“Let me Simplify it for you. Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope While you do it.” – xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Film Review)

Vin Diesel returns as superspy/guy who can skate a bit Xander Cage in the third film of the xXx series. Alongside him is experienced, if not heralded, director D.J Caruso, a returning Samuel L. Jackson and a veritable tsunami of talented ensemble members that seem to have been cast in an attempt to mirror the successful expansion of the Furious films.

Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is an extreme sports junkie and former spy roped back into the game by NSA agent Stone (Toni Collette) to stop a group of terrorists, led by Xiang (Donnie Yen), from using “Pandora’s Box”, a techno thingymabob, that can crash orbiting satellites to earth like missiles. Cage assembles a team of his own to fight back, Sniper Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), Vehicle specialist Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann) and for some reason a DJ (Kris Wu).

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The first xXx was an enjoyable action movie that was grounded in a form of pseudo-realism. Dumb fun, but balanced on the precipice of stupidity. xXx: Return of Xander Cage dials the stupid-o-meter up to 11 and beyond. The action is loud and meaningless, the characters all talk like they learned English from watching the worst of Sylvester Stallone’s action movies of the late 80’s (not just the one’s for whom English is a second language) and the story is almost purposely secondary to the action. It’s all about style, which is fine. If a film sets itself to just be a well put together action-film, there is a market and an appreciation for such titles, like John Wick. However, this movie is poorly directed, badly edited and tastelessly bland. When Donnie Yen, one of the greatest action stars of all time, gets into a fight with a group of bodyguards we don’t want to be straining our eyes every time the film decides to cut on every single hit. We want to soak in the choreography, the skill that is on display, but we can’t because the fight scenes feel like they we’re edited by a bottle of mountain dew. The script is laughably poor, and at times not so laughably poor when it tries to be funny. Vin Diesel is not a great comic actor, he has strengths and weaknesses like any performer, and his delivery of every, admittedly already unfunny, quip feels like it is dragged from his mouth by force, as if the screenwriter himself is reaching into Vin Diesel’s mouth and yanking the stupidity out of him. If I was a decade or so younger maybe I would be more forgiving towards this movie, but I’ve seen Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa perform feats of incredible physical performance in many better movies than this. I’ve seen Rory McCann light up the screen on Game of Thrones, the great range of talent Toni Collette has as a performer and even seen the best of Vin Diesel in movies like Find Me Guilty, Pitch Black and his vocal performance in The Iron Giant. Whereas now, much older and wiser (I hope), watching Vin Diesel flirt awkwardly with actress Hermione Corfield (26 years his junior) before being literally forced upon by around eight more scantily clad women half his age who are desperate to spend the night with him because he is just so irresistible feels like I’m watching the deranged fantasies of someone in the middle of a mid-life crisis.

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Great action movies need great characters and conflict. The best Bond movies give him a great villain, a force to be reckoned with, he has to fight and scrap his way through, overcome and emerge victorious. Xander Cage never looks in danger, because he never is. It’s all smiles and looking good whilst your stunt double does most of the work in the action scenes, because the director can just film it all from bad angles and the editors can work around it later. There are a lot of great films out at the moment, and coming out in the near future, see them instead.

1/5

Dir: D.J Caruso

Scr: F. Scott Frazier

Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Ruby Rose, Toni Collette, Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Nina Dobrev, Kris Wu, Hermione Corfeld

Prd: Joe Roth, Vin Diesel, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Samantha Vincent

DOP: Russell Carpenter

Music: Brian Tyler, Robert Lydecker

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 107 Minutes

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is out now in UK cinemas.

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“My Heart was Broken, and I Know Yours is broken too” – Manchester by the Sea (Film Review)

Kenneth Lonergan’s built up a reputation as a terrific wordsmith and a talented filmmaker. A playwright by trade Lonergan made the jump to feature films with 2000’s You Can Count on Me, which resulted in two Oscar nominations and a lot of critical praise. He got a lot of work as a writer in the resulting few years, including penning the screenplay for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (Though for some reason they’ve left that of Manchester By The Sea’s advertisement posters). His second film, Margaret, took seven years to release following a creative clash between Lonergan and the studio, resulting in a litigation battle over the movie. With that unpleasantness now behind him Lonergan’s newest film has garnered innumerable praise since its release and needless to say this anticipation had left me with high hopes of what was to come.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor living an isolated existence in Boston who finds out that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has collapsed and died. He returns to his home town of Manchester-by-the-sea to settle the funeral arrangements. Lee discovers he has been named guardian to his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), but is unwilling to stay in the town due to past events that drove him away.

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Casey Affleck is receiving riotous praise for his performance as Lee and they are well deserved. Lee’s isolation and deadpan demeanour masks an enormous rage which Affleck communicates via subtle gestures and his character’s desolate body language. Even when surrounded by others Lee seems alone, and more than happy to be that way. Pushed out of his isolative state into a role as a guardian to a wayward teen, played with arrogant glee by Lucas Hedges, the pairs disagreements, conflict and attempts to reconnect are fascinating and deeply expressive of their inner sorrow. Lee’s ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) appears in both flashback and the present day and without moving into spoiler territory the two share a scene that is hauntingly visceral in its emotional purity. Both Affleck and Williams pull on all their skills as performers to deliver one of the best scenes of the year that will labour in viewers minds long after they have left the screening. Their success is aided by Lonergan’s script which manages to blend comedy and tragedy together in a manner few other screenwriters can. Most sequences are accompanied by the brutal music of Lesley Barber, which haunts the film with an uneasy pulse of strings loudly bellowing over the action of the movie in an almost operatic display.

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Manchester By The Sea isn’t for everyone, following the screening numerous other patrons around me discussed the movie and found it depressing, or/and unsatisfying. It’s ending isn’t designed to please, and the more I let it gestate in my mind the more I appreciated and admired its bravery. With a range of career best performances, Lonergan’s wonderful script and Barber’s beautiful score it appeases me to say that Manchester by the sea is more than worth your time.

5/5

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

Scr: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Matthew Broderick, Gretchen Mol, Tate Donovan

Prd: Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Kevin J. Walsh, Lauren Beck

DOP: Jody Lee Lipes

Music: Lesley Barber

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 137 Minutes

Manchester by the Sea is out now in UK cinemas.

“Nothing is true, Everything is Permitted” – Assassin’s Creed (Film Review)

Oh gosh. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Warcraft, despite getting a kicking from most critics, was a film I enjoyed, so much so that I purchased it on Blu-ray upon its release. Hell even Angry Birds a decent, if not spectacular, animated comedy got a pass in my book, so much so that I got a free copy of the film to review when it came out, mostly from sheer indifference to its mediocrity (Not so much a vote of defiance with my hard earned cash, as one of indifference to getting it for free). However I watched it again, courtesy of my free DVD, and found it to be charming enough to scrape by. With these stepping stones aside it was time for Assassin’s Creed, a breathtakingly cinematic videogame series, to take to the limelight and cast aside the fallacy that it’s impossible to make a good videogame adaptation. However, as I imagine you gathered from the “Oh Gosh” that began this paragraph, things have not gone according to plan.

Michael Fassbender produces and stars as both Callum Lynch, a boring guy you couldn’t really care less about, and Aguilar, a Spanish Assassin who you also couldn’t really care less about, but can do backflips. Forced to relive the days of his ancestor inside a machine called the Animus so that scientists, whose names I never committed to my long term memory played by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, can find a mysterious artefact known as the Apple of Eden.

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As a fan of the games since their inception I should be the ideal target audience for the series to appeal too. But there is no target audience for this movie. Kneecapped to begin with by a poor script that has far too much expository dialogue, it doesn’t exactly burst out the gate. With the amount of exposition been force-fed to us the plot should make some sense but the storytelling is still muddled and confusing. Poor Marion Cotillard, an undoubtedly wonderful actress, is left high and dry explaining the narrative in what seems like the videogame cut-scene from hell. Whilst Fassbender, one of the most engaging, creative and gifted actors of his generation, is lethargically dull as both Connor, and Aguilar the Spanish free-runner. There are three main flashback sequences in the film and of the three only the second really showcases the best of what the film can do. A madcap chase across the rooftops that brings the games to life in a thrilling, fast paced, pursuit. But it’s only five minutes, and aside from that there isn’t anything here of interest. The gritty, barren, Spain that we are taken back through feels sickly, grey and lifeless leaving us with a dumb action film that looks like it was shot by a coal mining enthusiast. When Jeremy Irons makes an appearance, you pray that he’s going to deliver a scenery chewing feast of his acting qualities, but he too is just as quiet, low-key, and seemingly bored as everyone else. Justin Kurzel is a promising filmmaker, this doesn’t change that, but this is a misfire. Fassbender appears to be delivering a sub-par display, but he produced this damn thing so I know he is trying his hardest and it just isn’t showing.

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Assassin’s Creed is a slog to wade through and a disappointing waste of potential that may add to the misconception that videogames cannot be adapted to film.  Despite an A-list cast, promising director, and at least three screenwriters, there isn’t enough there to allow Assassin’s Creed to fly by. This Leap of faith missed the pile of hay and has firmly splatted on the concrete.

2/5

Dir: Justin Kurzel

Scr: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed

Prd: Jean-Julien Baronnet, Gerard Guillermot, Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Michael Fassbender, Conor McCaughan, Arnon Milchan

DOP: Adam Arkapaw

Music: Jed Kurzel

Country: USA, France

Year: 2017

Runtime: 116 Minutes

Assassin’s Creed is out now in UK cinemas.

 

“Here’s to the ones who Dream” – La La Land (Film Review)

Following its triumphant run in the U.S, and a rapturous night of success at the Golden Globes, La La Land finally opened here in the UK last week. When a film gets as much fanfare as this one has received it’s difficult to contain your expectations accordingly, but try as I might it’s been hard to contain my excitement following the embarrassingly large number of awards that have been cascaded towards the film’s feet. Not to mention that ultra-talented director Damien Chazelle, along with leading pair Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, have quite the pedigree between them to warrant a stirring sense of anticipation.

Aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone), attempting to negotiate the harsh realities of breaking into the film business, continually finds herself bumping into jazz enthusiast Seb (Ryan Gosling) who dreams of opening his own club. Despite an acrimonious beginning a relationship begins to blossom between them set to the backdrop of the beautiful L.A skyline.

La La Land is a gorgeous movie, that captures an evocative, dreamlike feel of the city of Los Angeles. Chazelle’s camera is swift, yet definite, with the musical sequences captured in long, expertly staged, takes filmed in Cinemascope which was at its height in the 1950’s, an era La La Land repeatedly nods it head towards. The choreography is inventive and fluid, slick when it needs to be and graceful when it has to be. All the while cinematographer Linus Sandgren manages to fill the screen with an effervescent, dreamy, array of colours. He captures both the mundane world the characters attempt to rail against and the pure romanticism of the city of which they dream. This is displayed best in a terrific dance sequence between Gosling and Stone on a lowly hill top overlooking the L.A skyline. Filmed at “Magic Hour” where the setting sun and neon lights combine to make a dazzlingly surreal landscape that description can barely surmise. Chazelle has made a musical that feels both modern and nostalgic, mixing smartphones and vintage fashion styles, fusing classic Jazz with the new wave, and the dreams of aspiring artists with the crushing weight of reality. Stone is phenomenal, perfectly cast, managing to display charm, wit and an authentic passion that makes you yearn to believe in the magic of movies. Mia is a character fuelled by classic Hollywood trying to maintain her dreams in a world where an audition can come to an end in seconds, where you may spend your entire life auditioning for a part that will never come. Whilst Gosling also delivers yet another terrific performance as Seb, a fellow dreamer, with a rougher edge, who is revitalised by his meeting with Mia. Gosling and Stone have portrayed a couple on screen twice before in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad so it is no surprise that their chemistry is spot on. Both are rightly receiving plaudits for their performances, and Stone is a favourite to win an Oscar next month. There is a small role for J.K Simmons in the movie however he only has about fifteen lines, which are swiftly delivered, but is thoroughly brilliant in what is little more than a cameo. The music is instantly catchy, filled with flair and buoyancy by Justin Hurwitz, another Oscar favourite, in his third collaboration with close friend Chazelle.

La La Land is a wonderful journey exploring the passion of those who chase their dreams, and the hardships that they face in trying to achieve them. Mia often mentions Casablanca, one of the oft quoted classic love stories, and though we must wait decades to see if La La Land will become a classic of cinematic history in the same way I’m confident that I will always remember where I was when I fell in love with Mia, Seb and the ones who dream.

5/5

Dir: Damien Chazelle

Scr: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K Simmons, John Legend

Prd: Fred Burger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt

DOP: Linus Sandgren

Music: Justin Hurwitz

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 128 Minutes

La La Land is out now in UK cinemas.

Best Films of 2016

With 2017 well and truly underway I wanted to take one look back at the impressive body of work 2016 had to offer and put forward a selection of the films that I consider to be my favourites of the year. Firstly, I should make clear that I haven’t seen everything that I would have wished to from 2016, and I have some catching up to do on titles such as Green Room, Sing Street, The Neon Demon, The Assassin, High Rise and some others that I missed throughout the year. I’ve heard great things about these movies, but haven’t found the time to see them yet. Despite this it was still difficult to edit my list down to what I considered to be a reasonable 25 film shortlist of my personal favourites of 2016, leaving no room for movies I enjoyed like Deadpool, Finding Dory, Rogue One, Dr Strange or Nerve, amongst others, due to the high standard set this year. (Note: A couple of the films on this list were not released in the UK until 2017, but I caught preview screenings some weeks back which allowed me to slip them in on a technicality).

 

*      10 Cloverfield Lane

*      A Monster Calls

*      Arrival

*      Bone Tomahawk

*      Captain America: Civil War

*      Central Intelligence

*      The Conjuring 2

*      Deepwater Horizon

*      The Edge of Seventeen

*      Hail, Caesar!

*      Kubo and the Two Strings

*      Kung Fu Panda 3

*      I, Daniel Blake

*      The Jungle Book

*      Manchester by the Sea

*      The Mermaid

*      Midnight Special

*      Moana

*      The Nice Guys

*      Pete’s Dragon

*      Star Trek: Beyond

*      Sully

*      Tale of Tales

*      The Witch

*      Zootropolis

 

My final list contains a healthy contrast of genre and style that outlines the best of what this year had to offer. 18 of the films that made the cut were original movies, showing that despite a popular notion that original cinema has died there are still outstanding new ideas out there. Whilst the 7 remakes/sequels that made my list were creative and engaging, made with a passion to tell a new story using established characters. From socially conscious drama’s such as I, Daniel Blake to the bombastic spectacle of Star Trek: Beyond there was a lot to celebrate at the movies in 2016. I hope you found plenty to like, as I did, and that 2017 can live up to, and hopefully excel, this year in film.