Starring: Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), Naomi Scott (Terra Nova), RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Becky G (Empire), Ludi Lin (Marco Polo), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Bryan Cranston (Godzilla), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games)

Director: Dean Israelite (Project Almanac)

Writer: John Gatins (Real Steel)

Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Release Date: 24 March (US, UK)

Like many kids who grew up in the 90s, I was a big fan of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and kept up with the show for many years after that era (I think the last iteration I actively watched was Wild Force). I watched the show and the movies constantly, I owned a whole bunch of the action figures, and I even had a Green Ranger costume that I’d run around the house in and make swooshing noises as I practiced my karate moves. Like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before it or Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! since, Power Rangers is one of those properties that never went away but is still very much associated with the era it was birthed in, making it one of those treasured “nostalgia properties” Hollywood loves to mine these days. Speaking of which, the new Power Rangers movie. Is this yet another example of a classic IP being misused for the sake of nostalgia dollars, or is this a reboot made with some actual heart? Short answer: yes, but with certain provisos.

exclusive-final-power-rangers-poster-zords

The basic set-up of this new Power Rangers is pretty close to how it was back in the Mighty Morphin days, but with some updates and inspiration drawn from other areas of the franchise. It takes more of a traditional superhero origin approach to the story, with the focus being on the Rangers learning to gain their powers instead of being suddenly handed them, but even with these changes it is unmistakably a Power Rangers movie. It tonally takes a more grounded approach but it doesn’t feel completely ashamed of its campy, toyetic inspiration; it is based of a show that was essentially Saved by the Bell mixed with Gamera, after all. It takes a few knowing jabs at the premise and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and whilst some of the humour sometimes falls into the sophomoric it never reaches a level that makes you feel intellectually insulted.

For those looking for an all-out action romp, you might be disappointed as all of the traditional Ranger action is contained within the third act, but surprisingly it doesn’t drag the movie down. The character drama between these teenagers learning to become a team and get over their issues does actually manage to hold the film together, and so once the action does arrive the build-up feels worth it and it delivers a worthy update of classic Power Rangers action. I wish there was a little more time spent with the Rangers in their prime, especially given that there’s only one major on-foot fight scene with them in-costume, but the film more than promises sequels and if they arrive then I think they’ve laid solid groundwork for more to come. [on a side note, though it isn’t a comic book movie, there is a mid-credits scene that fans should probably stick around for]

Let’s be real for a moment: the original cast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers weren’t exactly the best written or acted. They were twenty-somethings pretending to be high school kids with the broadest 90s TV one-dimensional personalities you could think of, and that would not fly today. But the new Power Rangers has a surprising diametric difference here: the characters are actually the best thing about the movie. Sure, this new team is essentially the cast of The Breakfast Club as reimagined by The CW, but they feel fully realised and relatable to a modern audience in a way the originals weren’t even in their era.

Instead of the extreme goody-two-shoes nature of the originals that made them feel like the cast of a drug PSA, these Rangers are troubled, reluctant and often at odds with each other; they are teenagers with attitude, but not necessarily good-natured ones. Dacre Montgomery gives Jason a personality that overcomes the usual banality of the “leader” role, admitting quickly to his faults and taking command when others won’t. Naomi Scott’s Kimberly takes the original valley girl characterisation of the character and turns it on its head, showing regret for her Mean Girls-esque actions and ultimately wanting to make up for them. Ludi Lin’s Zack may not be as iconic a rebel as his John Bender inspiration but he makes for a lovable rapscallion, and though Becky G’s Trini drifts the furthest from the source that’s a good thing. Her new characterization as an anti-social, identity-questioning teen adds some much needed depth in an area that very few films aimed at kids dare touch.

But the real star here is RJ Cyler as Billy, who is far more than the stereotypical nerd character he was before. He is the real heart of the team and steals every scene he’s in with his passion and scatter-brained attempts at humour, and making him autistic not only gives context to his technobabble ramblings but also creates a much-needed hero for kids on the spectrum. But like the heroes themselves, what ultimately makes these characters work is how they interact. All of the cast feel like they have genuine chemistry with each other, learning to get along and help each other through their personal angst, and by the film’s climax you really feel like these kids have earned their heroic status.

The supporting cast isn’t quite as strong as our stars, but they all do a more-than-satisfactory job. Bryan Cranston’s Zordon is a little bit more than just the generic mentor he was on the show, showing frustration with the Rangers and not always encouraging them in the right way. As much as the film is about the Rangers learning to become a team, it’s also about Zordon coming to accept that these are the heroes of today. Bill Hader does a good job of removing Alpha 5’s more cloying personality traits, but in the process it doesn’t leave him with much to work with; he has a few funny lines here and there, but I felt like he could have been a little more sassy or excitable. Elizabeth Banks easily edges closest to traditional Power Rangers acting as the new Rita Repulsa, constantly cackling and waving her hands around, and though sometimes it can be tonally at odds with the rest of the film it remains entertaining. It’s easy enough to chalk up her eccentric behaviour to the fact she’s gone insane and just enjoy watching a respectable actor ham it up as a supervillain. My only real gripes with the cast are the ones who aren’t really there: Goldar has been reduced from Rita’s second-in-command to a generic monster, and though the film has plenty of opportunities to do so there is absolutely no Bulk & Skull anywhere to be found. Oh well, I guess that’s just another thing for them to add in the sequel.

On a technical level, the film doesn’t do a huge amount to impress but it’s still a massive step-up from even the most recent episodes of the show. The visual effects aren’t as detailed or photorealistic as the recent Transformers movies or Pacific Rim, but the more exaggerated and colourful designs make up for it. The Ranger suits themselves are a little flashy and odd at first, but in motion the designs feel more practical and visually interesting than the spandex of the past; again, close enough to the original whilst still feeling fresh. Brian Tyler’s score feels suitably epic, several times reminding me of Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy with its mix of classical and techno, but the use of pop music is a little less consistent. Whilst the occasional soundtrack choice works, especially when they find a place to play that classic theme song, a lot of them feel forced in to appeal to a teen audience. However, the film’s biggest fault is one I rarely ever bring up but here it needs addressing: product placement. There’s only one big company on display, but it’s so key to the movie that it’s actually a plot point. I can’t believe talking about a film’s product placement actually counts as a spoiler, but just don’t be surprised if you have a craving for doughnuts after watching this movie.

Here’s the real big question as to whether you’ll like this movie or not: do you or did you ever like Power Rangers as a kid? If you never did, this movie probably won’t appeal to you. If you maybe did but have written it off since, I’d still probably not recommend it. But if there is any part of you that still holds a candle for this goofy series or, better yet, you are still actively a fan, then this is a movie you are at least going to like, if not love. Does it always work? No. Is it goofy and weird and over the top? Yes. But is it entertaining? Absolutely! This is by no means a spectacular movie that’ll go down in the history books, but it accomplishes its goal admirably and was just a lot of fun to watch.

Though sometimes held back by those typical Hollywood changes, it feels like it was made with effort from people who at least understood the show if not necessarily being fans of it. Beyond just doing a solid job of updating the source material, the film actually pays attention to things like character development and thematic meaning, which immediately puts it above and beyond most movies of its ilk; take notes, Michael Bay. I was willing to settle for something much stupider in the vein of GI Joe: Retaliation or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, but Power Rangers worked so well for me that I was able to actually enjoy it unironically. If you’re a “serious” person, go ahead and knock a few points of the score below. But if you’ve come to Power Rangers just to enjoy yourself, I believe you’ll have a morphenomenal good time.

FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10

Starring: Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Dan Stevens (The Guest), Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6), Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda), Josh Gad (Frozen), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting), Ian McKellen (X-Men), Emma Thompson (Love Actually)

Director: Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)

Writers: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)

Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes

Release Date: 17 March (US, UK)

Disney continues to mine its animation catalogue for live-action adaptations, and at the moment their success has been mixed to say the least; for every The Jungle Book, there’s a Maleficent. But Beauty and the Beast is not only the most recent of their classics they’ve attempted to remake but also one of the most difficult because, at least in my opinion, it’s the best animated movie they’ve ever made. How on earth can you top a film that is already so damn near perfect? Thankfully, whilst it still doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the original, this new Beauty and the Beast is a worthy adaptation that updates the classic just enough to be fresh whilst being smart enough to preserve what is already superb.

beauty-and-beast-2017-3

If you know the 1991 original back to front, the basic plot is exactly as you remember it. This is easily the most literal translation of one of their films Disney has done with no subversions on the story or drastic tonal reinvention, with even much of the original dialogue making it through intact, but honestly there’s no reason why they should change it. Given that they’ve also kept it as a musical, the light tone and exaggerated aspects drawn right from the animation doesn’t at all feel out of place in live-action. Instead of drastically reworking the story, the film opts to simply touch up the material already there, like adding new character beats or fixing up plot holes from the original. For the most part the changes work, but equally the movie wouldn’t be much better or worse without them. Expanding on the effects on the curse on its inhabitants or delving into the fate of Belle’s mother do add some interesting detail and dramatic heft, but the original worked just as well without them. However, the subtle fixes they’ve done here and there, like explaining why no one in town knows about the castle or the inconsistencies regarding The Beast’s age and how long he’s been cursed, should be much appreciated by fans of the classic who’ve noticed these things over the years. As a whole, the film goes for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach and, though some may see the final product as too similar to the original to warrant existence, it succeeds in recognizing what needed a polish and what can stay exactly as is.

The real change in this Beauty and the Beast comes not from the format translation or story expansion, but from the new life these actors bring to their iconic roles. At their core, they are still the same timeless characters you know and love but they now feel subtly but noticeably different to reflect the new era it has been made in. Belle has always been one of Disney’s most forward and dimensional leads and doesn’t need a major revamping like, say, Cinderella did, but Emma Watson gives her a modern feminist touch-up that makes her feel fresh again. They’ve really expanded on the trailblazing nature of the character, giving her an eye for invention and a contemporary attitude to relationships that feel like a natural extension of her traits from the original. Dan Stevens’ interpretation of The Beast also feels suitably updated, using the character’s spoilt superficial upbringing as more of a justification for his initially volatile behaviour and gives an extra dimension to his character’s arc; as much as Belle learns to look past Beast’s monstrous form to see the man inside, he learns to look past her beauty to see the smart and capable woman she is.

Concerning side characters, Luke Evans and Josh Gad constantly steal the show as Gaston and LeFou. This is easily the most impressed I’ve been with a performance from Evans ever, who channels his inner Bruce Campbell to give a marvellously egotistical performance that can switch from funny to threatening in a heartbeat. Gad’s LeFou, meanwhile, has been greatly expanded from a mere comic foil to an awestruck follower too blinded to realise he’s idolising the wrong man. [To briefly address the “controversy” surrounding the character (which I shouldn’t really have to because it’s 2017, but this is still newsworthy apparently), it’s played fairly low-key and doesn’t warrant the entire hubbub it’s caused. Honestly, it’s only a step or two more overt than the subtext in the Batman/Joker relationship in The LEGO Batman Movie. It’s certainly there, but it’s the kind of a thing a younger audience will probably not even notice.] Kevin Kline is fun as Belle’s doting father Maurice, his kookiness brought down a notch and played more as loving if somewhat eccentric. The various servants at Beast’s castle are all played with aplomb by an all-star cast, though some feel a little more inconsequential than others. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen may not hold a candle on the timeless camaraderie (yes, both puns intended) of Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers’ portrayals of Lumiere and Cogsworth, but they more than apply themselves to the roles and prove to be entertaining in their own way. Similarly, Emma Thompson’s Mrs Potts doesn’t quite match up to Angela Lansbury’s interpretation, but she brings her own personal charm to the character that feels as suitably caring and sweet. However, the relationship between Lumiere and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Plumette and the new romance between Audra McDonald’s Garderobe and Stanley Tucci’s Cadenza both feel rather superfluous; I’d like to have seen the latter dropped and the former given more development.

Of course, you can’t talk about either version of Beauty and the Beast without talking about the wonderful music by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman. All the songs from the original have made the jump to live action and, whilst the original recordings shall always remain the iconic versions of these songs, the new renditions are still all-around staged and performed wonderfully; “Belle” and “Gaston” feel the most reinvigorated in their new forms, with Watson and Gad’s performances giving some new subtext to the familiar lyrics. The new songs from Aladdin lyricist Tim Rice however, like the additions to the plot, are done well enough but aren’t exactly necessary. “Days in the Sun” feels a little too much like padding and effectively serves as a stand-in for “Human Again”, a song cut from the theatrical version of the animated film because it was exactly that: padding. “Evermore” fares better considering it gives Beast the solo he never got in the original, as well as some context to his decision at the end of the second act, but again you could skip it and miss nothing. On a visual presentation level, it has that similarly grand “fairy tale come to life” feel the new Cinderella really nailed, with lavish sets and beautiful costumes that really help transport you to a fantastical world. The visual effects are noticeably less detailed than in last year’s Jungle Book, especially on The Beast, but are still well above average compared to most modern VFX and is more forgivable considering the more heightened aesthetic of this film comparatively.

Watching this new Beauty and the Beast is like watching a new production of a played you saw and loved many years ago: you still enjoy it and appreciate what is different about it, but nothing compares to that first time. It thankfully recognises that the original film is just as effective today as it was twenty-five years ago, seeing no need to drastically alter the story through needless subversion (I’m still looking at you, Maleficent). What it does choose to update are small but much appreciated refinements, and even though many of the larger changes are perfunctory none of them drag the movie down significantly. Younger audiences who may have never seen the original are going to love this, and older fans are going to appreciate seeing a piece of their childhood given respect and offer them a chance to see it fresh again. The experience can often feel like déjà vu, but not in an unnerving way. More like an “I’ve just gone back to a happy memory and appreciate being reminded of it” sort of thing. If that makes any sense to you.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Starring: Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Brie Larson (Room), Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), Jiang Tan (The Great Wall), John C. Reilly (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer)

Writers: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein (Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World)

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Release Date: 9 March (UK), 10 March (US)

King Kong movies haven’t changed all that much since 1933, and the ones that have attempted to shake up the formula generally don’t end up so good; I mean, just look at King Kong Lives. It always come back to the same beauty and the beast story about man’s effect on nature, and though Kong: Skull Island does touch on some of those themes it mostly forges it own path. This is a Kong film firmly made for this generation and, though it doesn’t quite achieve the status of some of its progenitors, it’s still a fun time at the movies.

kong-skull-island-poster-7

Skull Island doesn’t connect in any way to the 1933 original or the 2005 Peter Jackson remake, so no need to swot up on your Kong lore. It is, however, set in the same universe as 2014’s Godzilla though, other than the presence of the monster-hunting organisation Monarch and a post-credits scene, the connection is pretty minimal. There is some inspiration taken from previous Kong stories, but overall this is an entirely new tale that crafts its own unique mythology for the titular ape and island. Though the movie mainly evokes Apocalypse Now through its 1970s setting, plot-wise the film is essentially Predator: after a shady military operation goes wrong, our heroes have to survive unknown horrors as they are slowly picked off on their way to a rendezvous point. The film avoids the mistake Godzilla made and gets into the action within the first act, keeping up the momentum going from there with new challenges to face and monsters to battle. There are no attempts here to hide the monsters in favour of generic human drama; what you paid to see is there on full display. By the film’s conclusion, nothing particularly profound or important has been gleaned, but it is damn entertaining whilst it lasts.

The film does falter similarly to Godzilla in one major category, and that is its characters. However, underdeveloped as they are, what is there is far more interesting than the banal and clichéd family story that drove the previous film. The main problem with the characters isn’t so much the sheer number of them, because they’re all played by fantastic actors who’ve managed to scrape up just enough character depth between them to remain compelling. The real problem is that there’s no clear protagonist amongst them, so it’s hard to really know who we’re supposed to be rotting for. Tom Hiddleston’s Conrad seems like he’s supposed to be our viewpoint, but much of his personality is shrouded in stoicism and he just comes across as a generic tough guy; he’s like an early Arnold Schwarzenegger character but without the physique to convince you. Brie Larson’s Mason seems like an ideal focus being the most out-of-place character, perfectly setting her up to be a more proactive equivalent to Ann Darrow from the original, but the film has little for her to do other than take pictures and contemplate the futility of war. John Goodman is given some interesting set-up with his backstory connection to Kong but the movie quickly runs out of things for him to do, and you know Toby Kebbell is doomed from the moment you see him writing a letter to his kid.

There are, however, some bright spots in the cast. There’s some good Predator-esque banter amongst the grunt soldiers in the group, particularly between Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham’s characters, and John C. Reilly makes for entertaining comic relief/plot expositor as an out-of-touch WWII pilot who has just enough genuine pathos to avoid being overly kooky. The real star of the show however is Samuel L. Jackson as Packard, receiving the most set-up and development of anyone in the cast as a career soldier with nothing to live for other than his troops. His crazed obsession with taking revenge of Kong is what really drives the movie, bringing back in the man vs. nature themes the franchise has always had and some much needed interpersonal conflict amongst our characters. But of course I must mention Kong himself who, though having far less direct contact with the human characters than previous portrayals, does get across a lot through simple body language. He, like the new Godzilla, is treated more like a force of nature, but the fact he can more clearly emote and has more ample screen time makes him a compelling presence even when he’s not kicking ass.

Speaking of which, said ass-kicking is what ultimately makes Kong: Skull Island worth the ride. There are no attempts to hide the action through documentary-style filmmaking or setting everything at night or in the rain. All of the Kong fights are shot in broad daylight with the camera pulled back to allow you to witness the carnage without obstruction. There are plenty of moments where we witness these battles from the human perspective, like our characters’ first encounter against a skullcrawler, but it’s used only to create scale rather than as a crutch; unless the human characters are involved, the filmmakers let us watch the fight unhindered. The creature designs and the CGI used to create them is also fantastic, eschewing the traditional “normal animals, but bigger and scarier” in favour of unique beasts like a spindly giant spider that can disguise its legs as bamboo or a bizarre insectoid log monster. The detailed sound design for Kong and these creatures really immerses you into the environment, especially if you see this in a theatre with good surround sound, and Henry Jackman’s score is suitably foreboding and thunderous. In contrast, the constant use of period rock music every other scene quickly becomes grading; I don’t need Creedence Clearwater Revival constantly playing in the background to understand it’s the 70s.

Though Kong: Skull Island doesn’t have the most complex narrative or compelling characters, it has just enough to pass and then more than compensates with the creativity of its world building and engaging action set pieces. It lacks the historical significance of the original or the emotional heart of the Jackson remake, but I’m glad to see a King Kong movie that can move beyond the well-worn story of the past and do something new with the mythology. It’s a marked improvement over Godzilla by simply not taking itself as seriously, focusing instead on what a giant monster movie should be: entertaining. There’s still some improvement to be done, but hopefully come the inevitable point when Kong and Godzilla finally come to blows, it’ll be a clash worth waiting for.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario), Allison Williams (Girls), Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class)

Writer/Director: Jordan Peele (Keanu)

Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes

Release Date: 24 February (US), 17 March (UK)

Like with all genre pictures, horror movies are at their best when they are about something. When one uses its tricks and scares to say something about the world whilst simultaneously creeping you out, you know you are watching something with far greater intentions than making a quick buck. Get Out is certainly one of those films, using the style and tropes of horror films to make a fresh and timely comment on modern subconscious racism.

get-out-2017-2

Get Out clearly wears its references on its sleeve, taking cues from The Stepford Wives and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner amongst others, but they never feel like a direct lift. Instead, the film uses similar concepts and iconography to tell a story all its own that reflects our present rather than the sources’ past. It follows a typical horror movie structure but it doesn’t try to constantly shock you as most modern flicks would. Instead, the tension is gradually but painfully eked out of you through a growing sense of discomfort through everyday racial awkwardness. It’s a situation many of us can relate to no matter which side of the embarrassment you usually fall on, and through the constant tightening of this situation the true horror is revealed. This slow build before an inevitable bloody release reminded me a lot of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, whilst the clever planting of hints throughout the story clearly owes a lot to the works of Edgar Wright. The third act is perhaps a little abrupt and leaves you wanting more, but that seems to be its intention. By denying you a definitive conclusion, it leaves that air of unease on you even as you’re leaving the theatre.

Acting in horror movies can often been seen as an afterthought, but in Get Out they are almost exclusively what drives the terror. Daniel Kaluuya as Chris is a star-making turn playing the fish-out-of-water in a very intimidating ocean. He does a great job of rationalising and staying calm in such a potentially scary situation, making him a believable character whilst also making a comment on typical horror movie protagonists; he’s not totally oblivious to his predicament. Allison Williams as girlfriend Rose is also excellent, caught between supporting Chris and rationalising the inappropriate behaviour of her parents. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are fantastic as said parents, especially Whitford in the way he so calmly and confidently says insensitive things or appropriates Ebonics. Caleb Landry Jones feels a little needless as Rose’s brother Jeremy, crossing the line a little to far into traditional racism rather than everyone else’s subdued approach, but it’s not enough to sour the experience. There’s some great supporting work also from the likes of Keith Stanfield and Stephen Root, but the real show-stealer is LilRel Howery as Chris’ best friend Rod. He provides some much needed comic relief, essentially acting as the voice of the audience, whilst also demonstrating an intelligence rarely seen by horror movie characters; he’s like Randy from Scream, but without having to be annoyingly meta.

Many were confused to see Jordan Peele put his comedic career aside to make a horror movie as his directorial debut, but not only does his love for the genre shine through but his comedy chops prove easily translatable. Like a great joke, a great scare requires strong set-up, effective timing and a big payoff, and Peele clearly understands both. The atmosphere of unease is created masterfully, making a seemingly pleasant country home as scary as any haunted mansion and makes creepy iconography out of the most everyday things; you’ll never look at teacups the same way again. The score by Michael Abels is also very effective, often evoking a similar eeriness to Mica Levi’s work on Under the Skin but also able to adapt to the more mundane scenes.

Get Out is a modern horror masterpiece up there with other recent classics of the genre like It Follows and Don’t Breathe. It mines its relevant topic to the core to create a disturbing but thought-provoking and entertaining experience like no other. Jordan Peele has surprisingly revealed himself as a new potential master of horror, and if he can follow up this debut with equally impressive features then he could go all the way to the top.

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: First Contact), Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook (The Skeleton Twins), Stephen Merchant (I Give It a Year), Richard E. Grant (Withnail & I)

Director: James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma)

Writers: Scott Frank (Minority Report) & James Mangold and Michael Green (Green Lantern)

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Release Date: 1 March (UK), 3 March (US)

It’s kind of hard to believe that fans didn’t readily accept Hugh Jackman when he was cast as Wolverine nearly two decades ago. Now on his ninth portrayal of the character, he is practically bonded to him. But inevitably it becomes time to move on and, rather than let age or apathy bring an end to the character, Jackman has decided to definitely conclude his story with Logan. The final result is not only the best solo Wolverine movie, but also a unique and captivating film in its own right that stands apart from the rest of the superhero genre.

loganimaxposter

Picking up sometime after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Logan quickly sets the tone with its sun-scorched landscapes, resentful characters, frequent profanity and abundance of gore; this certainly ain’t one for the kiddies. It has far more in common with films like Children of Men and Hell or High Water than it does with any X-Men film, but that bleak grounded approach feels fitting for what is this character’s last mission. The story itself is a relatively straightforward road movie for our protagonists to meet new characters, flee from the bad guys, and ultimately bond over the course of the journey. The story flows as you’d expect and there aren’t any particularly big twists (especially if you’re a fan of the comics), but this is ultimately a character-focused movie and the simple plot does everything it needs to do to support that. This is easily the best character study of a superhero since Batman Begins, and it accomplishes a far more weighty examination of a hero on his last legs than The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a superhero film far more driven by atmosphere and emotion than action, delivering moments of anguish and depth superior to most Oscar bait, and so if you’ve been following this franchise since the beginning there is a more than likely chance you’ll get a little teary-eyed towards its conclusion. I certainly did.

Hugh Jackman has made the character of Wolverine his own now, and his performance in Logan is easily his finest as the character yet. Jackman does an excellent job of creating a Logan that is tired, bitter and fed up with his own existence. He’s finally given the opportunity to go all out on the berserker front, delivering a performance that is equally the most comic-accurate portrayal but also the most human and nuanced; he’s definitely justified with calling it quits on this high note. Also returning for the last time is Patrick Stewart in an incredibly unorthodox portrayal of Professor X that rivals Jackman’s on the tragedy scale. He is broken in more ways than one and far from the eternal optimist he was back in 2000, but underneath is still the Charles Xavier we know and love and Stewart pulls on those heartstrings more than effectively. The rest of the supporting cast all do a good job but aren’t always utilised to their full potential. Stephen Merchant’s Caliban serves as some good comic relief early on but his importance to the story gradually fizzles away, and though Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant are suitably slimy as the villains of the piece there isn’t exactly much depth to them; by the time they start getting interesting, the movie’s almost over. However, Logan’s breakout star is easily Dafne Keen as the mysterious Laura. Keen accomplishes a lot through very little dialogue, nailing both the young innocent girl in need of a father figure and feral wild child sides of the character equally. If they ever announce a spin-off with her in the lead, I’m going to be first in line.

Fans have been clamouring for a true R-rated Wolverine movie for years and Logan more than delivers on that sadistic need. It’s arguably even more graphic than Deadpool with the amount of bloodshed on display, but it all feels appropriate given the bleak tone. The action sequences aren’t always the most imaginatively staged or filmed, occasionally falling prey to too many quick cuts, but the excessiveness of the violence more than makes up for it. Without all of the superpowers it’d be easy to mistake Logan for an indie film, as the gritty cinematography and rundown production design creates a near-future USA that feels all too inevitable. Marco Beltrami’s score is suitably dour and western-influenced, and the soundtrack choices echo that ambience equally too; placing a Johnny Cash song on it almost feels too perfect.

Logan is easily the best superhero film of its kind since The Dark Knight, finding that suitable balance between escapism and verisimilitude to create a grim but thoroughly entertaining movie. This is the Wolverine story fans have wanted to see on screen all along, and the filmmakers are to be commended for taking the character to this difficult but necessary place. Even if another actor succeeds him sooner or later, Hugh Jackman‘s performance here makes him now and forever the definitive Wolverine alongside other superhero icons like Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr. If the X-Men franchise as we know it called it quits here I’d be more than satisfied, but if it has to continue I hope they find ways to be as uniquely different from Logan as it has from its X-Men forbearers.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Like a lot of other things these past twelve months, 2016 in film wasn’t at its greatest. It was a year of disappointments and mediocrity for the most part, and then a lot of the really great films didn’t find an audience and died at the box office. But now’s a chance to redeem the year. As I traditionally do, collected here are all my favourite films from the past twelve months, ordered by how much I personally enjoyed them. This isn’t me telling you which films are technically best or did the most to further the craft. This is me relaying to you which films impacted me the most, and why I think you should give them a watch if you haven’t already. So, without further preamble, let’s get started!

Honourable Mentions

Everybody Wants Some!!

Eye in the Sky

Deepwater Horizon

Florence Foster Jenkins

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

25. The Witch

A surreal and wholly original horror film, The Witch may not be to everyone’s taste but, if you like your scares subtle and haunting rather big and gory, then it’s definetely one to check out. The film’s grim and beleaguered atmosphere, combined with the strict attention to historical detail, creates an distinctively uncomfortable environment and makes you question whether these horrid events are feats of the supernatural or just paranoid insanity. Anchoring the film is the tremendous lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, and if this and Split are any indication then we may have a new scream queen for the ages on our hands.

large_the-witch

24. The Conjuring 2

Making an effective horror sequel is damn tricky, but James Wan has managed to do just that with The Conjuring 2. In many ways it is the same film as its predecessor, but by changing up enough like the setting, the character dynamics, and the nature of the haunting, it balances that line between being an original film and connecting itself back to the first movie just right. The scares are solidly crafted, aided by expert cinematography for the right amount of tense atmosphere, but the characters are detailed and likable too; when’s the last time you could say that about a horror movie? If Wan and company plan to keep going with the adventures of the Warrens, I’m all for it.

the-conjuring-2

23. Hell or High Water

Probably the best contemporary Western of its kind since No Country for Old Men, Hell or High Water takes a fascinating look at oft-forgotten Middle America and explores the desperation measures two brothers will take to ensure their family’s future. Chris Pine and Ben Foster give career-best performances as our bank robbers out to fight the system, and Jeff Bridges’ role as a sort-of mash-up between Rooster Cogburn and Samuel Gerard makes for a compelling and sympathetic opposing force. It’s a film that feels more necessary than ever in our current financial state, and will maybe even make you understand why that part of the world is as bitter towards the coastal states as they are.

XXX _HELL OR HIGH WATER _10710.JPG L

22. The Jungle Book

Disney’s experiment of remaking their classic animation library into live-action adventures not only finally produced a genuinely good movie, but one that is perhaps even better than the film that inspired it. The Jungle Book is a marvellous movie that can be appreciated purely for its technical excellence in combing live action with CGI, perhaps even surpassing Avatar in terms of seamlessness, but it also manages to make a coherent story out of what used to be a series of vignettes. Neel Sethi is an amazing discovery as our lead Baloo, and the fantastic supporting cast from Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley to Idris Elba and Christopher Walken are equally excellent. Now it’s all up to Beauty and the Beast to prove whether this was just a fluke or a new beginning for this series of sorts.

hero_the-jungle-book-2016

21. Sausage Party

Seth Rogen and company take a hilarious stab at parodying the Disney/Pixar classics in this raunchy but surprisingly deep animated comedy. The best film of its kind since Team America: World Police, Sausage Party doesn’t pull any punches with its humour and manages to make some valid points about religious belief and the hard choice between the easy lie and the harsh truth. The animation itself may not be the most polished but its comedic ambitions more than make up for it, and that penultimate scene would easily be the most graphic thing ever put on cinema screens if it weren’t all just a bunch of cartoon food.

maxresdefault

20. Star Trek Beyond

Learning from all the missteps of Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond tells a new and exciting tale for the crew of the Enterprise that finally manages to find the perfect balance between classic Trek social commentary and new-school action blockbuster. Justin Lin injects the film with his Fast & Furious flavour without at all diluting the traditional sci-fi experience, and the entire returning crew is as fantastic as ever along with exciting newcomers like Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella. It’s fun, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s a fitting tribute to both the entire series for its 50th anniversary and to the late Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

STAR TREK BEYOND

19. Manchester by the Sea

One of the more simple and authentic stories on this list, Manchester by the Sea is a film purely about human drama and it wrings out every possible ounce it can. Casey Affleck has never been better as a dangerously depressed man placed in the last position he wants to be in, but he’s also ably supported by a star-making turn from Lucas Hedges and a small but powerful turn by Michelle Williams. It’s a relatable and sombre tale about loss and rebuilding that doesn’t necessarily agree with the notion that all wounds heal, but even amidst the bleakest darkness lies a glimmer of light.

MBTS_3869.CR2

18. Doctor Strange

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand into more of its crazier dimensions, and Doctor Strange managed to make all of its mystical madness accessible whilst delivering one of best standalone stories in the franchise thus far. The trippy visuals alone make it one of the most spectacular cinema experiences of the year, perfectly capturing the psychedelic artwork of co-creator Steve Ditko, but it was also strengthened by a simple but well-crafted story and a stellar cast led by a wonderfully arrogant turn by Benedict Cumberbatch. After now introducing magic into this series, how much weirder can the Marvel movies get? Oh, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has Kurt Russell playing a literal planet? OK, it can get weirder!

doctorstrangereview

17. Silence

Martin Scorsese moves out of his typical crime tales and gives us this harrowing tale more in the vein of his Kundun or The Last Temptation of Christ. Silence is a bold and gut-wrenching look at how far one man can take his dedication to his faith, showing both the sacrifices that must be made but also the hope it brings. It doesn’t paint either side in clear colours, and by the end you may find yourself rooting for the Japanese just so the torment can stop. With both this and a certain other film later on this list, Andrew Garfield reaffirms his place as an actor to be taken seriously with his haunting performance, and the supporting turns from Adam Driver and Liam Neeson help strengthen what is already a solid core. It’s not for everyone and I doubt I’ll see it again, but the one experience alone will last me a lifetime of thought.

silence-movie__732860_

16. Lion

Lion may essentially be the longest and most brilliant advertisement for Google Earth ever, but it also tells a heartfelt and inspiring story about an impossible search. Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman all give fantastic performances, but it is newcomer Sunny Pawar who shines brightest as the young Saroo who loses his family in unbelievable fashion. It’s a beautiful film that captures the feel of India similarly to Slumdog Millionaire but with a little less whimsy, and the final moments alone make the entire journey so worth it.

lion-dev-patel-rooney-mara-2

15. Hidden Figures

An uplifting and inspiring true story finally brought to the forefront, Hidden Figures would have been fascinating if it had focused on the scientists behind the Space Race alone, but making it about oft-overlooked figures like Katharine G. Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn makes it all the more important. Taraji P. Henson provides a wonderful and overlooked lead performance as Johnson, alongside the equally talented Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as Vaughn and Mary Jackson respectively. The movie drives home an important message about the necessity of equality for humanity to reach its peak, and finally gives these unsung heroes the respect they deserve.

2a617d644005b6f48547abc0279b3ed864c1b284

14. La La Land

Whilst not as strikingly brilliant as his debut feature Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a beautiful and welcome homage to the Hollywood musicals of old that also modernises them for the cynical age we now live in. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling perfectly embody the chemistry of the classic on-screen couples but in a far more honest light, focusing more on the struggle and torment of following your dreams than the glamour of making it. It finds that rare balance between being nostalgic and realistic, crafting a film that is the cinematic definition of bittersweet but in a good way.

LLL d 29 _5194.NEF

13. Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika may continue to be unappreciated by modern audiences, but that doesn’t mean their achievements in animation should go unnoticed. Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautiful piece of filmmaking that combines all the elements of great animation, both storytelling and production-wise, to craft what may be the company’s most spectacular feat yet. The art style alone is enough to suck you into the world, but the endearing characters and sweet messages about the power of compassion and memory make it so much more than just an impressive feat of animation. If you haven’t seen it yet, pick it up and make sure this one doesn’t become forgotten.

maxresdefault1

12. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One proves Star Wars has legs outside of the core saga films, meaning we are bound to get more and more trips to the galaxy far, far away in the near future. Taking a distinctly different approach to the universe whilst still remaining quintessentially Star Wars, this is the first film in the franchise that really feels like it was made for adult fans, but the charm and humour of the series is there just enough for the young ones; see, George, this is how you do it! It doesn’t quite have the heart and character of the saga films, but it more than makes up for that with some of the best action sequences the series has ever offered and fan service done the right way. If all future spin-offs can be at least this good, I’m happy for as much Star Wars as they can manage.

rogue-one-header

11. The Nice Guys

Shane Black. Need I say more? The Nice Guys is the summation of every achievement in Black’s career, sticking to his formula dating way back to his origins creating Lethal Weapon but infuses it with both a modern filmmaking touch and a 1970s sheen of neon and excess. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are a duo worthy of the writer/director’s incredible legacy of double acts, bouncing off each other dramatically as well as comically, but newcomer Angourie Rice often steals the show from her elders in one of the best child performances in recent memory. But more than anything, The Nice Guys is just a lot of fun, and if you missed it in theatres then there is no better time to catch up than now.

niceguy-facebookjumbo-v3

10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s comedic tale of a young delinquent and his foster father surviving in the wilderness of New Zealand is a film that could have only come from such a unique and talented voice. Julian Dennison is a revelation as the rough but lovable Ricky, and Sam Neill’s performance as his coarse guardian Hector is easily the best he’s given in years. It has a scale and confidence only hinted at in Waititi’s earlier films, as the film expands from a small-scale story to what seems like a country-wide manhunt; comedies rarely ever attempt this absurd level of scale anymore. It’s a gem I hope more people will discover over the years, and I can’t wait to see what Waititi can bring to Thor: Ragnarok this autumn.

hunt2-master768

9. Zootopia

Disney has been pushing back against their clichés in their recent animated efforts but Zootopia (or Zootropolis, whatever you want to call it) is the first to go beyond that and challenge relevant real-world problems instead of their own antiquated logic. What could have been a safe family picture gradually reveals itself as a call for socio-political re-evaluation; a message of a brighter future for kids to aspire to and adults to reflect on. The year that followed from this film only reaffirmed how much this is a real issue, but that only makes the film’s themes even stronger. On top of being funny, creative and heart-warming, Zootopia is an animated film that means something beyond just entertainment, and it’s one I can see myself revisiting over and over again.

zootopia-3

8. Don’t Breathe

The most thrilling and gut-wrenching film of its kind since Hard Candy, Don’t Breathe shows how much promise Fede Alvarez has as a director when not shackled to the expectations of remaking Evil Dead. It’s an incredibly simple film but executed with such precision and grit; it’s like a Hitchcock or De Palma film but made with the aesthetics of early Tobe Hooper. Jane Levy cements her status as a modern scream queen, and Stephen Lang’s performance as The Blind Man quickly ranks him among the best horror villains in recent cinema. Why? Because he seems all too real. 2016 wasn’t a great year for film in general, but it was pretty good for horror and Don’t Breathe easily takes the crown amongst a crop of worthy contenders.

stephen-lang-in-dont-breathe1

7. Captain America: Civil War

The Captain America films just keep getting better and Civil War is not only the finest of that sub-series so far but also one of Marvel’s best movies to date. Bringing together so many corners of the universe and yet still managing to make it a tight, character-focused story is incredibly impressive, and the film continues The Winter Soldier’s political angle with interesting contemplations on government interference in foreign conflicts, the use of emergency powers, and moral duty versus need. The introductions of Black Panther and the new-and-improved Spider-Man add whole new dimensions to the franchise going forward, and it ends on a note that once again leaves the rest of the MCU in an uncertain place. Avengers: Infinity War is going to have to try its damndest to top this, but in the hands of the Russo brothers I have all the confidence I can give.

captain_america_civil_war_8k-wide

6. Hacksaw Ridge

To quote South Park, “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the son-of-a-bitch knows story structure!” Gibson returns to the director’s chair in what is undoubtedly a Mel Gibson film through-and-through, but one that is as heartfelt and inspiring as it is violent and harrowing. This is a classic, beautifully told story of a conscientious objector holding onto his values in the face of insurmountable odds, and the nightmarish depictions of war only Gibson could provide drive home the man’s struggle. Andrew Garfield delivers a career-best performance as Desmond Doss, holding the film on his optimistic shoulders throughout every grisly but engrossing action sequence, as well as some surprisingly strong supporting performances from the likes of Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer and Hugo Weaving. This is a movie so good, it makes Sam Worthington seem compelling; now that’s an impressive feat!

hacksaw-ridge-2016-andrew-garfield

5. Moonlight

It’s hard to say a lot about Moonlight. It’s just one of those movies you have to experience to really understand the full impact. Possibly the most daring and imperative coming-of-age tale in decades, Moonlight shines a spotlight on the ugly sides of adolescence and paints a picture of a boy struggling with intense pain, confusion and denial. The lead performances of our protagonist over the years by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes are all uniformly excellent, but the film is truly made powerful by the supporting turns by Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, along with the beautiful direction courtesy of Barry Jenkins. This isn’t just another self-important drama. This is era-defining cinema at its finest.

moonlight_movie_wide

4. Arrival

Prisoners. Enemy. Sicario. With a filmography like that, was there any doubt that Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival would be anything less than spectacular? This exploration into the nature of communication, co-operation and the concept of time is a thought-provoking and challenging experience that could not have been released at a more relevant time. Amy Adams, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination in my opinion, takes the lead in perhaps her finest performance to date, but ultimately this is Villeneuve’s film and he imbues it with so much atmosphere and tension that there is never a dull moment. That’s impressive for a movie mostly consisting of scientists communicating with aliens via flash cards and Rorschach blots.

arrival-trailer1-screen2

3. Deadpool

Easily the film with the most pop culture impact of the year, Deadpool is not only a comic book fan’s wet dream come true but also one of the most original and out-there comedies of the decade. Ryan Reynolds all but vaporises our collective memories of the character’s horrendous portrayal in X-Men Origins: Wolverine within the opening credits, and the film that follows is a gag-a-minute explosion fest that lampoons the X-Men franchise, modern superhero films, and generally any target it can crack out a good joke about. But what ultimately makes Deadpool more than just a fun time is that it actually has a heart of gold underneath, with all the humour built around a bizarre but touching romance about unconditional love. I doubt any sequels will be able to top the original’s excellence, but I dare them to try.

deadpool-770x321

2. Your Name

The body swap movie is hardly a new concept, but usually it’s used simply for farce. Your Name at first may just seem like a really good version of that tried-and-true formula, but give it a while and you’ll soon discover it is so much more. An examination of cultural divide, gender stereotypes and a romance that breaks the boundaries of time and space, Your Name is that rare movie that makes you experience every emotion to its fullest during its running time. Makoto Shinkai now stands alongside Mamoru Hosoda as a potential inheritor to Miyazaki’s throne as king of anime, and it’s all thanks to this poignant, beautiful film. Just please, for the love of everything, make sure you watch the Japanese dub! You’ll thank me later.

kiminonawa-1024x683

1. Sing Street

Sing Street may not be the most socially relevant or groundbreaking film of the year, but it’s got bucket loads of the one thing we all need right now: optimism. A 1980s coming-of-age rock ‘n roll fable from Once and Begin Again director John Carney, there is simply no other movie this year that uplifted me more than this charming and relatable tale of young love and dreams. The performances are all-around fantastic, particularly from Jack Reynor as our protagonist’s burnout of a brother and Lucy Boynton as the mythical girl of desire, but what ultimately seals the deal is the music. Not only are the period soundtrack choices excellent, the original music our eponymous band play are as catchy and upbeat as any 80s cheese classic; I rushed out and bought the album straight after seeing it. The film is sitting on Netflix right now, so you have absolutely no excuse to miss this. If you haven’t already, go watch Sing Street and have yourself one heck of a good time.

sing-street


Starring: Keanu Reeves (The Matrix), Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Riccardo Scamarcio (Burnt), Common (Run All Night), Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black), Lance Reddick (Fringe), Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel)

Director: Chad Stahelski (John Wick)

Writer: Derek Kolstad (John Wick)

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Release Date: 10 February (US), 17 February (UK)

The first John Wick was a breath of fresh air in the stagnant action genre, delivering crisp, brutal stunt work and gunfights that put every shaky-cam, quick-cut hack to shame. It revitalised Keanu Reeves as a viable action lead, and also somehow managed to tell an interesting revenge tale in a rich and well-developed story world. With its success, a sequel was inevitable but its good quality was not. Might they have blown their wad in the first outing? John Wick: Chapter 2, thankfully, confirms they were only getting started.

john_wick_chapter_two_ver2_xlg

Picking up right where the first movie left off, Chapter 2 continues to show the increasingly dire ramifications of Wick’s decision to come out of retirement. The plot itself feels less personal than the first but it does feel grander, opening up the world of assassins in interesting ways. There are a lot more twists and turns here as opposed to the simple revenge story, with characters double crossing each other or revealing shocking new information, and whilst some of it is predictable it’s never boring because every turn ratchets up the stakes. Every plot development flows into the next action sequence, which then develops the plot further and so on; it’s not just a bunch of jibber-jabber broken up with the occasional gunfight. But what’s most impressive about Chapter 2 is how much it opens the door of possibilities for future stories in this world. Details only hinted at in the original are expanded upon, chock full of rich characters begging for expansion in further stories, and all ending on a terrific hook for the next film that should every audience member begging to see what happens next.

Many mistakenly call Keanu Reeves a bad actor, but that’s mainly because he so often miscast. Put him in the right role and he shines, and the character of John Wick might be his finest to date. He’s a man of few words that speaks mainly through his actions, and Reeves knows how to pull off cool with just a look and a monosyllabic response. It’s not exactly Oscar-worthy acting, but for this kind of movie it’s all you need. The returning cast is also great, with Ian McShane getting a little more to do as Continental manager Winston and Lance Reddick is as brilliant as ever as the hilariously dry concierge Charon; even John Leguizamo returns for a brief but humorous cameo. In terms of new players, Common stands out the most as the persistent bodyguard Cassian; he’s essentially playing his character from Run All Night again, but this time in a good movie. Ruby Rose is a bit of fun as mute henchwoman Ares, sharing the occasional bit of silent banter with Wick, but I wish there was just a little more to her character. The same could be said for Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King, though he honestly feels like he’s being set-up to be more important later. The major flaw here is Riccardo Scamarcio as main antagonist Santino. His scheme is certainly much grander than that of the villains in the first movie, but as a character he feels less compelling; he lacks that flair of eccentricity that makes everyone else in the movie stand out.

What you ultimately come to a John Wick movie for is the action, and director Chad Stahelski has outdone himself on this one. Every action sequence in this movie is a marvel to behold, combining expert choreography with beautiful cinematography and expertly paced editing. Thanks to this attention to detail and perfection, there is not a single hit or gunshot that gets lost in the melee, making you feel the impact of every kill. Sure, sometimes the action looks so immaculately conceived that it’s like watching someone play Superhot at full speed, but I’ll easily take that over yet another Bourne-wannabe disaster. For now, I’d rather not say anymore and let you behold this film’s mastery for yourself.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is to the first film as The Raid 2 was to its predecessor: it may not be as original, but it’s certainly bigger, bolder and moves the story forward in a meaningful way. This is the fine wine of action films, classily designed and feeling elegant every step of the way. Its story may not transcend the genre, but on a pure visceral level you’d be hard-pressed to find a better movie of its kind in the modern marketplace. When that third chapter finally arrives, it is now primed to be one hell of an action extravaganza.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10