“Creed II” (2018, 12A)

Is this boxing sequel a box office knock-out, or will it leave you feeling like you’ve had a punch in the gut?

After making his name as a formidable boxer during the events of 2015’s “Creed”, Adondis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) continues to honour the legacy of his father, Apollo Creed, while trying to carve his own path away from the shadow of the past. But, when the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) — the man who killed Apollo in the ring — challenges Adondis to a fight, he must risk history repeating itself and put everything on the line, and face the menacing Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).

2015’s “Creed” was a fantastic and fitting continuation of the “Rocky” saga, and its sequel continues this trend. The expert cast from the first film all return, including Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone. Jordan is still the stand-out, and he captures the emotional turmoil of Adondis Creed’s story so perfectly, that by the climactic ending scenes I couldn’t help but empathise with the intense emotions portrayed on screen. Tessa Thompson is also outstanding as Bianca, Adondis’ partner, and it was their natural chemistry that I felt made the first film. Though some of the scripting at the beginning of “Creed II” somewhat limited this, their performances still shone through, and by the end all woes were forgotten. Even the newcomers to the cast, playing the ‘villains’ Ivan and Viktor Drago, were excellent, capturing the raw and intense emotion both characters held, but also managing to make me feel a pang of guilt and sorrow for the two men at the end of the film — Munteanu and Lungruden especially balance the act of making a compelling and threatening villain, yet at the same time one who the audience can feel sorry for. Then, of course, there’s Sylvester Stallone, returning as Rocky Balboa, revered former World Boxing Champion and Adondis Creed’s mentor. Though his role is somewhat diminished in this sequel — signifying Creed’s quest to make his own legacy without the help of the past — Rocky is nonetheless a key player, and Stallone captures the tired yet determined character perfectly.

The plot of “Creed II” is somewhat predictable in places, yet this is not a film to be seen if you’re expecting complex and twisting narratives. The beginning may seem a little rushed but for me I didn’t mind it as it meant the main bulk of the story could kick in as soon as possible. This sequel did have quite a few nods to its predecessor, such as locations visited and camera shots used, yet in that latter part I felt this film lacked some of the creativity the first brought — Ryan Coogler, who expertly directed 2015’s “Creed”, utilised some really original camera work, especially the long, one-take, swirling shots used to capture some of the boxing bouts. “Creed II”s director, Steve Caple Jr., opts for some more traditional filming techniques, though sometimes I did wish his shots were a little more intimate to fully capture the raw emotion the actors portrayed.

Of course, the defining feature of the “Creed” films are the action, and “Creed II” does not disappoint. Each punch is hard and loud, and the film does not shy away from showing some of the brutal injuries that can be sustained from boxing. The sound design used to emphasise the power behind each hit, the excellent make-up to highlight the pain inflicted with each shot, all works together to form some gripping scenes. The driving force of these fights, however, is the awe-inspiring score, composed by Ludwig Göransson, merged seamlessly with the range of specially commissioned songs from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams. The powerful lyrics and orchestral crescendos made my hairs stand on end, and when the iconic Rocky theme plays at the climax of the film, albeit only briefly, a shiver went down my spine. All this culminated in a cinematic experience not to be missed, displaying this violent art in a way that’s both beautiful and brutal.

Overall, “Creed II” is a strong sequel and had a tough act to follow, and though the loss of arguably one of the best directors working now at the helm led to this film losing some of the artistry of its predecessor, it still packs a punch emotionally and with its action. For that, it deserves a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10.

https://youtu.be/u22BXhMu4tI

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

“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

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

“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

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

‘Darkest Hour’ (2018, PG)

Is this Winston Churchill biopic a cinematic victory, or a wartime disaster?

As the Nazis wage war on the Allies, Britain finds itself on the back foot against the powerful German forces, and a new, strong leader is called for to lead the nation against its foe — Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). But within days of taking the job as Prime Minister, Churchill is thrown into a turbulent and trialling conflict: negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and the Nazis, or continue to fight and stand firm with the ideals of the country. And with the Allied forces pushed into Dunkirk, surrounded by the fearsome Nazis, Churchill must rally the people in even its darkest hour.

There’s been a recent surge in biopics about world-changing figures recently, with one of my favourite films even being one — Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s 2015 drama ‘Steve Jobs‘, about the co-founder of Apple. There was even a film about Winston Churchill, simply titled ‘Churchill’ with Brian Cox in the lead, that came out less than a year ago, though not to as compelling reviews as Gary Oldman’s attempt at portraying the war hero.

Because that really is the main draw of this film — Gary Oldman’s superb performance. He produces the lines with such vigour and passion its impossible not to become immersed and believe that this really is Winston Churchill on the screen before you. Coupled with some absolutely excellent prosthetics, that make Oldman almost unrecognisable and gain a lot of attention from director Joe Wright’s use of close-ups, the character is complete.

The film is entirely comprised of dialogue and speeches; there are no gun-slinging, bomb-exploding, aeroplane-flying wartime action sequences in this script (for that, I recommend Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk‘). This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and so the film may seem to drag a little in parts for some, however the conversations are engaging and all the cast — especially Oldman, as mentioned — keep you on the edge of your seat and the tension high as your watching. The tension is also helped along by the score of this film, something I think has been overlooked in a lot of reviews but that I found compelling and good at pushing the narrative forward.]

There was also some really excellent cinematography and camera work in this film, hats-off to Joe Wright again for that. One gripe I did have with the film was that there were quite a few clichés in the plot that usually go with characters of power such as Churchill — he’s a bit self-obsessed until he meets a mass of his people and has his eyes opened to the world and of course mellows. However, for the most part the writing was good, and I especially liked the humour in ‘Darkest Hour’ — its was actually funny! Despite the low age-rating, ‘Darkest Hour’ isn’t a children’s film, and so there’s no slapstick, cheesy crude jokes forced into the script for mass audience-appeal. Instead, the jokes were subtle yet got everyone laughing (probably more so than in any comedy I’ve watched at the cinema!) and flowed with the narrative, didn’t feel forced and — most importantly — didn’t detach from the drama and poignancy of the main focus of the plot.

Overall, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a very strong biopic of Winston Churchill, with excellent acting and an engaging plot, albeit littered with clichés. For that, this film deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

‘Murder On The Orient Express’ (2017, 12A)

Is ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ a sleuthing success as a re-telling of a classic story, or is it all just a bit of a train-wreck?

Based on the classic novel by Agatha Christie, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ follows the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh) on board a lavish train journey through Europe. But, when a passenger is found murdered, Poirot must stop his holiday and solve the case before him, as he tries to work out who from the remaining 13 passengers could’ve been the killer — all while the train is stranded in the snow-capped mountains, and before the murderer strikes again.

I should mention one thing first — I’m a big Poirot fan. I’ve read the books, seen the David Suchet films, etc. so was rather worried when I heard about this reasonably big blockbuster interpretation of the film coming out. However, I’m pleased to say that the film is excellent. There’s no Hollywood exaggeration, the plot stays true to the novel, and Kenneth Branagh is a brilliant Poirot. His portrayal is not simply lifted from the pages of Christie’s novel; his interpretation is slightly different, with a little bit more about him, and I really like it. Maybe you think this is a disgrace (along with Branagh’s giant moustache he sports for the role), but I think Branagh put his own spin on the character without making him too much of a Hollywood hero — think Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, versus Sherlock from the Arthur Conan Doyle books. Who would you rather sit for two hours and watch?

Apart from giving a really enjoyable performance as Poirot, Branagh also directed the film and, I must say, did just as good a job there. Some of the camera-work in this film is absolutely superb, one shot really sticking in my mind almost giving me vertigo — and I don’t get scared of heights. Look out for some really excellent birds-eye view shots as well throughout the film, especially when Poirot is sleuthing around looking for clues, which work really well. One thing I also noted from watching ‘Orient Express’ is how bright and colourful it is — and that’s a good thing! There’s only so much dark and gloomy, un-graded shots one can take before it starts to seem rather boring and cliché to have a brooding atmosphere. And that colour palette sets the tone for the rest of the movie: okay, it’s not a laugh every minute, but there’s a lot of jokes and quips (mostly with Branagh’s Poirot) and the film isn’t too dark in any places, much like the books that preceded it.

I only have one, slight criticism with the film and that is that the ending appears somewhat rushed. We never fully see how Poirot can put together the pieces to solve the crime, unlike what you might expect from murder-mysteries in TV Shows. However, apart from that the script works really well — especially fitting in room for the all-star cast, of which many were British, to have relevance to the plot. Daisy Ridley, Olivia Coleman, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Johnny Deep, to name a few, appear in the film, and all their characters feel important within the proceedings of ‘Orient Express’.

Overall, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ is a really excellent film, with great cast, performance and story. A slightly rushed ending is all that makes this film lose out, meaning it deserves a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10.

 

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

‘The Snowman’ (2017, 15)

Is ‘The Snowman’ a Scandi-inspired success or a woeful-winter noir?

Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) returns from his week off AWOL to his job as a detective, to find a missing persons enquiry on his desk. When a mother disappears, out-of-the-blue, and an ominous-looking snowman is left outside her house, Hole must go back and uncover a cold case and piece together the puzzle to find out where the links are — and who’s left the snowman, before the suspected serial-killer leaves more.

I’ll start with the good points of this movie — the cast all give very strong performances, and Fassbender was very good in his lead role. Also, the bleak Norwegian landscape made for some epic exposition shots.

However, the film goes a bit downhill from there.

The most notable disappointment was the plot: I’ve head the source material was very strong, though I never read Jo Nesbø’s novel myself, though I feel the story of ‘The Snowman’ lacked… a spark. Nothing really happened, it seemed, until the closing acts of the film. Don’t get me wrong, the film wasn’t boring, but I never felt there was any tension building throughout the viewing, so the climax was… anti-climactic.

There’s also a couple of unnecessary sub-plots in the film which don’t really have any meaning and aren’t that useful except to take away from the main story. Their main purpose is too flesh out the characters but, to me, this isn’t the sort of film where character development is key — a twisting, turning plot is what makes a great thriller, not a backstory of the protagonist detective. And that’s another thing: these sub-plots are used to try and make a twist-ending, but (to me, at least) the big-reveal became reasonably predictable.

Overall, ‘The Snowman’ is quite an average film. It’s got a bit of a bloated plot and lacks pace and ‘umph’, yet is still engaging to watch. The cast’s strong performance and the film’s stunning imagery makes this film deserve a six-out-of-ten.

6/10.

 

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017, 15)

Is ‘Blade Runner 2049’ a spectacular sci-fi sequel, or is it a film better left ‘retired’?

Set thirty years after the events of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi epic, “Blade Runner”, this sequel follows Blade Runner, K (Ryan Gosling), as a routine retirement of a humanoid robot, a Replicant, gone rogue turns into a story of twists and turns that leads the Blade Runner on a journey leading to one man — former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

In terms of spectacle, “2049” does live up to its predecessor; it features many of the long, swooping shots displaying the dystopian, cyber-punk landscape that made the original “Blade Runner” so memorable (and so long!). That leads me onto the next point: this is not a short film. Clocking in at 2 hours 43 minutes, this is definitely a film you’ll have to spend an afternoon on. However, despite the film’s length, I always felt as if something was going on, even though the film has a fairly slow pace compared to its action-movie contemporaries.

Yes, much like its predecessor, “2049” is slow. Yet, unlike the 1982 classic, this film isn’t all dialogue and detective work, building up to the epic and memorable “tears in the rain” scene at the very end of the film. ‘2049″ has excitement right from the start, opening with a fist-fight between K (Gosling) and Sapper Morton (David Bautista). I must say, I felt Gosling performed very well in the film and gave a very convincing performance, as did the rest of the cast.

One thing I did like about “2049” was the plot. It linked to the original but wasn’t just a blatant copy, and even though it was a continuation of 1982’s “Blade Runner”, the characters and world was different enough to set it apart. This was not a re-boot, but nor was it the same film just with different characters — it was a whole new movie, and one that I liked. When I first heard that Dennis Villeneuve, the man behind one of my all-time favourites, “Arrival”, was making “2049” I knew the film would be good. He hasn’t disappointed.

To go with the plot and cast is an epic score courtesy of the musical genius Hans Zimmer. The blaring horn-style music is reminiscent of Vangelis’ iconic score in the original, yet different enough to signify that “2049” isn’t just a remake. I must admit, I was starting to get a little muddled towards the end of the film with the blaring score, the rising tension and the stunning visuals, but maybe that was just me getting lost in the awe of the film.

The original “Blade Runner” is a cult classic, some people love it, some people are indifferent. I feel as though “2049” took all that was good about the original — the setting, the score, the deep, philosophical questions, the visuals — and added to it something else — an extra kick, if you will, to make this sequel as good, if not better, than its predecessor. For that, “Blade Runner 2049” deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

 

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!