Game of Thrones: Season Seven Premiere – “Dragonstone”

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“Game of Thrones” has entered its penultimate season and time is running out for showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to resolve the remaining story arcs. As such, “Dragonstone” was an episode which focused primarily on putting the pieces in place for the rest of the season and eliminating distractions.

This was most clear in the opening scene, in which Arya (Maisie Williams) poisoned the male members of House Frey as revenge for the Red Wedding. Benioff and Weiss wasted no time in eliminating these characters, starting the season with a cold open and telling the audience that only the main players in the story matter from this point onwards. This is an understandable approach and from a plot perspective it was fitting that Arya was the one to kill the Freys, given that she narrowly missed out on reuniting with her family because of them in season three.

However, whilst the scene made sense in the context of the narrative I didn’t appreciate its execution. I accept that Arya is able to swap faces with people that she has killed, (even though we were never explicitly told how this is possible), but it doesn’t make sense that by swapping faces with another person Arya also takes their voice, their physical dimensions (weight, height, etc.), and their other body parts.

When Arya removed Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) face and revealed her own she did so using his hand – this was clearly shown to the audience and for the life of me I can’t understand why. If you’re going to do something like this then at least make the rules consistent so that I understand what’s happening; don’t expect me to buy in simply because I know I’m watching a television show. The voice and height issues are annoying but I can ignore them because there probably isn’t a better way to film these kinds of scenes, but as a director you don’t have to show me another actor’s hands when they’re supposed to belong to Maisie Williams! Just don’t show the hands!

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I know this seems like a small issue but it took me straight out of the experience and immediately destroyed the excitement I was feeling about the show’s return. I get that most viewers will enjoy the story payoff and that’s completely fine, but personally I can’t separate the content of a television show from the fact that somebody made a decision to include that content when filming and editing, and these considerations are always on my mind while I’m watching.

I will say that the wider issue of how the Faceless Men take people’s faces is one that the series created for itself long before this episode, so at this point they’re stuck, but I think this scene could’ve been done better and it shouldn’t have opened season seven because all it did was remind me about how badly Arya’s arc was handled in season six.

Following this scene we saw the White Walkers for the first time this year, bringing winter quite literally with them. This was a visually brilliant scene and it helped to bring home the fact that they are the real threat as we come towards the series’ end. The only issue I had here was that it wasn’t clear if the giant that the camera focused on was supposed to be Wun Wun (Ian Whyte).

The giant had an eye missing which would make sense because Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) took Wun Wun’s eye out with an arrow in season six, and the fact that the scene was one of Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) visions means that it could have taken place in a future where the Walkers have gone past The Wall and taken Winterfell (presuming that for some reason Wun Wun’s body hasn’t been burned). However, if the giant was supposed to be Wun Wun then a stupid error was made, because the eye that the giant was missing was the opposite one to the one that Ramsay shot out with his arrow. It’s a small issue because as I said there’s no confirmation that the giant is Wun Wun, but it did look an awful lot like him and it seems coincidental that the giant that was shown was missing one of its eyes.

Bran then woke from his vision to find that Meera (Ellie Kendrick) had dragged him all the way to The Wall. There’s not a lot to say about this scene other than the fact that Hempstead-Wright’s acting is still woefully bad and the character remains as annoying as ever.

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We then cut from The Wall to Winterfell where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) disagreed on what should be done with the ancestral homes of the houses that sided with Ramsay in the Battle of the Bastards. Jon didn’t want to punish the children for the crimes of their fathers so he had the new lords of houses Umber and Karstark make oaths of loyalty to him rather than giving the castles to houses that were already loyal to him. I enjoyed this scene because both sides of the argument made sense and they reflected the experiences of the characters making them. Sansa has been influenced by pragmatic thinkers like Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tywin (Charles Dance) so it makes sense that she should have a ruthless edge about her when it comes to politics, whereas Jon has been trained in battle and knows that he must try to keep as many allies as possible in order to win the war to come.

It was a decent scene and I like that Jon and Sansa are challenging one another because they both have a lot to learn, I just think that the tension the showrunners want us to feel isn’t really there as of yet. If we’re supposed to believe that Sansa would side with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) over Jon simply because Jon doesn’t respect her opinion then I’m sorry but that’s not going to happen. Sansa’s arc could definitely lead her to villainy by the time the series ends but I think it’s much more likely that she would side with someone she loves rather than the man who killed her aunt and abandoned her with a rapist. I know this is “Game of Thrones” but Sansa siding with Littlefinger doesn’t seem like a twist that would feel earned and therefore it shouldn’t happen.

I also think there’s a bigger issue that this scene presents which is that Littlefinger as a character is completely lost right now. In the past he’s been one of the best schemers on the show and he effectively started the conflict that set the series into motion, so it’s a shame to see him pining over Sansa. There’s still plenty of time for him to come into his own again, but with the War for the Dawn on its way he feels like a character that has run his course on the show at this point.

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In the South, Cersei explained that without the Freys the Lannisters are devoid of allies and in fact have enemies in every direction. There was a lot of exposition in this scene and it was mainly an exercise in reminding the audience about supporting characters and their intentions, but I did appreciate it for what it was. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei talked for the first time since Tommen’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) suicide and it was good to see them address the fact that all of their children are now dead.

Then came one of my favourite scenes of the episode in which Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) made his claim for Cersei’s hand in marriage. This scene worked for many reasons, the main one being that the character seems to have been given a reset. I wasn’t one of the people who disliked the character in season six, but I was aware that many book readers thought that he was handled poorly and should’ve felt more important on the show. This scene went some way to acknowledging this as Euron came across as a much more charismatic and playful antagonist, delivering the best lines of dialogue in the episode.

This scene also served a purpose from a narrative perspective as Euron promised to deliver a gift to Cersei in order to prove his usefulness. This gift could be any number of things, but the main theories flying around on the internet right now are that Euron will bring either Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), or Dragonbinder to Cersei.

When I watched this scene I thought it was supposed to be obvious that Euron was talking about Tyrion because the episode entitled “The Gift” in season six referred specifically to everyone’s favourite Lannister. This would make sense because in the teaser for episode two there are fight scenes which seem to be taking place at sea, presumably between the Greyjoy fleet and Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) fleet. Still, with that said Ellaria also appears in the teaser with Daenerys and was responsible for the death of Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) so she would be an equally pleasant gift for Cersei. I think either of these options would be interesting, but personally I hope that the gift isn’t Dragonbinder as I don’t think the show needs to introduce any more objects or characters into the story at this point.

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Speaking of introducing unnecessary characters, we then cut to Sam (John Bradley-West) in Old Town. These scenes felt very alien on a show like “Game of Thrones” but I will admit that they were fun in their own way, even if they did go on for far too long (a bit like this review). It’s good to see some world-building on the show even though we don’t really have time for it, and Jim Broadbent is a great addition to an already stellar British cast.

Nevertheless, at this point Sam is more of a plot device than he is a character and having him act as comic relief doesn’t hide that fact. He’s on the show to read books and find out information rather than having other characters discover things naturally, cheapening reveals which should feel important. The fact that he’s sending Jon a raven telling him about Dragonstone is cool because it means that we’re going to see Jon and Dany interact, but it still feels incredibly forced.

When these scenes were finally over the focus was once again on Arya. I’m very conflicted about this scene because I think it might have been my favourite of the episode but I also think that Ed Sheeran’s appearance considerably devalued it. The thing I liked about this scene was that it felt like it was there to develop Arya as a character and to build on the opening scene, allowing us as audience members to question whether or not Arya was right to do what she did to the Freys. Arya was allowed to let her guard down and enjoy herself because the Lannister soldiers welcomed her and were genuinely friendly, which is rare on “Thrones”, but this also played into the fact that many of the people that she killed earlier might have acted in the same way in a similar situation. It reminded us that soldiers fight wars that they didn’t start and that many of them just want to live normal lives, even the ones who kill good people. In this sense I thought it was a clever scene and it was fun to watch because it wasn’t clear what was going to happen.

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On the other hand, Ed Sheeran’s appearance in the scene made me question whether or not it was written for Arya at all. The fact that the scene started with him singing and proceeded to do a close up on his face made me feel very uneasy, and I think it was a very badly executed cameo. He was an unnecessary distraction in an otherwise awesome scene and I don’t understand why he had to be there. The fan base and the audience are already established so the showrunners didn’t need to go out of their way to tarnish their credibility. If Sheeran wanted to appear that’s fine – he’s a big name and a cameo doesn’t hurt – but he shouldn’t have been centre stage in the way that he was. Again, I want to make it clear that I liked the scene, but Sheeran definitely made it worse.

After the break we saw the team-up of The Hound (Rory McCann), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), and Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) make their way north. This was one of the better sequences of the episode and it was smart of the writers to show how far The Hound has come by having him revisit an event from his past. A lot of character development happened in this scene as Sandor overcame his fear of fire, looking into the flames and having a vision of a battle involving the White Walkers which was seemingly taking place at Eastwatch (where the Wildlings are headed). He also showed remorse for leaving the man and his daughter to die in season four and by burying them paid homage to the Gravedigger character in the books. This was a well written scene and although the character went from A to B pretty quickly I think this is something we’ll have to accept from the show going forward.

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Finally, the episode culminated by turning its attention to Daenerys, first by having Jorah (Iain Glen) ask about her at the Citadel and then by showing her arrival on the shores of Dragonstone. This final sequence was excellent, with the decision to omit any dialogue until the final seconds enhancing it as a whole and giving the moment a distinctly epic fantasy feel. It’s a big moment in “Game of Thrones” because we’ve been waiting for Daenerys to arrive in Westeros since the very first episode, and it was one which was worth the wait in my opinion. I think this is one of Emilia Clarke’s best performances in a “Thrones” episode because she takes her time to let the character breathe; to take in the scenery and convey the significance of the scene to the audience. I can take or leave the dialogue at the end – ‘shall we begin’ is a bit on the nose for me – but I loved the sequence and it concluded the episode on a high note which is always important for a weekly television show.

So, overall I enjoyed “Dragonstone” for what it was. Season premieres are always difficult to get right, so whilst I had issues with its execution I appreciate that a lot of work was done to advance the plot and entice the audience back into the world of Westeros. It was a disjointed episode because we had a lot to get through and key characters are still geographically separated for now, but I expect that as the season progresses people will either die or come together to make for an easier viewing experience.

7/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the sixth Spider-Man standalone movie and the seventh time that Spider-Man has appeared on the big screen. “Homecoming” is directed by Jon Watts (“Clown”) and stars Tom Holland (“The Impossible”) as the titular character. Holland is the third person to put on the suit, picking up the mantle from Andrew Garfield after the unfortunate Sony hack of 2014. For me, Tobey Maguire will always be Spider-Man and my favourite Spider-Man movie is still Sam Raimi’s original, but to his credit Holland is both likeable and believable in the role. The fact that he still looks like a teenager certainly helps, but beyond that Holland brings a sense of playfulness to the character which will help him succeed as part of the MCU.

Nevertheless, I don’t think that Holland’s performance makes “Homecoming” an exceptional movie. “Homecoming” isn’t strictly an origin story, and to its credit it doesn’t get bogged down by exposition, but the themes that it plays with have been exhausted in the past. It helps that this movie ties into the wider MCU by featuring characters like Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), but the addition of said characters doesn’t change the fact that we’re still essentially exploring the same concept that Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” explored – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

In “Homecoming” Peter Parker is still coming to terms with what it means to be a superhero; he’s naïve, arrogant, and he doesn’t take his enemies seriously. This kind of behaviour is typical of a teenager and it has its place in the movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve explored this side of the character before in movies which are frankly better than this one. The conflict between Peter and Tony goes some way to differentiating this film from its predecessors but anyone paying attention surely has to see that Stark is acting as a surrogate Uncle Ben, simply providing the external motivation for Peter to learn what it means to be Spider-Man.

This isn’t necessarily a criticism depending on your perspective, but it goes some way to explaining my feelings towards the film. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” bored me from start to finish; I didn’t buy into the story, I didn’t care about the characters, and I wasn’t excited by the action sequences. I just didn’t like it at all, despite the fact that I don’t think it was a bad movie from a filmmaking standpoint.

One of my biggest problems with “Homecoming” was that I thought it lacked humour, or at the very least the jokes that were there didn’t make me laugh. In order to find this film funny you have to be invested in the characters because a lot of the humour stems from the issues in Peter Parker’s personal life and his struggles at high school. This is fine and I’m sure a lot of people did feel invested and therefore enjoyed the visual humour in the film, but I just couldn’t buy into the relationships or the plot. I find it very difficult to believe that someone with the bone structure of Tom Holland would have trouble fitting in at high school, particularly because he doesn’t act like an awkward teenager; he’s smart, funny, and relaxed so why should I believe that he’s on the outskirts of popularity?

I also thought that this was a visually clumsy movie devoid of interesting special effects. There’s a lot of CGI and most of it is good, but it isn’t very exciting and personally I found that it took me out of the movie more often than it thrilled me. I couldn’t really focus on anything during the action sequences because the lighting wasn’t great, and the way that Spider-Man fought meant that things happened quickly which made it hard to know what I was supposed to be looking at.

Still, I did like Michael Keaton as Vulture. It’s amusing to me that he’s gone from “Birdman” to this and his presence on screen helped elevate the movie, but I don’t agree with critics who are claiming that he is a relatable villain. We get a sense of his motivations in the opening scene but we don’t actually know anything substantial about him other than the fact that he feels hard done to. We’re supposed to take it at face value that he has a right feel like that, and many people will, but all we have to go on is the opening scene in which the contractors come across as opportunists rather than as average Americans who deserve a break.

There is one standout scene in the movie involving Vulture and Spider-Man, but to go into that scene in detail would be to spoil the film’s main twist and I don’t think that this would be fair to people who haven’t seen it yet. It’s a smart scene which shows the vulnerability of Peter Parker and humanises Adrian Toomes (Vulture), making him seem like a real character rather than a plot device. I liked it a lot and the five minute sequence definitely enhanced my opinion of the movie as whole, although I have to say that it felt slightly derivative because it reminded me of the dynamic between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) in Raimi’s “Spider-Man”.

Overall I wouldn’t say that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a great movie but I feel that to call it a terrible movie would be very harsh. It plays on familiar themes and its action sequences are forgettable, but it also features two good performances and this Spider-Man genuinely feels like a friendly neighbourhood version of the character. I would encourage Marvel fans to give this film a chance and come to their own conclusions, but personally I didn’t enjoy it and I found it to be an uninspired experience.

5.5/10

It Comes at Night

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“It Comes at Night” is a psychological horror film directed by Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) and starring Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”), one of my favourite actors working today. It’s a movie which displays technical prowess, a strong handle on its tone, believable performances and assured direction, but it also fails to entertain for long periods of time.

The first thing to address regarding this film is that its marketing campaign was grossly misleading. Anyone who has seen both the trailers and the finished product knows that what was advertised was completely misrepresentative of the content of the movie. In this film nothing comes at night. There’s no big bad chasing our protagonists, instead the antagonist of the film is a virus which has left the world desolate and without order.

As such, “It Comes at Night” is one of the worst movie titles that I’ve seen in a long time, and although this doesn’t bare any real significance when it comes to the overall quality of the movie it does go some way to explaining why there’s been such a disconnect between the critical reception of the film and the opinion of casual moviegoers. My expectations were tempered going in because I’d read about the movie’s deceptive marketing, but for members of the audience who had seen the trailers and were looking for a simple horror experience I can see how this movie could’ve been frustrating.

Personally I think that “It Comes at Night” is a very solid movie; the individual elements that most critics look for when assessing a film are there and the cinematography, acting, and direction are all great. However, this is not a film that I would recommend nor is it a film that needs to be seen at the cinema.

“It Comes at Night” is a dark movie both in terms of tone and visuals – the lighting is great and it helps to build the sense that the world that the characters are populating is post-apocalyptic, given that there’s very little in the way of artificial light. This might seem like a small thing but oftentimes horror movies fail to understand that using excessive lighting in places where there wouldn’t be any such lighting breaks the suspension of disbelief, thus taking the audience out of the experience and destroying immersion. It’s crucial that a horror film reels its audience in before it tries to frighten them, so there’s something to be said for this movie’s focus on realism and the fact that it respects its audience’s intelligence.

It’s also a film with a powerful lead performance, as Joel Edgerton is once again intense but understated in a role which requires a degree of restraint. He portrays Paul, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders who is doing all he can to keep his family safe. He’s distrustful of outside influences and he’s willing to do just about anything to keep his family from harm, but it’s also clear that a part of him wants to stop fighting and to try to live a normal life. He’s an interesting character and Edgerton gives a predictably layered performance, carrying the film despite the fact that he isn’t always the focal point.

Nevertheless, these positive aspects don’t lead me to the conclusion that “It Comes at Night” is an amazing movie. I definitely respect the work that went into making it and I think that it’s an assured piece of filmmaking, but there’s nothing special about the plot to tie the individual components together. In my opinion much more could’ve been done to create drama in the narrative once the second family entered the fray, because although attempts were made to develop the characters and their relationships there wasn’t enough conflict given the situation.

I liked the beginning of the film because a tense atmosphere was created and Paul was immediately portrayed to be a morally grey character, but once the first act was over and new characters were thrown into the mix I felt that the movie stagnated when it should’ve excelled. It was clear that whilst the families were getting along they didn’t completely trust each other, and a couple of interesting dynamics were created between Paul and Will (Christopher Abbott) and Kim (Riley Keough) and Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). However, these relationships weren’t genuine enough to make me care about the characters and they weren’t volatile enough to make the final act truly suspenseful. I feel that we needed to see the characters start to come into their own and trust each other in order to make the conflict seem earned and worthwhile, but the attempts that Shults made to portray this on screen were limited at best.

This is partly because “It Comes at Night” is a very methodical film, with the main priority being to make the situation seem as realistic and grounded as possible. This is an admirable approach when done well, but when a film is as deliberate as this one it needs to either have a surprising ending or to build towards something inevitable that you really don’t want to see happen. Shults tries to have his cake and eat it on this front, constantly pushing the idea that the two families can’t possibly co-exist whilst also trying to shock you in the final act, but neither the characters nor the story are complex enough to make you believe that anything other than the obvious is going to happen.

Still, the shortcomings of this film’s plot didn’t completely ruin the experience for me. There are issues with “It Comes at Night” that are hard to ignore, but if you enjoy great cinematography and skillful direction then there’s much to be enjoyed. There’s a lot to like about this movie from a technical perspective and there were sequences that I thought were excellent in their execution, but ultimately it’s an unbalanced and slightly laborious cinematic experience which is unlikely to appeal to the majority of mainstream audiences.

6/10

Baby Driver

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“Baby Driver” is an action-comedy helmed by acclaimed director Edgar Wright, the man behind the Cornetto Trilogy (“Hot Fuzz”, “Shaun of the Dead”, and “The World’s End”) and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. My expectations were very high for this movie, not just because I love all of the films that I just mentioned but because I have complete faith in Wright as a filmmaker. Wright is the king of visual comedy – he’s a masterful director and skilled writer, so in my mind there was no doubt that this film would be as enjoyable as all of his others.

Thankfully, (and predictably), I was right. “Baby Driver” is a well-paced, accomplished, and highly entertaining film which will appeal to film-buffs and casual moviegoers alike. It’s a movie which is funny in fits, but it’s also very action-heavy with a focus on visual style rather than a constant barrage of jokes.

The music and the cinematography meld together perfectly and together they make the film equal parts beautiful and cool. They’re synchronised together in such a way so that gunshots and the slamming of car doors hit the same beats as a song that’s playing on Baby’s (Ansel Elgort) iPod, giving the film a level of detail that you can’t help but be impressed by as an audience member.

The music feels like a character in itself, as cliché as that platitude is, and it’s as important to the film as the story. In an interview I watched yesterday Kevin Spacey described the action sequences in this film as a kind of dance, which in my view is a very apt way of understanding what’s going on in terms of direction and performance. There’s a degree of choreography and preciseness that you don’t see often in film, and whilst it may be the case that the actors were improvising at certain points and adding their own flavour to the instructions that they were given, there’s a distinct feeling that Edgar Wright knew exactly what he wanted from every actor in every action sequence in the film.

The performances in non-action-orientated scenes aren’t quite as impressive as their action scene counterparts, particularly from members of the supporting cast like Jamie Foxx and Eliza González, but they’re still good and the characters are reasonably well-realised despite the fact that we don’t know a lot about them.

Much like Baby in the film, we as an audience come to understand the characters simply through their actions during and after intense car chases, so it’s difficult to delve into exactly what makes them tick. We don’t learn a lot about why Bats (Jamie Foxx) is so volatile or how ruthless Doc (Kevin Spacey) can be as the mastermind behind the chaos; these notions are inferred through the story rather than explained to us through exposition. This isn’t an outright positive or negative of the film, it’s just a point worth noting when considering how the characters are built and why some of them can feel a little thin at times.

Moreover, it’s important to note that whilst some of the supporting characters are somewhat threadbare Baby has clear motives and is easy to route for given his circumstances. He’s a likeable character and the performance of Ansel Elgort goes a long way to achieving this – he does an exemplary job especially when you consider the fact that he isn’t given a lot dialogue. It’s also worth mentioning that Lily James gives a strong supporting performance as Debora in a role which could’ve been forgettable. It’s not that the pair bring the house down, but they’re both pleasant and charismatic as protagonists and together they have solid chemistry.

If there’s one criticism that I would level at this film it’s that there are a couple of characters who aren’t consistent in how they are portrayed, both in terms of performance and in terms of writing. These characters are Bats and Doc, played by Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey respectively. Bats is immediately set-up to be the antagonist of the film but Foxx’s performance just isn’t powerful or threatening enough to portray a sense of danger given that we don’t know anything about his backstory. Most of the time he comes across as an antisocial common criminal rather than as a genuine threat to Baby, and it’s disappointing that he couldn’t bring a greater sense of menace to the character considering that Jon Bernthal appeared at the start of the film playing an almost identical character (Griff) with more vigour.

The issue with Doc is less to do with Spacey’s performance and more to do with storytelling. For the most part Spacey is playing a version of himself in this movie; he’s not particularly captivating but he’s still a recognisable face and at no point is his performance distracting or annoying. The problem is that in the third act Doc does a U-turn in character by deciding to help Baby escape the police, something which doesn’t fit with how he is presented up until that point. There is a small suggestion that he could be a kind of antihero in a couple of earlier scenes, but he also forces Baby to keep driving by threatening to kill everyone he loves if he doesn’t – there’s no real coming back from that from a narrative perspective. His change of character is in service of the story and doesn’t feel natural or earned, which is disappointing in what is otherwise a very intelligently made movie.

Nevertheless, this is a stylish, smart, and charming film. It’s a movie that you’ll want to see again once you’ve watched it and it’s most definitely another string in Edgar Wright’s impressive bow, so I can’t recommend it highly enough.

9/10

Wonder Woman

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“Wonder Woman” is the best DCEU movie so far and in my view one of the best superhero movies since “The Dark Knight”. It’s a joyful, funny, and intelligent film about the fact that humanity is worth fighting for despite its flaws.

“Wonder Woman” tells an origin story about its titular character, giving us a glimpse of her childhood and explaining how she became the hero that we saw in “Batman v Superman”. It’s a story which opens with Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) growing up on the island of Themyscira, which is home to the Amazons. The Amazons are a race of women created by Zeus to protect humanity against Ares (the god of war), and it’s clear from the moment that this backstory is revealed that Ares is going to be the film’s main villain.

From here the film shows Diana’s grown both physically and emotionally over time, initially on the island as she learns how to use her strength to become a powerful warrior and then in our world during World War One. Having this movie set during that time period is very beneficial to the character of Wonder Woman, as it allows Patty Jenkins to concentrate on developing the character’s personality rather than wasting time with nods to other DCEU franchises.

As a character Diana is extremely well-developed by the end of this movie; we understand her background, her personality, and most importantly her motivations. She’s a character who at her very core wants to fight for justice and she believes that people are inherently good despite the fact that they do bad things. Her faith is tested throughout the movie, (particularly in the final act), and by the time the credits roll she has a much more realistic opinion of humanity, but the relationships that she builds prior to the movie’s close are strong enough to make her believe that despite people’s flaws they are worth saving.

In a worse film the character that I’ve just described would come across as condescending or too good to be true, (this is the way that I feel about Captain America as depicted by Marvel ever since “The First Avenger”), but Patty Jenkins does a great job of making Diana Prince relatable in spite of her perfection, thus making Wonder Woman feel like a superhero rather than a Mary Sue. By taking the character out of her comfort zone and throwing her into an alien environment Jenkins is able to portray flaws in Diana’s character which come across as sweet and well-intentioned, bringing a naivety to her which is completely understandable and also humanising.

“Wonder Woman” isn’t a film which thinks that its audience is going to buy into the main character in virtue of the fact that she can do amazing things in a fight, instead it takes its time to make the character likeable prior to throwing her into the action, something which movies like “Man of Steel” simply didn’t do.

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Towards the start of the film Wonder Woman sees a plane crash into the water surrounding Themyscira and without a second thought she dives in to save the pilot. This pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), just so happens to be the first man that Wonder Woman has ever seen and she immediately appears to have a fondness for him. From that point onwards Diana and Steve build a relationship with one another, trading jokes and generally being affectionate in small but noticeable ways. When the pair set sail for London at the end of the first act they don’t squabble or act suspicious of one another, they co-exist, have banter, and Diana even goes so far as to insist that Steve sleep next to her despite the fact that she’s only just met him.

There’s an innocence to her character, an earnest lack of cynicism, and it meshes seamlessly with Steve’s idealistic but grounded perspective on the fractured world that’s waiting for them back home. Chris Pine’s performance makes it clear that Steve is tired of fighting and is hurt by the state of the world that he lives in, so there’s something incredibly heart-warming about seeing him build a relationship with someone who in virtue of her existence makes the world seem like a better place. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are exceptional in this movie, not just because they have great comedic timing or because they have a presence on screen, but because they have strong chemistry and together they are immensely likeable. They make you smile every time that they smile, and as an audience member you can genuinely route for them from start to finish which is so incredibly refreshing in a cinematic universe filled with brooding, jaded characters.

From a technical standpoint this film is also very striking, with solid CGI and a more varied colour palette than we’re used to seeing in DCEU movies. That’s not to say that it’s always a colourful film, after all much of it takes place in scenery which has been ravaged by war, but it doesn’t feel as bereft of vibrancy as “Batman v Superman” did.

The visual style that Zack Snyder developed in films like “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” carries over into this film, making action sequences feel as though they were ripped straight out of a comic book or possibly even out of a video game. This larger-than-life approach to fight scenes is something which I have previously criticised – and I stand by those criticisms – but here Patty Jenkins makes it work because she takes the time to makes us care about the characters, so that by the time the fight scenes become the focus of the film we already believe that Wonder Woman is a badass. She isn’t a man in a suit like Batman, doing things that look so far removed from human possibility that they take you right out of the experience of watching the film; she’s a warrior who was created by Zeus himself with the hope that she could keep people safe. As such, it makes sense that she can do things that normal people can’t do – that she can run faster, jump higher, punch harder, etc. – and the fact that we like her so much makes a huge difference because we want to see her win. When somebody tries to hurt her we’re invested in seeing her prevail, so when she flies through the air to stop a sniper from killing innocent people we don’t scoff at the lack of realism, we cheer because our hero has come out on top!

Of course, there are criticisms which can be levelled at this film. In my view these issues are minimal, but they are noticeable enough to mention and I did find myself considering them whilst I was watching the movie. The first issue I had with this film was that the beginning was too slow, and although it wasn’t bad per se it didn’t give me a concrete indication that this was going to be a good movie.

The start of the film was designed simply to introduce the character of Diana and foreshadow what was going to happen later, which is okay, but for me it was a little uninspired. As mentioned earlier in this review it was clear that Ares was going to be this film’s main villain when he was mentioned in one of its first scenes, and although this is understandable because it’s useful to introduce characters early in a narrative to make them feel important, the way that it was done felt lazy to me.

The first time that we hear Ares’ name in this film is in an expository scene between Diana and her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), in which the latter tells the story of how the Amazons came to be, what their purpose is, and how they (or rather Zeus) defeated the infamous villain. This scene is fine – it’s the type of scene you see a lot in movies when they don’t know how to get information across to the audience because they can’t show a time-consuming background story – but it isn’t great. It’s the least compelling scene in the whole movie because information is regurgitated to the audience simply so that the rest of the movie can exist. It’s a necessary scene, but it should’ve been executed in a more creative way and it doesn’t feel as though it belongs in a movie which for the most part is fantastic.

The other issue I have with this film is with its villain, the aforementioned Ares, who remains absent for the majority of the movie. The fact that he doesn’t appear until the end of the movie isn’t a criticism at all, it’s just a normal trope of storytelling where there’s a final act twist or a big reveal; the real problem is that he isn’t very interesting. He basically hates humanity because he sees that people do bad things, and because of this he wants to destroy the world – this, for me, is a very lacklustre motivation.

It’s perhaps unfair to criticise Ares too excessively because he’s the first villain that this iteration of Wonder Woman has faced on screen in her own movie, so the writers can’t really allow him to overshadow the hero, but Ares is just so plain. If he hates humanity so much why doesn’t he just go somewhere where there aren’t any people? There’s an island full of women who are separated from the rest of humanity in the middle of the ocean so we know that that’s a possibility, so why is exterminating humanity so important to him? I know these might seem like throwaway comments designed to denigrate a character that I didn’t like – which they are – but personally I don’t get on with villains who seem like their only reason for existing in a film’s universe is to directly oppose the worldview of the protagonist. He serves a purpose because he establishes a facet of Wonder Woman’s character, which is that she sees the flaws in humanity and yet still chooses to believe that people are worth fighting for, but other than that he has no place in the movie which is why he doesn’t appear until the final battle.

Nonetheless, these criticisms are small when compared to the triumph of “Wonder Woman” as a whole. This is a movie in which almost everything works; the costume design is awesome, the acting is brilliant, the story is effective, and the whole thing is incredibly entertaining from start to finish. Wonder Woman is the perfect character to breathe life into the DCEU and it’s great to see a film in which a female superhero is portrayed as a powerful and sympathetic character rather than as a side-kick, so I would recommend that everyone see this movie as soon as possible.

8.5/10

Baywatch

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via comingsoon.net

“Baywatch” is a bad film; however, it isn’t bad for the reasons that you might expect. It was never going to win any Oscars – it’s a film about lifeguards taking down a drug smuggling operation after all – but it didn’t necessarily have to be awful, in fact, it had every opportunity to be entertaining within the parameters of its story. Unfortunately, Seth Gordon doesn’t seem to know exactly what he wants this movie to be, and as a result it ends up feeling both hollow and confused.

Gordon’s direction of this film is incredibly bad, to the point where it feels like a series of tonally disconnected scenes with the only consistency being a set of blank-slate characters and an insultingly clichéd story. It’s an unfocused, poorly edited, and boring movie which lacks any semblance of fun, completely misunderstanding the reason why its audience would pay to see it in the first place. It’s not as if people paying to see a movie based on a dated television show were expecting this year’s answer to “Citizen Kane”; they wanted to stuff their faces with popcorn, relax, and enjoy a silly comedy – that’s all they wanted. What they definitely didn’t want, and will probably never want again, was to watch this movie.

Now, before I continue I want to make it clear that prior to seeing this film I was completely open-minded – I loved “Horrible Bosses” which was also directed by Gordon, I like The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) in most of his roles, and in my opinion Zac Efron has the potential to be a great comedic actor. The problem isn’t that this movie wasn’t made for me or that it’s somehow less worthy of praise because of the subject matter that it’s adapting, it’s that it just isn’t very good. The jokes are few and far between and the ones that are there aren’t side-splittingly funny (most of the best scenes are in the trailer), the story is dull and we aren’t given any reason to suspend our disbelief because the narrative is nonsensical and the movie’s tone becomes far too serious as it progresses, and the action sequences are unbelievably lazy.

The crazy thing is that the actors involved in “Baywatch” are all reasonably talented, and despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy the movie I didn’t hate any of the performances. The characters were badly written and the relationships that they developed over the course of the movie felt unearned, but the people playing them were likeable enough to make me route for them in some minimalistic way. This only serves to show just how awful a job the writers and the director did, because they had the tools at their disposal to make a good summer movie, they just didn’t have any clue how to use them.

The only real positive that I could find within this movie’s excessive 116 minute runtime was that at certain points the writers did at least try to inject a sense of playful self-awareness to proceedings, with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson appearing for (very) minor cameos. This did nothing to save the movie as a whole, but it’s something… I guess.

So, as I established at the start of this review “Baywatch” is a bad movie. The direction, the editing, the pacing, and the writing are all terrible, and the only substantial thing that it has going for it is a set of charismatic actors. The cameos are novel and somewhat entertaining, but they don’t make the film any better because there’s just too much holding it down. “Baywatch” might be a guilty pleasure for some, but personally I don’t have any desire to watch it again and I doubt that I ever will.

2/10

Alien: Covenant

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via heroichollywood.b-cdn.net

“Alien: Covenant” is a film which, like “Prometheus” before it, fails to live up to its potential. It’s a film with a number of positive features, such as its accomplished cinematography and believable performances, but the plot is riddled with holes and ultimately it lacks a true identity.

The tagline for “Alien” was – in space no one can hear you scream – and it was built from that concept. It was about isolation and exploitation – everything from the setting to the monster design was intended to amplify those themes. Fast-forward to “Aliens” and again you’ll see a film which realises its intentions and reveals them through its execution. It built on the original and raised the stakes, and it did this not by trying to outdo the first film on its own terms (using tense psychological horror), but through a shift in tone. “Aliens” took the series in a more action-orientated direction, adding more Xenomorphs to the mix and giving the protagonists the tools with which to fight them, making for a film which was easier to watch and arguably more entertaining.

Unfortunately, “Prometheus” wasn’t a cinematic milestone like “Alien” was, and as such the job that Ridley Scott had on his hands when it came to building upon the first film of this new series was substantially trickier than the job that James Cameron had when he wrote “Aliens”. With this film Scott had to address the plot holes that “Prometheus” dug up and try to fill them with a story that also made sense of “Alien”, which even for a talented director is almost impossible.

To his credit, “Covenant” was entertaining and frightening at certain points; it established its tone with the very first scene and the way that it was shot conveyed the feeling that the human characters were constantly fighting against something more powerful than themselves, whether that be space, their environment, or killer aliens. However, the positive features of this film did nothing to dispel the feeling that its purpose was to paper over the cracks in “Prometheus”, and the fact that it concluded with a clear nod to another sequel only furthered the thought that it was simply a transitional film.

What I’m trying to say is that ultimately this movie felt pointless. It started out as a horror film and then devolved into a CGI action-heavy mess by the final act, its characters were disposable and the majority of them will never be mentioned again, and it didn’t really make the lore of the series any clearer than “Prometheus” did. This was largely a result of the failings of the aforementioned film – it’s certainly clear that much of what “Covenant” got wrong resulted directly from having to contend with what “Prometheus” didn’t explain – but the fact that this movie asked more questions than it answered really didn’t help.

“Covenant” would’ve been a far more coherent and satisfying film if there had been a conscious effort to right the wrongs of “Prometheus” by presenting a tight narrative, rather than leaving the fate of its characters hanging by the end of the film, and although the final twist was a good one on paper it didn’t leave a positive impression. From my perspective the twist rendered most of what had come before it completely superfluous, particularly because David (Michael Fassbender) could’ve achieved the same outcome that he achieved at the end of the movie by leaving the humans to their own devices and stealing their ship whilst Faris (Amy Seimetz) was alone. He would’ve had to contend with the three crew members left on board the Covenant, but I’m sure that that wouldn’t have been too much trouble for him.

You could argue that David is an inquisitive android who is so enamoured with his creation that he wants to admire it by watching it kill the crew one-by-one, and you could also argue that he was looking for an opportunity to test out his facehuggers on living organisms, but that doesn’t change the fact that he could’ve done this with the 2,000 colonists on board the Covenant at a later date.

Still, despite the many issues that I have with this film I would probably watch it again, and it’s far from the worst entry in the “Alien” series. I liked many of its smaller details and there were elements of it which I would keep if I was conceptualising how to improve it as a whole. My assessment of this film is actually almost identical to my assessment of its predecessor, as I feel that it inherits many of the same problems as well as many of its redeeming qualities.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review the cinematography is impressive and it creates a distinctly science-fiction feel. I’ve seen it described as unoriginal and uninspired but personally I felt that it was suitably classic, presenting a world which was grandiose and diverse, even if it wasn’t fully explored. Scott placed the humans in the middle of a land that they didn’t fully understand, which I think is a great trope of the genre, and he made them seem vulnerable by using wide shots to capture the enormity of the landscape. The scenery was beautiful but foreboding and seeing the characters struggle to make their way through it gave the movie the feeling of isolation that the series is known for, because although they weren’t in a claustrophobic environment they were exposed and alone, unaware of what dangers awaited them and unable to hide.

If there’s one criticism that I would personally level at the film from a cinematography standpoint it would be that some of the action/horror sequences either happened too quickly, in such a way that it was hard to focus on exactly what was going on, or were shot without adequate lighting making it a struggle to work out who had the upper hand. This didn’t happen very often but when it did it was very noticeable and took away from the tension that the film was attempting to create – at the end of the day it’s quite difficult to be afraid of something that’s supposed to be visually disturbing when you can’t actually see it.

Finally, it’s worth noting that despite “Covenant’s” many issues the performances are sound across the board. There was only one performance that I personally didn’t enjoy (Billy Crudup’s portrayal of Christopher Oram) and this was largely down to the writing of his character rather than his delivery or facial expressions. Once again Michael Fassbender was great as David, making him suitably menacing but also compelling to watch, and he was so good that for much of the film I found myself routing for his character rather than the protagonists.

So, overall “Alien: Covenant” was a messy, clichéd, and predictable film from a narrative perspective, but it did have redeeming aspects such as its cinematography and Michael Fassbender’s performance as David. It’s not an insulting film and it hasn’t devalued its predecessors in my opinion, nor has it dampened my enthusiasm to see more Xenomorphs in the future, but ultimately it was a disappointing effort from Ridley Scott. He definitely made an effort to explain some of the issues that arose in “Prometheus” – this is by no means a lazy movie – and there are themes which carry over from that film which are interesting, but it lacks clarity and leaves far too many questions unanswered when the final credits roll.

5.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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guardians

via flickr.com

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a cultural phenomenon back in 2014, with a slew of interesting characters, a great soundtrack which helped to entice a wider audience, and a sharp script. It was a merchandise-machine churning out CD’s, Pop figurines, and t-shirts by the boatload, and it catapulted the careers of Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista to heights that even they probably didn’t expect before its release. So, how on earth was a sequel ever going to live up to the hype?

With this film James Gunn faced the almost impossible task of producing the same refreshing feeling that the original evoked without making changes to a winning formula; to balance comedy, action, and character development, whilst continuing to flesh out the movie’s world and protect the wider interests of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, in my opinion this juggling act of tone and story failed to live up to the high standards that the original film set, and although this wasn’t a surprise I still found myself feeling frustrated when the end credits began to roll.

By all accounts “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is not a terrible movie, but in many ways it’s a movie which feels unnecessary and fails to capture the imagination. Given the fact that James Gunn has an entire galaxy to play with and a set of already interesting and established characters it’s disappointing that for the most part this story takes place either within the interior of a spaceship or on a planet that isn’t explored in a meaningful way, and personally I couldn’t escape the feeling that more could’ve been done.

You could say that this is a result of the fact that “Vol. 2” is a character-driven movie; after all, it’s a story which at its core revolves around family dynamics and overcoming your past. There’s the dynamic between the Guardians themselves and how Rocket (Bradley Cooper) feels undervalued now that Groot (Vin Diesel) isn’t an equal companion, the exploration of the fractured relationship between Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and most importantly the relationship between Quill (Chris Pratt) and his estranged father, Ego (Kurt Russell).  However, if you want to explain this film’s failings when it comes to its world-building by appealing to a focus on character development then you’re going to have to explain why nothing was achieved on that front.

In my opinion this film was a step backwards for many of its main characters, particularly Rocket who became less sympathetic and much more annoying. In “Guardians” we empathised with Rocket because he had been mistreated and abused, and it was clear that his aggression was a way of lashing out at the society which made him feel like vermin. This was amplified by the fact that Rocket was experimented on and didn’t ask to be the way that he was made, because this as a concept is something that a lot of people can relate to.

As such, it made no sense from my perspective to position Rocket as a character who felt undervalued by the rest of the Guardians in “Vol. 2”, even though his relationship with Groot was significantly changed, because the events of the first film lead to the audience and the rest of the Guardians already accepting him for who he was. The time that Gunn spent making Rocket less likeable in this film should’ve been spent either on a different subplot which afforded us a chance to see more of the galaxy, or on Ego’s planet with characters like Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), as their scenes together were very entertaining and provided extra insight into their characters.

Beyond specific issues I had with this film’s narrative and the way that characters were treated, the most jarring aspect of it for me was that it didn’t feel necessary. The only thing that “Vol. 2” achieved was to tell us who Star-Lord’s father was, and ultimately I don’t feel as though making that discovery significantly changed anything going forward. The wider ramifications for the MCU were minimal at best, with Thanos (Josh Brolin) only being mentioned in passing and Ego’s plan failing with little consequence when considered alongside the chaos that occurs in “Avengers” movies.

“Guardians” was a law unto itself – it worked in isolation and the best thing about it was that it felt new and exciting without the need for cameos or a barrage of Easter Eggs. However, “Guardians” also properly introduced Thanos into the MCU, and with “Infinity War” on the horizon it was hard to accept such a disconnection from everything else that Marvel is doing right now. There was clear continuity from the first film to the second film as you would expect from any sequel, but there wasn’t a conscious effort made to plant the seeds of what comes next, other than an after-credits scene which teased Adam Warlock. Obviously the pieces will come together in films such as “Thor: Ragnarok”, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, and “Black Panther”, but that doesn’t change the fact that this film felt too isolated from the rest of the MCU to be taken seriously in the current superhero movie landscape.

Nevertheless, despite the tone of this review so far I think it’s only fair to mention that the comedy in “Vol. 2” was fantastic (for the most part). I don’t think that this film was quite as successful on that front as the original was, simply because a lot of the jokes feel derivative given that they’re building on what characters said and did in that film, but I still found myself laughing a lot more than I usually do when I’m at the cinema. Gunn clearly knows what he’s doing when it comes to comedic dialogue and one-liners, and despite a drop in quality from the first film to the sequel the tone is consistent throughout.

Once again the performances were good across the board, and I definitely look forward to seeing the Guardians again in “Infinity War”. The issues I had with this film weren’t the result of what the actors did or how they handled their characters, they were more to do with the direction of the film and the story, which I felt was unambitious and remarkably dull. The only performance that I would question was Chris Pratt’s, because although I think he’s brilliant he didn’t really work well with Kurt Russell in my opinion. The two didn’t have a lot of chemistry on screen together and they didn’t feel like father and son at all. This could’ve made sense because they were estranged, but Pratt played it as though his character was excited and relieved to have finally met his father when he was speaking to supporting characters like Gamora, yet was understated in his enthusiasm when they were together. This could be an issue with direction, or you could place the blame on Russell because he was the newcomer to the series, but from my perspective there was something off about Chris Pratt’s performance in this film.

So, on the whole “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was a disappointment. It’s important to understand that whilst my critical opinion of the film isn’t particularly favourable I still had an okay time watching it. As a film taken in complete isolation there’s no one aspect of it that makes it a bad movie – the cinematography, the effects, the performances (mostly), the writing, and the direction are all fine and in some cases great! The problem is that it didn’t live up to the original, (which in all honesty I didn’t think it would), and it didn’t offer anything new to its legion of fans. To me it felt like a copy-and-paste sequel which lacked ambition and hampered its characters, so although it was polished and undoubtedly funny it left a sour taste in my mouth.

6/10

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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ghost in the shell

via forbes.com

“Ghost in the Shell” is a difficult film to review. If you’re looking for a complete experience then there’s every chance that you’ll be disappointed, not because it’s a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but because it’s clearly lacking in significant areas. However, if you’re hoping for a popcorn-flick then there’s plenty to enjoy – the focus of the film is primarily on presentation and on that front it’s very successful, and Rupert Sanders did a decent job of adapting the source material (Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime of the same name) faithfully.

“Ghost in the Shell” is a visually striking film from the very first sequence in which Major (Scarlett Johansson) is created. The world that it presents feels distinctly alien from the one that we live in today, with cyber-enhancement allowing people to change parts of themselves that they dislike on a whim, yet at the same time there’s enough familiarity to suggest that it could one day be our own. The world as depicted by this film definitely has its own personality, and although I would’ve liked to see more of the day-to-day workings of its society I enjoyed the momentary glimpses that I was afforded.

The idea that at some point in the future people could choose robotic limbs as nonchalantly as they choose their tattoos today is novel and actually quite compelling, because although the two might seem distinct (given the differing severity of the changes made to one’s body) that isn’t necessarily the case. People choose tattoos for a number of reasons; sometimes they carry sentimental value, sometimes they’re associated with a certain lifestyle, and sometimes it’s purely aesthetic. The same could easily apply to more drastic changes, such as replacing a human arm with a robotic one, provided that such a change was accepted in society and also that the technology available was sophisticated enough to make the procedure viable. The example works even better when we think about how cyber-enhancement parallels with plastic surgery in the modern day because people voluntarily change their bodies all the time, whether it be for medical reasons or simply because they’re unhappy with the way that they look, so it makes sense that if certain enhancements were financially available in the future people would choose to make them.

“Ghost in the Shell” gives us a taste of what this world might look like and tries to use its tone to encourage us to question whether or not body modification could be truly beneficial, but personally I felt that more could’ve been done to explore the moral dilemma. It’s made clear in this movie that transplanting a human brain into a machine brings up questions of personal identity and playing god, but this is the most drastic type of enhancement presented in the film and as such the problems that come with it are plain for all to see. “Ghost in the Shell” would’ve been far more thought-provoking if there had been a subplot involving someone who didn’t agree with enhancement as a whole and felt that we as a species had crossed a line – something which I mistakenly thought would happen when Batou (Pilou Asbæk) was forced to get cybernetic eyes – and this would’ve also given us time away from the main story arc which eventually became a little stale.

Ultimately, enhancement isn’t the focal point of the film despite the fact that it’s the most interesting aspect of the story, which is a shame even though I admit that it didn’t ruin the experience for me. This issue lies in the script which was unambitious and at times frustrating; in this film there are themes and ideas which are practically begging to be explored that never get off the ground, and the story lacks true conflict as characters accept their circumstances far too readily. This makes for a film which is easy to watch and places the focus squarely on the effects and the action, but in the process it detracts from any drama and thus creates a disconnect between the audience and the narrative.

This is a shame because across the board the performances are good, especially given the fact that the actors involved aren’t given much to work with. Scarlett Johansson has proved in the past that she can perform in action-heavy movies through her role as Black Widow in the MCU, so it was nice to see her carry a film like this one on her shoulders after her disappointing turn in “Lucy”. Johansson is definitely the star of this film, and although there are only a couple of scenes that require her to do substantial acting she carries herself with confidence and is believable in the role.

Overall, I felt that “Ghost of the Shell” delivered as a throwaway action movie and I enjoyed it for what it was, but it could’ve been improved had the writers been more ambitious. It looked fantastic in IMAX and I thought that the 3D was used really well, but at times the film was a little too reliant on CGI and special effects. I can imagine a version of this film which focuses intently on its themes, (such as the social ramifications of enhancing one’s body and losing your humanity in the process, the question of what constitutes personhood, and exploitation), but at the end of the day that film is wholly different to the one that we’ve got and in truth there’s no telling whether or not it would be an improvement. This is an action movie from start to finish; the production values are great, the effects are captivating, and it’s a fun film to sit back and watch, so although it’s far from perfect I can still say with confidence that I enjoyed the experience.

7.5/10

Get Out

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via flixster.com

“Get Out” is a film that deserves to be seen. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, far from it actually, but it’s the latest in a string of horror movies that show what can be done within the confines of the genre. In recent times films like “It Follows”, “Don’t Breathe”, “The Witch”, and “The Babadook” have each renewed my love for horror by championing their concepts above all else and using them to explore themes such as sexuality, grief, religion, and mental health. “Get Out” is similar in that it uses a simple premise to examine its theme, racism in the modern world, whilst intelligently allowing one to inform the other and vice versa.

Jordan Peele (the film’s director) introduces tension immediately, setting the stakes for what’s to come with an eerie opening scene in which a young man is kidnapped by a masked assailant. This scene doesn’t necessarily give the audience any further information than that which could’ve been deduced from the film’s trailer, but it does its job by creating an unsettling tone and eliminating any inclination to believe that strange moments in the story are the result of coincidence. It lets you know conclusively that something sordid is going on behind the scenes, thus establishing a sense of intrigue and giving you the satisfying feeling that you know something that the protagonist does not.

Peele then turns his attention to said protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), fleshing out his basic motivations and establishing his relationship with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). From here it’s all about creating a mood, something which is crucial in any horror movie but especially when there’s an element of comedy involved as well. It’s fair to say that this is where “Get Out” shines as the mood which is produced fits the film perfectly and permeates every scene. There’s a hypnotic feel to “Get Out” which gives the experience a dreamlike quality, something which is clearly intentional as hypnosis is a key plot device in the film. There’s also a sense of voyeurism about the film, as oftentimes it feels as though you’re watching something that you really shouldn’t be – something private and alien.

Still, whilst “Get Out” is unsettling in many ways there’s also something surreally funny about it, even in its darker moments, with the eccentricity of the antagonists making the situation almost too bizarre to be taken seriously. This again feels completely intentional, not only because this film has been marketed as a comedy-horror hybrid, but also because it plays on the absurdity which is inherent in the situation that Chris is placed in.

The film’s initial tension is built upon the notion that there’s some sort of problem with a white woman bringing a black man home to meet her parents, so it makes sense to present the situation as peculiar given that a normal person wouldn’t hold that belief. Peele is careful to ensure that social commentary isn’t the film’s primary focus, cleverly framing it within an outlandish narrative in order to show just how laughable the problem is to begin with, whilst also making that narrative interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention regardless of whether or not the commentary was there at all.

The form of racism that “Get Out” considers is commonplace and often unintentional; the kind that’s implicit in the efforts that we make to portray ourselves as free from any and all prejudices. In trying to convince the world that we believe in equality it often happens that we display the opposite, as in virtue of that fact that we’re making a special effort to accommodate a certain race of people we inadvertently acknowledge that race plays a role in the judgements that we are making. Peele’s way of examining this issue is through extreme scenarios given the story that he’s telling, so it’s pretty easy to pick up on if you’re willing to look for it but also easy to ignore if you’d prefer to turn your brain off. The most obvious scene in which Peele presents this type of racism is at a party in which a guest notes that ‘black is in’. This comment is insulting and degrading for Chris as the guest is comparing his skin colour to a fashion accessory, thus devaluing his humanity, but the guest views it as a compliment made to build rapport.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this scene is that whilst it’s clear that Chris is offended by the comment he decides not to speak out. He stays silent to avoid embarrassing himself and others, to avoid conflict, and to make a good impression in front of his girlfriend’s family, just as we feign ignorance on a daily basis when we see people act in ways that we don’t agree with. In this film the way that Chris rationalises strange behaviour works perfectly, as it allows Peele to justify typical examples of horror movie logic without relying on the stupidity of his characters. Instead of relying on coincidence or the suspension of disbelief Peele uses the fact that Chris is in some sense desensitised to being treated differently to explain why he disregards strange behaviour and continues to surround himself with ignorance, thus making the character relatable and making his fate seem inevitable given that he’s also desperately trying to make a good impression.

Still, having heaped praise on “Get Out” and placing it alongside other modern horror triumphs like “It Follows” and “Don’t Breathe”, I should concede that it inherits some of their issues as well. Whilst both of the aforementioned films live long in the memory and have some excellent moments, their universes are populated with inconsistent rules and narrative oversights. “Get Out” is no different in either respect, as although bizarre behaviour is well explained for the most part, there are instances in which characters act irrationally simply in order to progress the plot.

(SPOILER ALERT) The best example of this occurred late in the film when Chris freed himself from his restraints by using a pair of makeshift earbuds, ensuring that Rose’s family couldn’t trigger his hypnosis. This in itself was actually a clever scene as it justified the inclusion of Chris’ backstory, but the problem was that he then immediately removed the earbuds before trying to leave the house. This didn’t make sense, as although he might have wanted to be able to hear movements in the house in order to navigate his way to freedom and avoid attacks, he opened himself up to being made unconscious at a moment’s notice! This isn’t a risk that he should’ve been willing to take given that he was fully aware of the consequences, and it seemed as though this decision was made simply to create further tension when he encountered Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), who predictably attempted to hypnotise him.

Nevertheless, issues such as this were infrequent, and although they did alter my opinion of the film slightly they didn’t ruin it by any stretch of the imagination. Overall “Get Out” was an engaging and intelligent film with two excellent lead performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams respectively, and it was successful in establishing its mood early on and then capitalising on the creepiness of its premise. It was a beautiful film to watch and the dialogue was sharp, making for an experience which was both satisfying and entertaining.

8.5/10