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Cruella (2021) Review

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Cruella

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Emma Stone as Estella Miller/Cruella de Vil
Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman
Joel Fry as Jasper Badun
Paul Walter Hauser as Horace Badun
Emily Beecham as Catherine Miller
Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita “Tattletale” Darling
Mark Strong as John
Director: Craig Gillespie

Estella (Emma Stone) is a young and clever grifter who’s determined to make a name for herself in the fashion world. She soon meets a pair of thieves (Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser) who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they build a life for themselves on the streets of London. However, when Estella befriends fashion legend Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), she embraces her wicked side to become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella.

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Cruella was a movie I wasn’t entirely excited for in the lead up to its release. While I haven’t seen all the live action Disney remakes, generally they’ve felt rather average and not that impressive. However there were a few reasons I was slightly interested for Cruella. One was the cast, which included Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. There is also the fact that it’s an origin story for Cruella de Vil, which although potentially unnecessary, does mean that it’s probably going to do more than just be a repeat of the animated movie’s story beats. Also the trailers looked decent, and hinted at being more than just a replication of the animated movie. Cruella actually surprised me quite a bit and I liked it.

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Cruella was 2 hours and 14 minutes long, despite the fact that the movie is very fast paced, and I was entertained throughout. The plot is rather predictable and familiar (not necessarily in terms of it being a Disney movie), but nonetheless I was interested to see where it would go. Throughout when you’re watching the movie, you might be wondering how this version of Cruella de Vil is supposed to link up with the versions of Cruella de Vil that we are more familiar with. I get the feeling however that this is actually a reimagining of the character, and if that’s the case then I’m entirely on board with that. Even by the end, she’s more of an anti-hero than a full on villain. One way where the two versions of Cruella differ is with regard to the dogs, you don’t need to worry about seeing any puppy/dog killing because there’s none here. There’s even two dogs who are with Estalla/Cruella and the thieves she’s teamed up with, so it is definitely taking a different approach to the character. It is an origin story for Cruella de Vil, and while it does seem a bit unnecessary to bolt a tragic backstory and try to force it in, I was surprisingly rather engaged. One of the things that emerged online about the movie as soon as it came out was a particular moment involving dalmatians in the first 20 minutes, and yes it is rather ridiculous and forced. However it actually works alright in the movie itself, partly because of the tone. Throughout. it does have a rather campy tone, so some of the sillier aspects and issues seem to work alright here, including a flawed story and cheesy dialogue. I’m not certain that I’ve watched the original 101 Dalmatians movie but there were some moments that referred to that film, and they were quite on the nose. It was almost like the filmmakers were contractually obliged to include them. However there weren’t as many of those moments as I thought they would be, nor did they take away from the rest of the story. I feel like by it being an origin story, it actually had freedom to be its own movie (a crime comedy) rather than being restricted to just repeating story beats from a pre-existing film. For those interested, there’s a mid credits scene which hints towards a sequel.

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The cast were among the strongest parts of the movie. First of all is Emma Stone as Estella/Cruella de Vil, who turned out to be a surprisingly great casting choice. Stone humanises her and adds so much to the character, while giving a larger than life performance and is clearly having a great time in the role. Even if you don’t like the rest of the movie, I do think Cruella is worth watching for her alone. There’s also Emma Thompson as The Baroness, and her character does seem very similar to Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. However it actually sort of works for this movie, and Thompson is great as the film’s scene chewing and hateable villain. The back and forth between her and Stone is very enjoyable to watch. Also really good are Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as the thieves that are teamed up with Estella/Cruella, and the three play off each other very well. Hauser particularly stands out, especially with his perfect line delivery and comedic timing.

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Cruella also benefits a lot from the energised direction of Craig Gillespie. Performances aside, the stylistic direction elevates the script immensely. The setting of 70s London is beautifully filmed with gorgeous cinematography and has well detailed set designs, it lends itself well to the fashion, music and grimy aesthetic. The wardrobe is fantastic as to be expected, the costumes are absolutely extravagant, and the visual style really showed them off well. The score from Nicholas Britell (who also composed Succession, Vice, Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, The King and more) is amazing as to be expected from him, and really adds a lot to the film. The soundtrack has a great lineup of songs, even if many of them feel very on the nose and there are too many needle drop moments. On a technical level, really the only aspect that isn’t so great is the CGI, especially the effects used for the dogs.

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One could argue that Cruella is an unnecessary movie, and in a way it is. However I can’t deny that I was enjoying it throughout. The plot is not the best but did enough to have me actually interested to see how things would progress, it’s directed with a very distinct style, and the performances were all great, especially Emma Stone as the titular character. There’s a sequel in talks, and while I’m not sure how it would be possible, I’m not against it. Even if you aren’t such a big fan of the recent live action Disney remakes, I think Cruella is worth checking out.

RockNRolla (2008) Review

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RocknRolla

Time: 114 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, Offensive Language & Drug Use
Cast:
Gerard Butler as One-Two
Mark Strong as Archy
Tom Wilkinson as Lenny Cole
Toby Kebbell as Johnny Quid
Tom Hardy as Handsome Bob
Idris Elba as Mumbles
Thandie Newton as Stella
Jeremy Piven as Roman
Ludacris as Mickey
Director: Guy Ritchie

Small-time crooks One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) decide to legitimately invest in some prime real estate and find themselves out of their depth and in debt to old-school London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Cole himself is in the middle of a business deal with a Russian gangster, but when his accountant tips off One Two and Mumbles to the details of an upcoming big-money business transaction, the two scallywags swoop in and steal the cash.

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Guy Ritchie established himself as a filmmaker to pay attention to with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, both British crime comedies. RocknRolla, which was released in 2008, marked his next main gangster movie in roughly a decade, and it was quite good. It’s not as quite as good as the gangster movies that made him well known, but Ritchie is in his element here, and it’s quite entertaining for what it was.

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With the story, characters and tropes, you can definitely tell it was directed by Guy Ritchie. It’s very well written, and has some interesting characters and plenty of plot twists. It’s also quite funny, very witty, and contains plenty of hilarious dialogue. Like Snatch there are so many characters and plotlines. The story branches out then effectively ties together at the climax, which I thought was done well. With that said, the story itself was a bit weak and is definitely overcomplicated, even if I like how some of the storylines and characters tie together. The storyline involving Tom Wilkinson’s character and the Russians I particularly found a bit hard to follow. It does suffer from slow pacing and being a bit predictable at points, even if I enjoyed watching all of it. It’s not a massive criticism but a disappointment is that it really does fall into the familiar tropes that Ritchie has already fallen into with his past movies. It’s more or less the same type of films with intertwined plots and characters of all different sites, all tied together by one little thing. However, those other two movies didn’t feel messy or convoluted like it does here. RockNRolla is still funny and there’s lots of gags, though it does seem to be missing something. The ending also does feel a bit rushed. One point in difference between RockNRolla and Ritchie’s first two movies that’s not better or worse is that it’s a little darker and more grounded and realistic, certainly not as offbeat as say Snatch. Everything here is sour and shady. It’s not devoid of fun, and a lot of the dialogue is hilarious, it’s just one way it differs from those other movies.

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One consistently great thing in this movie is the great acting, there is a large cast and they all do well in their parts. Much of the cast includes Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Toby Kebbell and Tom Wilkinson, they all do a great job. In terms of standouts, for me it’s Gerard Butler, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong.

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Guy Ritchie takes the style that he had with Lock Stock and Snatch and combined it with his more modern filmmaking and it really paid off. The editing is always great and intertwines with the camerawork fluently. Visually, it’s surprisingly not quite as super stylised as Ritchie’s other films have been. There are some characteristic and signature camera tricks of his, especially towards the end of the movie. However for the most part, it plays more like an ordinary gangster action film. Nonetheless it works. The soundtrack is great too and is utilised perfectly.

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RockNRolla wasn’t quite a return to form for Guy Ritchie even with it being within the genre that he’s known for, but it’s still a very enjoyable British crime flick. The characters are interesting, the acting is great from everyone, it’s funny, and it’s very stylish and generally entertaining. If you liked Snatch, or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, or really any other British gangster comedy thrillers, then it’s worth checking out for sure. RockNRolla had a sequel-bait ending and for all of my issues with the movie, I actually did wish that Ritchie made a follow up, because there was really a lot of potential there.

Kick-Ass (2010) Review

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] contains graphic violence, drug use and offensive language
Cast:
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass
Mark Strong as Frank D’Amico
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D’Amico/Red Mist
Chloë Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl
Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready/Big Daddy
Director: Matthew Vaughn

Using his love for comics as inspiration, teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) decides to reinvent himself as a superhero — despite a complete lack of special powers. Dave dons a costume, dubs himself “Kick-Ass,” and gets to work fighting crime. He joins forces with the father/daughter vigilante team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz), then befriends another fledgling crime-fighter called Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but a scheming mobster (mark Strong) soon puts their alliance to the test.

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I remembered watching Kick-Ass years ago, from what I remember it really was a fun watch. Since it’s been a while, I decided to rewatch it and see how I thought about it now. It was even more entertaining than I remembered, everything from the cast, writing and the direction just worked really well. For what it was, it was great.

Kick-Ass is based off the comic of the same name by Mark Millar (not the first time that Matthew Vaughn would make movies based on Millar’s material). The script by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn sort of takes the piss out of superhero movies, but not to the point of obnoxious parody like how it seemed on paper. As someone who likes a lot of comic book movies, it was really funny and entertaining to watch. It is for sure dark and twisted, I mean this is the movie where a little girl stabs and slices people up in very violent ways. It is very darkly comedic, and as someone who likes a lot of dark comedy, it was really a movie that worked for me. You really can’t take this movie too seriously, with that said it does have some really serious and dark moments so that it’s not a full on cartoonish parody of a movie. The pacing was really good, at under 2 hours long it doesn’t give you a chance to be bored. I guess the movie isn’t quite perfect. The whole romantic subplot between Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Dave and Lyndsy Fonseca’s Katie, with Katie believing Dave to be gay and all that, it was kind of dumb. For the most part though, I had endless fun with the movie.

The cast all do a good job in their roles. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is perfect as Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass. He was really good and convincing as a nerd trying to be a superhero but really out of his depth. The scene stealers of the movie were Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy and Chloe Grace-Moretz as Hit Girl. Nicolas Cage back in 2010 gave one of his best performances in a while with this movie. And of course, Chloe Grace-Moretz is great in her breakout role as Hit Girl, a profane and violent vigilante which generated controversy given that the role was performed by a 12 year old. She was really great and was the standout of the cast of characters in this movie (even though she wasn’t the main focus). It may be a bit too late now, but she could carry her own standalone movie. Mark Strong plays the main villain of Kick Ass as a mobster. Strong has played a lot of villains (even up to 2010) but here it seemed to be a much more comedic take on a villain, he really has fun here. Christopher Mintz-Plasse also works pretty well as the son of Mark Strong.

Matthew Vaughn’s direction is all around really great and works with this material. Vaughn seems very familiar with the Kick-Ass comics (and comic book movies in general), it’s very stylish and the editing was perfect. The action scenes are genuinely filmed really well, it’s very violent, bloody and gratifying. This movie really isn’t for the squeamish or easily offended. The soundtrack was all really good, from the music choices, to the score from Henry Jackman and John Murphy, making the action scenes even better. The uses of CGI can be a little iffy at times but it can be overlooked easily.

Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass is darkly comedic, entertaining, the cast was really good, directed well, and as an almost parody of superhero movies, it’s really good. If you’re a big fan of comic book and superhero movies, this is definitely a movie that you need to check out, because it’s probably right up your alley. As for Kick-Ass 2, I remember liking it much more than most people, however it doesn’t even come close to what Vaughn did with the original movie.

Stardust (2007) Review

Time: 127 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains frightening fanstasy scenes & violence
Cast:
Claire Danes as Yvaine
Charlie Cox as Tristan Thorn
Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia
Mark Strong as Prince Septimus
Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare of the Caspartine
Jason Flemyng as Prince Primus
Rupert Everett as Prince Secundus
Kate Magowan as Princess Una
Ricky Gervais as Ferdiland “Ferdy” the Fence
Sienna Miller as Victoria Forester
Peter O’Toole as the dying King of Stormhold
Director: Matthew Vaughn

To win the heart of his beloved (Sienna Miller), a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) ventures into the realm of fairies to retrieve a fallen star. What Tristan finds, however, is not a chunk of space rock, but a woman (Claire Danes) named Yvaine. Yvaine is in great danger, for the king’s sons need her powers to secure the throne, and an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to use her to achieve eternal youth and beauty.

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Stardust was the only Matthew Vaughn movie I hadn’t watched in it’s entirety yet, I’m pretty sure that I saw parts of this movie a while ago since moments of it look familiar. Going into it, I really didn’t know what to expect. A fantasy based movie is not something that I could see Vaughn of all directors do. However, this movie was quite surprising and much better than I thought it would be, I had a good time with it.

Stardust is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, throughout it’s a purely fantasy movie and really leans into that. Much of the movie is cheesy but in a good way, you can really have fun with the movie. You really can’t take this movie too seriously, and thankfully it doesn’t take itself seriously either. It has a bunch of fantasy adventure clichés and does very little to subvert them, so this isn’t necessarily something that you’ve never seen before. It’s also fairly predictable, you can generally see which direction the movie is moving towards. As a light, silly adventure fantasy movie however, I had a blast with it.

This movie has such a surprisingly large cast, young Henry Cavill and Ben Barnes appear in minor roles and even the legendary Peter O’Toole shows up for a brief appearance. On the whole the cast did very well. Claire Danes and Charlie Cox are the leads and they really worked. The interactions between the two characters were pretty typical of fantasy romances but Danes and Cox still had some good chemistry together. Michelle Pfeiffer is I guess the primary villain of the movie as one of a trio of witches looking to get Claire Danes. Pfeiffer really hams up her role at just the right level, and it really works for this movie. Mark Strong has played multiple villains and he also plays a villainous sort of character here, however there’s something about him here that’s just so entertaining to watch, he’s definitely having fun here. The MVP however was Robert De Niro who shows up in a supporting but memorable part here, definitely the standout from the whole cast. Other supporting players like Sienna Miller also play their roles well. Honestly the only one that didn’t really work was Ricky Gervais who appears briefly and even in that short time was really out of place.

This doesn’t actually feel like a Matthew Vaughn film and I don’t mean that in a bad way. He’s actually handled this movie very well. As I said with the writing and story, this movie really leans into the fantasy aspect and it’s done very well, the production design and costumes are on point. At times the visuals can look a little dated but you can look past it, because most of them are really nice to look at, even a decade later.

Matthew Vaughn’s take on a fantasy movie with Stardust was way better than I thought it would be. Even the cheese and the over the top elements were entertaining, it knew what it was, and the cast were really good here. There are for sure better fantasy movies and it’s by no means a classic, however I just really had a lot of fun with this movie. It’s worth a watch at least.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Review

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Time: 127 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence and offensive language
Cast:
Gary Oldman as George Smiley (“Beggarman”)
Colin Firth as Bill Haydon (“Tailor”)
Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr
Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux
Ciarán Hinds as Roy Bland (“Soldier”)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam
David Dencik as Toby Esterhase (“Poorman”)
Stephen Graham as Jerry Westerby
Simon McBurney as Oliver Lacon
Toby Jones as Percy Alleline (“Tinker”)
John Hurt as Control
Director: Tomas Alfredson

A retired spy, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is summoned by the Government to investigate a furtive case. With a secret Soviet agent assumed to be working within their system, will George be able to unveil his identity?

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I remember watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy many years ago, and it’s always been one of those movies I’ve been meaning to rewatch for some time. I remember finding it to be a good movie, but it was really slow and I didn’t understand completely everything that was going on, it was a really complicated movie. I finally saw it a second time, and I got all the acclaim this time round, it’s a very well made movie, even though I can understand why it might not work for some people.

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For those who don’t know much about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, although it’s classed as a spy movie, this isn’t the James Bond or Jason Bourne kind of spy movie. It’s an investigative and truly espionage spy movie, with complex and shifty characters in a morally grey and bleak world. There aren’t many gunshots, and there isn’t anything even close to resembling action scenes. It’s also a very slowly paced movie, and this will definitely turn off a lot of people, I will admit that there were moments where it got a little too slow for my liking. It’s more than just that it’s a slow paced movie, it’s really complicated too, and maybe even hard to follow at times. You really have to pay close attention to from start to finish, otherwise you’ll probably miss some vital details. It’s not so much that it’s bad at crafting the story for the big screen, in fact I heard that it was well done considering the source material was apparently extremely hard to follow as it was. There are just a lot of moving parts, plotlines and characters that you have to pay attention to. Even having known much of the plot from the last viewing, after my second viewing I still had to look up a couple of things about the plot to clarify a few things I wasn’t certain about. As I was, I was invested in what was going on, even if it dragged in parts and I was lost in moments. The writing is quite strong, and the dialogue quite layered, with intimate character moments and subtext carefully placed throughout. Now having quite a good understanding of what happened, I think I’ll get this movie even more on a further 3rd viewing.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has such a great ensemble cast, and all of them worked well together. Gary Oldman plays the lead character of George Smiley, and he absolutely transforms into the role. Smiley is calm and collected, yet captivating in every scene. He’s quite effectively subtle, conveying so much without having to say much. The rest of the cast are at the top of their game, with Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds and John Hurt all giving great performances. The highlights out of all of them for me were Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy doing so much in their screentime.

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Tomas Alfredson directed this movie quite well, he really set it well in the time period of the Cold War. The cinematography was by Hoyte Van Hotema, who shot the movie very well. It’s a very grey looking movie, yet it somehow still manages to be visually stunning and stylish. Tomas also does well at building up an effective atmosphere. The score by Alberto Iglesias is also great and fits the movie quite a bit.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy won’t be for everyone, especially if you’re expecting a fast paced movie, it might even test the most patient of viewers. From the second viewing however, I found it to be a complex, deeply layered story, directed very well and features outstanding performances from its ensemble cast. I liked it a lot more on a second viewing, and I think that I will like it even more the more I come back to it.

1917 (2019) Review

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1917

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Depicts graphic & realistic war scenes
Cast:
George MacKay as Lance Corporal Will Schofield
Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Tom Blake
Mark Strong as Captain Smith
Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie
Richard Madden as Lieutenant Joseph Blake
Claire Duburcq as Lauri
Colin Firth as General Erinmore
Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie
Director: Sam Mendes

During World War I, two British soldiers — Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) — receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades — including Blake’s own brother.

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I’ve heard about 1917 for a while now. I knew that it was a World War 1 movie being directed by Sam Mendes, and was being shot by Roger Deakins, with much of the movie made to look like it’s shot in one continuous take. With awards season ramping up and it getting some attention, there was much talk about the movie. While narratively 1917 isn’t great, it’s pretty much outstanding on every other level.

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1917 is a simple story, our protagonists have to get to a particular place with not a lot of time to spare, and a lot of danger along the way. It’s also not contemplative about the nature of war or the like (closer to Black Hawk Down than Apocalypse Now), this is intended as an tense, action war thriller, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you aren’t immersed in what’s going on and don’t feel somewhat tense at least once within the first half hour, you might be a little bored throughout, because most of the movie is the main characters going from place to place, and occasionally getting shot at. There are already plenty of comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, another war movie released a couple years ago. I’m not going to talk about which is better, but to illustrate my next point I’ll compare them briefly. Dunkirk is a pure war movie experience, and although there are many characters throughout, there’s not really any focus about their journey and you don’t learn anything about them, it’s more them trying desperately to survive and succeed at what they had to do, and that worked for the movie. 1917 isn’t a character study or anything but it does have a little more characterisation, mostly with the lead characters. This is mostly shown during the downtime scenes, which is usually when they’re out of danger and are talking about things. Unfortunately, these scenes don’t work quite as well. They seem to grind the pacing to a halt, which I’m fine with, but in order for them to work you actually have to care about what’s going on beyond the basic level of them being human beings and our main characters. While you’re on board and wanting the lead characters to succeed in their task, you aren’t invested enough in them, so during these moments you don’t really feel much and you’re mostly just waiting for the next exciting thing to happen. While I wouldn’t trade these scenes for more scenes of tensions or action and the scenes aren’t bad by any means, this movie might’ve been fantastic if these scenes were handled better. With all that being said, the emotional payoff at the end is surprisingly effective.

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As seen in the trailer, there are many big names in this movie, with the like of Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others involved. They are good in the movie, but they are pretty much one scene cameos playing notable supporting characters along the way. Instead the leads of the movie are George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, and both give great emotional and physical performances throughout. While the character work doesn’t exactly great (as I said up above), the acting from both more than made up for it. MacKay in particular is great, and in a less stacked year would be getting awards consideration.

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While I’m not sure that I’d call 1917 Sam Mendes’s best movie, his work here is undeniably fantastic. His task was incredibly ambitious on a technical level, and he managed to pull it off. Let’s talk about the one take shooting. Roger Deakins is great as a cinematographer, but this ranks amongst some of his best work. As mentioned earlier, much of the movie is made to look like it’s filmed in one continuous take. There are moments where you can probably guess where they made a cut between two takes (like when entering a location of darkness or when something is blocking the camera), and there is one very distinct cut to black at one point, but otherwise everything else is made to look like it’s in one shot. Some people have called this a gimmick understandably, but I don’t think it’s a gimmick. It immerses you into what’s going on with the lead characters as they struggle to navigate their environment. There are some truly stunning sequences, both with the camera movements, and the actual visuals themselves. The environment, production design, costumes, and the like are also well handled, and the one take shooting shows them off in how much attention to detail it all is. It’s dark, grimy and unpleasant, like it should be made to look. Outside of the very clear downtime scenes, you don’t feel safe in the rest of the scenes, and there’s a level of tension throughout. Thomas Newman composed the score, and it does very well to ramp up the tension.

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When I say that 1917 is a pure cinematic experience that works best when watching it on a big screen in a cinema, I mean it as a double edged sword. It’ll very likely be one of the best cinema going experiences you’ll have from a 2019 film, however I don’t know how well it’s going to hold up after it leaves cinemas. So I implore you to go watch 1917 on the biggest screen possible. As that, it’s a fantastic thrill ride (despite some complaints I had with the characterisation and narrative), and it’s really worth seeing. Even if it doesn’t fare that well after it leaves cinemas, Sam Mendes’s work here is absolutely masterful, and the acclaim on that front is deserved.

Shazam! (2019) Review

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as William “Billy” Batson/Shazam
Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana
Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick “Freddy” Freeman
Djimon Hounsou as Shazam
Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley
Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield
Ian Chen as Eugene Choi
Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña
Marta Milans as Rosa Vasquez
Cooper Andrews as Victor Vasquez
Director: David F. Sandberg

We all have a superhero inside of us — it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi). Still a kid at heart, Shazam revels in the new version of himself by doing what any other teen would do — have fun while testing out his newfound powers. But he’ll need to master them quickly before the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) can get his hands on Shazam’s magical abilities.

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Shazam was one of my most anticipated films of 2019. While I wasn’t familiar with the comic book character, I’ve liked most of the DCEU thus far, and seeing this very different character introduced to it, as well as its different tone, had me interested to see it. Plus, I liked the cast involved and the trailers were pretty good. I expected a fun comic book movie, and Shazam surpassed my expectations, a surprisingly emotional yet entertaining and heartfelt superhero movie.

There’s a couple of standout things to note right out of the gate. The movie is very much standalone from the rest of the universe, while there are definitely references to other superheroes like Batman and Superman (mostly from Jack Dylan Grazer’s character) and it definitely exists in the DCEU, it doesn’t rely on it too much. Parts of the movie leave room to explore teased characters and aspects for sequels without outright sequel baiting. In fact, I’d say that you don’t need to have seen any of the other DCEU movies to get the full experience with Shazam. Another thing is that despite all the magic involved, it’s a pretty grounded movie. At its core, it’s a coming of age story with a kid having superpowers. Even with the climax with Shazam flying around fighting the villains of the film, none of it feels world ending, the stakes feel a lot more personal. It might also genuinely be one of the best written comic book movies. As you could probably tell from the trailer and the rest of the marketing, it’s a bit of a comedy. However, it’s not a spoof like you’d expect it to be, all the elements are very well balanced in fact. Now while some might be quick to think that this might be just a MCU movie, a non R rated comic book movie with comedy doesn’t inherently mean it’s going to be that. This is not to slam the MCU, but there’s something about the comedy here that was just really great, with all of the comedic beats just really working for me. Make no mistake, it is lighter than the other DCEU movies but at the same time still firmly in this universe. It’s a bit darker and scarier than you think it would be, in a way that served the story. It’s also a surprisingly emotional movie, as often as you probably hear this about movies, at its core the movie is about family and is a lot deeper than you’d expect. Although Shazam seems like a familiar comic book movie, there some surprises that you don’t necessarily expect (especially towards the third act), so definitely go into it not knowing too much about it. And I’m obligated to let you know that there are some credits scenes, the first being a setup for parts of the Shazam sequel (albeit a really weird and obscure one), the other being more comedic.

The cast all played their parts very well. Asher Angel plays Billy Batson, a troubled orphan who would gain the power of Shazam, and he plays his role very well. Zachary Levi is perfect as Shazam, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. He’s definitely a little kid in the body of a full grown man, and is probably even more childish than Batson as the kid, and the difference between the two seemed to be a deliberate choice. The development and character arc of Billy Batson/Shazam was great and was one of the highlights of the movie. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman stole every scene he was in as one of the foster children that Billy knows and first reveals his Shazam identity to. He plays off of Angel and Levi incredibly well and even has his own character arc. Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand and Faithe Herman as the other foster kids, and the foster parents played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans were also good. Djimon Hounsou as the wizard Shazam does well in the few scenes that he’s in. Mark Strong plays the villain of Dr Sivanna and he works pretty well. They set him up and give him clear cut and believable enough motivations but he’s nothing special, there’s not much development he goes through after he’s established. I guess they didn’t want the villain to overshadow Shazam, and a character as major as his primary comic nemesis Black Adam would certainly overshadow him. With that said, he was a threatening antagonist to Shazam and was also pretty ruthless (I mean he really has no problem with killing kids). He also sort of served as a dark parallel to Billy Batson with regard to the backstory and similarities between the two. Strong, who is used to playing plenty of villains by now, make this role even better with his performance and looks like he’s having a ton of fun here.

David F. Sandberg is known for his horror movies with Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. However like Wan with Aquaman, he made the transition to comic book movies very well. This is a stunning looking movie, and it was made with the budget typically half of most comic book movies, and they achieved a lot with what they had. As I said, it has a grounded feel to it, and the way it was shot certainly helped with it. At the same time when it came to the action sequences, they were filmed really well and were entertaining. Like with Aquaman, Shazam surprisingly has some horror aspects to it. The actual costume of Shazam works well, it could’ve been overly goofy and on the set pictures it really didn’t look good, but they really made that costume work on screen. Most of the visual effects were good, it’s about at the level of most modern blockbusters (with budgets twice the size as Shazam’s), so make of that what you will. The worst of the effects were for the CGI villains (whom I’ll keep vague if you don’t know who they are already), they are honestly look pretty bad at times and a little too goofy (and not in a good way), they look straight out of an average comic book movie from the 2000s and it’s a little distracting.

Shazam is a pleasantly surprising movie, the cast played their roles greatly, its written very well and is a well rounded, heartfelt comic book movie. Even if you’re not a fan of the DCEU thus far, I highly recommend the movie, I think you’ll have a good time with it. I’m looking forward to seeing Shazam appear again, as well as inevitably Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam, who we will hopefully be seeing very soon.

Green Lantern (2011) Review

Time: 114 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern
Blake Lively as Carol Ferris
Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond
Mark Strong as Thaal Sinestro
Angela Bassett as Dr. Amanda Waller
Tim Robbins as Robert Hammond
Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur/Green Lantern
Taika Waititi as Thomas Kalmaku
Director: Martin Campbell

Sworn to preserve intergalactic order, the Green Lantern Corps has existed for centuries. Its newest recruit, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), is the first human to join the ranks. The Green Lanterns have little regard for humans, who have thus far been unable to harness the powers of the ring each member wears. But Jordan, a gifted and cocky test pilot, may be the corps’ only hope when a new enemy called Parallax threatens the universal balance of power.

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2 years before the DCEU was started with Man of Steel, WB tried to create a DC cinematic universe with 2011’s Green Lantern. It had all the makings of a good comic book movie, you have a great cast including Ryan Reynolds and Mark Strong and on top of that, its directed by Goldeneye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell. Green Lantern however ended up being way worse than it should be, it fails to entertain or interest on any level, and just feels like wasted potential in the end.

First thing to note is that Green Lantern has a very silly tone. It feels like WB was trying to replicate the Marvel films with DC, and with the MCU running a good few year at the time of GL’s release, that could very well be what happened. It’s quite comedic and ridiculous at some points oddly. Unfortunately despite the light and almost cartoonish tone, it’s not very entertaining, not even on a so bad it’s good level. On top of it being too silly, it’s also not very interesting. Despite it being an hour and 45 minutes long, Green Lantern drags a lot. I’m not sure what happened with the script. It just feels empty, they throw a lot of lore at you but none of it really sticks, there’s nothing about the way that the film told the backstory of the Green Lanterns that made me interested in them. Honestly they sound more interesting on paper than how it’s presented in the actual movie. There is no emotional connection to what’s going on, things just happen, and you watch them happen but you don’t care about any of it. By the end it didn’t feel like much has happened. There is a lot of wasted opportunities as well, for example a big part of the film is these Green Lantern rings which allow the people who use them to create anything they can imagine, however nothing that creative even comes of that. It’s such a shame that Green Lantern really doesn’t get much right, it’s not entertaining, it’s not interesting, it’s rather empty and feels much longer than it actually is.

There is a lot of talented actors here and many of the casting decisions are great. Unfortunately they aren’t enough to elevate the film in an immense way. Ryan Reynolds to be fair is actually a great pick for Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and Reynolds does his best with what he was given. He is however let down by the material given to him. The supporting actors with Blake Lively, Angela Bassett, Temuera Morrison, Taika Waititi and others are fine enough but really don’t give that great performances, it’s not on them though and they are fine enough. Mark Strong is a perfect casting choice for Sinestro but he’s not even the main villain, and he doesn’t get as much screentime as he should. I guess he was being set up to be a villain in later movies but as sequels didn’t happen he just feels wasted. He was really good in his scenes though. The actual villains were really bad. Peter Sarsgaard I’ve heard is a good actor and I don’t blame him for his performance here. In short he’s some random guy who gets a big head and powers and is over the top and goofy, terrible performance, again not putting this on Sarsgaard. He’s not even the main villain, it’s this CGI creature thing called Parallax. I’ve seen many bad comic book movie villains, from Nuclear Man, to Poison Ivy to Incubus. But I think Parallax is the worst comic book movie villain I’ve ever seen. The CGI on him was awful but also there’s absolutely nothing to the character and we don’t see too much of him anyway.

This film is directed by Martin Campbell but you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching the movie. The filming of the action sequences is fine enough but it’s not that great. It doesn’t help that the CGI is so awful it’s actually unbelievable, everything from the CGI suits, to the backgrounds, Parallax and beyond, everything looks bad. The decision to have the suits be CGI was particularly poor, they even gave Ryan Reynolds a goofy CGI eye mask. Nothing feels real and I know that most of what happens can’t be created in reality but they could’ve at least made it better so that the special effects don’t constantly feel artificial and fake.

I personally think that Green Lantern is the worst comic book movie of the 2010s thus far, though there are worse comic book movies that have been released overall. Some aspects are fine like most of the actors are well cast and do the best they can in their roles but they are ultimately let down by the writing and material given. The vast majority of the story aspects falls flat and all the potential with all these characters and the world is wasted. Not only that but it’s not even entertaining, even the technical aspects such as the CGI are astoundingly poor. Green Lantern was an unfortunate misfire and really didn’t work at all. Let’s just hope that the DCEU’s version of Green Lantern is solid (though it will likely be much better by default).

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) Review

Time: 141 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains violence, offensive language, drug use & sex scenes
Cast
Colin Firth as Harry Hart/Galahad
Julianne Moore as Poppy Adams
Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin/Galahad
Mark Strong as Merlin
Halle Berry as Ginger
Elton John as himself
Channing Tatum as Tequila
Jeff Bridges as Champagne “Champ”
Pedro Pascal as Whiskey
Edward Holcroft as Charles “Charlie” Hesketh
Director: Matthew Vaughn

With their headquarters destroyed and the world held hostage, members of Kingsman find new allies when they discover a spy organization in the United States known as Statesman. In an adventure that tests their strength and wits, the elite secret agents from both sides of the pond band together to battle a ruthless enemy and save the day, something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy (Taron Egerton).

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. I’m a huge fan of the original Kingsman, it was fun, violent, different, and was well executed by director Matthew Vaughn. With the sequel introducing the American equivalent of the Kingsman (Statesman) and including some top notch actors, of course I was excited to see it. Having finally seen it I can say that I liked The Golden Circle… but I was slightly disappointed. On its own, it is a fun movie with actors having a lot of fun in their roles and some entertaining action sequences. However, there were some odd choices made with story and character, and at times is a little too over the top for its own good.

I was consistently entertained throughout the 2 hours and 20 minute runningtime of The Golden Circle, I was interested in the plot or entertained in what was going on. This movie does have one of my concerns in the lead up to its release, which was that it would feel a little too much like the original Kingsman. Not that its bad, if it aint broke don’t fix it, its just that I would’ve liked some more differences. There were some differences that were for the worst. The original Kingsman was both good at poking fun at the spy genre, while still being its own thing. The sequel however falls into self parody at times, going so over the top that its borderline Austin Powers territory, and not necessarily in a good way. There is also a sequence with Poppy Delevingne’s character which was just completely random and pointless, and it is definitely the worst part of the whole movie. Think of Kingsman 2 as being Kingsman, just not done as great. However, I almost have to give credit to Matthew Vaughn ‘s willingness just go out there and make whatever he wanted to do, despite how bonkers it can get. Silliness aside I didn’t have too many problems with the plot, there were some decisions with some of the characters that were rather questionable however (and I can’t go into that too much because that’s spoiler territory).

Taron Egerton returns once again as Eggsy, who’s now a Kingsman agent. Taron is flawlessly charismatic and likable as ever. Usually I wouldn’t mention this up because it may be a spoiler but since the marketing seemed to show it, so I guess we can talk about Colin Firth returning. As usual, Firth is effortless as Harry Hart in both his action and non action scenes. I’m not a fan of characters in big franchises being brought back from the dead, but I have to admit it’s nice seeing Colin again. Also, the explanation for Harry returning is fairly good. Mark Strong also returns as Merlin, getting even more to work with than in the original.

One of the reasons I was so hyped for Kingsman 2 was the talented actors involved with Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal. I wouldn’t say that they are used to their fullest potential in this movie but they do very well to leave an impression in their scenes. Don’t let their talent fool you, in the film they are very much supporting characters, some only appearing in a few scenes. With that said, apparently the original running time of The Golden Circle was 3 hours and 40 minutes, so who knows, maybe they originally had bigger parts to play. The standout of the newer cast to me was Pedro Pascal, there is something that they do with his character at a point though which still kind of irks me. I also think Sophie Cookson’s Roxy (who was in the original Kingsman) should’ve been used a lot more. Julianne Moore is the villain as Poppy Adams, a drug lord. Moore is a fantastic actress but for whatever reason, her character really didn’t do anything for me. Samuel L. Jackson’s villain in the original film was silly and not threatening but he actually seemed to work for the movie. Moore’s character… not so much. She was crazy while acting all sweet and I get that’s what they were going for, but she didn’t really leave an impression on me at all. I didn’t find her entertaining or interesting, not to mention Poppy has some very weak motivations. Moore definitely did as well as she could with the role and she looked like she was having some fun, but overall her villain felt quite underwhelming, though I wouldn’t call her bad. Also Elton John is in this movie, I am feeling quite mixed about him. At times he was fine and even funny, but at times he was given way too much screentime and became just rather distracting.

Matthew Vaughn’s direction and style really worked in the original Kingsman and he thankfully returns here, in fact its his first attempt at a sequel. The action like in the previous Kingsman was pretty good and entertaining. The action with Pedro Pascal’s Agent Whiskey character is particularly great, including a scene in a bar. If you remember from the original Kingsman, there was this sort of hypercam that was used in the church scene. Well it appears here many times, and it really wasn’t always utilized the best. A good example is the opening action sequence, the action is good but the way it was filmed was rather distracting. It wasn’t terrible but it did take me out of the movie a bit. The CGI like in the original Kingsman is a little fake at times. The score from Henry Jackman like in the original Kingsman was great.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not as good as the original. It’s decent, has some good performances, its enjoyable if silly but it has some issues with regards to the plot and some of the characters. However it is so much fun to watch that I’m willing to overlook some of the issues. If you don’t like the original Kingsman, I don’t see this one being any different for you. For everyone else, give it a go and see it for yourself whether it does it for you, I know it did it for me. I’m perfectly willing to give Kingsman 3 a shot, despite some issues in this instalment of the surprise franchise.

Grimsby (2016) Review

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Time: 83 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language, drug use, sexual material & content that may offend.
Cast:
Sacha Baron Cohen as Norman “Nobby” Butcher
Mark Strong as Coddy/Commander Sebastian Graves
Isla Fisher as Jodie Figgs
Rebel Wilson as Dawn Grobham
Penélope Cruz as Rhonda George
Gabourey Sidibe as Banu
Annabelle Wallis as Lina Smit
Ian McShane as Commander Ledford
David Harewood as Black Gareth
John Thomson as Bob Tolliver
Ricky Tomlinson as Paedo Pete
Johnny Vegas as Milky Pimms
Scott Adkins as Lukashenko
Sam Hazeldine as Chilcott
Barkhad Abdi as Tabansi Nyagura
Director: Louis Leterrier

Dimwitted Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) lives in an English fishing town with his loving girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) and nine children. For the last 28 years, he’s been searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong). When the two finally reunite, Nobby finds out that his sibling is a top MI6 agent who’s just uncovered a sinister plot. Wrongfully accused and on the run, Sebastian now realizes that he needs Nobby’s help to save the world and prove his innocence.

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I was cautiously optimistic about Grimsby. It had the talent of Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong and the director has made some decent movies. However Sacha Baron Cohen can be very inconsistent with his comedy. Still, I was willing to give it a chance. This movie unfortunately didn’t really do it for me. There were occasionally a couple of okay and mildly amusing moments, and the action and Mark Strong were actually good. But for the most part it was just annoying and unfunny.

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I knew going into this movie that it would just be a dumb silly comedy with out there gross and offensive jokes, however even knowing all that, I didn’t like this movie. The movie really wasn’t that funny but what’s worse is that this film tries way too far at times to be funny. I found myself fast forwarding a lot of the scenes, mostly through the scenes where they kept going with a joke which was never funny in the first place. The ‘highlight scene’ of the movie involves elephants, and it constantly felt like they were trying too hard. Was it disgusting? Yes. Was it funny? No. Some of you probably heard that this movie had a Donald Trump AIDS joke and yes its there. But like most of the other jokes, its forced and they made a badly CG (like utter crap CG) Donald Trump, so its not even worth going to the movie to see that. Now there were some jokes that did work but for every 1 funny joke, there were at least 10 unfunny jokes. I couldn’t care about any of the characters as well or what was going on (though I feel like that wasn’t what they were going for). I will say this, the movie wasn’t boring. Instead it was annoying and occasionally obnoxious.

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Sacha Baron Cohen is talented but here he was annoying. It didn’t help that his character was so clueless, like borderline Chris Hemsworth in Ghostbusters 2016. That kind of role needed to be handled right to make it work well and it’s not handled well here. Mark Strong is by far the best part of the movie, though I wonder if that’s because I liked him in other movies. Everyone else really doesn’t anything much, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Barkhad Abdi have done much better in the past, it makes me wonder why they are here. I mean I know Rebel Wilson stars in dud comedy films but what is Ian McShane doing here?

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The director of this film is Louis Leterrier, who has done some action movies with Now You See Me, The Incredible Hulk, The Transporter and Clash of the Titans. Because of this, the action scenes are actually pretty good and are entertaining. There are a couple of segments where its done in first person and its done well. However I will say that this movie does have a lot of lazy CG at times.

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The one thing I will say about Grimsby is that it will definitely get a reaction out of people, positive or negative. This film has a couple mildly amusing jokes, enjoyable action scenes and Mark Strong. Aside from that however, this film was just annoying to sit through. If you really want to see this movie, at least go in knowing what you’re in for. I didn’t like it even though I knew what sort of movie it was. But hopefully plenty of other people can enjoy it.