Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

BladeRunner 2049 poster

I’m finding this such a hard movie to review, I can barely imagine how difficult it must have been to make! The original Blade Runner (1982) has become one of the cornerstones of science fiction cinema. The look, the noir-ish feel, the music – all iconic. So, first rule of sequel: don’t destroy that kind of legacy!

And – phew! – BR2049 doesn’t. In fact, it does a lot of things very right. However… I dunno, perhaps my expectations were set too high, but while I thoroughly admire what they’ve done here, I’m giving it a lower mark (still 8/10!) than I thought I would.

First off the good stuff: it looks fantastic. I means, the world is a bit grubby and not-nice, and yet the visuals are still mindblowing. Cinematography Oscar, surely – and given the man responsible is Roger Deakins more than overdue, too!

The cast were all really great, too. I’ve never wholly understood the massive appeal of Ryan Gosling, but his slightly blank approach here works very well for the character. It’s his movie: Harrison Ford doesn’t show up until well through the extended running time, and to be honest it would have been great if they could have left that as a surprise.

Ah, yes: avoiding spoilers! This is definitely one of those movies where going in as un-informed as possible is a plus, which only adds to the difficulties in reviewing! So, no plot details from me, just the vague: Blade Runner Ryan Gosling is sent on a mission that might have a far bigger consequence than anyone could know. Along the way he has to deal with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the new owner of what was the Tyrell Company, who has his own agenda and one of the new, ‘obedient’ replicants, Luv (Syvia Hoeks), to push it.

So why didn’t this hit quite as many buttons for me as I’d hoped? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest – quite frankly, it should have. Perhaps the plot wasn’t as surprising as it was for others, given that a few threads of it have appeared (and not desperately well handled, tbh) in the KW Jeter ‘sequel’ books? I suspect it might be more to do with the ten million different versions of the original movie – with rather different views on a certain Big Issue – leaving this one with a slight dilemma on which to follow. And while many reviewers are praising the way this, too, leaves that ambiguity, I actually felt that only one version actually makes sense – given a few lines, and the overall plot – and it’s not the one I was a fan of. Ho-hum.

Another slight discomfort for me was the sheer amount of female nudity and sexualisation. It’s not the film’s fault to have opened in a time where this is such a trigger issue, but still: it feels like every variation of subservient womanhood is portrayed here, from the virtual and porn-esque representations, to the actual prostitute and the unappreciated ‘secretary’-type. It was all just a bit ‘off’, somehow, given the present culture of Hollywood and beyond.

That said, don’t think I didn’t enjoy this because I did. Flaws aside, the visual spectacle alone is worth a watch, and unlike some other recent eye candy, this has a great deal going on underneath that. The main character’s story arc is handled extremely well, the baddies are a delight, and there’s enough left unsaid or unexplained (black out, anyone? Oh, but how perfect to explain the retro-tech!) to add a layer of intrigue and imagination stimulation.

So: 8/10. Excellent, but not perfect, ymmv and all that, but sooo worth seeing on the big screen for the wow-factor.

Released: 5th October 2017
Viewed: 18th October 2017
Running time: 163 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman Golden Circle poster

I thoroughly enjoyed the mad romp that was Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), turning the spy genre (which was particularly over-represented in the cinema for a couple of years) into a much more fun and madcap place. This sequel attempts to take that pace, that irreverence, that sense of out and out fun, and turn it up to eleven. Million!!!!

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) seems to be settling in to his new life nicely, taking over the Galahad title from poor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and all loved up with his Swedish Princess, Tilde (Hanna Alström). But when the world’s biggest and most successful drug dealer ever, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) decides she’s no longer happy hiding in the shadows, her first step is taking out those pesky Kingsmen.

And so, with only Merlin (Mark Strong) to keep him company, Eggsy must turn to the American branch of the private spy world: The Statesmen. Can they help – will they? And, in fact, can they be trusted?

There is a lot of gleeful, romp-worthy, tongue in cheek nonsense going on here which makes Kingsman 2 a heck of a lot of fun. The action sequences are top notch, the way everything pokes fun at Bond is a delight, and then there’s the Bigger Location budget. Bigger Stars budget. Bigger EVERYTHING – yee haa!! – all of which is very obvious on screen.

BUT I think this is possibly the problem. All those big names seem to be practically cameos – I was left a bit confused, as I thought (from the trailers and interviews) that e.g. Channing Tatum was actually in this movie, not just, y’know, in it a little bit. Jeff Bridges’ role is even slighter, and while Halle Berry’s character gets more screentime, it’s a little meh. The actual cameos – Keith Allen and a having-a-fabulous-time-of-it-darling Elton John are a lot of fun, but overall there’s just too many familiar faces with not a great deal to do.

Talking of familiar faces, it’s no secret that Colin Firth manages to reprise his role despite the end of the last movie. I suppose it’s not the most ridiculous come back in cinema history o_O However, while the movie would not have worked without him, the character didn’t quite seem to… fit… somehow? Hmm. Perhaps if there’d been less distraction with all the shiny new Big Names?

Overall, I’m left having really quite enjoyed K2, even at the longer-than-it-should-have-been running time (which, I will admit, allows for quite a rounded story and not just the usual ‘make everything faster’ blur), but at the same time a bit disappointed. Just because you can throw everything and everyone in, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

Still, would I go see a third installment? Ye hah, darlin’ – lasso it on it over! 🙂

Released: 20th September 2017
Viewed: 2nd October 2017
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Victoria and Abdul (2017)

Victoria and Abdul poster

Everyone knows that Queen Victoria had a huge romance with hubby, Albert, and found a little relief from her loneliness following his death with ghillie, John Brown. In fact, Judi Dench played the monarch in the movie, Mrs Brown, showing us their friendship. It’s a nice touch, then, to have her back in the role for this next episode.

For the Queen’s golden jubilee, two men from India were rather randomly chosen to present the Empress of India with a token from her Indian subjects. The aging monarch took a shine to one of the men, Abdul (Ali Fazal) of the title, and recruited him first as a general servant, and then as a teacher – ‘Munshi’ – in the Urdu language, the Koran, and Indian culture in general. However, the rest of the court are far less keen on this ‘brown man’ taking a place so close to the elderly Queen, suspecting him of currying (hah hah!) favour, and her of losing her mental faculties.

One thing that shone through very well from the movie was a great grounding in making these unlikely events seem very plausible. Victoria was a willful woman, by all accounts, but also lonely and forced to maintain her regal duties well beyond the point where a quiet retirement would have been far kinder. As she dragged herself through her later years, the chance to relieve some of the boredom was presented in the form of an exotic young man who could fill her head with marvellous tales and new concepts.

There’s absolutely no faulting Dame Judi here, of course. She’s “willful and stubborn and overly attached to power” every beat of the way. Ali Fazal is charming as the young clerk, although I was ever so slightly ‘hmm’ about the way his character arc is portrayed – a flaw, I suspect, of being based on the man himself’s own journals. Still, it’s a lovely friendship, as much about age as class and culture.

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It was sweet and heartwarming, with enough bite from the Queen’s stubbornness in the face of her court, filled with a stellar supporting cast. It’s a lovely companion piece to 1997’s Mrs Brown, although its cosy Sunday afternoon vibe is a little let down by the inevitably slightly downbeat events at the end.

Released: 15th September 2017
Viewed: 28th September 2017
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7/10

American Assassin (2017)

American Assassin poster

When Mitch Rapp loses his new fiancee in a terrorist attack, he sets out to get revenge. Training himself in mixed martial arts, knife throwing, and shooting, his ability to infiltrate the jihadist terrorist cell also gets him on the radar of the CIA. Offered the chance to ‘fight with the big boys’, can Mitch put aside his personal vendetta and follow the rules?

I actually quite enjoyed this movie and its combination of a moody look, strong acting, and lots of action. However, I struggle to give it a particularly good rating: it’s just a bit bland. I suspect that in a month, this’ll be added to the list of action-thrillers I sort of vaguely remember going to see, without it having left much of an impression overall.

The big problem is probably the plot. It starts strong, but ends up a bit so-so and without much of an overall cohesiveness. The suspension of disbelief is also severely challenged, with Mitch a bit too much of a maverick to ever actually be allowed to continue – let alone be feted so highly by at least one superior. Yes, it adds tension, but it really hits the suspension of disbelief.

Overall: a diverting couple of hours (although it felt a bit longer at points – not a good sign!) but if you’ve got options for your cinema budget, probably aim them elsewhere.

Released: 14th September 2017
Viewed: 22nd September 2017
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 6.5/10

Rough Night (2017)

Rough Night poster

Combining a 10-year reunion with a hen do (bachelorette party, for American readers), a group of best friends from university find their night going from bad to worse. Accidentally killing the stripper is only the beginning, compounded by the craziest, worst choices imaginable. Meanwhile, the groom-to-be gets his wires crossed, and is on a mission of his own to win back the bride. She’s a little too preoccupied with trying to dump another man – or, his body, at least!

It’s really really easy to knock Rough Night. It is very far from brilliant, nor is it as funny as it thinks it is. It is, however, very daft and a bit of light-hearted fun, which was exactly what I needed when I when to see this.

In its favour, at least for me, was a lot less ‘gross-out’ in the comedy than, say, Bridesmaids or similar movies, despite the large amounts of swearing and sexual overtones. I hated Bridesmaids, btw, finding the bitch fake friends outdoing each other cringeworthy. There is an element of that at the start of this – very, very similar, in fact – but it’s just not taken to the same dire level. This, however, is probably part of some people’s complaints about it not being really that funny – it doesn’t keep pushing to find the point where you laugh or want to – well, maybe ‘cry’ isn’t the right word. Anyway, I was glad that the movie let me be amused rather than feeling it HAD to make me hysterical.

The cast is a bit so-so. Scarlett Johansson doesn’t strike me as cut out for comedy, but playing the straight woman gives her an out. Kate McKinnon was my new hero after Ghostbusters, but while she is amusing here there is something distracting about the accent forming the larger part of the performance. Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer add a mid-layer with the added twist of being a former couple (which works well). However, Jillian Bell’s character is seriously annoying, for many of the same reasons I hated Bridesmaids.

From the trailers I was expecting a twist on Weekend at Bernies, but was well off the mark. There is a point where I couldn’t see where else the movie was going to go, before it chucks in a couple of outlandish elements – again, just staying on the right side of too over the top, unlike, say the absolutely dire Snatched.

Overall, I can’t really recommend this but it’s not actually as awful as many reviews make it out to be. If you want something that straddles a line between those gross-out comedies I hate and something almost a bit sweet by the end, then a pizza and a glass of wine on the sofa would just about make this watchable of a quiet evening.

Released: 25th August 2017
Viewed: 27th August 2017
Running time: 101 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

American Made (2017)

American Made poster

In the late 1970s, pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is approached by the CIA to take aerial reconnaissance photos over South American’s less-than-stable regimes. Picked up by a drug cartel after stopping to refuel, Barry might be forgiven for thinking he’s in hot water – but instead, the cartel offers him a ton of cash to use his CIA status to help smuggle their drugs back into the USA.

Playing both sides keeps Barry a wealthy man, and indeed, the most fun moments come as the character struggles to find places to stash his cash. However, while his life is on the up, you can’t help but know there’s likely to be a cliff-drop at some point – and possibly no plane to keep Barry aloft.

This is a fun movie, no doubt, but I have to admit to being a little bored during the opening half hour or so. I can only suggest that perhaps the film makers left in a few too many of the “based on a true story” details at the expense of pace. Still, things do get more exciting as the film progresses, although there was just a sense of predictability for me.

It’s an odd time for cinema, methinks: I seem to spend my time rating movies as slightly-better-than-average, but either talking up ones that have been otherwise slated (Dark Tower, Valerian, Hitman’s Bodyguard) or finding myself disappointed with things that sounded like they were doing better (Atomic Blonde). This, sadly, falls into the latter category: high hopes of fun, turned out just a little ‘meh’.

That said, it is very well made, and the actors all seem to be having fun. There are a few stylistic additions, from the 70s-esque opening credits to a few fun maps animations, which I thought added something positive in small doses. Oh, and try to count future presidents 😉

Overall, a decent enough, fun flick, but I personally thought it took a while to get the wing flaps up and get going.

Released: 25th August 2017
Viewed: 26th August 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

The Dark Tower (2017)

Dark Tower poster

We seem to be living in a time when the old adage, “The book was much better”, doesn’t always apply. Fantasy in particular has come on in leaps and bounds, from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones – we know that such adaptations can be, well, pretty darn fantastic. It’s a shame, then, that Dark Tower comes along to remind us that the transfer to the big screen is still a process fraught with dangers, and doesn’t always quite reach those dizzying heights.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

I don’t have to look those words up. This is an opening line that is stuck in my head, opening an 8-book story that has near-mythical status for me. As a teen, finding two previously unheard of books (yes, I do predate the internet LOL!) by my then-favourite author was the stuff that dreams are made of (literally: I dream variations on this scenario to this day). That I had to wait eight years between books 3 and 4 puts even GRRM to shame! 😉

Roland Deschain is a gunslinger, one of Midworld’s peacekeepers (and more); in fact, the last gunslinger: his is a world that is slowing down and growing thin. But Roland has one last mission: to reach the Dark Tower, the nexus of all worlds, to keep it safe lest the whole universe collapse. Or, at least in this movie, to catch up to the Man in Black and get his revenge for the slaughter of everyone he ever knew.

A potted version of all this is sort of squeezed into the hour and a half of movie, and I think that’s the first disappointment: of all the richness of the world built up over eight books, we get to see so little of it. I was thoroughly baffled by the choice of focusing the movie on Jake (a youngster having dreams about the Tower et al) rather than on Roland (Idris Elba), and setting large chunks in New York rather than Midworld. Bah!

“One more time around the wheel, old friend.”

While Idris is his usual wonderful self (but who should definitely be getting meatier scripts!), and the lad playing Jake is thankfully largely unannoying, the real stand out performance for me was Matthew McConaughey as Walter (O’Dim? Paddick?), aka the Man in Black. Oozing menace, he flicks his fingers and commands people to kill, or simply to stop breathing, purely because he can. Of all the changes made from the source, throwing more of a spotlight on Walter was a good one, I’d say. Without spoiling anything from the books, he seems to have more of a continuity to his story, which was actually quite interesting to see.

What was less interesting, however, was the cliched “let’s destroy the world” plot. I just kept thinking about the line from Guardians of the Galaxy: why would you want to destroy the universe when you’re “one of the idiots that lives in it?” Argh!

Through the piece there are little nods to both the books and the wider Stephen King bibliography (not that the two aren’t entwined, of course!). Look out for the fairground attractions – Pennywise and Charlie the Choo Choo – or the graffiti urging us to “All Hail the Crimson King”, or the talking raccoons in the commercial (Oy!). I was in two minds about these: they’re somewhat pointless if you’re not a fan, but if you are then in a way they’re little reminders of all that we’re skipping.

I have a feeling I could waffle on about this movie, or at least the books, for another 90 minutes myself! So, let me summarise: The Dark Tower is absolutely not the huge mess that some earlier reviewers wanted to make it out to be. If you go in expecting a straight adaptation of the wonderful books, then you will be disappointed. If, however, you can view this as… a different way the story could have played out, perhaps… then it’s at the very least rather interesting. And if you’ve never read the books at all, then it’s still a decent if short fantasy-action flick telling a fairly self-contained story with some intriguing characters.

Personally, I enjoyed it despite the flaws. I wish there could be eight movies, to tell it all ‘properly’. But this little slice is a nice addition to the overall world, which I still hope to see more of from the rumoured TV series, even if it’s not with the great pairing of Elba and McConaughey.

Released: 18th August 2017
Viewed: 22nd August 2017
Running time: 95 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10