“I’m Going To Try And Conduct Myself In Such A Way That Does Not Risk Global Humiliation…”
Mixing together the almighty and Oscar winning talent of Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) with erm, Seth Rogen, (The Interview) Long Shot is the latest from American filmmaker, Jonathan Levine, who reunites with Rogen after their work together on the 2011 comedy drama, 50/50, for a romantic comedy which attempts to balance political and social satire with a well-worn tale of unlikely and improbable love. Based around a screenplay from the double-act of Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling, famous for their individual work on the likes of The Post and The Interview respectively, Long Shot is that rare sight in contemporary cinema, an American comedy which actually works, and whilst the central romance at the heart of the story does indeed venture into gargantuan levels of cliche come the end of the almost two hour runtime, Levine’s movie works predominantly elsewhere, with a mix of knowing, and at times, strikingly unintentional, modern-day satire, pleasantly supplementing a likeable and utterly charming core relationship, one which gleefully bursts with volcanic levels of chemistry and pushes the final product into something which although might not be at all memorable, is rather enjoyable.
Coined in the trailer by one of the film’s supporting actors, the one and only, O’Shea Jackson Jr., (Straight Outta Compton) as having a very familiar central narrative to that of Garry Marshall’s 1990 classic, Pretty Woman, Levine’s movie at least jumbles up the profession of the leading characters, with Seth Rogen’s Fred Flarsky not exactly the first person to come to mind when it comes to the prostitution business, with him instead being landed with the role of an idealistic, rough-edged journalist with a penchant for thinking out loud, a character trait of which soon finds him unemployed and penniless. Enter Theron’s Charlotte Field, the highly popular Secretary of State with eyes for the presidency who in her earlier teenage years used to babysit a young and lovestruck Flarsky, and the two suddenly reconnect after Field utilises Flarsky’s innovative written word to boost her appeal to the American public. With worldwide trips on the menu, the two suddenly become attached to each other by the hip, resulting in the film’s central and heartwarming romance, and with an abundance of hilarious set pieces, including one of the best inverted sex scenes in cinema history and a heavy night on the town which results in a majorly mistimed hostage negotiation, Long Shot goes along way to make you care for the film’s characters, and even with a runtime which does slightly drag come the final act, Levine’s movie is a solid slice of American comedy cheese with added Charlize Theron.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’ve Seen This Raw Strength Only Once Before. It Didn’t Scare Me Enough Then, It Does Now…”
Knocking every other big-screen release of 2017 out of the park in terms of mind-melting anticipation, Disney and Lucasfilm return with the eighth direct entry into the Star Wars universe with The Last Jedi, with it being a whole two years since the revival of the franchise with the scintillating revelation which was The Force Awakens. Dispatching with J. J. Abrams for the time being, with Abrams returning to directorial duty on Episode IX after the cancellation of Colin Trevorrow’s contractual duties, Looper director Rian Johnson takes charge of a release which continues on with the many dangling plot threads left over from its’ predecessor with a returning cast featuring the likes of Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and the final on-screen performance of Carrie Fisher as the ever-majestic Princess Leia. Whereas The Force Awakens realigned the critical consensus of a universe which had been somewhat tarnished thanks to the George Lucas directed trilogy released at the turn of the century, The Last Jedi has a somewhat blank slate to go where and which way it chooses, and whilst the latest entry within the Star Wars canon doesn’t exactly hit the lofty heights of its’ predecessor, with particular and crystal clear flaws affecting the final, overall product, Johnson’s movie is a spectacle fuelled adventure thrill ride which has enough twists, turns and eye-watering action to leave even the most casual of Star Wars fans gasping for more.
With a narrative which continues the many dangling plot threads left over from The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is primarily wrapped around the centre of an escape movie, with the hunted Rebel Alliance at front and centre of the movie’s action straight from the offset in which characters both old and new are are brought into the mould of a two and a half hour journey which moves from the darkness of space to the salt laden plains of an ice covered rebel retreat without ever really coming up to the surface for breath. With subplots which include Daisy Ridley’s Rey and her interaction with Mark Hamill’s aged and hermit-esque Luke Skywalker, the wandering temperament and conflicted heart of Adam Driver’s beefed up Kylo Ren, and John Boyega’s relationship with Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, The Last Jedi is a film which can’t be faulted for a lack of substance and plot, but with a sagging middle act in which we see one of our heroes venture to a casino-laden planet of riches coming off as the obvious editing misstep, sometimes Johnson’s movie does begin to feel incredibly heavy, and whilst there are comedic elements aplenty throughout the course of the action, the overall tone of the movie is much more darker and melancholic that one might have expected, with the notion of death and loss not exactly hiding away akin more to the sensibility of Rogue One than any other previous release in the series so far.
With particular elements which come across somewhat baffling and jarring, including a Guardians of the Galaxy moment for Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and a handful of wasted opportunities for particular underdeveloped characters, Johnson’s movie does ultimately make up for these missteps by being a fundamentally stunning and beautifully made movie, with cinematographer and Looper collaborator Steve Yedlin creating a wide range of jaw-dropping images and shots which made me want to stand up and applause in a manner similar to Roger Deakins’ outstanding work on Blade Runner 2049, a film which on some levels does share similarities with The Last Jedi with both movies focused primarily on their feel, look and emotive qualities above anything else, resulting in Johnson’s movie coming across as arguably the least relatable Star Wars movie to date thanks to a somewhat cold and unnerving spiritual tone. With a lightsaber battle which ranks up there with the best the series has produced thus far, a satisfying resolution for particular character arcs and an ambiguous conclusion which leads the Star Wars path onto a vast number of potential directions, The Last Jedi is a flawed but emotionally riveting and spectacular addition into the Star Wars universe, and whilst it may not be the best series offering, Johnson’s movie is undeniably the most beautifully crafted.
Overall Score: 8/10
“No One’s Ever Believed It’s Possible To Live As You Do…”
Whilst Andy Serkis is the type of Hollywood star who can rarely do wrong in my own humble and completely correct opinion, his directorial debut in the form of Breathe puts aside the man we have come to know and love as Gollum, Caesar and that one armed chap from the MCU with a movie which is as far away from mystical beings and superhuman heroes as one could possibly get, with Serkis’ debut focusing on the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish and their lifelong battle with the former’s fight with permanent paralysis after being stricken with polio. Whilst the film features a likeable leading duo in the form of Andrew Garfield and The Crown star, Claire Foy, Breathe is unfortunately a hard task of a movie, one which takes both too long to begin and an eternity to end in the space of a two hour runtime which utilises a narrative which really doesn’t have enough to say at all in order to keep its’ audience entertained throughout, and whilst there is real heart at the centre of the film’s production, Serkis’s movie is the type of movie which more often begins to grind the mind rather than warming the heart.
With an opening title which not only sets the pacing for the movie but evoked the workings of classic movies in a similar ilk to Sofia Coppola’s beautifully crafted title card in The Beguiled earlier this year, Breathe begins by handing the audience the movie’s leading relationship pretty quickly but without any real meaningful sense of substance, a decision which becomes much stranger as the film heads into a final act which easily could have been condensed into losing at least twenty minutes, twenty minutes which instead could have been spent on an opening act which focused more on the development of the meeting between Robin and Diana rather than just passing it off and expecting the audience to generate empathy from out of completely nowhere. Because of this decision, the opening act ultimately feels rushed whilst the concluding act features more endings than The Return of the King, and whilst I can enjoy saccharin sweetness when done effectively, Breathe is the type of movie which feels it necessary to flog the sympathy doll as much as possible without any of it really working. Sorry Mr. Serkis, we’re off to a rocky start.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I Did Not Start This War. I Offered You Peace. I Showed You Mercy. But Now You’re Here. To Finish Us Off. For Good…”
Although the original Planet of the Apes movies are films in which I can apologetically state I have never, ever seen, with not even the woefully panned, Mark Wahlberg starring Tim Burton version being at the forefront of my mind in terms of movie catch-up, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a thrillingly satisfactory reinvention of the famous franchise, using the motion performance mastery of Andy Serkis in creating arguably the most effective digital character of the 21st century in Caesar, (Yes, I know, Gollum is probably more iconic) resulting in a duo hit rate of success with both critics and audiences and ultimately leading to where we are today. After continuing the success of Rise with the Matt Reeves directed, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an adventurous, if rather flawed blockbuster sequel, Reeves returns this week with War for the Planet of the Apes, a third instalment of the Apes franchise before setting out and directing that film about that geezer in a cape who likes bats. With spectacle in abundance and an emotional yet wholly bleak narrative at its’ core, War is the best of the 21st century Apes franchise so far, combining perfect and sometimes staggering motion capture with top-notch performances and an array of cinematic nods which result in Matt Reeves offering the most effective slice of blockbuster brilliance so far this year.
Following on from the events of Dawn in which the Human/Ape battle is entirely in full swing due to the actions of the treacherous Koba, War begins with a particularly spectacular opening set piece, one which sets the dark and violent tone for the narrative ahead and one which builds the foundations of Caesar’s decision making in his battle against the psychopath figure of Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel. Whilst the 12A rating will open the film up to an extended audience, including the possibility of kids, War is no means a completely joyous ride, with the narrative undeniably melancholic and sometimes masochistic in its’ portrayal of the conflict between the two opposing sides, whilst the death count on-screen rivals pretty much any top-end blockbuster release within recent years or so, yet with so much darkness and dread encompassing the story, the concluding act feels almost like a substantial reward for an audience who feels every inch of the pain our leading ape has to go through in order to save both his family and his race. With winking nods to films such as The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, with the latter’s influence clearly stated halfway through the action, War is boosted by the quite brilliant digital effects, effects which completely have you believing in the fictional characters on-screen and effects which showcase once again Andy Serkis for the genius he undeniably is. Grimy, grungy and gargantuan in scale, War is an excellent example of a character-based blockbuster and a movie which is made with such care and intelligence, you leave the cinema only wanting more.
Overall Score: 8/10
Planet of the Apes has been a formula that almost every child in the last 40-50 years has experienced through its multiple variations and TV appearances. The most recent version (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) was such a success, it warranted a sequel to detail the aftermath of the uprising and virus. With the release of the trailer, it was obvious that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was going to be a fantastic movie. Removing James Franco from the picture just made it that much better.
If you missed out on the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, please educate yourself on the wonderful movie. Since the events of Rise, humanity has all but dwindled. Cities have become overgrown, shells of cars litter the road all because of the deadly disease created by those who tested on the very apes that rebelled and escaped. In this time, we begin by following the apes on a hunting expedition for food. Witnessing the brutal efficiency of the group as they leap from tree to tree and lead an assault on a herd of deer with wooden weaponry and pure strength and agility was amazing to see. Following their conversations, it appears that humans haven’t been seen by the colony of apes in almost 5 years. Only days later do they find out this is not true with the arrival of a small team on their way to a dam to help power their encampment within the city. Without ruining much, the colonies must learn to stay away from each others territory but the humans need for power leads to an uneasy alliance which brews hatred from both sides that eventually boils over.
The story is strong, no doubt about it. What makes it better is the character development. With it not being reserved for just the main characters, other members get some great character development. The best is for the apes. You can find yourself connecting with them a lot more. Maurice is an amazing character that really is only an extra in many shots but he becomes a very loveable creature. With the reduced emotional display (compared to humans), the apes convey the emotions a lot better thus making them more appealing. The only problem I did have with this was that a fair few scenes were cut from the movie. Interactions that would have only strengthened the bonds and give a little more context to certain moments. For instance, the lead Malcolm (Jason Clarke) somehow finds out Caeser’s name yet we missed quite a vital point of trust between these two characters.
I praised Transformers 4 on its excellent CGI work. However, it did feel like it was stuck onto the screen. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was stunning. At parts you couldn’t even tell if the horses were real or not. Caeser can only be described as real. With Andy Serkis acting as him, the movement was fluid and lifelike. The acting in general was very good. Although my opinion of Gary Oldman has swayed in recent months, his acting was solid and with the rest of the main cast interacting with baby apes that are probably not there but with actors decked out in Lycra, with little bobbles is probably one hell of a funny sight to see.
Wrapping up, the movie is a masterpiece. Stepping away from the Sci-fi aspect, Dawn becomes more of a thriller and can be really tense, exhilarating and touching in a matter of minutes. Removing scenes was a shame but I hope the DVD will include a directors cut that will feature it and really prolong the life of this movie and give me more from a movie that I really love. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes deserves a 9/10. I would be back at the cinema watching it again if I could!