BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018) 4/5

Spike Lee’s return to the centre stage of film is definitely a timely addition to his alreadybk provocative cannon. The narrative follows the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. As Ron becomes somewhat of a novelty in regards to his race, he is given the grunt jobs of filing reports and, generally, trying to survive on the bottom of the food chain. This quiet existence in the force is disrupted by racism in the office and a general ambivalence, he decides to take the initiative to become an undercover agent.

Leading to a somewhat awkward telephone conversation with the local head of KKK chapter, he and his partner Philip ‘Flip’ Zimmerman (Adam Driver) must act together to infiltrate them to expose their terroristic tendencies. Flip serves as the face to face contact and Ron, controlling all of the discussions over the phone. Their investigations unravel the cities racist undercurrents and explores the tensions that exist.

Generally speaking, this film is shocking not only because of the rhetoric of some of its characters, but the parallels with the current Trump administrations divisive attitude.  Lee crafts a film that forces the audience to continually negotiate and compare both time periods and ask ourselves, ‘what has actually changed?’

This is done to great effect with the editing by Barry Brown (Oldboy, Inside Man, Malcolm X) and the cinematography by Chayse Irvin (Beyonce’s Lemonade). Both men create a world whereby we are wrapped into the characters, their experiences and points of view. The parallels to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970’s has clearly influenced this film and it aids in the slightly exaggerated sequences of both dramatic tension and comedy.

There are moments, however, that this tightrope walk between the comedy and drama becomes a little uneven, plus, some of the most tense moments are bogged down with long monologues that could be made just a tad shorter.

In sum, the performances by Driver and Washington are outstanding here and are worthy of the awards attention they will no doubt receive. However, there are tonal imbalances here that might prove a bit odd to some people, as well as, the fact that the narrative could just have been a smidgen shorter.

The Mummy

The Mummy (Alex Kurtzman, 2017) 2.5/5

Tom Cruise. Love him or hate him, he knows how to market himself and the films that heThe_Mummy_(2017) is in. Usually however, they are fresher adventures with a much greater need to rexamination. With the last film in this franchise The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor receiving a rather damning response, Kurtzman’s reboot can’t quite improve on this either.

As the introduction to the Dark Universe, where Universal are resurrecting all of their favourite monsters of the past, it isn’t an altogether smooth ride of quality. The intentions seem to distance itself from the previous Brendan Fraser-Rachel Weisz starrers, however, by stripping away the camp self-awareness of these, you are left with a bit of a damp squib.

The screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman feels like they all had very different visions and in the end is a tad muddled. There is no consistency in tone, characters seems to be flailing around the desert and London is destroyed in a sand storm for no apparent reason (where did the sand even come from?).

Sofia Boutella throws herself admirably into the role of Princess Ahmanet, but there is very little to flesh out of a character that is half dead to begin with.

In sum, this first installment of the Dark Universe is a little bit fumbling. Tom Cruise is simply Ethan Hunt in the desert and in order for this particular franchise to succeed, please can we have a more coherent plot?

Sicario

Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015) 4/5

Emily Blunt delivers a tour de force performance in this measured, tense and visually sicariostunning depiction of life beyond the Mexican border. The Cartel’s are nothing new to the big screen and the trafficking of drugs between the US and Mexico is second to none. However, Villeneuve’s follow-up to Prisoners is a far more tender account of the war on drugs.

Following Kate Mercer (Blunt), an FBI operative who is elected to a new government task force to take down a major player in Juarez. Under the careful eye of leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) the seedy and personal lives of those connected with the violence of drugs begins to unravel.

What Sicario really delivers on is originiality and it handles it’s subject matter with grace and creativity. The master that is Roger Deakins creates beautiful sweeping landscapes increadingly personalised, whereby the characters become consumed by their surroundings. Taylor Sheridan’s script has shades of Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), FX’s The Bridge and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012). By borrowing the best bits from these the film stands on it’s own and emerges as a genuinely unique filmgoing experience.

Even though the story has been done before, it is Blunt that makes the entire narrative all the more worthwhile and its a breath of fresh air to see her in a new genre. Her commanding screen presence and chemistry with Brolin and, even more so, with Del Toro creates an award winning turn.

In sum, Sicario (Hitman) is a thrilling, twisty and beautiful trip into US-Mexico relations into drugs. With shades of other great films and TV projects, Emily Blunt emerges as the utter knock-out of this Villeneuve picture.

Pompeii

Pompeii (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2014) 2/5

When you make a film about an event everyone knows about, it can be difficult to Pompeii-posterconsistently hold our interest. Every secondary school student will be aware of the events that happened in Pompeii and the volcano ‘Vesuvius’ that erupted before it. So, I guess the question is, how do you make a film about a well-known event interesting, thought-provoking and fully developed? Well, it turns out to be extremely difficult as Anderson shows us here with his Pompeii.

Trying to bring together a mismatch of other similar films – Gladiator being the most prominent – Michael Johnson and Janet and Lee Batchler’s script is uninspired. Our main hero, Milo (Kit Harrington) is a slave-turned gladiator who has a perilous past and must confront the feelings he has for his love Cassia (Emily Browning), whom is betrothed to a corrupt official Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). The very nature of the film suggests that the story is going to take a backseat to the action and spectacle of the disaster. However, when you have a story as thin as this, it doesn’t just hide in the background, it just ceases to exist.

Anderson, who is well known for his well-executed action sequences from the Resident Evil franchise, succeeds in making the film ‘thrilling’. Indeed, the visual effects are really very good and should be commended. Although, even these set pieces do run dry as the lovers try to escape their certain doom from Rome’s once famous city.

In sum, if you are a visual effects nut, you might draw some enjoyment from the action. However, if you are looking for a meaty depiction of the events chronicled in history lessons across the UK, you won’t find it here. Instead, if you want a really good sword and sandals epic, look back to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, or TV’s Spartacus.

Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua, 2013) 4/5

I miss films like these. You know the ones where you sit down and get ready to be olympus has fallenentertained. Filled with explosions, romance and heart pounding action, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen is a great addition to the ‘Die Hard’ sort of old school actioner. In fact you will become so wrapped up in it all, you may just want to begin waving your own star spangled banner. Hell I did and I’m not even American.

The film follows former US Army Ranger Mike Banning, who after a snow blizzard and an unfortunately placed bridge ended the life of the First Lady, has since closed himself off into a desk job. However, shuffling papers is not Banning’s bag and when ‘Olympus’ (Code name for the White House) is overthrown by some pesky North Koreans he leaps back into action.  As bullets fly and bombs detonated, Mike has to do all he can from the intruders from causing worldwide havoc and starting nuclear war. The very fact that this film has been released at a time of great tensions between these two nations is probably more luck than actual planning. Although, saying that, it does give the film some extra spice!

Now, will this film win any awards? No, but will it give you a nostalgic trip to the days of John McClane? Yes, in fact this film is everything that Die Hard 5 should have been and the simple reason is that this film is a ‘15’. In other words, you actually see some blood, gore and terror that a 12A just wouldn’t have been allowed to show.  I’m not about to get into a debate on censorship or the BBFC, but if Hollywood wants to make good action films it needs to be for an older audience.

From the beginning, Fuqua does nothing by half measure. An example of this is when the Koreans invade the White House by air strike. If the large black airplane wasn’t enough to highlight their evilness, their massive artillery definitely should.  It is John Refoua’s editing here that really triumphs as the quickening pace and constant cuts to Banning and the air sets up the rest of the film and the protagonist’s involvement. Gerard Butler produces a great, charismatic performance here and really feels at home within this genre. Not dissimilar to Tom Cruises in Oblivion, you feel comforted by having him in the driving seat and no that by credits end, everything will be ok.

Some may find the patriotism a little hard to swallow, however if you are a fan of a good ol’ action film with the balls to (inadvertently) tackle todays problems Olympus Has Fallen just might be your bag.  Either way, don’t forget your banner.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (John M. Chu, 2013) 2.5/5

GI: Oh No. John M. Chu’s follow up to the 2009 GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is arguably thegi joe dumbest film I have ever seen. It is as if Paramount and Hasbro completely disregarded the critical backlash of the first film and decided to regurgitate it for another outing. Alas, not much has changed.

By casting The Rock, Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum this film was then postponed, in order to give it some nice 3D additions, which, to be fair, enhance the film, if only slightly. If, like me, you have forgotten all of the characters names, and why wouldn’t you? They are as lifeless as their plastic counterparts, fear not! There is a rather nice montage of a who’s who in GI land. In this outing, the GI’s are not only fighting their archenemy Cobra, they also have to contend with threats from within the government, which could spark global terrorism and destruction.

For all of its violent gravitas, the entire film feels like a whirlwind of mindless set pieces with very little plot. In fact two minutes doesn’t go by without a brandishing samurai sword or an AK 37. However, if you are a 14 year old boy, this might be the greatest film ever made on planet earth. A standout brawl has to be when Snake Eyes and Jinx capture Storm Shadow. They battle an army of ninjas on the Himalayan Mountains, using only their swords and zip wires. This exciting sequence really accentuates the use of 3D where you are all but immersed into the heart thumping action. It’s too bad, given the delay of the film’s release from last June and the amount of reshoots they did, they couldn’t replicate this type of velocity throughout.

The entire GI clan, including the voluptuous Friday Night Lights alum Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye – whose killer cleavage makes the film more enjoyable – all try their hardest to make this trip into Toyland a memorable one, however when you are left with a paper thin plot, bland characters and mindless action, who the hell cares?

All in all, you have to ask yourselves, what exactly Paramount was doing when they delayed this film’s release. After all it sure wasn’t creating a well-balanced film with identifiable characters and a plot.  However, in the midst of the mindless, Jonathan Pryce emerges and steals the show. His catty behaviour as the President outshines Willis and Rock as he outsmarts them all, all the while playing Angry Birds. For that, he gets legendary status from me.

In sum, GI Joe 2 is an oversized mess of a film. Ok for the prepubescent lads looking for thrills. Attention dads, if you have to go, thank god for Adrianne Palicki.