What Happened to Monday - Review

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What Happened to Monday - Review

What Happened to Monday is a french film whose distribution rights were recently acquired by Netflix, continuing the trend of the company producing excellent TV series and documentaries while spectacularly failing to produce fictional films of even moderate quality. Much like Netflix’s earlier sci-fi original film SpectralWhat Happened to Monday sees all its creative energy invested in special effects and lavish set pieces while taking the plot off the back of a napkin. Netflix seems to be falling into the traditional Hollywood trap of viewing science fiction as nothing more than a delivery vehicle for fantastic visuals. Even mediocre science fiction is meant to say something about humanity, and it is here that What Happened to Monday commits its greatest sin; by the end of the film all the themes presented fall flat, leaving the viewer to wonder just what message they were meant to walk away with.

What Happened to Monday is part Soylent Green, part Children of Men, and part Logan’s Run,
but is a pale shade of all three. In a future world where overpopulation has lead to near totalitarian rule in England, families are only allowed one child. If any “siblings” are found to exist they are placed in cryogenic suspension until some unspecified point in the future when the population density has come down. If that sounds suspicious it’s because it is, and the entire conspiracy involving that bit of lie will be unveiled in the closing act thanks to the greatest secret in human history being concealed behind a room with floor-to-ceiling windows and minimal security – such is the script writing we are subjected to.

The story revolves around Willem Dafoe’s seven identical grandchildren, whom he inherits after the death of his daughter. He names each after a day of the week and decides to raise them in secret. The girls each share one life, with each allowed to go out on their day of the week, each sharing the same career. The story kicks off when Monday doesn’t return from work. With no other option, Tuesday goes to work and is promptly arrested by population control. Wednesday then goes out to rescue her... you can see where this goes. The days of the week are crossed off almost as fast as the protagonists until we reach the end of the movie and discover that What Happened to Monday was meant to be a mystery, though it is
so poorly executed that I thought I was watching an action movie.

The film ends on such a morally confusing note that the viewer is left with nothing but a sense of emptiness. Was the villain right? Were the sisters guilty of a high crime for being alive, thus stealing food from the mouths of others? Is humanity truly doomed by their actions? Is the intended moral that we are too selfish and emotional a species to save ourselves? The most frustrating thing is that the final act raises more questions than the rest of the movie. Raising questions in science fiction cinema is easy, providing philosophically coherent answers is where the craft comes in. When it comes to writing there is little craft here.

1 out of 5 stars

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle - Spoiler Free Review

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle - Spoiler Free Review

Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprising success upon its release. Channelling the James Bond spoof mantra made famous by Austin Powers, it had a serious edge that cut through its very British style of comedy.

With an air of nostalgia, it grossed $414.4 million and turned out to be one of the biggest successes of 2015. Two years on and fans still talk about it with a smile on their face and an anticipation of what might we might see next in the franchise.

Once the sequel was announced, the big concern was whether Matthew Vaughn could replicate that same success. After all, the surprise factor of the first movie had been replaced with expectation and that can make things extremely tricky.

The answer: Pretty much.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle knows its formula well and it doesn’t change things up. Following on from its predecessor, it contains all of the tropes that the first defined itself upon.

Naturally, we open with a slick set-piece that plays out at breakneck speed. Containing some wonderful choreography it airs on the silly at times but that’s what makes Kingsman such a special movie. Before we move on with the narrative, we’re treated to some slow motion effects that Zack Snyder would be proud of but every second of action lends itself to the story to come.

The silliness doesn’t end as the movie moves seamlessly between each act but again, it’s interspersed with more gentle moments that make you yearn for a return to how things were. Even those moments have an air of comedy about them but they’re filmed in such a way that you feel a real draw towards the characters you’re watching.

As we progress, we meet our new villainess who does really well to channel the charming yet deranged character that Samuel L. Jackson portrayed in The Secret Service. Let’s be frank, having Julianne Moore in place once you’ve had Samuel L is like going from a Rolls Royce to a Ford but in Poppy, we have a sociopath that steals each scene she’s in.

Whilst they have those similarities, the super-villains are also quite different. So much so, you’d almost say that Poppy feels more dangerous than Valentine. Yes, really.

Movies such as this always need to be bigger and badder though so that doesn’t really come as a surprise. This doesn’t only apply to the villains either. The Golden Circle also feels much more of a global film too. Travelling the globe to places like Kentucky, Cambodia and Italy, we see snowy mountains in one breath and tropical jungles in another.

It really adds to the vastness of the universe Vaughn is trying to create and it works really well with the dynamic story that we’re being told.

Whilst there are some (naturally) amazingly funny moments from our normal cast, there’s one cameo that really steals the show.

Bordering on the slapstick, Vaughn just about stays the right side of the line and the result is a character that you don’t expect but one that adds a lot of laughter at the expense of himself.

All in all, Kingsman: The Golden Circle picks up where The Secret Service left off. It’s slick, fun, action packed and downright silly but that’s what we loved about the first one. Matthew Vaughn understood that and he’s delivered on the same formula.

4* - There's no Eggsy on our faces with this one!

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IT (2017) - Spoiler Free Review

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IT (2017) - Spoiler Free Review

I’ll put it out there now, but the 1990 version of It is terrible. The writing, the acting and the way they massacred King’s mammoth novel for a watered down TV movie was shockingly poor. However, I’m fairly certain that if you asked anyone about it, they’d immediately picture Tim Curry’s frankly horrifying embodiment of Pennywise. It’s the one and only thing that was done right, and I suspect tricks people into remembering the movie more fondly than it deserves.

So I was really intrigued when they announced that they were making the movie again. Not a remake as such, but a proper adaptation of the book. All eyes were on who would be taking on that role and what he’d look like. There was a need (or a necessity) to take this version in a different direction and I hoped they wouldn’t shy away from the parts of the novel that would never make it into a TV movie. Did they succeed? Oh yes.

Set in Derry in 1989 (a shift from the 1950s basis for the novel), It is the tale of a town plagued by an evil that ritually takes its children in huge numbers every 27 years. Be that by murder, kidnap or large scale disasters, it has been happening for a long time, but it takes our band of unlikely heroes to piece it together and mount the first counter attack.

There’s so much that It gets right. It’s filmed beautifully, with a spot-on late 80s feel. There’s a distinct separation between the visual tone in certain parts of the movie, which works well to both prepare us and catch us off guard. From the bright and hazy summer days by the river, to the dark and murky mystery of when something isn’t quite right.

What Andy Muschietti succeeds at is giving us the feeling of palpable dread. It lingers. It’s always just out of sight and is clearly very, very dangerous. Mixing an epic score with the occasional 80s banger, the soundtrack weaves in and out, has your head nodding one second and your hair raising the next. It’s astonishingly well put together, and very effective.

Casting this movie right was everything. These kids are really something else. In many ways, they’re the absolute highlight of the movie. Genuinely funny, engaging and they go all in. For anyone who has read the novel, your Losers Club is exactly how you’ve always imagined them and then some. With the exception of Stan, who is the most underdeveloped (but also least interesting) character, you’ll care about them all.

Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard is a superstar. He’s given the best lines, he’s incredibly watchable and he nails it, and Jaeden Lieberher is perfect as the young “stuttering Bill”. I’ve only recently read the book, but I doubt they could have found actors more suited to these parts.

Then there’s Pennywise. Everyone’s favourite dancing, child killing clown. Curry’s interpretation was lifted straight from the pages of the book, and was incredible, so our new big bad was always going to be different.

Worry not, Bill Skarsgard is very, very good. In his opening scene, he’s childish, adorable, intriguing, funny and desperately frightening. The voice is great, the mannerisms are creepy and everything about him (including his eyes) is just off kilter at all times. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed with Bill’s performance, even if you are a little surprised at how little of him you actually see. 

It’s a shame then that Pennywise is so CGI heavy. Though there’s clearly a need for it at times, some practical effects really would have taken it to an entirely different level of horror.

Speaking of which, It is scary. For horror fans, there’s possibly nothing here that you’ve not seen in some form before, but it’s handled well. There’s no reliance on continued jump scares (though there are some genuine surprises), but instead there’s a sense of danger. And it’s brutal. If you’re concerned that they were going to neuter King’s extremely violent book, don’t be. Yes they’ve omitted scenes that genuinely couldn’t be filmed without giving the ratings board palpitations, but they don’t shy away from putting these kids in really unpleasant, disturbing and life threatening situations.

Of course, you should also know that this is only chapter 1. The novel is written in such a way that it jumps between time settings, places and backstories and it’s honestly pretty confusing sometimes, but they’ve made the decision to split the movie neatly into 2 parts, and they’ve set it up perfectly.

I can’t think of any horror movie that has arrived carrying this much anticipation, hope and hype. It is fantastic, gorgeous and scary, but perhaps 20 minutes too long. A tighter edit would have given us something really spectacular. Don’t miss it though. It’ll be remembered. 

4 balloons out of 5. Go see it and you’ll float too.

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Death Note (2017) - Spoiler Free Review

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Death Note (2017) - Spoiler Free Review

Even attempting to adapt the the epic universe of Death Note, created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, would surely doom you in having your name scrawled in the eponymous book.  So huge is the mythos of Death Note now (spawning sprawling Manga sagas, anime, tv and even a stage musical) even when the Netflix behemoth picked up the leather-bound concept, it must have been the a freighting prospect.  There may be a guaranteed global fan-base, but so devoted to the source material anyone foolish enough to look the adaptation demon in the eye and blink would surely conjure their own Kira.  However, the near life-threatening pressure of adapting Death Note for a western audience is clearly a prospect The Blair Witch's director, Adam Wingard, felt brave enough to face.  While the Netflix' rendition of Death Note does all it can to capture the elements that make its progenitor such a phenomenon, it never manages to rise above a myth ripe for teen angst.

For the uninitiated, Death Note is a supernatural book that comes with a remarkable two-fer of a Shinigami (god of death), which allows the user to control shortly before deciding the demise of anyone who's name they inscribe on the pages.  It's a wonderful conceit just begging for exploration.  However, any prospect of navigating morality or justifying murder are immediately torn from its leather-bound spine when it's clear early on that we'll be taking a whistle stop tour of the original's ideas.

To be fair, Wingard and his three writers do everything they can to make up for the fact that they just don't have a scroll long enough for the denser subtexts.  The opening introduces an off-kilter mood reminiscent of Donnie Darko, but soon scrambles it with unsuccessful jabs of humour.  The animosity between Light (Nat Wolff) and Mia (Margaret Qualley) is tantalisingly established early on and then railroaded with a lightening speed development of their relationship.  The most intriguing character, L, is as elusive as he charismatic - played wonderfully by Lakeith Stanfield, as if The Shadow grew up in an orphanage and replaced his guns with a computer - but has all his mystery uncloaked the moment we need the story to move on.  Even the stylistic draw of Ryuk is introduced in an inventively obscure shadow, only to needlessly lift the skirt of mystery.  Where at first he lurked creepily, he parades. come the second act.  Unfortunately, the commitment to condense the story eventually dissolves any of the stronger elements that kept you turning the pages. 

The undoing of the latest rendition of Death Note isn't that it fails to embrace the original's ideas or ignores too much of them.  Like the rules of the book itself, it struggles when it tries to interpret them to suit its own ends and a paired-down running time.

2* - Semi-Final Destination

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Game of Thrones S7:E7 Review - The Dragon and the Wolf

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Game of Thrones S7:E7 Review - The Dragon and the Wolf

Following last week’s thrilling spectacle, Game of Thrones went back to basics for its feature length finale. Despite the lack of action compared to Beyond the Wall, The Dragon and the Wolf played out like a perfectly scripted political drama of backstabbing (throat stabbing), revelation and lust.

It almost felt understated compared to some of the episodes we’ve been served up but it delivered exactly what a finale should. It wrapped up the season nicely and laid the path to Season 8, whenever that might be.

With filming not starting until October this year, we may not get our final season until 2019.Whilst it’s utterly depressing that we might have such a long gap, I’d rather the time be taken for it to be done right.

As it is, everything played out rather predictably but with no less drama than we’d expected. To accompany the goose-bump raising scenes, we were treated to some wonderful panoramic views that were extremely haunting. Sansa overlooking the North was one but more importantly, Jaime exiting King’s Landing highlighted how Season 8 is going to affect everyone. It was a scene that was mixed with grief and foreboding as Jaime realised what Cersei has become but it feels like there’s still a lot of twists and turns to go for the brother and sister.

That in itself is no surprise, especially when it comes to Cersei. I never thought for a moment that she’d keep her end of the bargain; primarily because it was all too easy. For an episode that focused on self-preservation, there was no way that Cersei was going to enter a truce knowing how she thinks. The surprise that she did deliver was Euron’s role. Whilst he seemed to leave a little hastily, it was completely in keeping with his character. Thrones likes to turn the tables though and Euron still being a major Lannister pawn helps Cersei’s story of betrayal and the ultimate parting of ways between her and Jamie.

Where Jaime heads next is up for discussion but it’s likely to be Winterfell now that he knows what’s coming. What he’ll be walking into is a Winterfell that’s united (for now) now that Littlefinger’s webs have been hoovered up. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see someone’s lungs fall out of their throat and it’s testament to the episode that his death wasn’t one of the bigger talking points. As it is, Sansa and Arya have been playing his little game all along and his death was long overdue. It showed that the Starks have learned their lesson and they’re starting to understand the game of thrones. You win or you die.

Whilst it’s nice to see Winterfell united, the arrival of Dany and Jon may end up undoing all of that. Not only because she’s a Targaryen but also because of Bran’s revelation to Sam. Whilst we all knew it, hearing it out loud still felt huge and it’s the 100% confirmation that we often need in Thrones. What does it mean for Ross and Rachel - sorry, Dany and Jon now that they’ve done the fondue? Considering incest was a Targaryen practice for centuries anyway, hopefully nothing. We’ll still have our Disney happily ever after where they share the Iron Throne.

That’s only if they can defeat the Night King. And what better way to finish off the season than a reminder of what’s going to happen next. We got to see zombie Viserion tear down the wall and the White Walkers finally make it in to Westeros.

Roll on, 2019 – or 2018 (hopefully).

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Game of Thrones S7:E6 Review - Beyond the Wall

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Game of Thrones S7:E6 Review - Beyond the Wall

We’re currently in the golden age of television. Since 24 first hit our screens in 2001, every series has cinematic levels of beauty and story telling that can only be achieved across multiple hours of character building. Alongside 24, we’ve had The Walking Dead (the early years), Breaking Bad and The Wire to name a few. Game of Thrones however, is simply on another playing field. Right now, it’s the gold standard for television and we’ve all just witnessed one of the best episodes in the history of small screen entertainment.

It’s no new thing for Game Thrones though. We’ve seen Ned Stark lose his head, The Red Wedding, Hodor’s death and even Dany’s destruction of the Lannister army.

Time and time again, Thrones hits us in every one of our senses and once it’s finished, it’s going to be hard for anything to reach the same heights.

In short, Beyond the Wall had everything. Last week, we saw our band of Avengers go beyond the wall and that’s where we picked up this week. Seeing so many different characters come together can’t help but raise a smile and the interactions between them added some wonderful elements of humour to an otherwise bleak setting.

Mostly, it was delivered by The Hound, Tormund and Gendry and I found myself laughing at the way they bonded and the things they discussed; something that doesn’t always happen in Thrones. In amongst that, there were more sombre and serious chats, mostly between Jon and someone else but these struck a balance that even Marvel would be proud of.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before a shift in narrative and we were in the thick of the action. The first, small battle with the dead sufficed to get the pulse racing and once the whole army had The Avengers trapped, it was hard to see how they were getting out of it.

Unsurprisingly, Thrones knack of almost perfect timing saved the day once again and Daenerys swooped in to have us all silently cheering. Even though we’ve seen it multiple times now, seeing her seated on Drogon as he opens his lungs is still breath-taking. Coupled with a sublime score, it seriously gives me goosebumps and it’s just one of those spectacles that can’t be rivalled on TV.

Another shift in narrative later, the episode hit us with anguish as the Night’s King downed Viserion. I’m not sure if I’m on my own here but I’ve always hated watching the death of an animal over that of a human. The death of Sam in I Am Legend almost killed me and every time we say goodbye to a Direwolf in Thrones, I’d always rather it was one of the human characters instead.

So naturally, watching Viserion fall from the sky, coupled with Dany’s clear emotion and the harrowing cry of the other dragons was extremely powerful. It was a cruel way to play with our emotions considering what we’d seen in the rest of the episode but it was extremely important. If all three dragons had survived, the threat of the White Walkers would have felt significantly diminished. As it is, they’re still as dangerous as ever and there’s no get out clause for Wetseros. It’s still going to be a titanic battle and that means we’ll still have the same standard of episode up to the end of Season 8.

Finally, we ended with a tender moment between Jon and Dany. It was the perfect way to close this part of the story following the rollercoaster we’d been on so far. It allowed them and us as fans to take stock of what had happened. Not only that but it brings us closer to seeing Weteros united. Now that The Hound is taking proof to King’s Landing, surely it’s only a matter of time before The Lannisters join the team. Maybe.

Whilst the most important parts of the episode were on The Wall or beyond, Winterfell also had its fair share of drama. For some reason, Arya seems intent on scaring Sansa. It’s pretty frustrating seeing as we’ve only just seen the remaining Starks reunited but the one thing it’s made me realise is that I don’t particularly like Arya or Sansa as characters in Season 7. The storyline at Winterfell just doesn’t show any signs of moving along and it’s becoming a little tedious.

It’s the smallest of complaints though and if Thrones keeps delivering episodes of this standard, it’s absolutely forgivable.

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The Defenders - Spoiler Free Review

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The Defenders - Spoiler Free Review

Before 2012 when Marvel ushered in The Avengers, the only place to get the excitement of a superhero shindig would be at your local comic book shop.  Throwing together characters strong enough to carry their own titles and seeing how they react has always been an exciting prospect.  So when the road to Avengers began in 2008 with Iron Man, a trip to the local multiplex was all it took to be embroiled in a shared universe.  Then in 2015 Marvel teamed up with Netflix to re-produce the formula, they started with Daredevil, then Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  All we had to do now was lift the remote and stay awake long enough to binge a whole season.

The street level tales Netflix brought allowed us to walk on the darker side of the super-street.  More adult themes, damaged characters and a 13 episode canvas gave us something more gitty to explore in our heroes.  Just like each series' eponymous character, the shows had their strengths and weaknesses.  Daredevil had brought us a super-crime-caper, but it's second season was laden with contrivances to introduce a mythical enemy, The Hand.  Jessica Jones entered with something a little more dysfunctional and looked unflinchingly at abuse, but wasn't quite as comfortable with it's meta side.  Luke Cage added a bit of fun into the funk and took an honest snapshot of the African-American experience.  Then entered the Iron Fist.  Picking up the mystical strands and running with it, this could've been the most fun if it embraced the 70s chop-sockey of it's inspiration.  Unwilling to commit, Iron Fist became diluted and schlocky.  

From the opening, The Defenders deftly picks the strongest themes and story lines from all five series that proceed it.  Iron Fist is still chasing the hand in Asia and still getting his ass handed to him.  Jessica Jones, still overloaded with self-loathing, drinks 'til the sun comes up.  Daredevil's rewarding intro sees his lawyer-by-day, Matt Murdock, skillfully bring a courtroom to it's knees - something it's second season dropped the cane on.  Luke Cage is freed from Seagate and returns home; all the while his swagger is soaked in hip hop and soul...and that's just the opening of the first episode.  Netflix The Defenders is respectful enough to include the best parts of it's TV origins and all the while remember the things that draw us to comic book team ups.

Having to entwine 5 seasons of backstory could break the back of The Defenders.  However, Marvel are smart enough to remember that storytelling is just as much about knowing what to leave out.  While those of us are looking for the payoff of staying with it, those just joining us need to be given an in.  Somehow The Defenders manages to tie up loose plot strands (giving the newbs some backstory), include side characters (to reward the loyal), streamline the story to 8 episodes and introduce a new big-bad without bringing it crashing down around our horns (or ears).  

Watching The Defenders bounce off one another without contriving the characters is a rewarding joy.  Luke and Danny's first interaction is an exciting anticipation of an unstoppable force trying to punch an immovable object.  Jessica's ungrateful rebuke of Matt's help is just as much fun to watch.  Regardless of the playing field, knowing more than they do about one another, gives the audience a knowing anticipation.

Watching them fight together (and each other) is also a giddy thrill that raises the bar on quality and just how much you can cram in to an episode.  What's a Marvel series now without a trademarked hallway fight?  The ruckus that closes out the third instalment is a tightly choreographed conception of combat.  There are tiny moments that punctuate the obligatory balletic boxing.  Luke taking bullets for the guys, Daredevil running scrappy interference.  The whole thing is a nerd's checkist of heroes learning to work together as they use their powers on nameless hordes of suited henchmen and ninjas alike.  

However, it's not all about them.  One of the strongest tropes of The Defenders solo outings were their villains.  Kilgrave and Fisk were some of the most underrated adversaries ever to grace our screens.  It's going to take a lot to overcome the combined might of our super-powered brawlers.  Whom better than the bitch that had Aliens running scared for decades?  Shrewdly, Sigourney Weaver channels a more confident and laid back baddie.  Her origins are shrouded, but her ability to parlay with enemies and allies alike and always come out on top seems to be her super power.  Wai Ching Ho's Madame Gao is still sublime in her undefeated manipulation.  Raising the bar on baddies you love to hate.

Amidst all the fun, fighting and fan-serving, there's still an emotional heart.  The Avengers had stoicism, bravery and Coulson's death to galvanise the team.  The heart of The Defenders sneaks up on you like a member of The Hand.  Never before has an empty doorway left such a a lump in the throat.  While Danny does take a back seat, each of our characters are convincingly developed and even get their moments to shine.  Much like the start of Defenders, come the conclusion, each character will be left to pick up the pieces from the combined show.  There's more than just an audacious gimmick here and, much like Iron Man 3, Netflix/Marvel have offered anticipation for whatever comes next in their solo outings to come.

5* - Stand By Chi

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Game of Thrones S7:E5 Review - Eastwatch

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Game of Thrones S7:E5 Review - Eastwatch

Game of Thrones Assemble!

Following the fire and fury of last week’s episode, we’re fast approaching the end game of Season 7. The Lannisters have all but conceded defeat and all eyes are now turning to the dead. Well, almost all.

Cersei aside, we had a bit of an Avengers style get together at the end of the episode and once they bring some proof back, Jaime seems pretty likely to team up with our rag tag group of heroes too. The only question is, are they all going to make it back alive? Of course not - it’s Game of Thrones and if you were wondering, my money is on Dondarrion or Thoros to croak it.

It feels like everything is coming together nicely for the war of the dead but Cersei is still proving to be the biggest unknown. With her pregnancy revelation thrown into the mix, Jaime’s future is also thrown into doubt. Does he finally break the shackles for what really matters or does he die defending her?

Either way, the final two episodes of Season 7 should be relatively easy to plot out, right?

The Avengers get their proof but suffer losses. Jaime sees this proof and tries to persuade Cersei. Daenerys realises where the real fight is and also reaches out to Cersei. Cersei does something stupid and ends up dying. The Night King enters Westeros – cue credits!

If only things were so simple.

Talking of simple, there has to be a simple way to kill off Littlefinger. He’s still supremely creepy and his scheming is distracting from everything that Thrones is getting right. I’m just not sure what his character’s purpose is and he’s well overdue his death scene. So come, Arya, start baking some pies.

Finally, it’s taken five episodes but we finally got a glimpse of the dead. Although every time Bran does his Jedi thing, he seems to catch the Night King taking a breather. Almost like when someone’s caught not working when they should have been. Either way, Bran’s weirdness has got Jon Targaryen on the move and is leading up to a pretty tasty penultimate episode next week.

Oh and Sam left the Citadel. Hooray? Or not? Can someone tell me if I should find Sam’s bit interesting or not?

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Message From The King - Spoiler Free review

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Message From The King - Spoiler Free review

Message for the King is a straight up revenge thriller.  The simple plot has Chadwick Boseman’s Jacob King – the clue’s in the title – come to LA from Cape Town to find his missing sister.  Like Soderbergh’s The Limey it’s an uncomfortable journey into the underworld. It’s a tried-and-tested formula that, if deftly handled, can elevate any low budget interpretation.  Although, these streamlined thrillers aren’t as popular nowadays, director Fabrice du Welz presents the first 20 minutes as something as a detective-gone-rogue tale.  Albeit with a heavy hand, King listens to accounts and follows leads.  Welz is wise enough not to think he’s outsmarting his audience.  The slight genre-bending is a way of drawing us in, rather than hoodwinking us.  

While it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, literally focusing on the main character allow the audience to fully embroil themselves in King’s head.  To his credit, Boseman is subtle enough to let the audience know what he’s thinking without being hammy and telegraphing his emotions.  With Welz decision to put the camera up-close and personal, only an actor capable of deft nuance could stop Message from the King turning into a schlocky exploitation flick.  This style also puts you front and centre of some of the grizzly discoveries King uncovers.  His reactions are just as affecting as any bloody imagery.  The first act plays out like a dream-like moving portrait that’s both hypnotic and unsettling.

The explosive moment of violence that closes the first act is a perverse catharsis for the viewer.  After what you’ve seen through Jacob King’s eyes, galvanised by the anguish you quite literally share, Jacob’s retribution is permissible.  Thankfully, even though he’s out numbered, the scene doesn’t play out like a choreographed set piece starring Statham.  There’s most certainly a place for balletic battle in Friday night actioners, but Message from the King commits to grainy realism and the very human aspect of the journey.  Even Bourne’s stylings would be too intentional for a film that’s realistically haphazard and sudden.

While the violence punctuates Message for the King it isn’t glorified.  Much like the culmination of Drive, it’s a powerful shock to the system – a far cry from the celebrated cartoon violence we’re used to seeing on our screens.  Welz’ intention is clearly to serve the story rather than a commentary on movie violence.  However, when it does happen it’s startling in its indiscriminate approach.  

Gladly, it’s not all bare knuckle brawling.  The revenge-thriller template may be paint by numbers, but Message from the King is brave enough to go outside the lines.  Luke Evans’ greedy dentist is powerful in his love-to-hate role, but takes enough care to not slide into panto-villain.  Even Teresa Palmer’s Kelly brings something heartbreakingly tender to the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold.

Message from the King is not an easy watch.  It’s incessantly provocative, often demanding, at times uncomfortable, but more rewarding than it has any right to be. 

4* - Sympathy for Mr Panther

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Game of Thrones S7:E4 Review - The Spoils of War

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Game of Thrones S7:E4 Review - The Spoils of War

Well, I just don’t know where to begin with this week’s review. What an episode!

Each season has given us huge battles in one form or another but this pretty much trumps everything we’ve seen so far. It all felt so comfortable for Jaime and Bronn. This Targaryen girl doesn’t know what she’s doing. Que Jurassic Park style silence…

As Drogon rained flame down on his helpless victims, we were almost watching it from Tyrion’s point of view. Like him, we’ve not seen such devastation or something as one sided as this before and it showed that with three dragons at her side, there’s going to be no stopping Daenerys from reclaiming her throne.

You could almost feel the panic of the Lannister army, not only at Drogon but at the Dothraki too. Their ride towards their adversaries came straight out of the Peter Jackson playbook and it matched anything I’ve seen on the big screen.

In fairness, Thrones has always done its battles well and that’s largely because we don’t see one every week. They’re rationed to us so we can appreciate each and every character before things get really tasty. By building things in that way, the adrenaline starts pumping and the visuals that accompany it are unmatched in film or TV.

As always though, Thrones has left us with some burning questions.

1.       Will Drogon be able to fly again or was it just a flesh wound?

2.       Is Bronn dead?

3.       When will we see Jaime again?

4.       Is Tyrion regretting his decision to join the Dragon Queen?

The one thing we do know is that the final three episodes of the season are going to be one hell of a ride.

There is one final question that still lingers. When is Bran going to stop being so creepy?

Following his weird conversation with Sansa in episode three, he’s starting to turn into the most unlikeable Jedi since Hayden Christensen. He was relatively normal last season when he was learning from Father Merrin and then all of a sudden he’s this angst ridden teenager that’s trying to be philosophical. Jon has seen what you’ve seen too, mate!

Whilst we’re on the whole ‘beyond the wall’ theme, we finally saw some White Walker action! It may have only been in chalk but it’s better than nothing.

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Game of Thrones S7: E3 Review - The Queen's Justice

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Game of Thrones S7: E3 Review - The Queen's Justice

Well Season 7 really is in full swing isn’t it! As predicted last week, The Queen’s Justice brought together three parties that share an air of destiny. Naturally, it wasn’t a meeting of hugs and bended knees but we’re starting to see the foundations of an uneasy alliance.

As has been the case throughout our journey with Thrones, Tyrion was the real mastermind behind that but he’s been criminally underused so far in Season 7. The Queen’s Justice gave us flashes of his wit and why he’s such an important character and I find that I’ve missed him. So much so, that you almost want him to encounter some kind of misfortune just to give us the old Tyrion back.

Technically, Thrones has two separate storylines running through it at the moment - Jon’s war and Daenerys’ war. Whilst Tyrion is our bridge between the two, the writers are doing well to dig themselves out of a hole with only a season and a half left. It just feels like there’s a hell of a lot to cram in but so far, so good.

Last week saw the war toing and froing and whilst Cersei held the upper hand, it now appears to be evened up with the taking of Casterly Rock. Sure, the Lannisters have taken High Garden but by the Queen of Thornes admission, it was never built to be a fortress. Now that Dany knows where Euron’s fleet is, she should be able to take them out with ease. That will naturally lead into the only viable solution – an assault on King’s Landing. But then, what’s the point in guessing? If Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that it has countless surprises up its sleeves.

With a King’s Landing battle feeling pretty imminent, there’s one character that I’d be sad to see go. Jaime started to change his perception a number of seasons ago and he’s now an extremely likeable character. His scene with The Queen of Thornes shows that he’s come almost full circle, despite her revelation at the end of the episode – and what a revelation it was.

If she was going to go, she was always going to out with her thrones scratching someone.

Finally, has anyone seen the White Walkers?

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Blade Runner - A Retrospective

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Blade Runner - A Retrospective

With the Hollywood hype-machine in high gear for the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, I’ve been thinking a lot about the masterpiece that is Blade Runner. Going forward you should know that when I discuss Blade Runner it is the Final Cut version of the film I have in mind. This is, obviously, the best version of the film, and I will broach no dissent on this.

When Blade Runner 2049 was announced I was immediately very skeptical, but the first trailer won me over. The visuals, the music, and the tone seemed spot on to me. Recently I’ve become worried that I may be judging a movie by its trailer, and down that road lies deception. It’s easy to take a two hour movie and make a trailer to fit any mood. (I once saw a fan trailer that cut The Shining into a poppy family bonding flick. It absolutely worked. The narrator said “The Shining” in a way that made it sound like that little piece of love deep in your soul. Ever since I have had very little faith in trailers.) My fear is that the trailer makers are portraying 2049 as similar in tone to its predecessor because they know that’s what people want to see. This fear has led me to wonder if we can get a film equal to Blade Runner at all.

The first time I tried to watch Blade Runner I couldn’t get through it. I was just a kid and the Director’s Cut bored me to death. In my 20s I sat down with the newly released Final Cut and fell in love. The more I think about why I love Blade Runner the more I’ve come to realize a fundamental fact about it. Blade Runner is not a movie. It is a work of art.

To say Blade Runner is a movie is like saying the Sistine Chapel ceiling features a painting; it radically understates the thing. Movies – like any story medium – have characters which undergo some change through a series of motivations and events that we call “plot.” The plot of Blade Runner is fairly simple: androids escape an off-world colony and return to earth to meet their creator in a bid to extend their own lives. Decker (Harrison Ford) is a cop whose job it is to hunt down any androids on earth, where they are illegal. Along the way he is introduced to – and eventually falls in love with – a next generation android that is programmed to think she is human. Ostensibly the film should be about the androids Decker is hunting being every bit as alive as the humans, but in reality the audience never questions that. They are intentionally portrayed as human the entire time. The themes of the movie are more focused on mortality and confronting our own inevitable end in a world where the mystery of death is eliminated and it is possible to literally question one’s creator.

The problem I had watching Blade Runner as a child is that the plot is not particularly engaging. In fact, it’s amazingly straight forward. Decker follows clues that lead him to his quarry while they are plotting to get close to their creator to learn if he can extend their lifespans. The subplot with Rachael could be discounted by a pragmatist as a typical movie love story. I’m not saying that anything about the plot or character development of Blade Runner is bad, in fact it’s very well executed. What I am saying is that this plot is not enough to elevate Blade Runner to the iconic status it possesses in modern cinema.

I contend that its standing relies more on the complete package. Blade Runner is a piece of audio visual art. Much has been written about its music and how Vangelis wove it seamlessly into the film experience, including background sounds as notes in the score. Ridley Scott also framed and shot Blade Runner in a way that highlights the ambiance. There are extended shots of exterior sets, and amazingly these shots are the most iconic of the film. Think of the expansive shots of Asgard in Thor; they do not carry the same weight as functionally identical shots in Blade Runner. This is the masterwork of art. Functionally the same ingredients in one case deliver simple entertainment, whereas in the proper hands at the right time a work of art is born.

The likely outcome for Blade Runner 2049 is that it will not be a work of art in the same class as its predecessor. That in no way means that it has to be a bad film. Based on the trailers, the upcoming film looks to explore human identity and the role of slaves in building a society. These concepts were present as ideas in the original film, but not as themes; they existed in the film’s universe but were not explored in any great depth through the plot. My suspicion is that Blade Runner 2049 looks to explore the themes that its predecessor ostensibly explored, but failed to do in actuality. If it does so with any level of philosophical and metaphorical sophistication, while maintaining the aesthetics of the world already displayed in the trailers, then we could be in for an excellent science fiction film.

Just don’t expect it to be Blade Runner.

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Game of Thrones S7:E2 Review - Stormborn

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Game of Thrones S7:E2 Review - Stormborn

It didn’t take long for Daenerys’ war to kick off and it’s already swinging to and fro. As an episode, the implications that Stormborn offered are huge and it already feels as though things have shifted in favour of Cersei.

What appeared to be a brilliant game plan from Daenerys now lays in tatters with the destruction of her Iron Fleet. That’s where Thrones really thrives though. On one hand, Daenerys appears to have come into her own. She’s the first person that’s really got Varys to reveal his true nature and completed the (slightly easier) task of uniting all of Cersei’s enemies as one. Everything looks set for her to sweep to victory, complete with a dragon top parade until Jack Sparrow…sorry, Euron swings in to burn it all to the ground.

That kind of shift in narrative is a staple of Thrones and there’s not a TV show that can match it. What Euron’s intervention does is change Daenerys’ approach to one that’s probably more in keeping with the Queen of Thornes. Don’t want to be the Queen of Ashes, Dany? Well, you may well have to be now.

Let’s be fair, if Daenerys doesn’t take the Iron Throne, we’re all going to feel a little let down. No-one is fond of Cersei but Dany has had a destiny about her from her first appearance on screen. Anything but her sitting on that uncomfortable looking chair is going to be a bit of an anti-climax.

The thing is, there are three characters in Thrones that have a kind of destiny feel about them - Daenerys, Tyrion and Jon Snow. With Jon riding his way to parlay with her, it’s pretty much a given that her side will come out on top, right?

Wrong. This is Thrones and anything can happen. Either way, it’s going to be one titanic battle and if all three dragons come out unscathed, I’ll buy a hat and eat it.

Whilst we’re talking about Jon, does anyone else wish he’d squeezed his grip around Littlefinger’s throat and not let go until he was blue? I mean, the guy is super sleazy and he just needs to be put out of his misery before he feels like an irrelevant character. Oh, he already is? Too bad.

Finally, there was an almost heart-warming scene where Arya bumped into Nymeria. Or did she? I’m actually a little confused by that scene. But yea, it’s about as heart-warming as Thrones gets so we’ll have to take that one.

Oh, and aren’t there supposed to be White Walkers in this series?

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Any time you’re watching a movie and Ethan Hawke randomly shows up you know you’re in rough shape. This is the case with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the first (and likely last) movie adaptation of the popular French science fiction graphic novel series “Valerian and Laureline.” Faithfully adapting any of this series into a blockbuster action movie was bound to be difficult, and it’s easy to see why the studio took the safe route, but in the end the film lacks any real emotional impact while playing into tired tropes that don’t even make sense in the constructed world.

The film opens with a hopeful view of humanity’s place in the cosmos. We see our species united in its exploration of space in a way that conjures thoughts of Star Trek. The International Space Station steadily grows as more human cultures join the United States and Russia in launching astronauts. Eventually aliens make contact, and we see a rapidly growing group of species welcomed with the iconic human hand shake. I have to admit, I was fully prepared to buy into this optimistic view of humanity given our recent history, but these feelings are fleeting as the idea of humanity uniting the cosmos is never realized by the plot. As those feelings flee so does every other one besides disdain.

The titular hero (played by Dane DeHaan) is introduced and immediately established as a womanizing, port-hopping, secret agent. He doggedly pursues the only woman around, who is – of course – his partner Laureline. That’s right, the introduction of the hero features him engaging is workplace sexual harassment. Not only is this deplorable in its own right, but as audience members we know that if the script is this poorly constructed up front then the film will end with the two of them lip-locked. Spoiler Alert: That’s literally the final scene.

Laureline is no better of a character. Cara Delevingne plays her as an emotionless ivy league educated genius. She is so lacking any basic emotion or compassion that when she cries at the culmination of her story arc it feels hollow and forced. You may ask how I know that Laureline is ivy league educated. It is because we are told exactly that in her first scene. This is a movie of things told to you rather than being demonstrated through such antiquated concepts as acting or scripted character development. The primary narrative currency of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is exposition, be it from the characters about each other, the aliens about themselves, or the ship reading an encyclopedia to the characters. The result is an audience left emotionally detached from the characters and everything happening to them.

It’s fair to say that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a post-Avatar film. It relies heavily on stunning visuals for the sets and the aliens, notably the Pearls, the suspiciously Avatar-like aliens at the center of the plot. A beach dwelling species that have lived in perfect harmony with nature for centuries, they play a key role in the central mystery of the film. The problem is that we are never really aware that a mystery exists. There are always indications that something is amiss, but the story moves from minor trouble to minor trouble, the characters constantly working through one short term challenge after another, none of which provide any clues to the greater mystery. The challenge in building a story around a mystery is that when the revelation happens the audience must themselves possess all the same clues as the characters, it is only that the characters piece it together (hopefully) before the audience does. In Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the clues are largely lacking, so that when Valerian and Laureline expose the hidden truths they seem to know things with great certainty that were never explained to us or them. The writers tip their hand in acknowledging the shortcomings of their work as they literally show us past events as the characters are correctly guessing what happened.

Overall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a movie filled with impressive visuals and set in a world with great storytelling potential – which is to be expected since it’s based on a well loved and iconic series of books. Unfortunately it is headlined by a pair of characters not up to the task of engaging the viewer, given that one is emotionless and the other emotionally deplorable. The imaginative set pieces and creative alien designs can not prop up a movie marred by feeble plot, poor dialog, and entirely too much exposition. The saddest thing is that such an amazing sci-fi world will now never get the treatment it deserves.

2* - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Eye Rolls

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Game of Thrones S7:E1 Review - Dragonstone

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Game of Thrones S7:E1 Review - Dragonstone

Wrap up warm, kids. That’s right, winter is here and it’s cold outside. It feels like a lifetime ago that we saw Cersei take the Iron Throne and Daenerys begin her voyage home but we’re finally here. Who we’re left with at the end of this season is another question but it’s fair to say that the board is now set and the pieces are moving.

First off, I’m going to make you a promise. Ed Sheeran will not be mentioned once in this article. Nope, not once. The name Ed Sheeran won’t be uttered a single time.

As an analogy, chess has been apt for Game of Thrones since its inception and that’s more accurate than ever now.

Season 6 saw our main players removing rivals and getting themselves into position. The opening to Season 7 saw that board being set. As a season opening, it picked up where Season 6 left off and let’s be fair, it’s been a while since we’ve had any Thrones so a reintroduction to our characters was a smart move.

The excitement that Thrones creates in its fans is incomparable to anything else on TV so they don’t really need to open with anything particularly flashy. Season 7 however, opens with a brutal scene that gets the heart beating before you’re punching the air with delight. It’s a smart way to start the season and removes a pretty pointless family from the battlefield.

As we move through the rest of the episode, we see Jon’s hand of rule strengthen and a revelation discovered by Sam that’s going to set up the meeting we’ve been salivating for.

Now let’s be frank, the build up to this season has been all about the White Walkers and their presence is overshadowing everything else that’s going on in Westeros. Now we’re in full swing, it almost feels as though we’re watching this through Jon’s eyes. That’s absolutely because we’ve seen what he’s seen but because of that it’s almost difficult to focus on the war that Dany and Cersei are fighting.

I ended Season 6 with a few predictions but with the White Walkers on the march so early, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to guess how things are going to play out. That’s what Thrones is good at though. It keeps us guessing, it shocks us and it keeps us on the edge of our seats.

Season 7 has been set up nicely and it’s limbering up to be the most brutal season we’ve had yet. You know what though? It’s just nice to have Thrones back.

And I didn't even mention our ginger national treasure. Not once.

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War For The Planet Of The Apes - Spoiler Free Review

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War For The Planet Of The Apes - Spoiler Free Review

"War has already begun," Caesar declares in the closing moments of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and he was right.  What we may not have been prepared for, even though War For The Planet Of The Apes has its fair share of conflict, is that director Matt Reeves would be waging "gorilla" warfare on our emotions.  So effective is War For The Planet Of The Apes in penetrating any humans empathy-proof vest, that you need to be prepared to experience any feeling to its fullest:  Including desperation, fear and heart break.  However, once you've swung through the running time, you'll come to realise that this is one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences to grace our screens.

One of the things that made Caesar so compelling was his mercy.  Caeser's conflict with Koba hinged on the hate the latter couldn't quite relinquish.  After an unforgiving attack on our family of apes, Caesar falls prey to his very own Ape-ocalypse Now.  He leaves the tribe to track down and kill The Colonel; unable to shake his own heart of darkness.  Which seems fitting as Harrelson plays a clearer and more sympathetic Colonel Kurtz.  Along the way Planet of the Apes lifers, Rocket and Maurice, tag along and they even pick up some unexpected strays.  Yet, it still remains Caesar's story.  It could be a killer blow to your trilogy to blacken the soul of your protagonist and send him on a suicide run, but his recruits, new and old, help to keep him on the rails.  Blissfully aware that he may be losing his "humanity", he's unable to unshackle himself completely, because his oldest allies won't allow it.  Oddly, it's the exchanges with Harrelson's Colonel that truly offer a rumination on just how primal we could easily become.

Yet what really allows War For The Planet Of The Apes to stand upright and be more evolved than its summer counterparts is its commitment to subtlety.  Even the 20th Century Fox fanfare gets a fitting, yet understated, tribal drum remix.  The effects it has to rely so heavily upon steer away from jaw dropping to plunge us firmly into convincing reality.  No matter how hard you try, you'll be hard pressed to find the blend where reality meets CG.  Even when the elements beg for the damp fur or droplets to draw attention to themselves in a distracting forced simulation, instead is simply elegant effort.

Very few franchises have managed to pull off the hat trick as far as evolving and improving stories went.  In recent years, Jason Bourne went from strength to strength, even if the last outing was more of a Bourne's Greatest Hits. Even The Godfather fell from the top of the classic tree and hit every branch on the way down.  However, just like Bourne, the Planet of the Apes saga had a directorial change after the first outing, and while they wouldn't be the same without them, the later instalments reached deeper emotional depths under their new charges.  Even when it's based on one of the most easily mocked sci-fi franchises and titles that are as awkward for cinema-going humans to say as their enhanced simian protagonists, somehow Matt Reeves manages to examine a lot more than simply War.  The climax of Dawn offered the brutality and futility of war, so it'd be easy to simply extend the theme for 2hrs and 20 mins and give the blockbuster crowd all the gun-toting apes they can handle.  Instead, our investment in the saga is rewarded with an effecting exploration of the human condition that we may not be prepared for - particularly when we may recognise it all too well.

5* - The Great Esc-Ape

 

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Red Dwarf Series XI – Spoiler-Free Review

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Red Dwarf Series XI – Spoiler-Free Review

A science fiction sitcom is a remarkably tricky beast. Aside from Red Dwarf, the only other attempt that can be considered successful has to be Futurama, which itself also resides in the separate category of animated sitcom. Red Dwarf, the story about Dave Lister finding himself three million years into deep space and the last human being alive, is not inherently funny on its surface, but is clearly a science fiction concept. In different hands it could be an existential exploration of what it means to confront our collective mortality. If you make that man a complete slob and have his only companions be a hologram of an equally shitty human being, the most conceited humanoid in existence (who evolved from Lister’s cat), and an android maid, then you’ve got a recipe for comedy that is a bit reminiscent of Futurama for new comers.

The first series of Red Dwarf aired in February 1988, and in the proceeding twenty-nine years additional series were released in late 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2009, 2012, and 2016. Most fans agree that Red Dwarf creatively lost its way with Series VII when it returned in 1997, only to return to its old school glory in the 2012 Series X revival. As such, Red Dwarf has another distinction in that it’s probably the only television show that has gone through a mid-life crisis.

While Series X was concerned with the successful revival of a show that has risen more times than the Phoenix, Series XI gives us something more. Red Dwarf never makes reference to how long the boys have been in deep space, but I’d venture to say that our time is real time; that twenty-nine years have passed since Lister woke from stasis. Early seasons made a point of exploring the aspect of the boys exploring abandoned space stations and crashed ships to obtain salvage to survive on, all while being complete and total cowards. When cybernetic kill-bots or genetically engineered lifeforms showed up to cause trouble the boys fled at top speed while Rimmer changed his pants. Series XI presents us with a crew that has explored space, traveled through time, crossed into alternate realities, and battled countless terrifying beings over the course of the show. This latest series presents the boys from the Dwarf as seasoned explorers – less cowardly but each still in it for themselves. Boarding a space station just a few hours before it’s to be destroyed by an asteroid storm? Sure, why not. Making split second command decisions in battle? Oh, they’ll be bad decisions, but smeg it, they’ll make them. Even Rimmer is prepared to charge into a gunfight at a moments notice, though he’ll only do so while using Kryten as a body shield.

This change could stand to make the show lose some of its appeal, but it has the exact opposite effect. As longtime fans this feels like a natural progression. To spend thirty years surviving in deep space and not become accustomed to this lifestyle would feel fake; a lie told to the audience with a wink and a nod. In Series XI we’re rewarded with a crew that has grown more experienced while never growing up. That, of course, is why we love the boys from the Dwarf.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spoiler Free Review

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Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spoiler Free Review

As the old adage goes, "With great power, comes great responsibility."  Not quite ready to relinquish the powerful web of Marvel's most recognisable hero from the comic racks, Sony are responsible enough to embrace everything Marvel's Cinematic Universe can offer to make Spider-Man: Homecoming a hero that leans on its comrades as much as it stands tall when it needs to.

Weaving itself into the now rich tapestry of the MCU allows for some brilliantly original stitching.  The Marvel Studios output, while clever, slots its instalments side-by-side one another.  Apart from the odd cameo here and mention there, it's really the culmination of Avengers or Civil War that the MCU entire coalesced.  Sony are smart enough the take the, quite literal, Marvel Team-Up for all it's worth and tie in moments from its history.  Our story starts shortly after the finale of Avengers (Assemble), where the devastation is amassed and we're introduced to Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes.  A blue collar contractor employed by the city to clean up the twisted metal of the Chitauri defeat.  Pleasingly, the webbing that binds Spider-Man: Homecoming to its more established partner in heroism often plays more like well-considered ideas than tedious ham-fisting.  There's a case full of arc reactors, an Ultron head and even the subtlest reference to the Howling Commandos you'll see this side of Agents of SHIELD.  It establishes Spider-Man as part of the world he only cameoed in previously.  Even the introduction of Peter Parker set to the back drop of Captain America: Civil War, is a smart welcome of the over-excited teenager and still manages to set up the conflict that he needs to grow out of.

Much like the movies main theme, ol' web-head is going to have to stand on his own two feet, and it's here that Spider-Man: Homecoming really comes to life.  After leaving the world of super heroes (and adults) Peter is dumped back into his life in queens and while it doesn't waste much time before we see the misfortunes of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, we do appreciate just how disappointing it is to be relegated from would-be Avenger to street-level do-gooder.  Director, Jon Watts, is shrewd enough to not drag this out before shooting a good helping of webbed fun our way.  Just in the first moments of Spidey suiting up, we see him showing off, mid-swing posing and somersaulting on command just to earn some status around the 'hood.  So it's all the more fun to see him when he pushes his luck too far.  With all this fun being had, it's a rude awakening when things go wrong despite Spider-Man's best efforts.  The underlining of a heroes responsibility is clear to us watching Parker learn his heroic trade, but to Holland's credit his enthusiasm is so infectious that it's impossible to damn his ill-conceived actions.

In the busy jostling of superhero movies at the multiplex, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the first in a long time that that actually feels like a comic.  There are obvious nods, like the clone saga costume and the now iconic rubble lifting moment, lifted from Ditko's original panels (issue #33, true believers), and while it doesn't shy away from the more mature themes, there's a lighter and breezy element that comes from embracing the source material and not overly laden with edgier concepts.  Even the set piece before Peter learns his hardest lesson is just the right mix of perilous and wish fulfilment.  Watts is also smart enough to walk the web between homage and not being beholden.  Vulture's costume is inventively redesigned to be reminiscent of its namesake and practical.  Marisa Tomei's Aunt May is kookier than previous incarnations, but tenderly maternal.  We also have the obligatory knock-down-drag-out finale, but instead of a city/world threatening sky laser, Vulture's just after the score of a lifetime.  It may not be revolutionary, but it's refreshingly neat. 

If you had to play J Jonah Jameson and level some criticism at Spider-Man: Homecoming, it's that it feels like it's in a rush to bundle everything in.  While it doesn't cut the narrative web it swings by, no sooner has a point been made or beat paid off that we move on to the next.  Somehow the comedic punchlines survive the pace, but some of the more tender moments have to suffer as a result.  That being said, when you can have this much fun swinging through the streets at speed, who cares if some detail is a little blurred?

4* - Spider-Man Some More

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Okja - Spoiler Free Review

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Okja - Spoiler Free Review

Netflix' Original movie, Okja, is something of a curioso.  While the promo and trailer alluded to a story of a South Korean girl saving a magical half-hippo-half-pig from the clutches of evil, the end result is something as heart warming as it is heart wrenching.  

Joon-ho Bong is no stranger to satire.  His last film, Snowpiercer, adapted a graphic novel to examine the class system.  Its mix of Sci-Fi, nuclear winter and protein bars to keep the lower class strong enough to work was like a diesel fuelled Soylent Green.  While it did run out of steam for the finale, the reflection it held up to society was crystal clear.  Okja, by comparison, is a little more grounded.  Okja is one of the genetically engineered "superpigs" created by the Mirando Corporation.  As part of a marketing stunt and to hide their genetic origins, they are sent around the world to be reared in accordance to the farming techniques of that region.  The best, happiest and healthiest will win and be brought back to NY, where they will be reared to create even more happy and healthy meat.  While, the most "chill" of Netflix viewers will quickly gather that something is not as it seems, there's a bright and original way to set up the required exposition in the opening moments.  Joon-ho Bong presents Tilda Swinton as Corporate CEO.  Her inauspicious presentation offers a transparent promise of integrity and caring for the environment.  It's just the kind of hogwash advertising has fed us for years.

It isn't long before we meet Mija and her companion.  Okja herself is a brilliant creation.  Not only convincing, but the truly subtle character Okja brings a  reality to the moments our two friends share.  There's no question of the shared bond as the two cavort in the South Korean wilderness.  From pooping fish, to a daring cliff rescue, there's a very simple magic that's easy to get swept up in.  So strong is the spell, that when Wildlife personality, Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal), turns up at Mija's mountain top home to whisk Okja away, the separation is tougher on the feels than you'd expect.  

Okja does take a long hard look at the harmful ethics of greedy dishonest and deceptive corporations, but it's also strikingly relevant when it comes to the well-meaning activists and just how ineffective they can be when going up against the resources of global giants.  Paul Dano and his band of animal-loving do-gooders present both hope and futility.  There's a daring escape attempt full of peril, gaffs and tragedy.  Dano and co help save Okja and then deliver her right back into jeopardy again, just to serve their "fight".  What follows leads to some truly horrendous results for Okja and an understandable loss of "humanity".

While Bong's signature tonal shifts are all present, they've never been quite so correct.  In his previous output the director's penchant for following moments of levity with bleakness have left audiences a little numb and confused.  Here Bong is careful to handle the moments with a little more sensitivity.  He still juxtaposes emotions, but they serve to contrast one another and not derail.  The result is something deeply affecting, but not manipulative.

4* - Mija's Dragon

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Baby Driver - Spoiler Free Review

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Baby Driver - Spoiler Free Review

Like most thing nowadays, it's hard to find something truly original.  You pop the trunk of music, movies or even cars and what you have is a borrowed part here, bolted onto an homage there.  In Baby Driver, however, Edgar Wright manages to infuse excitement and his own particular brand of kineticism into every passing moment.  The result is a narrative turbo charge that keeps the wheels spinning for its running time.

As much as Crank was a self aware set-up for an action movie, Baby Driver is the ultimate in heist wish-fulfilment.  Baby (Ansel Egort) constantly listens to music in order to drown out the tinnitus he's had since a tragic childhood accident.  A troubled youth, stealing cars has put him in the path of Doc (Kevin Spacey) who puts together bad guys for armed robberies.  Even if it sounds like a tried and tested formula, Wright's own particular brand of motor oil keeps any familiarity gumming up the works.  Even the "one last job" motif established soon on is easily passed by after the inventive, white-knuckle opener that leaves all other celluloid chase scenes in the dust.  In the driving stakes, Wright is careful not to just up the ante and have to out-do himself for every getaway.  The first job is balls-to-wall with slick manoeuvres matched only by the camera work and editing.  The second is hampered by Baby's unwillingness to allow wanton casualties, but it still offers something inspired when it comes to its action beats.  Later it all becomes a bit more messy to mirror the emotion and what's at stake.

The wild bunch that Baby is thrown in with are all the colourfully charismatic criminals you'd expect, but just when you've been hoodwinked into enjoying the comradery, you're quickly reminded who you're hanging out with, and just how threatening a situation Baby is in.  Jamie Fox' aptly named Bats gradually cranks up the dial on psycho until his looming danger hits the red line.  Gonzalez and Hamm, offer a faux big brother/sister role until the sociopath starts to bubble from under the surface.  Even Spacey manages to turn something paternal into transactional, then menacing, and back again.  The menagerie of madness chokes like an exhaust, and watching Baby in the middle of it all is just as tense as some of the screeching car choreography.  

Thankfully its not all heavy-footed acceleration and there's a lot more clutch control than may meet the eye on the first viewing.  In his debut as solo writer and director, Edgar Wright offers something much more subtle than simply stringing car chases to cleverly chosen tunes - although they are brillaint.  Once set up, Baby's reliance on music offers more than bombast.  There's an inventive and understated synchronicity to the music and the goings on.  While the more obvious gun fire to the song's beat and balletic car cruising is more satisfying, it's the smaller reassuring pats on the arm, movements and gestures to the musical rhythms that are even more rewarding when you catch them.  The most delightful of which is the conjoined waltz as Baby shares his ear buds with Deborah at the laundromat.  It's like watching a delicate musical that dances between the rain drops of an action movie.  Only under Wright's skillful hand could all these things coalesce into such an enjoyable symphony

 4* - Def Race

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