character. There still were some real laugh-out-loud moments though, but if the first ‘Deadpool’ wasn’t your cup-of-tea, then the sequel probably won’t suit you either. Most of the jokes, though, were probably more tailored for comic and movie fans rather than general audiences, so though I was chuckling at quite a few of the one-liners, I could sense that a few people in the audience hadn’t understood the punchline.

The CGI and effects in ‘Deadpool 2’ was excellent for the most part, but there was one sequence that stands out as being a little underwhelming and badly animated. Despite this, it is for the most part a spectacular watch, though maybe not on the same level as something like Marvel’s two-month old epic ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘. The cast and performances are also spot-on in ‘Deadpool 2’, especially Ryan Reynolds in the lead, clearly enjoying his time as the character he fought so hard to bring to the big-screen. The new players, also, were very strong, including Zazie Beets as the sassy mutant Domino, who was my favourite of the new characters brought in.

The plot of Deadpool 2 was nothing groundbreaking, but nor should it be — ‘Deadpool 2’ wants to make you laugh, not make you think. That said, the film does feel a little aimless at the beginning as it cuts around through time, similar to the beginning of the first ‘Deadpool’. That’s a bit of a trend across most subjects with ‘Deadpool 2’: it’s similar to its predecessor, but with added characters. However, that’s all I and I think most people want out of this sequel, a fun, outlandish action-comedy.

Overall, ‘Deadpool 2’ is a strong, funny superhero romp, with uncensored laughs and good action throughout. It’s an improvement of its 2016 predecessor, and for that it deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10

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‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ (2018, 12A)

Is ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ a Han-tastic adventure, or a space-filled flop?

Set between Episodes 3 and 4 of the main Star Wars continuity, ‘Solo’ follows the fan-favourite character (played by Aldan Ehrenreich) when he’s still a young thief, searching for a way off his home planet Corellia, and to fulfil his dreams as a pilot, with his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). But, when things don’t go to plan, Han Solo ends up as a part of a criminal plot, tied up with outlaw Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and giant Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suoatamo). It’s then a mission for Han to complete the crime, escape with his cut and live his dream-life, all while avoiding upsetting the murderous gangster, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

The first Star Wars spin-off from two years ago, ‘Rogue One’, has split opinions on its merits compared to other films in the franchise, but I’m a big fan. Because of this, I wasn’t so pessimistic in my expectations for ‘Solo’ as other fans, but after the rather disappointing ‘Episode VIII – The Last Jedi’ at the end of last year, I was somewhat dubious going in to ‘Solo’. Well, I can safely say that ‘Solo’ is a very fun and enjoyable movie, and didn’t leave me feel disappointed coming out of the cinema. That being said, I did have a few gripes with the movie…

I’ll start with the positives though — namely the performances. I think Ehrenreich captures the spirit of a young Han Solo perfectly, as does Donald Glover as a young Lando Calarissian. With Han, there’s still the suave charm and arrogance of the older Solo in the original films, but with a slight naivety brought from never experiencing the hardening life that older Solo has. It’s captured extremely well. There’s also some really excellent CGI and visual effects in this film — save the fully CG-animated stormtrooper riding a speeder-bike at the beginning. It looks as bad as you imagine.

I’m also a fan of the general plot of the film for the most part, the narrative focusing on a single heist that Han takes on rather than an ‘end-of-the-universe, everyone’s-going-to-die’ plot that we’ve grown used to and immune to by now. Also, it wouldn’t really make sense if Han Solo had already saved the galaxy before meeting Luke Skywalker etc. However, the film does take a little while to get going, and the beginning felt somewhat rushed to me.

Now to the parts of the film that I’m not so keen on, namely the aforementioned beginning. As I said, it feels rushed and choppy, and some of the dialogue feels a bit corny for the first twenty minutes. It’s also in the beginning that we’re introduced to Han’s love interest, Qi’ra, and I never really ended up buying into their relationship, or her as a character. There’s a lot of loose threads with her, and I’m all for enigmatic characters etc., but for a film that’s soul purpose is to explain in entirety where a character came from, they never explain where Qi’ra came from. She’s introduced after an exhilarating speeder-chase with a passionate kiss to Han and… that’s it. She just is. Also, I’ve never thought of Han Solo having a love-of-his-life before Princess Leia, and I felt it somewhat undermined their relationship in the original films.

The film took a little while to get going for me, as though the beginning felt rushed, nothing really happened. However, when it did get going, I must say the action sequences in ‘Solo’ were excellently put together and gripping.

Overall, ‘Solo’ was a fun action-adventure with some great visuals and performances, but let down by a somewhat rushed beginning and an underdeveloped, unneeded (in my opinion) love-interest, meaning it gets an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10

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‘Sherlock Gnomes’ (2018, U)

Is ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ an awesome animation, or a backyard-based blunder?

After 2011’s ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’, the couple (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) are about to take over from their parents’ as leaders of the garden, when disaster strikes and their friends and family in the garden all disappear! Realising their case is part of a bigger mystery, the two join forces with the famous detective Sherlock Gnomes (voiced by Johnny Depp) and his assistant, Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But will the team be able to locate their friends and bring their kidnapper to justice before it’s too late?

I think it’s safe to say that ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ is the wackiest example of an adaption of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character, for obvious reasons. Despite this, he sticks pretty clearly to the classic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a cold, logical and sometimes impersonal detective, though whereas most adaptions have tried to give the character some form of redemption arc (say, for instance, the outstanding BBC series, “Sherlock”), Sherlock Gnomes only becomes slightly less irritable after he’s been entirely proved wrong — perhaps not a great role-model for the young audience this film is aimed at, especially seen as he receives high praise from other characters when he’s at peak-arrogance and cold-hearted ness. He’s voiced well by Johnny Depp, as are the other characters by the star-studded cast.

That’s the one thing that always surprises me about these films — the cast! There’s big Hollywood stars such as James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejifor, British national treasures like Maggie Smith and Julie Walters and even Ozzy Osbourne thrown into the mix! How all these stars are pulled together for what is, essentially, a generic animated kids film, I do not know.

As a children’s film, then, it’s bound to have some humour which in some places is funny and in others fall flat. I liked some of the nods and references to the original stories, but that’s going to go over the heads of all the target audience. Most of the humour is a little crude, and I’ve seen some parents online saying it’s too rude for their kids etc. Personally, it’s rated U, so if the powers-that-be at the BBFC have said it’s acceptable for all, then I agree.

Overall, ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ is a fun animation for the whole family to see. The titular character can be rather irritating and some of the jokes fall flat, but I think it’s deserving of a six-out-of-ten.

6/10.

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