Annihilation

Year: 2018
Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Alex Garland had been floating on the edges of Hollywood fame for years before he made it big. He’s a talented writer who is responsible for genuinely great films like ’28 Days Later’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, and ‘Dredd’, but it was the leap to directing that truly put him on the map. 2014’s ‘Ex Machina’ was a critical smash hit as it earned award nominations in various categories at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and the Oscars. Alex Garland was suddenly a household name and we all waited with bated breath to see what he will do next. Enter ‘Annihilation’.

‘Annihilation’ sees a mysterious governmentally quarantined zone, Area X, being studied to find out what exactly it is. They’ve named it ‘The Shimmer’ after it’s gorgeously shimmery quality when you look at it, but it remains a mystery beyond its name because if you go into The Shimmer, you don’t come back out. Until, that is, Oscar Isaac’s Kane returns from The Shimmer. Cellular biology expert and Kane’s husband, Lena (Portman), is called to help study The Shimmer, and she joins a team of scientists and soldiers to enter The Shimmer on yet another expedition to explore Area X to discover the truths behind it and what exactly happened on Kane’s mission.

Writing that short summary took far too long. ‘Annihilation’ is a film that’s hard to qualify. On the surface, it does seem like a high concept science-fiction, but looking beyond that, it’s a film with tremendous depth and meaning that has spawned hundreds upon hundreds of YouTube videos and articles and film essays studying it. I fear that going into too much detail about the story will ruin the surprise and genuine shocks the film has in store. More than any film I’ve seen recently, ‘Annihilation’ will serve you better if you go in as blind as possible.

What I can talk about, though, is the sheer quality of the film. ‘Annihilation’ is a film that takes a lot of commitment from everyone involved – actors, writers, set designers, special effects artists, editors. It’s a film that has been known to lose a fair few of its viewers because of how complex it becomes as the expedition team head deeper into The Shimmer. It’s a film that plays games with genetic mutations, time and space, using all the elements of the Earth (and elsewhere?) to confound its team and its audience into questioning everything they’re seeing. The end result, however, is a film that truly is firing on all cylinders.

Starting with the actors, the expedition team all leave an impression one way or another. They all have their justifications for going on what’s become a suicide mission, but the film does a masterful job of investigating these characters and letting us understand them as people. Each of the team, from Portman to Thompson to relative newcomer Novotny, gives their character nuances and extra moments where they are just themselves to help them come alive. All of the performances here are terrific; Tessa Thompson’s Josie has a dreamy quality to her as the team’s nature expert, and Dr. Ventress (Jason Leigh) is the most mysterious of the team but Jason Leigh imbues her with a desire for the truth unmatched by anyone else.

Natalie Portman is naturally the stand out given her bigger role in proceedings. She brings all of her talent, her Oscar winning gravitas to a role that requires dedication and commitment to the extremely high concept ideas that are being thrown at her. Lesser actors would have struggled with the workload of the final act, but here is where Portman excels as she gets closer and closer to finding out answers for her burning questions.

‘Annihilation’, all being well, is sure to earn itself accolade after accolade next year, none of which will be more deserving than for special effects. Given all the blockbusters we’ve had this year – ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Deadpool 2’ – ‘Annihilation’ stands tall as the best looking film of 2018 so far. The Shimmer itself is a stunning achievement, an idea that seems impossible to convey on screen after having read the book upon which the film is based, is shown beautifully, and every shot of The Shimmer makes you stop and stare in awe at what Garland and co. have achieved. Within The Shimmer, without spoiling too much, the set designers and the special effects team have pulled no punches as they’re allowed to go as batshit crazy as they want given The Shimmer’s mutating quality. Creatures, plants, buildings are all spliced together to create things we haven’t seen on screen before. The characters are amazed by what they’re seeing, and so are we along with them. Whatever you think of ‘Annihilation’, the visuals and the production are universally agreed to be stunners.

‘Annihilation’, tragically, failed to earn the support from distributors around the world. It was shown in cinemas in North America and China, but the rest of the world were given ‘Annihilation’ via Netflix. Netflix are a fantastic company, providing a platform for filmmakers around the world to show their work to as wide an audience as you can imagine, but ‘Annihilation’ is different. ‘Annihilation’ is a film from an Oscar nominated filmmaker, with multiple A-listers attached, and arguably most importantly, it’s different. It’s a book adaptation, sure, but it’s not a sequel, not attached to a franchise, for all intents and purposes, it’s new. Why are studios so scared of new ideas? Why are they so reluctant to take risks. Paramount, the production company who picked up the rights to distribute the film in North America only, aren’t exactly strapped for cash. They have the box-office behemoth that is ‘Transformers’ under their belts, along with franchises like ‘Shrek’, ‘Kung Fu Panda‘, and ‘Mission Impossible’. Take some risks. Let your audience see something different for a change.

‘Annihilation’ is a film that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible. When it was released, I went as far as upgrading my Netflix account to 4K purely to watch a film, and in the week or two before the film’s release I bought a new 4K TV. Did I buy a new, big TV purely to watch ‘Annihilation’ in a medium close to what it deserved? I can neither confirm nor deny that. What I’m saying is – ‘Annihilation’ is worth your time. It is worth sitting down and watching something you almost certainly have never seen before. It’s a miraculous achievement in filmmaking across the board, and it deserves your attention. It’s on Netflix right now. Watch it, experience it, and prepare for it to take over your every thought for some time.

Rhys’ Rating:

5

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The Polka King

Year: 2018
Directed by: Maya Forbes
Starring: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver

WRITTEN BY ELENA MORGAN

Local Pennsylvania polka legend Jan Lewan (Jack Black) unwittingly develops a plan for his many elderly fans to invest in him, that turns out to be an illegal Ponzi scheme. Soon events start spiraling out of Jan’s control as he’s investigated for fraud, and people start to want their money back.

Amazingly ‘The Polka King‘ is based on a true story which makes Jan and his antics all the more strangely endearing. Because that’s the thing, Jan seems like a generally nice guy who enjoys making people happy with his music. He didn’t even realise his insurance scheme was illegal to begin with and when he did, he was already in too deep and didn’t know how he could fix it. There probably was an element of greed too as he enjoyed being able to get his clueless but lovely wife (Jenny Slate) anything she might want.

Jan and his story have a bit of the ‘American Dream’ about it. He’s a Polish immigrant who wants to make a better life for himself in America through his music but no matter how hard he works its never enough. He’s doing multiple jobs, has a shop and once played at 400 picnics in a year but until his fans started investing in him, he never really got anywhere.

‘The Polka King’ is funny and one of the nice things about it is that it doesn’t go for the easy or silly jokes, instead the humour comes from these larger than life characters portrayed by some great actors. Jack Black is brilliant here, he’s funny and charming, and even when he’s lying to everyone he still feels like a good guy at heart. Jason Schwartzman plays Jan’s bandmember Mickey Pizzazz and he’s also brilliant. Jacki Weaver as Jan’s mother in law is a standout as she’s the only one who thinks that Jan is up to no good but naturally no one believes her.

‘The Polka King’ does tread a fine line as it never sugar-coats Jan’s actions, but they could be treated more seriously at times, especially the amount of money vulnerable people trusted him with and subsequently lost. Jan, and the film itself, love the theatrics but while it all looks great on the surface, it never really looks behind Jan’s joyful appearance to see what’s really going on with him.

The story itself is pretty predictable but the script and performances make it more fun than you’d expect. Oh, and the music is ridiculously catchy, and you will probably be humming a polka tune long after the credits roll.

ELENA’S RATING:

3 STRSR

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Written by Chris Gelderd

In 10 films spanning 41 years, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is the first of the franchise that started and ended production under a big black cloud. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, wanting to make a “space comedy” were let go just 6 months into production due to creative differences. Acclaimed director Ron Howard came on weeks later to carry the film forward. Following that, extensive re-shoots were carried out to shape the film into the vision Howard and LucasFilm intended.

But before all this happened, the fans and critics were divided. Do we need or even want a film about a young Han Solo, a character immortalised in three films by Harrison Ford. Does the story of how he became the roguish smuggler and pilot with a bounty on his head and a large walking carpet as a friend need to be told? Who will ever be as talented and physically similar like Ford to pull this off? Will this fit into the wider Star Wars timeline or just be totally unique?

These questions never went away, and coupled with the rumours and hear-say and negative views on the production, it’s safe to say ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ has had a mountain to climb just to get where it is today and win over audiences and critics alike.

Well, you can forget the woes about a trouble production and leave your picky questions at home because this space Western is slick, stylish and shows no sign of trouble at all. It’s a fun and light-hearted space adventure, just the sort George Lucas envisioned back in 1977. There is no dark, brooding conflict and mystical power hanging over the story – not to say there isn’t plenty of menace – and there are no Jedi Knights, Force powers and tedious links to the Skywalker story. This is how Han became Solo.

Think of it as a watered down ‘Casino Royale’ for all generations.

From the outset, Alden Ehrenreich had near impossible shoes to fill. Yet to enjoy his performance, we owe it to this talented actor to see he is portraying not Harrison Ford, but Han Solo. A character we know nothing about at this young age. Yes, it’s hard not to look for Ford in him, but if you look BEYOND the man he becomes, you enjoy him all the more for it. Alden bleeds Ford’s mannerisms in subtly, such as his stance, the way he fires his blaster and that dry sense of humour starting to form. He carries the film and proves that he was the right choice to cast.

Emilia Clarke is a little hard to buy into at first, and she only comes to life more in the second half. She may be a talent on the small screen, but somehow her presence on the big screen never leaps at you and she’s just a little forgetful for most of the time, and you don’t buy her relationship with Han as much as you probably should. Paul Bettany is our merciless villain, and while he also is a little glossed over sadly, he commands much of the threat our heroes face in the film and it’s refreshing to NOT be an Imperial officer or a Sith Lord as the bad guy.

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, equally having a big character to represent like Solo, does a fine job here. He’s smooth, charming and equally proud to look good and fight the good fight. The film could have benefited from more of his friendship with Solo to blossom, because you’re left wondering is this it? Is this the last time they see each other until the frosty reunion of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ a good 15 or so years later? You probably expected more, but you at least get to understand Lando’s ESB greeting of “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler!”

Chewbacca finally comes to life more than ever after six films and he really does what you’d expect from a Wookiee here, in more ways than one. Seeing the beginning and formation of a life-long friendship is wonderful to see, and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing Han and Chewie together doing what they do best. Joonas Suotamo, a more than worthy successor to Peter Mayhew, does a brilliant job.

One of the best performances comes from Woody Harrelson as Beckett; a mentor, gun-slinger, smuggler and outlaw. He’s the one who guides us and Han into the world of crime and also the real dangers that the galaxy throws at you. Harrelson is instantly likeable and really looks the part, spinning those blasters and leading his crew into battle. He’s having a blast, and it shows. It’s clear all the cast are enjoying themselves in these iconic roles and situations, and that makes it easy to invest in to have fun too, but some seem to enter and exit the film quicker than you’d expect.

Characters drive the film, and they are key in making it flow. While the run time is not too hefty, and certainly doesn’t drag, the story stumbles a little in the first act. It tries to find its feet, which may be evidence of the production woes.  Another slight irk is the humour; it’s not silly humour at all but sometimes you get the feeling the script is trying too hard to be funny when it doesn’t need to be. Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3-37 is a highly off-putting and pointless character. When she speaks, the attitude and humour doesn’t seem fit for a Star Wars film. Something about her portrayal and character didn’t sit with me – it certainly wasn’t funny.

Once Howard does establish the story and the tone, it takes off a lot quicker. The story zips to various new planets in a blend of genres – from crime to drama to Western and sci-fi opera – to deliver something that adds nothing new to the timeline, but lets us have some fun out there without the need for Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker or the importance of civil wars being the focus point.

The action is slick and well executed, and the visual effects are spot-on. One bonus is that Howard seems to opt for more practical sets and action over CGI, and that adds to a much more real looking universe. From the slums of Corellia, to the dunes of Savareen and the nightmarish vortex of the Kessel Run, this is Star Wars at its finest, adventure planet-hopping best. It may be hard to adjust to a Star Wars film where Stormtroopers aren’t the main bad guys and the faceless Empire doesn’t do much or you see nothing of the Rebellion, but this is why the film is much braver than it appears.

It takes risks, it forces us to buy into a new idea and wants us to do nothing but enjoy the ride. Han Solo is just warming up and I want to see where he goes from here.

Is this a Star Wars film we needed in the timeline? Not really, but I’m glad we have it because Ron Howard just whetted my appetite for more of this sort of anthology film away from the ‘Episodes’. And on the basis of a certain cameo towards the end, the timeline just got a whole lot spicier!

Chris’ Rating: 

4

100 Years of the RAF

Year: 2018
Directed by: Richard Jukes
Narrated by: Sir Martyn Lewis

Written by Tom Sheffield

To celebrate 100 years of courage, perseverance and innovation, Richard Jukes directs a brand new documentary on the Royal Air Force. The documentary introduces us to former service men and women who discuss what it was/is like to be a part of the RAF, a look at how innovative they’ve been over the last 100 years and why that has been important to their continuous success.

Sir Martyn Lewis lends his voice to this documentary as it’s narrator. Lewis is best known for his for his news reporting for the BBC back in the 80’s and 90’s – Fun Fact: he also had appeared in ‘The World is Not Enough’ as a newsreader.

Admittedly, my knowledge of the RAF (and aeroplanes in general) is fairly lacking, which is why I was keen to watch this documentary. Thankfully it was as insightful and eye opening as I’d hoped it would be, and the mixture of footage with narration and interviews with former and present service men and women managed to maintain my attention throughout – which is quite a rare occurrence for me when it comes to documentaries.

The beginning of the documentary focusses heavily on the World War 1 & 2, showing some incredible footage of how the RAF was constantly innovating their planes to make sure they had the upper-hand against the country’s enemies. The documentary takes a look at some of the incredible machinery the RAF developed and piloted, including Hurricanes, Meteor F3’s, Vampires, and the iconic Lancaster Bombers and Spitfires. Former service men and women are introduced and share their experience of their time in the RAF and what it was like to fly into war.

The World Wars are obviously subjects that were touched upon during my school years, and there are numerous films and other documentaries that focus on them, but I’ve never watched anything before with the sole focus on the RAF during this period. The interviews with some of the men and women that piloted these incredible pieces of machinery were incredibly touching because you can really tell how proud they were to serve their country and they’re incredibly modest about their roles.

The documentary then continues to discuss how the RAF has continued to grow and innovate through the years, including their involvement in the Iraq War and the current fight against so-called Islamic State, and how they’ve played a key role supporting ground forces. During this section we’re given a greater insight on how the RAF’s role has grown over the years and how they had to adapt and innovate to new challenges and new threats. A number of current service men and women of various different rankings are interviewed and discuss their role and the challenges they face.

Drones are also discussed towards the end of the film. This technology is fairly new but there have already been huge leaps in this unmanned technology already, with a couple future hopes touched upon by Lewis.

Of course, the RAF isn’t just for war purposes. The documentary makes a great point of reminding us of the invaluable Valley Mountain Rescue (RAFMRS) division, the RAF’s involvement delivering aid to countries following disasters, and the iconic Red Arrows. Having this section towards the end of the film feels makes for an effective reminder after the first hour is mostly spent telling us their use during wars and conflicts.

The narration and footage is often accompanied by some inspirational sounding music, but it never distracts you from what’s happening on screen or from what Lewis is saying. I often find that music in documentaries can be quite off putting and distracting, especially when directors use it during real footage, but I can happily say I didn’t think this was the case for here.

With a centuries worth on innovation being discussed, this documentary manages to be incredibly informative and eye opening within it’s 94 minutes runtime. My initial fear before watching the documentary was that it might just focus on one aspect of the RAF – the pilots. Thankfully Jukes ensures there is a variety of service men and women from all ranks and time of service are interviewed, with each of them giving us an insight into their role and teaching viewers that each role they have is equally as important as their peers.

Innovation has and always will underpin the success and ethos of the RAF”

Tom’s Rating:

4

Life of the Party

Year: 2018
Director: Ben Falcone
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Matt Walsh, Molly Gordon, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs

Written by Elena Morgan

After her husband suddenly asks for a divorce, Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) decides to join her teenage daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at college so she can finally complete her degree.

‘Life of the Party’ was a very pleasant surprise. It is funny, both smile inducing gags and proper laugh out loud moments, but it’s also really very sweet and heartfelt.

Typically, you’d think that the main conflict Deanna would have to face is the fact she’s at her daughter’s college, and her daughter would be embarrassed by her and not want to be around her. That’s not the case at all. Yes, Maddie is a bit shocked when her mother enrolls in her college and there’s some embarrassing stories about her courtesy of her mum, but she really gets behind her mum wanting to better herself almost straightaway. In fact, Deanna’s core group of friends at college is her daughter and her daughter’s friends and sorority sisters.

Deanna’s best friend Christine (Maya Rudolph) is so supportive, and hilarious, and I think that’s what makes ‘Life of the Party’ so great. It has all these women of different ages, being comfortable around one another and supporting each other. The relationship between Deanna and Maddie is one of the best and most loving mother-daughter relationships I’ve seen on screen for a while.

While the characters are all brilliant, the actual plot doesn’t really present much conflict for Deanna. So, while you like her, and want her to prove her ex-husband wrong and get her degree, there’s nothing really standing in the way of that. There is the typical mean girl played by Debbie Ryan, but as Deanna is so much older than her, nothing she says gets her down. Besides from that there’s nothing for Deanna to overcome until late in the third act and everything is sorted out pretty quickly and neatly anyway.

‘Life of the Party’ is a funny, sweet and kind of charming film. By and large it is predictable, but the cast makes the ride a fun time.

Elena’s Rating: 

3.5

The Outsider

Year: 2018
Directed by: Martin Zandvilet
Stars: Jared Leto, Tadanobu Asano, Kippei Shîna

Written by Lucy Buglass

The concept of ‘The Outsider’ is a very interesting one, and partially why I was so drawn to the film in the first place. The film follows a former American GI by the name of Nick Lowell who joins the Yakuza, and that synopsis alone was enough to grab my attention.  The second reason was the fact it starred Jared Leto, as I believe he’s a very good actor based on his performances in ‘Requiem for a Dream’, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and ‘American Psycho’.

Coming into this film, I had incredibly high hopes and was expecting an afternoon of thrilling scenes and engaging characters.  As it was so easily accessible on Netflix, I also had no excuse to pass up the opportunity to get it watched. Unfortunately for me, I was left mostly disappointed by what ‘The Outsider’ delivered.

Running at 2 hours, it seems to drag on for much longer than that because the pacing of the film is poor. To be clear, I have no issue with films that have long runtimes provided they can make it work (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, for example, runs at 3 hours yet seems to fly by), but this film has tedious scenes that simply didn’t do enough to hold my interest. They could’ve easily cut out half an hour’s worth of footage and still made the film work, in my opinion. It seems strange that a film about the Yakuza could be so boring, but sadly it was.

Jared Leto’s character, Nick, doesn’t have a clear backstory and because of this he’s a very uninteresting character. When we’re first introduced to him, I liked the fact he was such an enigma and assumed we’d learn more about him, but we never really do save for a few chunks of information scattered randomly throughout the narrative. As a Leto fan, I was disappointed that he didn’t really bring anything special to the role and literally any other actor could’ve taken his place and still delivered the same story.

The characters that Nick encounters throughout the film aren’t particularly noteworthy either, as they seem to exist to just berate Nick and frown at him, and not much happens beyond that. It seems very lazy that a film like ‘The Outsider’ has so many characters that are sloppily written, with no backstories to keep the audience interested.

‘The Outsider’ did have some redeeming features, though not enough for me to say I particularly enjoyed watching the film. There are a few gory, intense moments that hold your attention and make you squirm, but much less than I expected from a supposed crime film, especially one that focuses on such a notorious criminal organisation. Cinematically, it’s a decent film to look at based on the camerawork and colour grading throughout, but the absence of any decent story makes it fall flat.

Martin Zandvliet’s cinematic portrayal of the Japanese Yakuza is mediocre at best, and not what I expected based on the marketing I’d seen prior to watching the film. I wanted a violent, sexy, engaging crime film and got absolutely none of that.

Lucy’s Rating: 

1.5

 

Deadpool 2

Year: 2018
Directed by: David Leitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The runaway smash-hit of 2016 ‘Deadpool’ saw the debut (yes, debut) of a fan favourite character known for breaking the fourth wall and being supremely foul-mouthed, as played by Ryan Reynolds in a passion project in the works for years. 2 years on, Deadpool is a household name thanks to Reynolds being widely considered the perfect man for the role and the film being supremely entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny from its opening credits right to its post-credits scene. 2 years on, we have been given the inevitable sequel a record breaking film was destined to have, and I’m happy to report that Deadpool hasn’t changed one bit.

‘Deadpool 2’ sees Deadpool fully invested in his saving-the-world-as-unethically-as-possible shtick as we are shown in the opening sequences. When tragedy strikes, Deadpool finds himself in a rut and it’s up to Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapcic) to pick him back up and continue his attempts at turning him into a true member of the X-Men. Meanwhile, mutants are popping up left and right, namely young Russell Collins, a teenager who can control fire, and Cable, a time-travelling cybernetic soldier who arrives, Terminator style, to complete a personal revenge mission.

What immediately comes across as you watch is ‘Deadpool 2′ has a far wider scope than the original. Where Deadpool spent the majority of its runtime on one section of a motorway, Deadpool 2 zips around the world in a montage sequence catching us up on what Deadpool has been up to since we last saw him. This sequence showcases impressive choreography thanks largely to its new director, David Leitch, fresh off his impressive work on ‘John Wick’ and ‘Atomic Blonde’, while also informing us that the jokes will fly at you faster than you can process them.

The wider scope isn’t only evident visually either, as the dialogue very heavily references other Marvel films, from the X-Men franchise (which Deadpool is very much a part of) to the MCU (which Deadpool isn’t a part of…yet). Some jokes come obviously (Josh Brolin’s Cable is the target of multiple MCU jokes for obvious reasons), while others are far more subtle. It also does very well at referencing lines from the first Deadpool that, granted, not many in my screening caught, but I did, and I appreciated the commitment to writing jokes to include everyone in the audience, from the casual viewers to the hardcore fans.

The quality of filmmaking itself is evident as Leitch brings his stunt related past to the film, showcasing the talent we have clearly seen in his previous work in genuinely impressive sequences like a slow-motion one-take sequence that Deadpool narrates over near the beginning of the film, as well as the fight choreography on the truck in the climax of Act 2. There are no annoyingly fast cuts to be found as the punches are given time to land and take effect; one of the biggest factors in well-shot action is the geography, and it was always clear where each character was after every hit. David Leitch is an exciting director that I hope continues this impressive form throughout his inevitably successful career.

‘Deadpool 2’ continues the trend from the first by being very funny and very entertaining on every level. The jokes do come at you at a supreme pace that you will not catch all of them even after multiple viewings, but ‘Deadpool 2’ is definitely going for re-watchability, which it most definitely is. And yet, while the film is consistently very funny, it doesn’t quite manage to tip over into hilarious territory. A few sequences come very close – Basic Instinct, X-Force for reference – but it doesn’t quite get there as well as ‘Deadpool’ does. “A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That’s like…16 walls” from the first film is an all-time favourite quote of mine, there isn’t a line in ‘Deadpool 2′ that matches this one.

‘Deadpool 2’ does a lot of things very well, not least the cast. Everyone on screen is evidently having a blast with the film, and so many of them are perfect for the role. As aforementioned, Reynolds is Deadpool, Zazie Beetz almost steals the show as Domino, the endlessly cool and very lucky (it’s definitely a superpower and definitely cinematic) member of the X-Force, and Josh Brolin for the second time this year knocks a major Marvel character out of the park with a terrific performance as the time-travelling badass, Cable.

The true MVP of the film though is Julian Dennison as Russell Collins. Fresh off his hilarious turn in Taika Waititi’s ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, Dennison has charm for days and has the ability to make any line, any look, any body movement funny. On top of being funny, Dennison genuinely makes Russell (or Fire Fist as he hilariously named himself) a character you empathise with, even as he descends into pyromania in the final act.

While there are a lot of positives to take from ‘Deadpool 2′, the film does have its flaws that teeter on the edge of having a significant effect on the film. Given the nature of firing jokes at you at an alarming rate, it falls occasionally on the side of jokes not landing. When they land, they’re great, but when they don’t land, you can feel the awkward silence in the room waiting for the next one. There are several of these moments, and they all add up into stretches of the film feeling like dead air. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the film is 2 hours long, and these long stretches of jokelessness, or unfunny jokes, stay with you.

Secondly, I have praised the film’s wider scope already in this review, but this proves to be the film’s double-edged sword. At several points, the film tries to do things that are just too much for its budget. There’s a very fun sequence that’s effectively a truck chase sequence and the truck, at multiple points, looks like it belongs in a PS2 racing game. In the final act, there’s a self-aware CGI fight (Deadpool literally shouts “CGI fight!” at the screen to set it up) that feels weightless when it really shouldn’t given the characters involved because of how blatantly CGI it is.

Finally, ‘Deadpool 2′ suffers from the same problem as the first film. ‘Deadpool’ very clearly set itself up as the antithesis to the MCU, a superhero film that breaks all the rules and refuses to follow convention, and yet follows all the rules and the convention. The act of acknowledging the conventions before they happen doesn’t excuse the fact that they remain followed. I enjoyed the self-referential nature of the film because it’s something that’s so rarely seen, but it frustrated me to see the trends followed and see missed opportunities to do change things up.

All told, I did really enjoy ‘Deadpool 2′. I thought it was funny throughout, the cast were all excellent, and it has, without a doubt, the best mid-credits scene of all-time. There are problems abound that come with trying to exceed the expectations set by a great first outing, but I honestly feel ‘Deadpool 2′ has more re-watchability than the original because of its attempts to go bigger than the first. Oh, and keep an eye out for some excellent cameos!

Rhys’ Rating:

3.5

Fred: The Godfather of British Crime

Year: 2018
Directed by: Paul Van Carter
Starring: Freddie Foreman

Written by Tom Sheffield

Freddie Foreman (also known as ‘Brown Bread Fred’) is a notorious British gangster who was an associate of the even more notorious Kray twins – Ronnie and Reggie – in the 1960s. This intimate and eye-opening documentary sees Freddie himself carefully discussing his criminal activities he admits to in his book, and also attempts to gather new details on some of his crimes.

As the interview begins, you expect you’re about to witness a former gangster open up and reveal his darkest secrets, but in actual fact this documentary switches gears and instead focuses on trying to find out how Freddie goes about his day to day life knowing what he has done and keeping the secrets that he undoubtedly does. Freddie has always maintained that his crimes were ‘victimless’ and that no one who was innocent (children, women, police, innocent men) were ever victims of his criminal activity – the full extent of which is still unknown. But Paul Van Carter becomes more interested in trying to draw out confessions of regret or guilt from Freddie who has never publicly shown an ounce of any for his criminal actions.

At the beginning of the interview Freddie is sat on the opposite side of the table to the camera, so from the second the documentary starts it feels personal and as though you’re sat opposite this notorious gangster. Despite the nature of the topic at hand, the documentary is shot in an incredibly relaxed manner – for example there are times where you can hear mobile phones ringing in the background as Carter is questioning Freddie, and members of the crew walking in front of the camera as if it wasn’t even there.

Building his own little empire consisting of clubs, housing properties, various other ventures, Freddie was quickly building a reputation in London and his involvement with crime was no secret. After being found guilty of dumping the body of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie following his murder at the hands of Reggie Kray, Freddie served 10 years – his first stint in prison. Freddie is rumoured to have been a hitman for the Krays, but this is something he has always denied.

Freddie is noticeably careful with his answers during this interview – obviously not wanting to reveal anything he hasn’t previously admitted to. Even when questioned on something he talks about openly in his book, Freddie is hesitant to reply for what I can only assume is fear he might slip up and say something that could get him in trouble. He attempts to quickly skip past his involvement in the Shoreditch ‘Security Express Robbery’, in which £9 million was stolen by Freddie and his associates. This robbery was the largest cash robbery in the UK at the time, which increased Freddie’s notoriety.

There are shots of Freddie being photographed for promotional material for this documentary where he’s suited up and looking incredibly intimidating. This is shortly followed by contrasting footage filmed for this documentary of him visiting his previously owned properties and his local pub and we see him in more casual clothing and walking with the aid of his walking stick. These more personal shots of Freddie become more frequent as Paul Van Carter’s questioning moves from trying to uncover new information, to trying to understand why Freddie doesn’t show any remorse or guilt for what he’s done in the past. The topics of feelings and emotions is something he tries to skip over during the documentary, but I would say it’s clear from his body language that this is an act for the camera.

As the documentary progresses and we learn more about Freddie, his childhood, his family life, and the repercussions his criminal activity has had on them, the camera begins to follow this aging gangster through his daily life, including a look inside his tiny apartment within a home – a far cry from the luxurious life he would have once lived with the money from his criminal activities. This insight strips away his intimidating facade that had a strong presence in the beginning and reveals the toll of Freddie’s past has taken on both himself and the people who know him.

‘Fred: The Godfather of British Crime’ is available to download May 28th, and available on DVD from June 4th – and if have an interest in British crime or find yourself intrigued by this review, I definitely recommend seeking it out.

This intimate one-to-one with such a notorious figure makes for fascinating viewing and the way in which the interview evolves from a up-close and personal interview to sort of a fly on the wall type documentary is incredibly well done and it evolves so naturally that it doesn’t feel like it’s suddenly switched from one to the other.

Tom’s Rating: 
4.5

Revenge

Year: 2018
Directed by: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

‘Revenge’ is a blood-soaked, violent and gory revenge thriller (surprise!) written and directed by French woman Coralie Fargeat. Within the last year or so we’ve had; ‘Raw’ (dir. Julia Ducournau), ‘The Lure’ (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska), ‘Prevenge’ (dir. Alice Lowe), ‘The Bad Batch’ (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour), ‘You Were Never Really Here’ (dir. Lynne Ramsay), ‘Evolution’ (dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic) and ‘Blue My Mind’ (dir. Lisa Bruhlmann) – which goes to show that European women are directing some of the best and most exciting genre cinema around at the moment.

Revenge‘ manages to feel simultaneously American, French and African. The landscape looks extremely American, but is in fact Morocco. The main actress is Italian, I have discovered (but speaks with an American accent), the main actor is Belgian, but speaks French to his two friends in the film. The film definitely has an American feel, through an outsider’s eyes, but this works well as the main character Jen (Matilda Lutz) constantly talks about moving to LA and aspiring to make something of herself over there. It is unnecessarily confusing that the film does not have a strong sense of location or a sense of where the characters are from/who they are. However, I believe this was a deliberate choice by Fargeat to make the film seem more universal and also less grounded in reality. The style of the film is definitely paying homage to the American grindhouse genre and the setting has a very ‘Breaking Bad’ feel.

Jen does not appear to be the main character at the start of the film. She is just a bimbo/hanger-on to Richard, a rich man who is having a weekend away, hunting with two of his friends (Stan and Dimitri). However, once shizz starts to hit the fan, Jen very much comes into her own as the protagonist that we, the audience, are rooting for. The film has a pretty naturalistic feel to begin with, albeit in a highly privileged setting. Jen is helicoptered into a palatial modern pad with Richard, who has conveniently left his wife and kids at home. Stan and Dimitri arrive and although they are slightly creepy, Jen fulfills her role as ‘entertainment’, including giving them a poolside dance. The next morning, while Richard is away, Stan rapes Jen, while Dimitri is aware but turns a blind eye. Richard returns and upon discovering the attack, he offers Jen money for her silence. Jen wants to leave immediately and Richard refuses, so she tries to escape. An even more shocking act of violence takes place here and this is when the tone and style of the film changes significantly. This is when the full grindhouse feel kicks in; from the cinematography and editing, to the sound design. As I said earlier, this is also when Jen fully takes the reigns of the film and things are turned on their head.

The use of colour is a big plus in this film; from the claret red blood against the dusty desert to Jen’s neon pink earrings. Sound design is another positive feature, a particular standout was drops of blood falling onto an ant sounding like gunshots. The cinematography and editing are interesting, particularly when Jen takes peyote in an attempt to dull her pain. The levels of violence, blood, and gore go into overdrive here, to the point that they lose their impact because you become desensitized (particularly to the amount of blood). I was not as squeamish about it as I thought I would be, so don’t be put off by this.

Matilda Lutz is clearly the standout here and the whole film would fall down if she were not up to the task. Kevin Janssens is also excellent as the charmingly menacing Richard. His hairy and sweaty chums are the more obvious bumbling villain types, but Richard’s evil is much more insidious. I am excited to see where writer/director Fargeat goes after this. As I said at the start, European women are making some really exciting genre cinema at the moment and (as the kids say), I am here for it. ‘Revenge’ isn’t as successful as some of my favourites from last year (‘The Lure’ and ‘Raw’ being particular standouts), but it is an exciting twist on a well-worn genre. It pulls the rug out from under you more than once and subverts audience’s expectations. It is well worth checking out.

FIONA’S RATING:

3.5