“Wonder Woman” Review

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Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis
Plot: Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when a pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.

DC has had a very troubled time lately. After their Superhero mash up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice received a very mixed response and Suicide Squad received an even worse one, it seemed DC’s cinematic universe was in trouble before it had even begun. Thankfully, like a miracle, help has arrived in the form of Wonder Woman. A common criticism of the current wave of superhero films is certainly the lack of female led ones. So a lot of pressure was on Wonder Woman. Not only did it have to save audience hopes for the DCEU, but also prove to a sexist film industry that female led superhero films directed by women were viable investments.

So it’s with great happiness I say that Wonder Woman is not just the best film in the DCEU by a long shot, but it’s also one of the best superhero movies of recent years. If not of all time.

Patty Jenkins brings a beautiful, inspiring and thrilling picture to the screen. Jenkins, who had previously been attached to direct Thor: The Dark World for Marvel before dropping out, proves herself to be a perfect fit for the superhero genre. Jenkins manages action spectacle with ease and yet also brings an earnestness to the picture, framing everything from the action to the quieter more emotional scenes. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of World War 1. While working within the constraints of a film that has to be suitable for families, Jenkins manages to showcase the horrors of the First World War, never sugar coating it. Seeing the war from the eyes of an outsider, really manages to make a comment on the human race. Diana is unable to believe we’d all be killing each other with weapons such as mustard gas of our own accord. She decides that humanity must be under the influence of an evil villain with great power and it’s the moments when she has to face that humans sometimes do just want to hurt others for no reason that are some of the film’s best.

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This is helped along by Gal Gadot. Gadot is one of the best castings in the superhero movie genre. Gadot’s performance is wonderful, no pun intended. Delivering the heroine’s action brilliantly and yet also capturing her heart perfectly, it’s hard to imagine another actress doing as good a job as Gadot in the role. Gadot’s performance is the heart of the film, playing the character with an earnestness that makes her inseparable from the character. Much like Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, this is truly one of the perfect superhero castings. It’s difficult to describe just how brilliant Gadot is as the character. Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life in such a way that she’s truly inseparable from the character on the comic book page. Gadot has defined the character on screen so well that I don’t envy whoever will have to play the character in the inevitable reboot in 30 years or so, although I would be open to Gadot playing the character as long as she possibly can.

Gadot shares wonderful chemistry with her co-star Chris Pine. Much of the movie rests on the two, and they pull it off perfectly. The performance here might be one of Pine’s best in his career with him delivering a very passionate and humorous performance. Steve Trevor would not be as charismatic or as fun with someone else in the role. But Pine also delivers the quieter and more emotional parts of the character very well, delivering some very touching scenes with dignity.

The cast is rounded out by excellent performances, with David Thewlis, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya being particular stand outs of the movie’s supporting cast. Thewlis gives a great performance for his limited screen time, while Huston and Anaya impress as the villains with Anaya giving a surprisingly complex performance as Doctor Poison. While Poison may not be the film’s main antagonist, Anaya manages to give the character a degree of complexity that makes me want to see more of the character. Maybe DC should cancel one of those many Batman spin-offs and make a Doctor Poison movie if the character doesn’t return in Wonder Woman 2?

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Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Wonder Woman is how utterly hopeful it is. Despite being set in perhaps one of the darkest periods in our history, the film somehow manages to find love and hope in the darkness. Diana is a brilliant heroine, one that audiences of all ages can look up to. Seeing her journey from a young woman eager for glory to a hero for all to aspire to is magnificent to see on screen. Wonder Woman manages to deliver a more hopeful and inspirational tone than Man of Steel and similar to Captain America: The First Avenger, the film gives us a truly inspirational hero who manages to shine a hopeful light during a dark moment in history.

A lot has to be said about how well made the film is. Visually, the film is a showcase. The mouth waters thinking of the film’s UHD release. The film features a lot of incredibly striking images which, along with some great editing, makes Wonder Woman a visual feast for the eyes. With her Lasso whipping away, shining brightly, the action scenes are truly beautiful to watch. An epic final battle on an exploding airfield has to be seen to be believed.

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Wonder Woman is also incredibly funny. While previous DC movies were criticised for either their lack of humour or trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman manages to find a perfect balance. The film is genuinely funny, with jokes working on multiple viewings and helped along with excellent comedic timing from the cast. Lucy Davis is a particular comedic standout as Etta Candy, getting most of the film’s biggest laughs. Gal Gadot however shines once again with excellent comedic timing and the two bounce off each other brilliantly. Once Chris Pine is added to the mix, things become even better. While the film isn’t a joke fest, it’s great to see DC no longer being afraid to actually have fun in their movies.

It’s hard to describe exactly how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman. So much so that I’m struggling to write this review. I loved the film, yet I just can’t place my finger on what exactly it was that made me love it so much. Was it Gadot’s performance? Was it an excellent script? Was it Patty Jenkins’s directing? Or was it some magical mix of the three? I’d hasten to wager that the reason the film turned out so well was simply because it was all the right elements coming together in exactly the right way to create what can only be described as an inspiring and thrilling film that restores hope for DC on film and, hopefully, paves the way for more films like it to come.

9.5/10

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Doctor Who S10E08 “The Lie of the Land” Review

p054dhlkWell that was underwhelming.

Despite this Monk trilogy having got off to a flying start, the three part storyline ended with a whimper rather than a bang and left more questions than it did answers. Despite a promising start, The Lie of the Land quickly petered out into a cliché filled climax that managed to wrap up the storyline without actually resolving anything at all. And in a very unsatisfying way at that.

For the Monks, the villains of this three part tale, are still just as mysterious as they were back in Extremis (still the best episode of this trilogy). We have no idea who they are, what their goals are, why they chose Earth and what exactly they were trying to accomplish apart from the fact they have invaded multiple planets before. Infuriatingly, The Lie of the Land did not take any time at all to explain who the Monks actually are leaving them the most vague and ill-defined Doctor Who villains of recent memory. While it’s possible the Monks could return later in the series, a common fan theory is that the Monks are Cybermen without their armour, it’s still poor form to not even attempt to define exactly who the villains of the last three episodes even are. We had a much firmer grasp of the Silence at the end of their debut story despite there still being a lot of unanswered questions there. Not even attempting to answer a single question about the Monks makes this storyline seem almost pointless and certainly not worth devoting three entire episodes to a villain that is going to end up being just a vague threat rather than a developed villain. This may be forgivable if the Monks make a reappearance in the Series 10 finale, but as it stands they’re a wonderful concept for and beautifully designed villain, but are ultimately vague and forgettable antagonists.

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Now this could have been forgiven if The Lie of the Land had delivered elsewhere. Sad to say then that the episode was utterly unimaginative and dull despite getting off to a great start. The opening few scenes seeing Bill navigate a world where the Monks have seemingly been in control forever, despite only being there a few months, were excellent. A sort of dystopia, a world where people welcome their oppression with open arms. The episode seemed to be making a political point about the current rise of fascism in the world, despite us all having evidence that never turns out well. Indeed, scenes where the public cheered the Monks executing those who would question them certainly calls to mind people cheering on Donald Trump wanting to throw political rival Hilary Clinton in prison and people celebrating the Daily Mail’s headline proclaiming British Judges ensuring the Brexit process is done legally to be “enemies of the people”. The attempts to quieten any dissatisfaction also called to mind Donald Trump’s attempts to dismiss anyone who criticises him as “fake news” or liars. In fact, the Monks broadcasting “fake history” seemed to even be a comment on “fake news”, that despite those in power decrying those who oppose them as “fake news”, they are the biggest makers of it in the first place.

The Doctor actively helping the Monks was also a great touch, following on from the implication they’d brainwashed him when restoring his sight at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World. The Doctor’s broadcasts were eerily similar to broadcasts seen in 1984 and The Hunger Games, promising all is well and feeding the populace lies to keep them placated and under control. A common tactic by many fascist regimes is to use the media to make the public love them so that was a nice touch. All this promised what looked set to be a killer of an episode. What a shame then it was all undone less than 20 minutes into the episode. Perhaps BBC has a mandate against the Doctor being evil for an extended period of time? Maybe they think there won’t be as many action figure sales…

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The scene where Bill and Nardole confronted the “evil” Doctor was the best of the episode however. Pearl Mackie delivered perhaps her best performance yet as Bill, with a very passionate and emotion filled performance as Bill had to face the “reality” that her closest friend had betrayed her. Capaldi also matched her by playing the Doctor colder and harsher than he has done before. The acting between these two was magnificent and the scene kept building and building until the emotion climaxed in Bill shooting the Doctor, causing him to regenerate.

And then it was all a lie. In perhaps the biggest tease in Doctor Who history, the Doctor revealed it was all a trick just to make sure Bill wasn’t brainwashed by the Monks. The bullets were blanked and the Doctor was faking his regeneration. Which does call into question why the Doctor would fake his regeneration since Bill has no idea what regeneration is…

While sure, the Doctor was never going to regenerate midway through the series (we know for a fact Capaldi won’t be leaving the show until the Christmas Special), but it does call into question exactly what the point of the “evil Doctor” and the fake regeneration actually was… APART from having something to put in the trailers. The Doctor’s trickery doesn’t even place a strain on his and Bill’s friendship. Previous trickery by the Twelfth Doctor put massive strain on his friendship with Clara which took most of Series 8 to repair. Instead Bill just takes it. She doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with the Doctor deceiving her in such an emotionally manipulative way.

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Now, I love Toby Whithouse as a writer. Being Human is one of my favourite TV shows and three of Whithouse’s prior Doctor Who scripts; School Reunion, The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy are three of my favourite episodes of the show. But the writing is where The Lie of the Land fell apart. Every fault with the episode can be traced back to the script. From the Monks being ill-defined antagonists, the “evil Doctor” plotline being pointless and having no consequences in the Doctor and Bill’s relationship to other things not quite working; one of the soldiers having their “truth audio” cut out and turn against the Doctor seemed to only happen to set up a Nardole joke. There are rumours Steven Moffat didn’t do any rewrites on this episode due to personal reasons, but I’d be incredibly surprised if Whithouse needed heavy rewrites on his scripts. So perhaps the fault lies in the story itself. Perhaps the Monk storyline just wasn’t strong enough to support three full episodes? Maybe splitting the story across three writers led to a lack of focus? The latter would certainly explain why the abilities of the Monks is so inconsistent across the three episodes and why its conclusion felt so familiar. The Doctor and his companions hijacking the airwaves to inspire humanity into driving an occupying alien species off the planet. Sound familiar? I’ll take your Silence as an agreement.

Speaking of the episode’s conclusion, I have nothing against Bill’s love for her mother saving the day. It’s heart-warming and would be a perfect moment for Bill’s character… if again this wasn’t something we had seen before in Doctor Who. Which seems to be the ultimate problem with The Lie of the Land, everything it does well was done better by episodes before it and everything it doesn’t do well was also done better by other episodes before it. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that never quite gel together, leaving the episode an uncomfortable mess.

The episode scored points however by featuring the return of Missy, however brief as it may have been. Michelle Gomez was on fire this episode, proving once again why she is certainly the best Master since Roger Delgado. Perhaps the episode could have benefitted from a little more Missy, especially since Extremis implied the Doctor was actually going to release her from the Vault to seek her aid. Since Michelle Gomez has implied she may not return to play the Master once Capaldi and Moffat leave, it seems a shame the show isn’t taking full advantage of her when it can. As it stands, the scene with Missy might just be the episode’s second best scene (following the Bill/Doctor faceoff).

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The Lie of the Land was an underwhelming conclusion that started out so well. Extremis was clearly the peak of this three part trilogy, enough to make me wonder if it would have been better served as a standalone episode so it could be enjoyed in the future by not being attached to The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land. Instead, Extremis will be forever shacked to these two underwhelming episodes leaving a trilogy that probably showcased exactly why other people probably shouldn’t play with Steven Moffat’s toys once he departs, since he seems to be the only one to make magic out of them. The Lie of the Land wastes a truly unique Doctor Who villain in a messy and uncoordinated plot that has too many Doctor Who clichés and pointless plot threads for it to truly standout.

4/10

Trivia and Speculation:

The Doctor shows images from invasion attempts by the Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels that the Monks stopped. Of the clips used, only one is actually on Earth – the clip of the Weeping Angels from Blink. The clips of the Daleks and Cybermen are pulled from Into The Dalek and Nightmare in Silver, episodes that did not take place on Earth.

Missy is seen with a piano: the same piano she was playing at the end of Knock Knock.

If Missy is committed to becoming good and this isn’t a trick, could the finale in fact be Missy working with the Doctor to stop her prior incarnation that is John Simm’s Master?

“Power Rangers” – Review

 Directed by: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
Plot: Five teenagers, all outcasts and misfits, find five mysterious coins blessing them with superhuman powers. Drawn to a crashed alien ship, they are told by the mysterious Zordon (Cranston) that they are the next generation of Power Rangers; mighty warriors destined to protect the universe. The unlikely heroes must master their new powers and abilities fast however as evil sorceress Rita Repulsa (Banks) has awakened from a 65 million years long slumber seeking a mystical artefact of ultimate destruction and the Power Rangers are the only ones who can stop her.

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If you’re of a certain age, you’ve likely heard of the Power Rangers. You’ve possibly even been of the generation who would wake up religiously every Saturday morning to catch their latest exploits. The franchise has been a constant series of changes ever since with the license changing hands from studio to studio, the show undergoing various retools and reboots (24 seasons covering 20 different themes) and being a constant of children’s entertainment ever since. With the franchise fast approaching its 25th Anniversary, it seems only fitting that the series should try and make the leap to the big screen. While this wouldn’t be the super powered team’s first foray into big budget blockbuster territory, it is the first attempt to make the franchise appeal to a wider and more conventional blockbuster audience.  This latest incarnation of the Rangers then attempts  a “back to basics” approach by returning to the basic set-up and characters of the original series. The result is an above average experience.

Which isn’t to say Power Rangers is inherently a bad film, quite the opposite; the film knows what it wants to achieve and does it well. However the film just sticks a little too close to formula for it to truly standout. The film plays incredibly close to the “superhero origin movie” textbook, making the film feel incredibly familiar to most audiences; hitting all the same beats we expect such movies to take including a CGI filled prologue complete with expository dialogue of Sci-Fi nonsense. Like I Am Number Four before it, the film suffers due to its story being done before (and better) by many films before it.

The film does attempt to differentiate itself by focusing on developing each of the Rangers as characters and them bonding as a team rather than super heroics. And this works. Mostly. The characters do grow and become closer as a result, yet other characters are sacrificed in favour of more focus on specific members of the team. Zack and Trini for example receive less development than the other three Rangers making them feel very underdeveloped as a result.

But that said, the character work on the other three Rangers works quite well. Kimberly for instance works as a nice subversion of the typical “mean cheerleader” stereotype; she does something mean without thinking and upon seeing the damage it did regrets it bitterly. It makes a nice change to typical morals when the moral of Kimberly’s story is “You did a bad thing, but that doesn’t make you a bad person”.

The casting for the movie works pretty well, the five leads play their parts with enthusiasm (even if one or two of them look a bit too old to be playing teenagers). The real star of the film however is Elizabeth Banks as villain Rita Repulsa. Banks is clearly having the time of her life playing the villain and hams it up with every opportunity. Her character is incredibly entertaining every time she’s on screen, enough so that you kind of start rooting for Rita to win instead of the Rangers, who feel a little bland in comparison.

Bryan Cranston is decent as giant floating head Zordon, but really doesn’t have much to do apart from being an exposition device. Bill Hader meanwhile gets a few good laughs in as the Ranger’s robotic ally Alpha 5.

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There’s been a definite attempt to “Transformersify” the franchise (given a shout out within the movie with a certain yellow Camaro making an appearance). This is a definite shame as, well, we already have Transformers (with four more movies planned at least in that franchise) so we don’t need another. This attempt not only extends to explosions galore and, at times, unintelligible action; but to the comedy as well. In the sense that the crude humour that pervades the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (another franchise that tried to be like Transformers) films is present here. One of the first jokes in the film involves a character saying he milked a cow, only to be told to his horror that it was a male cow. Another joke later in the film sees Zordon ask the Rangers if they have morphed before, Zack jokes that he has but “only in the shower”. While these jokes are funny in the moment, it’s only afterwards that you wonder if they actually have a place in a Power Rangers movie of all places. That said however, some of the film’s comedy is brilliant; in the most ludicrous way of product placement I’ve ever seen, the mystical artefact Rita desires is buried under a “Krispy Kreme” restaurant which leads to all forms of hilarity, circling from funny to ridiculous right back to funny again.

Despite its issues however, the film is ultimately quite fun. With Lionsgate planning five sequels, here’s hoping the issues in the first film can be fixed in the sequels.

Power Rangers is not quite the disaster many anticipated. But neither is it the perfect throwback to childhood many may want it to be. Instead it’s a perfectly above average superhero flick, struggling to stand out from the crowd and sticking too close to established formula to be anything more than a very entertaining, if ultimately lacking experience ending in a climax that my inner child couldn’t help but love.

7/10

“Justice League” Review

img01Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds
Plot: After his heroic sacrifice, the world mourns the loss of Superman (Cavill). Crime begins to run rampant as mysterious monsters prey on the fearful. Knowing an attack of epic proportions is coming, Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) gather a team of super-powered individuals to combat the coming threat. The threat comes in the form of Steppenwolf (Hinds), an all-powerful being from another world. As Steppenwolf searches for powerful artefacts that will allow him to end the world, Batman fears that his new team might not be enough to save it. They need help, but more importantly, they need hope.

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Note: Mild spoilers follow in this review; but one of them was so obvious that I don’t think it even qualifies as a spoiler

It takes a special kind of talent (or lack of talent) to mess up a film that should be so easy to get right like Justice League. But yet, the team at DC managed to do just that.

Justice League is not a good film. That much is easy to explain. Despite starting incredibly well with an opening title sequence set to Sigrid’s Everybody Knows showing how the world has changed in the wake of Superman’s death, Justice League drops the ball incredibly quickly. The film starts incredibly rough, with the film jumping from scene to scene without any real rhyme, reason or sense of continuity. Scenes feel cut short, never feeling like they actually end. It feels like there’s someone with a stopwatch standing just off camera shouting “Too long! Next scene!” at different intervals. The film rushes to its next “big” moment with little thought for character or story. At first, I thought this was just going to be a rough opening half hour and the film would find its stride, but this was not to be. This is how the film is from beginning to end. I can’t recall ever seeing a film that was ever this desperate to reach its own credits as quickly as this one.

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While many may blame this on the studio mandated two hour running time, the problem can in fact be traced back to Zack Snyder’s own storytelling style. Snyder has always prioritised “moments” over storytelling and character. Justice League is then the ultimate version of this approach to filmmaking. The film is so concerned with reaching the next moment, that the story and characters get left behind. This problem was present in Sucker Punch, Legend of the Guardians, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman and it’s also present here. Ultimately all of the problems with Justice League can be traced back to this approach Zack Snyder takes to filmmaking.

A major casualty of this is the film’s villain; Steppenwolf (Hinds). Perhaps the worst comic book movie villain seen in a while, Steppenwolf is poorly written and poorly presented. Not least because Steppenwolf is a purely CGI creation who doesn’t blend very well with the live-action elements. Steppenwolf barely has any screen time yet we are supposed to accept he’s the most dangerous threat the DC Universe has ever seen. DC Films have had a problem with their antagonists so far and Steppenwolf is the worst of the bunch. Yes, even worse than Suicide Squad’s poor excuse of a villain in Enchantress. Hinds tries his best in a purely voice role (with some facial motion capture) but it never quite comes together. Steppenwolf’s dialogue is mostly generic dialogue we’ve heard every clichéd supervillain spout before. While Ares from Wonder Woman was also guilty of the same, he had the benefit of a rather excellent performance from David Thewlis who shared excellent chemistry on screen with Gal Gadot when threatening her. When a similar scene occurs in Justice League, there’s no sense of menace or threat. It’s hard to feel threatened when what looks like a reject from a Lord of the Rings video game spouts such plainly clichéd dialogue. Moments where Steppenwolf should be a threat fall painfully flat such as a scene when Steppenwolf growls at Wonder Woman, “You have the blood of the Old Gods in you! The Old Gods died!”. There’s no sense of threat or menace during this moment. When we’ve already been treated to some great villains in comic book movies this year such as Kurt Russell as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Michael Keaton as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, there’s no excuse for delivering a villain as clichéd and unmemorable as this.

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Moving onto our heroes, more problems begin to emerge.

Ben Affleck seems utterly bored and looks like he’d rather be anywhere else and doing anything else. As Batman is meant to be our protagonist, this is a big problem. With rumours circulating throughout the year that Affleck was on the verge of quitting the DCEU, his performance here leads credence to those rumours. Has Affleck grown bored of playing the Caped Crusader after just one film? Did the negative reception to Batman v Superman burn him out that badly? Regardless, Affleck’s almost entirely disinterested performance does not lend the film any favours. How are we supposed to care about a Batman who is played by an actor that doesn’t seem to care?

On the other end of the scale however is Henry Cavill as Superman. While his role in this film is relatively brief for obvious reasons, Cavill is finally allowed to smile and embrace the charm and wonder of the character for the first time in the franchise. Superman finally feels like Superman. So, it’s baffling that the character is barely in the film. It quickly becomes clear that Superman’s death in Batman v Superman was not meant to fulfil any specific role in the story and was instead simply orchestrated for the shock value of killing the iconic character (another one of Snyder’s “moments”). If Cavill had been allowed to portray the character in this way from the very beginning, we’d be looking at a very different, and likely much better, Justice League. Instead one of its best aspects, a proper Superman at last, becomes a strike against it. Simply because he’s not utilised as much as he should be.

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Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is once again the shining star. Gadot was clearly born to play the part and utterly smashes it for a third time. It’s a shame Gadot is caught up in such a disappointing film. Hopefully Wonder Woman 2’s 2019 release date won’t feel too far away.

As for the rest of the League, herein lies the rub. None of them ae given enough time to properly develop. Ezra Miller’s Flash is just a wisecrack machine. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is presented as a typical “Surfer bro” who is just angry at everyone all the time while Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is about as interesting as watching paint dry. None of this is a fault of the actors. They all do a fine job with what they have. All of this can be traced back to the editing and writing of the film. In an ideal world, the movie would slow down and let us get to know these characters just a little bit more rather than the briefest of development they are given. This may ultimately have been the problem with rushing the DCEU; by not giving any of these characters their own movies, we don’t have reason to care and a crossover ensemble movie with at least eleven principal characters just isn’t the place to introduce and develop new characters. Or at least in a movie that runs towards its climax faster than the Flash himself.

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The action meanwhile struggles to be entertaining. This is nothing to do with how the movie is shot, as Snyder certainly knows how to frame a scene. But while the cinematography looks fine, its ultimately all for naught as it all manages to be incredibly bland and uninteresting to watch. Snyder, again, prioritises moments within these action sequences but forgets to make the action itself interesting. As the heroes run around fighting Steppenwolf’s armies in a big kerfuffle of CGI, the one thought that kept running through my mind was “this action scene should not be this uninteresting”. But that’s ultimately what extends to all the action in the film. It’s bland. It’s slathered in CGI. And it’s ultimately incredibly dull to watch.

The sound in the movie is also worth criticising. Sound effects are mixed too loudly, making action scenes not just difficult on the eyes but on the ears as well. Sound mixing is all over the place; dialogue is at times hard to hear and big triumphant moments in the score are lost in the mix. The hyped return of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme for instance is almost lost as explosions and booms bury the score in the mix, making a heroic moment for Batman lose its impact.

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As for the story, the comparisons to the plot of Avengers Assemble are hard to miss; a villain from another world searches the Earth for a cube shaped McGuffin to unleash his army and destroy the world if a team of superheroes can’t stop him. Narratively, the film tries to hit the exact same beats; the first act assembling the team while the villain goes around collecting items necessary for their plan then a second act sees the heroes divided on a key issue before they all come together for an epic battle. But the film doesn’t seem to quite land them in the same way. It’s as if Snyder and writer Chris Terrio didn’t quite understand the magic that made Avengers Assemble work, eventually bringing on Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon to write new scenes (and eventually direct the reshoots in Zack’s absence) to do it for them… and failing. Narratively the film is a mess. There’s no emotional connection to events that occur, several key story elements are left unexplained, the heroes act like complete idiots when the plot demands they must do and so on. Justice League is the type of film where a convenience is created to move the story along to the next beat, instead of letting the story flow and develop naturally. There are many moments in the film where something narratively convenient will happen to advance the so-called plot. A moment in the second act where the heroes leave a key item abandoned in a car park where Steppenwolf can conveniently steal it left me scratching my head in confusion. When Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, is part of the team, these types of heroic blunders are inexcusable.

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Justice League is a mess; a collection of Zack Snyder moments strung together by a paper-thin plot and incredibly poor character work as well as perhaps the worst villain ever seen in a major superhero film. If more films like this are on the cards, then DC need to seriously rethink their superhero universe. There’s a moment in the film where Batman quips that his working as part of a team “may be temporary”, and honestly, I feel that might be for the best. It takes a special kind of incompetence to make a bad Justice League movie and it’s here in spades. Justice League is not the superhero crossover we need, nor the one we deserve. It’s sort of like that person you’ll always give another chance to impress you, but instantly regret as they only find new, bigger ways of disappointing you.

 

3/10

“Thor: Ragnarok” Review

Directed by: Takia Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Hopkins
Plot: Imprisoned, the almighty Thor (Hemsworth) finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk (Ruffalo), his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilisation. 

mv5bmty1nda1mjc3mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwntexmjgwndi-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a big year. After two massive successes with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, the franchise surely couldn’t hit a home run and have three great films in one year? Yet that’s exactly what it did. Thor: Ragnarok is big, bold and thrilling, emerging as one of the franchise’s best.

For the third Thor film, Marvel could have played things incredibly safe with a fairly atypical superhero entry. Yet, they went for the risky choice. Hiring Taika Waititi, known more for quirky comedies than action movies, was a risk that paid off. For Thor: Ragnarok is not just the best Thor film, but one of the best in the Marvel Universe. The film takes a drastic tone change for the franchise, opting for a big action-packed space comedy rather than fantasy. And yet, this stylistic change works. From an opening sequence where Thor fights the forces of Surtur to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, things instantly feel fresh and unique. If Marvel has been trying to refine their “formula”, then Thor: Ragnarok is the ultimate refinement. There’s little that doesn’t work within the film.

Much of this is due to director Taika Waititi. Waititi brings his own unique style to the film, giving it a unique style and flavour not found within other superhero films. The quirky comedy and the embracing of the inherent silliness of the entire thing was perhaps the best decision that could have been made in regard to this film. Waititi gets that watching a guy in long hair wave around a magic hammer is, ultimately, a very silly idea, so he has fun with it. And this leads to some of the best comedy ever seen within the Marvel Universe.

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But yet this added comedy does not stop the film from having an impact. In fact, this comedic tone helps the darker and more emotional beats of the film hit even harder than usual. In fact, it’s just surprising exactly how much this film is able to get away with. People have been crying out for superhero movies to have more consequences and they don’t get much bigger than this. The emotional beats hit harder than they ever have before. In fact, in terms of emotional impact, some of the moments here have greater impact than Captain America: Civil War.

All of this is helped along by an absolutely stellar cast. Chris Hemsworth has shown before that he has strong comedic chops both in the MCU and out of it and here he gets to run wild with them. Out of Hemsworth’s five appearances in the Marvel Universe so far, this is by far his best. Much like the film itself, Hemsworth shines with the comedy but really excels with the emotional beats. Hemsworth’s Thor manages to really come into his own here.

Likewise, Tom Hiddleston shines as Loki once again being a scene stealer. Hiddleston has always been a fan favourite and here he absolutely proves his worth yet again, giving Loki a depth and dimensionality that most other characters in superhero films lack. Hiddleston also provides some of the film’s most memorable comedic beats showcasing brilliant comedic timing.

Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Hulk is at his most complex here, with Ruffalo and producer Kevin Feige explaining this film is the first of three telling a new story for the Hulk (with the other two being the two upcoming Avengers sequels) and this works across well. While Hulk’s character arc is not resolved within this film, it doesn’t need to be. Seeing Banner awaken from two years of being the Hulk and worrying that transforming into the Hulk again will be a permanent transformation leads to some excellent character moments with Banner. Ruffalo handles these moments excellently as well as delivering some hilarious dialogue. Ruffalo’s Hulk is also on fine form with the character being able to speak properly now leading to some excellent moments. Hulk is also the source of some of the film’s best humour with one hilarious moment being an unexpected call-back to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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But the real dazzlers of the cast are the new additions. Tessa Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie; a drunk, washed up Asgardian warrior in self-imposed exile. Thompson manages to instantly fit in with the group of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Ruffalo and carves out a place of her own within the film. Thompson’s Valkyrie is one of the highlights of the film in humour, action and character with Valkyrie having one of the more defined character arcs in the film. Thompson is a blast on screen and I hope she sticks around for future Thor sequels as she’s quickly become an essential part of the series, being a more than adequate replacement for Natalie Portman; who did not return for this film.

Jeff Goldblum meanwhile manages to steal every scene he’s in as the Grandmaster. Goldblum is clearly having a lot of fun with the role and it quickly becomes very infectious with the film brightening up every time he’s on screen. He is certainly one of the more unusual Marvel villains but is certainly one of the most memorable and one I certainly hope to see return in future films.

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And then we have Cate Blanchett as Hela. Blanchett does a fantastic job with what she’s given, managing to make Hela an effective and memorable antagonist. The only problem is that Blanchett is not given enough time to really play with the character. The decision to have most of the middle act set away from Asgard creates the problem of Hela being sat around doing nothing for much of this time. Indeed, the film has to create a narrative convenience just to delay Hela’s plans until the third act, with a key item needed for her plot conveniently going missing at the end of the first act. But despite this, Hela still manages to make an impact. An early scene of Hela invading Asgard and being able to take out its warriors all by herself is a thrilling scene to watch and Blanchett is clearly having a blast in the role. It’s just a shame she doesn’t have enough screen time to truly become an iconic villain.

The film is helped along by some truly stunning visuals. If an award was made for the most visually stunning superhero film, Thor: Ragnarok would win it. A true visual feast for the eyes with amazing CGI and excellent cinematography and art direction. The film also benefits from a fantastic score by Mark Mothersbaugh, which even manages to revisit Patrick Doyle’s brilliant theme from the first film.

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To summarise; Thor: Ragnarok is not just a fantastic entry in the Marvel Universe, it’s also perhaps one of the strongest superhero films in recent years and one of the best blockbusters of the year. Marvel have struck gold and delivered the biggest, best and most thrilling Thor film yet. “What are you the god of again?” Hela asks Thor during a key moment. The God of all superhero movies would be a suitable answer.

9.5/10

“Hellboy” Reboot pictures emerge and why I’m excited

The first pictures from the upcoming Hellboy reboot have emerged showing actor David Harbour in costume as the title character and it looks fantastic.

Another Hellboy movie has been a long time coming. After Hellboy II: The Golden Army underperformed at the box office, it seemed that the future of the Hellboy franchise was in jeopardy. And indeed, Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy III quickly entered development hell. And as time went on it seemed the movie would never get made. Del Toro was always too busy. No one wanted to invest. So it came as no surprise that the project was quietly cancelled.

But what did come as a surprise was the announcement of a reboot.

With Neil Marshall in the director’s chair, the Hellboy reboot sees David Harbour of Stranger Things fame take over from Ron Perlman and also casts Ian McShane playing Hellboy’s adopted father Professor Broom and Milla Jovovich as the villain; the Blood Queen.

I was a huge fan of Del Toro’s first two Hellboy movies and have grown to love the character outside the movies via the comics. But my excitement for the movie also stems from a wider, more general perspective.

Hollywood is in a rut right now. There is no denying. Disney rules the day and while every studio may have the odd Wonder Woman or Jurassic World, no one else can seem to find a foothold. And the big problem here is that every major movie is beginning to look the same or just aren’t good.

For instance, the latest The Mummy reboot aped Marvel’s style so much that it forgot to find its own voice along the way, making it an ultimately lifeless venture. Warcraft struggled to figure out who it was for. Batman v Superman massively misunderstood why it’s two title characters are so appealing.

A Hellboy reboot, if done right, could provide the kick that Hollywood needs. It’s a great character and comic to adapt and it’s a weird property. But that’s good. With everyone else beginning to look so bland and lifeless, maybe Hollywood needs a little bit of weird. Something different. The huge success of IT should prove that audiences are craving something a little different and Hellboy could deliver on that.

If the movie doesn’t try to “Marvelise” itself and can forge out its own identity, it could be a massive success.

It has a talented director at the helm, a great cast, the support and writing talents of the characters creator Mike Mingola and has every reason to succeed.

Add in that Harbour looks perfect as the character and Hellboy has quickly shot up my list of most anticipated films of 2018. I just hope it’s able to deliver on the promise.

“IT” Review

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“Time to float!”. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) prepares to lunge. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Plot: When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård), whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries. 

IT is the film adaptation of author Stephen King’s 1,138 page 1986 novel, helmed by Andy Muschietti, director of 2013’s Mama. IT had already been adapted to great success in a two-part 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry in the title role. While the miniseries itself doesn’t hold up and is spotty in quality at best (with Curry being the miniseries’ only redeeming feature), it holds a fond place in the hearts of those who grew up watching it giving Muschietti’s new take on the story big shoes to fill.

Instead of condensing King’s lengthy tome to one movie, IT (titled as IT: Chapter One in the movie itself) decides to only focus on the segments of the story portraying the Loser’s Club’s encounters with IT as children, with the adult segment of the story being saved for the sequel due in 2019 (however Muschietti has made it clear he intends to release a four to five hour director’s cut merging both films into one). This works in the film’s favour. Not only is the childhood segment the strongest part of the original novel, it allows the film to remain more focused instead of jumping around between multiple time periods.

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Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) encounters “IT”, otherwise known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The film also brings the events of the story forward from 1958 to 1988. While this allows IT: Chapter Two to be set in the present, it also manages to serve the movie brilliantly. By having the movie set in the late 80’s, it manages to make the movie a love letter to Hollywood around that time; with the film ending up as a wonderful mix of The Goonies, Poltergeist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. In effect, IT becomes a genre throwback to the coming of age adventure movie and the supernatural horror movie. And it’s a mix that works. Muschietti manages to blend the two genres deftly and manages to create a truly unique horror picture with the end result; an excellent coming of age picture that just so happens to also be a film about a child-eating monster disguised as a clown.

IT strikes gold however with its cast. The seven children who make up the Loser’s Club are all wonderful young actors who will have a long future ahead of them is they chose to stay in the business. Each of them delivers a fantastic performance. The standout of the group however is Sophia Lillis as Beverly. Lillis, looking eerily like a young Jessica Chastain (potential casting for IT: Chapter Two maybe?), delivers perhaps the most rounded and strongest performance of the film. Beverly is perhaps the character that faces the most emotional strife during the film (apart from Bill). With an emotionally abusive (and implied to be sexually abusive) father at home, along with vicious rumours being spread about her by girls from school, Beverly has a lot to deal with without Pennywise coming into play. Lillis manages to make Beverly a truly engaging character, managing to make Beverly the most sympathetic and identifiable member of the Losers. Lillis’s performance shows she has great talent and will have a long and promising career ahead of her.

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Beverly (Sophia Lillis) hides from her tormentors. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures. 

Also a young actor of note is Jaeden Lieberher as Bill. As with Lillis with Beverly, Lieberher has the more meaty material to work with out of the other kids. Bill spends most of the movie searching for his younger brother, Georgie (kidnapped by Pennywise in the movie’s opening scene) and being in denial of the fact it’s incredibly likely Georgie is already dead. Lieberher deals with this material incredibly well, showing a lot of talent. It’s not easy to carry a film at 14, but Lieberher handles it with ease, showcasing himself to be an actor of talent.

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Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) hunts for the missing Georgie. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures. 

The rest of the Loser’s Club are made up of fine young actors, even if none of them quite get the amount of material and range that Lillis and Lieberher get. All of them deliver great performances and manage to round out the supporting cast incredibly well. Of particular note is Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame who plays Richie. Wolfhard shows fantastic comedic timing and delivers most of the best lines in the film, with nearly all of them being incredibly hilarious. As for the rest of the group, everyone gets at least a few moments to shine with only Chosen Jacobs getting the short straw as Mike. After a few scenes near the start, Mike is absent until near the end of the second act which makes it difficult for Mike to make much of an impression, enough to make you wonder if several scenes with Mike were left on the cutting room floor. But despite this all of the kids do a fantastic job and you can’t help but wish there was a bit more time spent with them; perhaps this could be incentive for Warner Bros to invest in an extended cut of Chapter One, prior to the merged cut?

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The Loser’s Club. From left to right: Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Bill, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Beverly, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Richie (Finn Wolfhard). Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

But of course, the reason everyone wants to see this movie is for IT itself; Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård takes the role of the murderous clown and manages to do an excellent job. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a completely different beast to Tim Curry’s. Portraying the character as more ravenous, more beastly (Pennywise even drools hungrily when talking with Georgie) and ultimately feels more inhuman. Skarsgård doesn’t feel like a man dressed as a clown, he feels like an inhuman monster which is perfect for an interdimensional shape shifter (however IT’s origins are only implied in this movie, presumably being saved for the sequel). There’s just something eerily off-putting about Pennywise and Skarsgård’s movements and performance help create a horror villain that is truly unsettling. A moment where Pennywise uncurls himself from inside a fridge is truly disturbing to watch, especially since only minimal CGI was used meaning that most of it is actually Skarsgård. Pennywise isn’t just creepy though, he also has some humour to him which makes him even more unsettling. I’d rather not describe Pennywise’s sense of humour, if only to preserve some of the film’s more surprising and unsettling moments, but safe to say it’s as twisted as the character itself. Skarsgård is truly unhinged in the role, with this being one of those rare villain performances where the actor is completely unrecognisable. If Skarsgård’s Pennywise is better than Tim Curry’s is down to personal taste. In my opinion, Skarsgård’s is superior due to being more unsettling and closer to Pennywise as he was in the original novel along with a truly unhinged performance by Skarsgård but Curry’s Pennywise was also great. It ultimately depends on what you expect from the character, but for my tastes, Skarsgård’s won out and I can’t wait to see more of him.

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Pennywise on the prowl. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

IT is an absolutely gorgeous film to watch. Muschietti clearly has a wonderful directorial eye and it’s showcased magnificently here. The film just comes alive on the screen. From beautiful shots of the town of Derry, to dark and enveloping sewer tunnels, the film has a great vision and look. Muschietti really knows how to direct a horror film. Sets come alive with his directing, Pennywise’s presence envelops the film even when he isn’t present. From darkness and shadows giving the impression he could be anywhere along with the general feeling that something is watching and waiting. Indeed, the only times this feeling isn’t there are when the Losers are together and having fun, but even then there’s a hint of menace; as the kids play in a river, you’re just waiting for something to reach up and grab them. It’s also remarkable how unsettling even the people who aren’t Pennywise feel, with authority figures all feeling unnatural or, to some, worse than Pennywise. It’s this, along with the directing, that aid an air of dread to the entire film; making us really feel that there’s no one these kids can turn to.

What should be mentioned is how surprisingly funny the film is. While the film isn’t exactly a comedy, there’s plenty of humour scattered throughout. But none of it ever feels unnatural, in fact it goes hand in hand with the scares. It really manages to capture the spirit of King’s novel.

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“You’ll float too.” Pennywise stalks his next victim. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

But what’s a horror film without its scares? Well I’m glad to report that IT is incredibly scary. Muschietti manages to deliver the scares in a big way, using a mixture of traditional jump scares with more unique moments; playing with audiences expectations as well as managing not to overuse Pennywise, only using him when it’s called for. An excellent touch is how Muschietti drags out the tension; you know the scare is coming, but you’re not quite sure when, or what, is actually going to occur. As a balloon slowly drifts towards one soon to be victim of Pennywise, you’re on edge, waiting. The film’s opening, which shows Pennywise luring in and making off with Georgie, is incredibly disturbing to watch. We the audience know what Pennywise is going to do. What makes this scene so impactful is how he does it and indeed, how much the film is actually able to do in this sequence. It’s impactful, shocking, scary and memorable and really sets the tone for the entire film. But the film’s scariest moment has to come from the projector scene. As the Losers examine slides of old Derry maps, the projector gets a life of its own and images of Pennywise begin to appear. What follows is an incredibly tense sequence of waiting as the film plays with your expectations as what you expect to occur doesn’t quite occur in the way you expect, leading to the film’s most terrifying moment.  That said however, a few too many of the film’s jump scares seem to rely on Pennywise running at the camera and screaming which can get old after a while. Regardless though, IT is a terrifyingly scary experience.

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Pennywise lurks in the darkness. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Another are where IT excels is its score. Benjamin Wallfisch takes scoring duties here and does a magnificent job. Alongside the more traditional Insidious-esque score for the scary parts, Wallfisch delivers an almost John Williams style score for some parts of the score. This is also blended with perhaps the creepiest version of “Oranges and Lemons” you’ll ever hear, serving as Pennywise’s theme. All together this creates an excellent soundtrack, emerging as one of the more memorable in the horror genre in quite a while. With many identifiable themes at play, I hope Wallfisch is able to return for the sequel to further develop them.

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Pennywise advances on the Losers. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

IT is a stellar adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Muschietti has managed to craft a stellar horror film that manages to be true to the spirit of King’s text while putting his own identifiable spin on it. Bolstered by excellent performances from its child cast and an utterly unhinged performance by Bill Skarsgård along with fantastic visuals, some truly chilling scares and some surprisingly hilarious humour; IT is a must see horror film that emerges as not just the best horror of 2017, but perhaps the best horror film in years. Utterly terrifying, this film needs to be seen.

9/10

Game of Thrones S07E07 “The Dragon and the Wolf” Review

 

 

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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) confronts Jon (Kit Harington) over his rash decision. Copyright: HBO.

Game of Thrones concludes its seventh and penultimate season with an absolute beast of a season finale that leaves us a lot to unpack.

The main plot thread of this episode was the parlay between Jon, Daenerys and Cersei (with their respective allies and advisors gathered around). The main goal of this parlay, was Jon and Daenerys hoping to convince Cersei to agree to a ceasefire; allowing Jon and Daenerys to deal with the White Walker threat without worrying about Cersei and her army. This parlay was one of the best parts of the episode, simply because it was the first time most of the show’s cast have been in the same scene together. Not only is it the first time Daenerys has shared a scene with Cersei, Qyburn, Brienne, Euron etc. but it’s the first time Jon has been in the same scene as Cersei and Jaime since the pilot episode.

It’s hard to describe exactly how tense this scene was to begin with. Cersei not showing up at first made me slightly worried that it was another trap similar to when Cersei blew up the Sept back in Season 6. Thankfully this was not the case and we were treated to some wonderful interactions between the show’s entire main cast – bar the crew at Winterfell and the Wall.

Cersei and Daenerys not so subtly giving each other the stink eye, Cersei giving Brienne the stink eye, Cersei giving pretty much everyone the stink eye, all of it was glorious. What made this work so well however was when Sandor unleashed the Wight. Seeing Cersei absolutely crap her pants was completely worth it. Cersei thankfully did not try to dismiss it all as a trick, and agreed that the White Walkers had to be dealt with. This was a surprising bit of rationality for the character, but it was quickly ended when Cersei refused to continue negotiations when she learned Jon had bent the knee to Daenerys.

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Cersei (Lena Heady) schemes to wipe out all her enemies. Copyright: HBO.

This led Tyrion having to brave being alone in a room with the woman who hates his guts and has tried to kill him several times. The show has always thrived when it puts two of its best actors together and alone in the same scene. And this was one of those scenes. Lena Heady and Peter Dinklage were amazing in this scene. What’s interesting is the show’s decision to cut away from this scene, leaving exactly what terms Tyrion and Cersei agreed on a mystery. Whatever it was, it seems that Jon and Daenerys’s romance is going to throw a stone in all of Tyrion’s plans. Did Tyrion try and arrange a marriage between Cersei and Jon? Did Tyrion promise that Cersei’s child would rule after Daenerys, since Tyrion seemed to be urging Daenerys to name an heir in the last episode? Whatever it is, it probably isn’t going to end well.

Cersei and Tyrion then returned to the negotiations and Cersei promised to send her armies north to help fight the White Walkers. But this was all a ploy, as Cersei later revealed to Jaime that she had no intention of doing so. She instead planned for the White Walkers and Daenerys/Jon to wipe each other out, so Cersei can then mop up what’s left with the Golden Company. Jaime was horrified, pointing out the massive flaw in her plan; that the winner of the battle in the North will march south and kill them and they will be unstoppable. Cersei was set in her madness however and this led to Jaime to finalise his path to redemption; by abandoning Cersei for good. It seems the popular fan theory that Jaime will be the Valonquar (the little brother prophesised to kill Cersei in the books) is looking more true. And, in a turning point, as Jaime headed north to Winterfell, snow began to fall and cover King’s Landing. Winter has finally come.

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Petyr Baelish AKA “Littlefinger” (Aidan Gillen) schemes his last. Copyright: HBO.

Meanwhile in Winterfell, Littlefinger continued his ploy to turn Sansa and Arya against each other by telling Sansa to imagine Arya’s worst motives for doing the things she’s done. Sansa seemed to be buying Littlefinger’s logic and called Arya to the great hall, seemingly putting her on trial. Sansa however then revealed that she’d seen through Littlefinger’s scheme and had put him on trial instead. Aidan Gillen has always been a talented member of the cast and he acted his ass off here showing Littlefinger as he truly is; a coward determined to save his own skin above all. Littlefinger was never going to last much longer, so for him to go out by vastly underestimating how much control he had was a fitting way for the character to go. And his death managed to bring Arya and Sansa closer together, so it was a win-win. It was also nice to see Sansa putting Bran’s skills to use at last.

Speaking of Bran, he and Sam managed to drop the (second) biggest shock of the episode; that Jon Snow is not Jon Snow. Bran and Sam, combining their knowledge, learned that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were married in secret and Jon Snow is not Rhaegar’s bastard but his trueborn son; Aegon Targaryen and the true heir to the Iron Throne. This throws a spanner in the works certainly, if Jon is the heir to the throne, how does this leave him and Daenerys? Will the two marry and rule together? Or will the knowledge they’re related change everything?

And of course, this episode saw the culmination of this season’s biggest budding relationship. That’s right, Jon Snow (or Aegon?) and Daenerys finally got together. The two have been slowly falling in love across the entire season and to end the season on them finally consummating that love made a lot of sense. But this romance has a lot of potential to cause trouble over the final season so it will be interesting to see it develop. I oddly find myself rooting for the two to stay together, perhaps because the two have excellent chemistry and also because the two have endured so much that I want them to have a bit of happiness.

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Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) grows concerned over his sister’s growing madness. Copyright HBO. 

Director Jeremy Podewsa did a fantastic job on this episode, with The Dragon and the Wolf being perhaps one of the best directed episodes of the season. Ramin Djawadi however is the true standout of this episode, doing a fantastic job with the score. Tracks like Truth, No One Walks Away From Me/Winter Is Here and Army of the Dead were fantastic and are still stuck in my head. Djawadi has always been a major part of the show and he was just as good here with the themes of Jon, Daenerys, Cersei and the White Walkers all getting new variations and improvements; with No One Walks Away From Me, playing as Jaime abandons Cersei, mixing both Cersei’s “mad queen” theme and the Lannister theme while Army of the Dead, played in the final scene, mixing all variations of the White Walker theme into one glorious suite.

And speaking of that final scene – wow. All I can say. Wow. We’ve been waiting seven seasons for the White Walkers to reach the Wall, and they did so with style. Riding on the back of the undead Viserion, the Night King destroyed Eastwatch and burst a massive breach in the Wall large enough for his army to cross. It was horrifying and strangely beautiful, featuring some of the best special effects work the show has ever seen. With the White Walkers crossing into Westeros, it’s certainly the sign that the story has reached its end. Now literally anything happen.

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Astride the undead Viserion, the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) destroys the Wall. Copyright HBO.

The Dragon and the Wolf perhaps emerged as one of the show’s best season finales. I was gripped throughout and was an absolute magnificent close to an amazing season. With only six episodes left, I can only hope the show can keep to this high standard for the rest of its run. 

10/10

“Annabelle: Creation” Review

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Linda (Lulu Wilson) clutches onto the demonic doll Annabelle. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Plot: Twelve years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.

The Conjuring Universe continues to grow, with its latest entry; Annabelle: Creation. The prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation provides another take on the origins of the malevolent doll; this time with Lights Out director David F. Sandberg at the helm, taking over from John R. Leonetti.

Annabelle: Creation suffers in the story department from having to work around established mythology. The revelation in 2014’s Annabelle that the doll itself is not possessed but is in fact just a conduit for a demon has to be stuck with. This leads to the movie’s second half not being as strong story wise as it’s first, due to the film having to move elements around in order to have things in place for the first film. Perhaps this is the problem that the shared universe trend will continue to suffer from; it makes it incredibly difficult to make good standalone films. Annabelle: Creation suffers from it’s attachment to the previous film. Perhaps it would have been easier for WB to drop the first Annabelle from the continuity? But for the most part, the plot is fairly well done. There’s not much that hasn’t been seen or done before in other horror films but the film handles these elements well and tells a finely crafted tale for the most part, apart from the afore-mentioned issues. Either way, it means Annabelle: Creation struggles to wrap up it’s excellent plot for the sake of setting up the original film.

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Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the girls look on in horror as terrifying events unfold. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

Another problem with the film is that, due to the afore-mentioned tying in of elements from the first film, it means the film can’t really focus on what it does well. The demon that uses the doll is terrifying and manages to deliver some truly scary moments. An early moment where Janice attempts to escape it, only for the demon to slowly advance on her by seemingly devouring all the light around her and leaving her in complete darkness. This aspect of the creature is fantastic and is used to great effect in multiple sequences. But however, this leaves the doll itself to be somewhat sidelined. While this makes sense as the doll itself is not cursed, it’s a bit disappointing for it to be fairly unused after some effective early sequences.

Annabelle: Creation has a fairly decent cast. Most of the film falls on the shoulders of Talitha Bateman as Janice who does an excellent job. Carrying a film mostly on your own and Bateman does a fantastic job of it. She manages to brilliantly portray a terrified yoing girl who has no way of escape. In the latter half of the film however, Bateman takes more of a backseat and this is where the film struggles. There’s no clearly defined protagonist for the film to follow after this. Stephanie Sigman does a good job as Sister Charlotte, but is likewise taken out of action early in the film’s third act meaning she struggles to be a protagonist the audience can root for. Lulu Wilson then is left to carry the film in the last third but again, she spends it mostly off screen leaving it difficult for audiences to connect with her. This isn’t a fault of the ability of the actors, but more a fault of the editing during the climax.

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Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda encounter things that go bump in the night. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

The supporting cast meanwhile do fine jobs. Anthony LaPaglia does a fine job as Mr Mullins; perfectly capturing the tragedy of the character and being an incredibly likeable presence on screen. Miranda Otto as Mrs Mullins makes a great impression and manages to make the most of the incredibly limited screen time that the film gives her. Both of these actors manage to create incredibly complex characters and I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to see more of them than of the other characters.

The scares meanwhile are delivered brilliantly. Sandberg proved himself a master of horror with Lights Out, especially when it comes to playing with darkness. Sandberg manages to do the impossible and makes the audience scared of the dark once again. As the demon using Annabelle as a conduit loves the dark, it leaves a lot to the imagination as shadows can be hiding anything. With some scenes showing the demon emerging from pure darkness, it creates a lot of paranoia in any scene set at night. This is where the film works the best, be it Janice being slowly surrounded by approaching darkness, Linda firing a ball on a string into pure darkness or another character being trapped in a barn as the demon slowly turns out all the lights. It seems Sandberg took the best lessons from Lights Out and from the first Annabelle (namely the now infamous basement scene) to create some truly terrifying moments.

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Janice is cornered by the Demon. Copyright: Warner Bros.

For this is ultimately where Annabelle: Creation excels. It may have problems in terms of story and characters, but the film really manages to deliver when it comes to the scares which makes the film’s other flaws forgiveable. This is horror. Pure, refined and perfected. It’s very hard to describe just how scary Annabelle: Creation is. It’s something to be experienced for yourself.

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Mrs. Mullins (Miranda Otto) attempts to fend off the dark forces in her home. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

While it may not be as strong a film as The Conjuring and its sequel and certainly lacks a strong central protagonist like the first Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation is still another excellent entry in the Conjuring universe. It seems ironic that after Universal’s failed attempt at forcing a horror cinematic universe with The Mummy, that Warner Bros should stumble on one entirely by accident. By creating well-made and scary horror films, Warner Bros has made a horror universe I want to see more of and with a post-credits scene teasing The Nun, a film focused on the demonic nun Valak from The Conjuring 2, it seems plenty more are on the way. Sandberg has crafted a finely made horror film that may fall apart somewhat in character and story, but more than excels in the scares making these stumbles forgivable. Annabelle: Creation is certainly one of the year’s better horror films and is a must see. Just remember to sleep with the lights on afterwards.

8/10

 

Game of Thrones S07E06 “Beyond The Wall” Review

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The Night King (Vladimir Furdik) prepares to make his move. Copyright: HBO

Game of Thrones took us Beyond the Wall for perhaps our most in depth, most intense and most frightening encounter with the White Walkers yet in an exciting episode that delivered plenty of action, story and character development.

The main plot thread of this week’s episode was Jon Snow’s brave band of warriors, consisting of Jorah Mormont, Tormund, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, Sandor Clegane and Gendry, on a mission to capture a live Wight in order to use it as evidence of the White Walker threat and convince Cersei to lend her aid.

And of course this plan falls to pieces very quickly. This led to a desperate fight for survival for Jon’s team while Gendry ran for help, with these sequences being some of the best of the episode. Sequences with the White Walkers have always been some of the best the show has to offer, possibly because it’s so very different from what the show usually does. Every time the Walkers show up, the characters are always on the back foot, always fighting just to escape. The Walker attack on Hardhome and the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave were excellent sequences and the White Walker attack here emerges as the best of them. They were utterly terrifying, standing and waiting for the ice to freeze so they could swarm Jon and co. I’d go on to say that this was perhaps the most terrifying the White Walkers have ever been, for this episode gave them another few qualities. Not only are they smart; clearly setting a trap for Jon but they’re also incredibly patient. And that’s a worrying quality for an enemy to have. This really sent the message that the Night King is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is he incredibly powerful, but he’s incredibly smart as well.

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Jon (Kit Harington) and the group make a desperate escape. Copyright: HBO

And then we move onto the biggest development of this episode. Daenerys arrives on her dragons to save Jon and friends only for the Night King to throw an ice spear and kill one of Daenerys’s Dragons; Viserion. A moment that was surprisingly shocking and emotional, it pulled at the heart strings seeing the Dragon viewers have seen grow up from hatchling to die an incredibly painful death. This act achieved several things. It gave Daenerys her first major defeat on the open field; Daenerys has won every battle she’s fought so far so for her to suffer such a crippling loss is a very humbling moment for the character. This is reflected later in the episode where after Jon bends the knee, Daenerys says “I hope I deserve it”, showing how incredibly humbled Daenerys has become after her loss no longer as sure of herself. The death of Viserion also gave the Night King his biggest advantage yet; a Wight Dragon to add to his army. Exactly what sort of powers a Wight Dragon will possess are currently unknown (will it still be able to breathe fire for instance), but one thing is certain; this tips the balance of the war for the dawn in the Night King’s favour.

One thing the episode did well in this portion was giving all of Jon’s team chances to interact with each other; allowing the audience to grow attached to them a little more especially with characters like Beric and Thoros who haven’t had as much screen time as the others. This made Thoros’s death more touching than it would have been otherwise and set the stage for audiences to fear for the character’s lives. The moment where Tormund was being dragged under the ice by Wights had me certain that the fan-favourite character was doomed. Thankfully Tormund lives to boast another day. A lot of the episode’s humour came from this segment as well, with Sandor’s perfectly timed utterance of “Fuck” upon realising the ice had frozen over making me laugh out loud as well as perfectly mirroring exactly how the audience felt at that moment.

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Arya (Maisie Williams) prepares to play “the game of faces”. Copyright: HBO

Back in Winterfell, we saw Littlefinger continue to play Arya and Sansa off each other and the two seemingly playing into his hands. Littlefinger, after allowing Arya to find a letter Sansa wrote to Robb while a hostage of the Lannisters back in Season 1, began to place seeds of doubt in Sansa’s mind; warning her that Brienne is sworn to serve both Stark daughters and could take Arya’s side if she and Sansa were to be at odds. This led Sansa to send Brienne and Podrick away from Winterfell, sending them to represent her interests at the parlay in King’s Landing, in order to remove them from being a possible obstacle in whatever intentions she has for Arya. Arya meanwhile continues to believe that Sansa intends to usurp Jon and become Queen of the North and the letter is proof, in her eyes, that Sansa’s loyalties are always with herself and not with her family; which would be a grave offence for the daughter of a Stark and a Tully – two family oriented houses (House Tully’s words are “Family, Duty, Honour” indicating the order of priorities for the family and Ned Stark once told his children “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives” indicating that the family needs to stick together).

This ended in a confrontation between Sansa and Arya, as Sansa discovered Arya’s collection of faces. Arya seemed to threaten Sansa, detailing how easy it would be for her to kill Sansa, take her face and become her. This greatly unnerved Sansa, but it was how Arya ended this conversation that interested me. After advancing on Sansa with the Valyrian dagger, Arya then flipped it around and gave it, handle first, to Sansa before turning her back on her and leaving the room. To me, this indicates something about the two. Was this Arya telling Sansa that she has no intentions of harming her and thus isn’t a threat? A simpler way of telling Sansa this instead of just saying it? “Words are wind” after all, so perhaps doing this is an easier way of making Sansa believe Arya means no harm to her. It could also indicate Arya showing she trusts Sansa for to someone like Arya, who has had several attempts on her life, giving someone a dagger and turning your back to them would require a great deal of trust. Perhaps this is Arya trying to tell Sansa that she trusts her and trusts that she’s doing what’s right?  Could this be an indication that the Stark sisters are going to outplay Littlefinger? That the pack of the Stark family will outlive the lone wolf that is Littlefinger?

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Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) advises Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). Copyright: HBO

At Dragonstone, Tyrion confronted Daenerys over her reckless behaviour and her putting off the matter of naming an heir if she were to die. Daenerys was having none of it, arguing her behaviour was justified and that the matter of succession doesn’t matter until she’s queen. Both parties had a point here; while Tyrion was pushing for Daenerys to be more fair and lenient, Daenerys knows that doesn’t work after her time ruling Meereen. She also wasn’t discussing a matter of succession to perhaps not give Tyrion another potential ruler to abandon Daenerys for/organise a coup for. Perhaps Daenerys feels that even though she trusts Tyrion, she doesn’t want to give him a way to abandon her. She could even see this as Tyrion looking for a reason to abandon her, with Tyrion seemingly growing a little disenchanted with Daenerys over the past few episodes. Tyrion did rightfully call out that Jon and Daenerys had fallen in love however, so he may push Daenerys to marry Jon for the political benefits and perhaps also hoping Jon could balance out Daenerys’s more volatile personality traits. Either way, the Daenerys/Tyrion relationship is on rocky ground and is a bomb waiting to go off.

One of the more important developments in this episode however was Jon and Daenerys finally realising they had fallen in love. Daenerys standing vigil over the wounded Jon’s bedside, Jon clinging onto her hand, the long gazes held between them, all of it showed that these two characters have fallen deeply in love. Exactly how this relationship will pan out, especially when it’s revealed the two are related, remains to be seen but the relationship is one I’m rooting for especially as Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke share fantastic chemistry together. While the two have yet to actually come out and say they have fallen in love with the other, they both know it. The entire series seems to be pushing them to get together; the overall name of the franchise is “A Song of Ice and Fire” with Jon being Ice and Daenerys being Fire, Jorah seemed to give his approval for Jon and Daenerys to be together when he returned Longclaw to Jon, Davos and Tyrion have already noted that the two have feelings for each other. I look forward to seeing the two’s relationship developed over the remaining seven episodes.

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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington) realise their feelings for each other. Copyright: HBO

Beyond the Wall saw the return of Alan Taylor to the director’s chair of Game of Thrones. The director, who directed six episodes in the show’s first two seasons, moved onto the world of Hollywood blockbusters, directing Thor: The Dark World and Terminator: Genisys. Taylor seemed to bring some of that Hollywood sensibility back with him as Beyond the Wall was a gorgeous episode, filled with wonderful shots and amazing camerawork. Taylor’s expertise with CGI-filled blockbusters likely gave this episode the cinematic feel it needed. Beyond the Wall felt big, it was epic, it was exciting and it was thrilling. Hopefully Taylor returns for the show’s final season.

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Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) prepares to fight for the Dawn. Copyright: HBO.

Being almost movie-length at 71 minutes, Beyond the Wall emerged as another fantastic entry in what is shaping up to be Thrones’s strongest season yet. Big character developments, massive plot developments, thrilling and terrifying action sequences all made this episode fantastic viewing. If Beyond the Wall teases what’s in store for when the White Walkers finally make it past the Wall, then that moment can’t come soon enough.

10/10