REVIEW: Mortal Engines (2018)

Directed by: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae

Written by Elena Morgan

Based on the book by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic future where in order to survive, whole towns and cities are on wheels, roaming the Earth looking for fuel. Smaller towns are on the constant lookout for predator cities, London being the biggest and deadliest of them all. If a town gets caught, the predator city ingests it and strips it for parts.

What you need from a whole new fantasy film, especially one where not everyone will have read the source material, is to be instantly immersed into this world – Mortal Engines succeeds in this. Opening with a thrilling chase as London pursues and eventually captures a small town, you’re seamlessly introduced to its world, how these towns work, and how its people live. Unbeknownst to London’s hero Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), on their newly acquired fuel source is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) a young woman who is hell-bent on revenge for her mother’s murder. After Hester’s attempt to kill Valentine fails, she, along with historian Tom (Robert Sheehan) who had naively tried to help Valentine, are flung from the city and are forced to fend for themselves.

While there are big fights, explosions, and aerial spectacles, it’s Hester and Tom slowly learning to trust and care for one another that’s at the heart of this film. Sheehan’s natural charisma shines through, and his chemistry with Hilmar makes Tom and Hester’s relationship surprisingly sweet. They’re like an odd couple, Tom is friendly and enthused about ancient technology, while Hester is wary and untrusting. Having there be no big-name actors as the heroes, means there is a real sense of peril for these characters as you soon realise anyone might not make it.

The set design and special effects are incredible, these towns and cities feel like living creatures and they each have their own unique style. The same thing can be said for the various flying aircraft as well. The costumes and props flesh out this futuristic world that’s simultaneously old-fashioned with their love of books and need for coal, but also modern with their guns and planes. It’s like steam-punk mixed with sci-fi, making Mortal Engines a world of its own.

Some subplots aren’t that great and never really reach their potential, one in particular concerns Valentine’s daughter (Leila George) and her unlikely ally. They are both interesting characters but once they’ve discovered enough so the audience is aware of what’s happening, they disappear and there’s no real conclusion to their arcs.

Mortal Engines is an action-packed, fun adventure about outlaws attempting to save the world from a greedy capitalist. What more could you want? 

 

ELENA’S VERDICT:

4

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REVIEW: Robin Hood (2018)

Directed by: Otto Bathurst
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan

Written by Tom Sheffield

With countless films, books, and TV shows about the legendary outlaw,  we can probably assume almost everyone will have have heard of Robin of Loxely, aka Robin Hood, in some form of media. The last time we saw him on the silver screen was in 2010 played by Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, and in those 8 years Robin Hood has appeared in multiple TV films and shows, including Doctor Who,  Once Upon A Time, and Alyas Robin Hood (Bow of Justice) and many more.

Hell, there’s even films multiple films in the works focusing on Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Merry Men.  Disney are currently developing one under the title Nottingham and the Hood, the Wachowski sister’s have written, and will direct, a modern retelling of Robin’s story in their film Hood, and Sony are developing Marian which currently has Margot Robbie set to star in the titular role and will focus on her character as she mourns the death of Robin. It wouldn’t suprise me at this point if Disney announced a live-action remake of their 1973 animated classic and we see Robin Hood in fox form once again..

After fighting in the crusade for 4 years, Lord Robin of Loxley (Egerton) returns to Nottingham only to learn that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Mendelsohn) has pushed the people of the city to breaking point with his war taxes and tolls and they’re forced to work in the mines and constantly beaten at the hands of the Sheriff’s guards. Robin and John (Foxx), a former Arabian soldier, begin to plan their revenge by restoring hope to the people and hitting the Sheriff where it hurts most… his treasury.

It’s clear that Egerton put a lot of work into this film, even going so far as to train with YouTube archery sensation Lars Andersen. This definitely paid off in the final product because whilst some of the CGI shots were shockingly bad (some sticking out like a sore thumb), I could at least enjoy the fact that (for the most part) Egerton was being an actual badass with a bow. The performances from the rest of the cast are pretty good across the board, despite them not really having all that much to do. Hewson and Minchin were criminally underused and the film as a whole would of benefitted from giving the pair of them more screen time, especially as we start to learn more of what the pair have been up to in Robin’s absence.

The set and costume design is sure to confuse many who find themselves watching this film. The design of the character’s clothes doesn’t quite fit in with the medieval look of Nottingham. Taron Egerton could waltz down the streets of Hollywood in his Robin Hood get up and no one would bat an eyelid. Even the Crusader’s armour at the beginning of the film looks a little too modern for the setting, so much so you could have replaced the bows in their hand with a modern day rifle and it wouldn’t have looked out of place. That’s not to say the costumes don’t look good though. Some of them are really well designed and you’ll catch me wearing the Sheriff of Nottingham’s cloak when it hits the racks in M&S later this month.

The fight choreography was also very hit and miss. In some scenes it felt like their was a bit of creativity in the way Robin fought and sparked a little hope in me that it would build up to something special. Sadly this wasn’t the case and instead the audience is bombarded with pointless slow-motion shots of fists clenching, cloaks twirling, someone drop kicking a shield, and fire.. lots and LOTS of fire. As touched upon a couple paragraphs above, the CGI in some of the scenes is laughably poor. There’s one chase scene in particular that the poor quality is really noticeable on, and it feels like the constant burst of flames they’ve thrown in throughout were there to try and distract you from noticing the poor quality green screen.

As for character development, well, there was none. We know next to nothing about Robin, other than he’s a Lord and before the crusade he loved nothing more than just spending time in his manor with Marian (and doing dramatic kissing spins). Marian and the rest of the unassembled Merry Men may as well have just been another face in the crowd for this story because anyone could have stepped into their shoes. The film relies heavily on you investing in Robin and Marian’s relationship in the opening scenes of the film to add some emotional depth to the story later on but sadly they fall flat due to the  incredibly poor writing and pacing of the film.

The writing for Ben Mendelsohn’s Sheriff of Nottingham in particular was pretty underwhelming and whilst we know he CAN deliver an intimidating portrayal of a power-hungry villain (Orson Krennic in Rogue One, Sorrento in Ready Player One), the Sheriff of Nottingham just didn’t hit the mark for me here (despite Mendelsohn’s best efforts), and winds up becoming a pretty forgettable villain.

Whilst I left the cinema feeling like I’d just wasted 2 hours of my Saturday morning, my brother had the compete opposite feeling and was pretty damn happy with Robin Hood’s latest outing. My brother is a big fan of all things Robin Hood (and archery) and there probably isn’t a film, TV show, or character cameo that he hasn’t seen. Make of that what you will…

Sadly this is yet another misfire when it comes to telling the story of one of the greatest and most legendary outlaws. Maybe one of the multiple Robin Hood films currently in development might actually deliver? Just don’t tell me it’s not worth fighting for.

 

1

The Meg

Year: 2018
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao

Written by Dave Curtis

You know it, I know it, heck even Jason Statham knows it – The Meg is not to be taken seriously. Tongue firmly in cheek, the director Jon Turteltaub has put together a surprising summer blockbuster which tries to be as big as ‘The Meg’ itself. What it lacks in genuine scares and jumps it makes up for in entertainment and enjoyment.

Loosely Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 novel of the same name The Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror which came hot on the heels of Michael Crichton’s smash Jurassic Park, it seems prehistoric creatures were hot property back then. Sadly, the plot of the 2018 feature film was written from the 101 manual of disaster movies and follows the guidelines which are all so generic. The Stath plays Jonas Taylor, an ex-deep sea diver who is dragged back into action to help rescue a submersible dive team who are stuck at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Battling his past, he must face the mysterious monster that cost him his career and his reputation. It seems he wasn’t that crazy after all.

Frankly, films like this never match the buzz that surrounds them. If its a crazy plot, (looking at you Geostorm) or just from the name *cough Snakes on a Plane cough*, often the marketing is the best thing about them. Cool posters and clever tag lines can only go so far and thus The Meg was pretty much built around the idea of Jason Statham fighting a giant shark. It’s as simple as that. Surprisingly The Meg just about rises above those low expectations that come with B-movies, I mean its no Jaws (but what is). Think more along the lines of Deep Blue Sea. In a less safe and ensured pair hands this could be rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Sharknardo films. Luckily Jon Turteltaub is a director who has helmed some big films (National Treasure 1 & 2) with big set pieces and has a history of working with CGI (The Sorcerer Apprentice) . These are all important factors because he set out to make a proper movie, not just a  film about a muscly action star punching a shark on the nose. Does he succeed? Not really, but it is a great attempt. What really lets the film down is the run of the numbers script. It truly has some dire dialogue. Luckily the willing cast attack it with gusto and conviction. Cliff Curtis looks like he is really enjoying himself.

The PG-13 rating does hamper and weigh the film down. It’s never really allowed to be let loose. The deaths are bloodless and get a bit samey after a while. (Its a big shark and one bite normally does the job). The problem with the shark is that it just doesn’t seem to impose a serious threat. For such a big shark it really should be more scary. Not that The Meg doesn’t look good. The visual effects work is better than expected. Time and money has been spent to ground the shark in reality, to try and make it believable. The Meg really shines when Jason Statham is taking centre stage. Whether he is being dragged behind a boat while the shark chases him (they use him as bait!) or interacting with the international cast, he really is at the forefront of everything good about the film. It really takes a certain type of actor to sell this kind of movie.

The Meg is a huge guilty pleasure which bounces along at a nice pace. More enjoyable than imaginable and in a summer of sequels, superheroes, and remakes The Meg is most shockingly quite refreshing. Yes it is very dumb and stupid but come on, what did we really expect?

Dave’s Rating

3

The Equalizer 2

Year: 2018
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Melissa Leo, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman

Written by Tom Sheffield

Full disclosure before I start this review, I only watched The Equalizer for the first time a few hours before heading to the cinema for an early screening of this sequel. I really have no excuse as to why it took me so long, I’d only ever heard good things about it and now I can see why! It’s safe to say that I was well and truly ready for the sequel once it had finished and I had high hopes for it seeing as Denzel agreed to return for his first ever sequel.

Following his killing spree in the first film, Robert McCall (Washington) is now a Lyft driver in Massachusetts and lives in a small complex. McCall spends his days listening and talking to passengers, and by night he helps out the less fortunate as a righteous vigilante. After his closest friend is murdered, McCall makes it his personal mission to find those who killed her and deliver his own justice. The incoming hurricane isn’t the only storm brewing…

Much like the first film, the plot is very slow paced. Clocking in at just over two hours long, the first half of the film is spent focusing on McCall’s day job and the people he meets. We are also introduced to McCall’s neighbour, Miles (Sanders), who is a young and talented artist who has taken a wrong turn in life following the death of his brother. McCall takes Miles under his wing to help steer him on to the right path, and it’s this unexpected friendship that is a strong focus in the first half of the film. Once McCall learns of the death of his best friend the pedal hits the metal and McCall’s ferocious revenge begins.

Denzel yet again manages to completely embody the character of McCall. We didn’t learn all that much about his character in the first film, but this sequel gives us a little more insight into his mysterious past and also shows us a more fatherly-figure side to him. We know he’s a very protective person, but his relationship with Miles allows us to see a deeper side to him. Ashton Sanders delivers a solid offering as troubled teenager Miles. We learn about his background during his conversations with McCall, and we witness the struggles and dangers Miles puts himself in as he continues to make the wrong decisions in life. Pedro Pascal is a fantastic addition to this sequel, but the less said about his character in this review the better the film will be for you!

Oliver Wood, who’s previous cinematography work includes the Bourne series, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and Safe House, has delivered some career-best work here. Fuqua and Wood have paid close attention to each shot, but there’s one shot in particular that revolves around McCall’s car that I had to restrain myself from punching the air because it was so quick and so smooth that when it’s available on home release I will be going straight to that scene to watch again and again. If you’ve seen it, or will be seeing it, you’ll know instantly which scene I am referring to.

Antoine Fuqua has managed to re-capture a lot of what I loved about the first film without making it feel like a copy and paste job. With the slow-motion ‘situation assessing’ shots and the brutal justice McCall serves, all it felt like the film was missing was Batman’s cape and cowl. Denzel putting on the batsuit really wouldn’t have felt out of place in this film – and I mean this is a sincere compliment. Whilst it takes a while for the action to kick off, the wait feels worth it as once it starts it rarely stops to let you breathe.

With some incredible action set pieces that rival the bloody killing spree in the first film, The Equalizer 2 proves itself a worthy sequel (even if a plot point or two are incredibly cliché and predictable). Denzel is on form once again, delivering both really touching moments and brutal fight scenes that will make you think twice about ever messing with him. Unlike most films these days, The Equalizer 2 doesn’t end with some sequel baiting tease and if this is the last time we see McCall it will be a fitting farewell, but something tells me that more of McCall’s past could come back to haunt him and we could be blessed with an Equalizer trilogy.

 

Tom’s Rating: 

4.5

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Year: 2018
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan

Written by Dave Curtis

I like to imagine it is fun being in meetings when coming up with ideas for the next ‘Mission Impossible’ film. Tom Cruise sits quietly in the corner staring out the window. The director and writer, Christopher McQuarrie, paces around behind him.

CM: Right Tom, with ‘MI:5’ we hung you off the side of plane?
TC: That was fun, I love planes!
CM: We tried to drown you already didn’t we?
TC: That was easy, I can hold my breath for ages.
CM: How are you with heights, maybe we have you hanging off a tall building?
TC: Seriously, Did you not watch Ghost Protocol? I was on top of the highest building in the world!
[Chris scratches his head….]
CM: So what I’m hearing is that you want to go higher.
[Chris joints down higher on a pad on paper. ]
[Tom spins around on his chair and jumps on it.]
TC: Not only do I want to go higher, I want it be fucking crazy. How about you throw me out of a  plane this time?
CM: Like on green screen or something. I don’t think the producers would like us to drop you from the sky?
TC: Tom Cruise doesn’t fake action… he is action!
CM: Have you ever skydived before?
TC: Please. How hard can it be, I’ll just learn how to –
CM: OK!
[Chris writes down skydive.]
TC: I’m also learning to fly a helicopter at the mo so maybe we can do something with that?
CM: Sure…
[He writes down helicopter.]
CM: Anything else?
TC: I really like Paris.
[Chris writes Paris down.]
CM: Well this already sounds great TC we’ve done it again!

[Chris and Tom high five.]
** End scene.**

‘Mission Impossible – Fallout’ is insane…

The franchise so far has come be to known for its big set pieces and the chance to watch Tom Cruise run, jump, shoot, drive, climb and nearly kill himself in increasingly dangerous situations. As IMF’s best spy, Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise is still trying to save the world the only way he knows how. He pretty much makes it up and hopes for the best. It seems he is a very lucky man.

The returning director and writer Christopher McQuarrie (the first director to return to the franchise) brings back all the familiar faces – Simon Pegg, Ving Rhymes and Alec Baldwin (No Jeremy Renner, he was busy on another small film). This is also a direct of sorts sequel to ‘Rogue Nation’ (‘Mission: Impossible 5’) so Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious Ilsa Faust and Sean Harris as the villain Solomon Lane return.

As ever the IMF team are on race against time and somewhere a clock is ticking. Hunt and team are trying to locate the remaining members of the ‘Syndicate’, who now call themselves the ‘Apostles’. He isn’t sleeping well, thoughts of Solomon Lane fill his dreams. Maybe his past is catching up with him. Lane wants Ethan to see the world he protected for so long be destroyed and lose what he loves the most.  This isn’t the Ethan Hunt of old, he is a man on the edge who seems to carry more weight on his shoulders. He is at breaking point. Lane himself, the movies MacGuffin (like the rabbit foot in ‘MI:3’), is a villain of few words and seems to be pulling strings even when behind bars. Sean Harris brings his normal intensity to role. He is even given some action scenes, but he does still feels a bit under-cooked and not as interesting as the film wants to you to believe.

The IMF crew also have Henry Cavill’s CIA agent August Walker (great name) joining them for company. Walker is a black ops assassin who is assigned to get the job done by any means necessary, whether Hunt likes it or not. Their mission, if they chose to accept it, is to retrieve some black market plutonium and stop Solomon Lanes master plan. What Cavill lacks in personality he makes up in sheer physical presence. The fight scenes feel brutal and Walker’s more heavy handed approach to Hunts more delicate touch makes for bone breaking and more believable fights. The stand out fight is the bathroom scene, it’s up there with ‘True Lies’. Cavill looks like he is enjoying playing a more questionable character and his moustache is there and accounted for, no CGI needed there.

Other new additions to the franchise such as Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow and Angela Bassett’s head of  CIA, Erica Sloan, slot in nicely. Kirby’s underworld broker shines. She is not in it much but she steals every scene. Bassett’s head edge manner also brings Erica Sloan to life, this is not a woman to cross. She’s badass to the bone. What was once a man’s franchise brimmed to the rim of testosterone, ‘Fallout’ is so refreshing. Rebecca Ferguson’s MI6 agent Ilsa Faust once again nearly steals the film from everyone. She is still a match for Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. Gone are the lingering shots of her legs. This time it’s all about her and the mission.

To be honest the ‘Mission Impossible’ films have never really been about plots and characters. It’s all about the big set pieces, the unbelievable stunt work and Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise. The plot does just about make sense, but the film really comes alive when Tom Cruise is doing some kind of death defying stunt. There are car and bike chases through the tight streets of Paris, the halo skydive (which Cruise trained a year for), crazy rooftops chases (that’s where he broke his ankle) and a helicopter pursuit which needs to be seen to be believed. Why does he do all this? It’s because he loves to entertain. He knows the audience want to see him in these situations. I also think he enjoys it. It seems Christopher McQuarrie and him enjoy pushing each other and seeing how far they can take it.

Not only is ‘Fallout’ fun to watch, it is also technically brilliant. From the score to the cinematography and the stunt work, it’s amazing to think about the hours of hard work the crew have had to put in to make a movie like this. They are the real MVP’s. I salute them.

‘Mission Impossible – Fallout’ is hugely entertaining. It is a proper popcorn flick which only has a few minor flaws. To think this franchise has been going for 22 years and it still feels this fresh and new is a testament to the director and star. I can’t imagine what they have in store for Mission Impossible 7.  Surely only outer space beckons now.

Dave’s Rating:

4

Sicario 2: Soldado

Year: 2018
Directed by: Stefano Sollima
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Taylor Sheridan has crafted himself a very successful niche in Hollywood. Following his writing successes on films like ‘Hell or High Water and Wind River’ (which he also directed), Sheridan has penned a sequel to the film that truly put him on the map, 2015’s ‘Sicario’. ‘Sicario’ is a crime thriller, directed by Denis Villeneuve and was one of the smash hits of 2015, earning Sheridan worldwide recognition for his superb screenplay and the way he handles dialogue. Flashing forward 3 years, ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ is Sheridan’s first sequel, and it’s clear that Sheridan hasn’t lost his knack for piercing dialogue and riveting storytelling.

‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ stars Josh Brolin’s CIA Agent Matt Graver and his frequent inside man Alejandro Gillick (played superbly by Benicio Del Toro) as they attempt to find a solution to the increasingly troublesome drug war on the US-Mexico border. Their solution is as American as it gets – to incite a war between the biggest drug cartels in Mexico by kidnapping the daughter of one of the cartel kingpins and staging it as a rival cartel’s doing.

‘Sicario’ did a masterful job of unpacking the American approach to the drug trade in Mexico, examining why America does it, how it does it, and what it needs to do better. It criticises everything we have come to expect from a film like this by subverting our expectations, thanks in large part to the superb role Emily Blunt played as our audience surrogate. This time, Blunt is sadly nowhere to be seen, and as Graver says when recruiting Gillick again, there are “no rules this time,” with the ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ team aiming to take a far more blunt approach to proceedings. While the overall effect of the film doesn’t match ‘Sicario,’ it delivers a satisfying follow up to one of 2015’s best efforts.

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Starting with the good, the performances are as great as we’ve come to expect from pros like Brolin and Del Toro, each of them relishing their cutting lines of dialogue to various people who sadly get on their bad side. Brolin chews up his script like a man on a mission, with the ham-fisted subtlety that we expect from a man whose plan to stop the drug war is to, well, start a different war. Graver is the embodiment of the American Way in ‘Soldado’, when presented with two options, Graver will choose the one that makes the biggest explosion.

Del Toro’s performance is far more nuanced, a welcome change to Graver’s brash nature, as he completes his tasks strategically and efficiently. He has moments of brutality, like an early assassination where he uses his left index finger to fire his handgun faster than his right index finger could for reasons other than this looks cool. Alejandro is faced with many moral quandary’s through the film, mainly related to the kidnapped daughter, Isabel (played by Isabela Moner, off the back of a supporting role in ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’). Those familiar with ‘Sicario’ will know why Isabela is important to Alejandro, but what could have been forced melodrama comes off really nicely thanks to Del Toro’s performance, the highlight of which is the eye-opening sign-language conversation he has with a deaf-mute man he meets on his travels. Del Toro continues to be on fine form whatever he does, whether it’s the subtlety of this role or the madness of The Collector in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.

Further positives for ‘Soldado’ come from its music. With the tragic passing of Jóhann Jóhannsson earlier this year, soundtrack duties were passed to regular Jóhansson collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir. The original ‘Sicario’ soundtrack is stunning, earning numerous award nominations including an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. ‘Soldado’s’ soundtrack is naturally influenced by ‘Sicario’s’, but where ‘Sicario’ knew when to include moments of levity and calm before the ensuing storm, ‘Soldado’s’ is much more consistently intense. It has some superb moments where it’s the soundtrack to a shootout or a chase sequence, but the overall impact isn’t quite as strong as the original.

That becomes a theme as the film transpires. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film all the way through, but ‘Sicario’ felt different. It had the vision of masters like director Denis Villeneuve and cinematography legend Roger Deakins to guide proceedings to where they needed to be. Where ‘Sicario’ had “the scene” in form of the US-Mexico border traffic jam scene, or where it had “the shot” in the form of the US military silhouettes descending into darkness against the Mexican sunset, ‘Soldado’ doesn’t have moments like that. It has flashes of excellence, there’s a very well-done night vision scene in the first act, and there’s a very good shoot-out in the middle of a dirt road that’s shown almost entirely from inside a car. Director Stefano Sollima, a veteran of the highly rated Italian drama series ‘Gomorrah’, plays things safer than Villeneuve did, opting for functional shots rather than impressive ones. That isn’t to say there aren’t great shots and moments in the film, but it’s not as well-executed as the original.

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“The Shot” from ‘Sicario’

‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ is a well-done film, it has great elements to it, mainly from its actors, but it doesn’t quite have the spark the original has, lacking the necessary subtlety to take on such a modern-day, real-world, hot button topic. I’ve read Sheridan say ‘Soldado’ is less a sequel to the original, it’s more of a standalone story within that world, and I buy that. I would like to see more of that. Take these characters, put them in a situation, see how it unfolds. It’s a good approach, because the further away from the original you take ‘Soldado’, the better it comes across.

I could’ve done without the final line, though.

Rhys’ Rating:

3-5

 

Escape Plan 2: Hades

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Year: 2018
Directed by: Steven C. Miller
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Xiaoming Huang, Jesse Metcalfe, 50 Cent, Wes Catham, Titus Welliver, Jaime King

WRITTEN BY CHRIS GELDERD

This 2018 American action movie, sequel to the 2013 film ‘Escape Plan’, is directed by Steven C. Miller and stars Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Huang Xiaoming, Jaime King, Jesse Metcalfe, Titus Welliver, Curtis Jackson and Wes Chatham.

Security expert Ray Breslin (Stallone) owns and operates a top security company. His team design and test secure prisons globally, but also work to free the innocent from impenetrable corrupt lockups. When one of his own team, Shu Ren (Huang), is attacked in Thailand and dropped into a secure prison known as ‘Hades’, it’s down to Breslin and his team to locate and free Shu before it is too late.

A face from Breslin’s past holds the key to Shu’s freedom, so he enlists old friend Trent DeRosa (Bautista) to help infiltrate Hades and work on the impossible; breaking in, saving Shu and finding out why Breslin’s team suddenly have become targets…

Teaming up 80s action superstars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 2013 was a dream come true for many. ‘Escape Plan’ was a love-letter to the prison/buddy films of the 80s and 90s with its simple but engaging characters and some quality action. Yet it was seeing these two on-screen having a blast in a tough-talking, bone-crunching piece of popcorn entertainment that made the original so appetising.

Five years later, at a time when nobody needed a sequel unless it brought back the Austrian Oak, director Steven C. Miller takes charge of this effort that sees a budget slashed by over 50%, a supporting cast of questionable talent, awful production, cheap and embarrassing CGI and the introduction of Dave Bautista to provide the muscle opposite Stallone. But when Stallone and Bautista appear to be in different movies until the final 20 minutes or so, the whole thing just looks disjointed and lazy.

The biggest insult, I think, is headlining Stallone and Bautista as the stars. Clearly a marketing ploy to gain interest in the sequel, but embarrassing when Chinese action star Huang Xiaoming clearly is our lead but is relegated to supporting credits. Stallone is hardly in the film, relegated to Mr. Exposition and then coming to “save the day” in the final act.

Yet as Chinese film production company Leomus Pictures helped finance this effort, the influence is clear for all to see with a heavy Asian cast and location used, which by no means is a bad thing, but trying to pull this off after a very ‘all-American’ original film doesn’t work. The themes are radically different, the tone is different – everything is so different with desperate links to keep this in some sort of “cinematic universe” revolving around a now wooden Stallone as Breslin. Clearly he’s not into this as he was the first time around, and neither is Bautista. Both have far more lucrative and appealing projects to focus on, so this just looks like a time waster to earn a fast paycheck.

Everything is convenient now as it is in most movies that rely on super-technology as a plot device. The prison can be operated by the touch of a button, and so too can our security operatives and their gadgets. In a prison supposedly impenetrable, they still handwave the fact in-mates can map the layout just by using their mind (or the Force it seemed) and can smuggle in equipment and fashion what they need when they need it to break the system.

With a strange science fiction vibe to things rather than a tense, brutal almost militaristic regime we saw the first time, the narrative plays out like a mix of ‘Mortal Kombat’ meets ‘Lock Up’, but without the fun of either. The story is unengaging, the villain is laughable and the whole set-up just looks like a TV-movie. While prison movies are restricted to what they can do and how they can do it, ‘Escape Plan 2’ manages to suck all potential from what they have to play with to offer a very slow, repetitive, un-exciting and nauseating (the overuse of shaky cam returns) slog. About five minutes of action in Bautista’s bar caught my attention and excited me. Then it was all over and I lost interest again. It wasn’t enough to gain one full fat star.

I’m glad Schwarzenegger stayed away from this. I just wish Stallone had too because he’s better than this. Then again, with ‘Escape Plan 3’ already in production, maybe I need to evaluate how I perceive his career choices.

CHRIS’ RATING:

0-5

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

Avengers: Infinity War

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joe & Anthony Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johannson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Chadwick Boseman, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Sebastian Stan, Winston Duke, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Tom Holland, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Vi Diesel, Pom Klementieff, Jeremy Renner, Benicio Del Tor, Jon Favreau, Benedict Wong, Sean Gunn, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper

Written by Dave Curtis

18 films, 10 years and it all comes down to this. ‘Avengers Infinity War’ is the film that Marvel studios has been building too ever since Robert Downey’s first ‘Iron Man’ appeared on our cinema screens back in 2008. Back then, Marvel weren’t even a proper studio, they were just a small cog in a much bigger wheel. Well, now they are the wheel. To say this is a big deal would be a understatement. This is the ultimate event movie. The hype and build up that surround the release of the film have been huge. Very few spoilers have leaked out and we are going to keep it that way. JUMPCUT will be releasing much more and spoiler filled and in-depth reviews over the next few weeks.

This is just initial reactions from the press screening that happened in London on 24th May 2018

Before the screening you could feel the anticipation in the room. Conversations were rife with the future of all our favourite characters. Where’s Hawkeye? Does Cap’s beard play a major role? Where’s that missing soul stone? Answers were coming. The lights went out and the Marvel Studio logo comes up and the crowd went wild.

For the next 149 minutes we were all putty in the Russo brother’s hands. They have woven a tale which bounces around all Marvel’s best and across the darkest corners of the universe and back again to New York and Wakanda. It was always going to be a hard job to give every character their moment but ‘Infinity War’ just about does that. With multiple story-lines, it does feel more like ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘The Two Towers’ than the normal single story narrative. The script is so tight and every word that is said is important, so listen carefully.

Thanos lives up to his reputation at the ultimate bad guy (A problem Marvel has had in the past). The Mad Titan is at the heart of the movie and Josh Brolin’s voice will send shivers down the spine of any mortal man. He truly is a test for the Avengers.

‘Avengers Infinity War’ at its best is epic, emotional and very, very shocking. It has impressive set pieces and of course it’s very funny. The few faults it does have are going to be down purely to the viewer. A knowledge of all that has happened before is essential. This is not the film for newbies. If you don’t know your Captain Americas from your Star Lords then maybe it would be best to catch up first. . Also as you expect some characters get more screen time than others, sadly some of your favs may just be bit part players. Overall this was worth the wait.

‘Infinity War’ holds true to its core and has truly raised stakes on the Marvel cinematic universal. Nothing will be the same again. Roll on May 2019 for Avengers 4.

ps. There is a end of credit scene, so don’t leave early!

Dave’s Rating: 8.5/10

You can hear more of Dave’s thoughts in his podcast!