Tag Archives: Movie reviews

SCREENWASH HOLIDAY ROUND-UP including FILM REVIEWS OF: ANT MAN & THE WASP (2018), SEARCHING (2018) and THE MEG (2017) etc.

SCREENWASH HOLIDAY ROUND-UP

Having a little blog break for a few weeks or so, thus here are some quick catch-up reviews of films I saw recently at the cinema, with the usual marks out of eleven.

 

ANT-MAN AND WASP (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas return in this simultaneously microscopic and gigantic work of Marvel entertainment. The story follows after the events of Civil War (2016) with Scott Lang under FBI house arrest due to breaking the Sokovia Accords. Thus, he must, alongside new crime-fighting partner, The Wasp, battle criminals, freaky super-villains and the FBI without leaving his home. While the original Ant-Man (2015) was anchored within the heist genre, this energetic sequel follows an action meets romantic-comedy plot and on the whole really works thanks to great chemistry between Rudd and Lilly. Throw in some mind-bending shenanigans involving the quantum realm and a memorable car chase set-piece, you get another fun-packed and witty Marvel film. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE MEG (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cinema a gigantic budgeted shark movie comes at you. Derivative and overly serious The Meg is nonetheless, at times, a spectacularly decent guilty pleasure with some wonderful shark action. The ensemble cast led by the compact but powerful Jason Statham try their best with a functional script while director, John Turteltaub, hacks his way through a seen-it-done-better narrative. The best bits belong to Statham and the sharks but it should’ve been funnier and bloodier! I mean look at the size of the Megaladon and its bite radius. There should have been more gore and bloody death in this entertaining, if over-inflated monster movie.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

SEARCHING (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

You wait ages for a smartly scripted genre film and two come along at the same time with Upgrade (2018), and now, Searching (2018).  I’m not usually a fan of “found/live footage” films but this format absolutely worked for this film. The thriller plot finds John Cho’s computer programmer hunting down his missing daughter. As the images and sound derive from news footage, social media sources, YouTube, Facetime, and Live online chat sites it could get boring but it never does. This is because the script is so well written with a twisty plot which creates superb drama and tension throughout. John Cho is excellent too in a very entertaining genre movie that raises the pulse and tugs at the heartstrings too.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

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SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018 – including: Alone in Berlin (2018), Call Me by Your Name (2017), Leave No Trace (2018), Testament of Youth (2014) and many more.

SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018

I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.

 

ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX

Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA

Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (

Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)SKY CINEMA

Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

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CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX

Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX

This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX

This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.

(Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

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HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX

Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE

The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX

Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX

Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX

Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

“Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people.”
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The concept of Katabasis is a descent of some kind, such as moving downhill, or a military retreat, or in this context, a violent journey into the underworld. The term has multiple related meanings in poetry, psychology and Greek Mythology. Heroes such as: Orpheus, Odysseus and Lazarus went down into the depths of Hades to locate lost loved ones, collect information and battle their demons. Conversely, writer-director S. Craig Waller has produced something akin to Sam Peckinpah reinventing the story of Orpheus. But instead of employing beautiful music to crush the enemy, Waller’s anti-hero Bradley Thomas, uses his fists, head, body, bats, bars, guns, and hulking power to defeat his foes.

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The story opens with a stunning shot from behind of Vince Vaughn’s bald, bulking head emblazoned with a startling crucifix tattoo. As a means of establishing character and showing us the world we’re in it is emphatic, visceral and deviously economic. You know immediately not to mess with Bradley Thomas as he is a coiled spring of masculine power, yet he also has a strong moral compass. Finding himself out-of-work and in difficult financial times, Thomas takes up drug courier work to support his pregnant wife portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter. All is going smoothly until a deal with a Mexican drug cartel goes awry and, from when Thomas enters prison, all manner of sickening and brutal hell breaks loose.

The film is shot on a low budget but the style is impressive. The cinematographer, Benji Bakshi, along with the director Waller, are brave in their choices; utilising natural light, drained colours, shadows and darkness. Often Thomas’ is lit by a slit or shaft or box of light as his character finds himself trapped in corridors and cells as well as his own life choices. Much will also be made of the ultra-violence which includes some impressive bone-crunching Foley sound work. But, the hyper-real violence, while reminiscent of the cartoon horror gore of early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, is paradoxically not exploitative. This is because it is contextualised within the brutal crime setting and driven by Thomas’ powerful desire to save the people he loves.

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The screenplay, also written by Waller, is full of witty one-liners and deadpan repartee between hard-bitten, desperate criminals and jailers who look as though they have been transported right out of hard-pipe thrillers such as: John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Don Siegel’s crime gem Charley Varrick (1973).  While over two hours long the plot moves pretty quickly, yet Waller takes his time deliberately building character, suspense and tension before busting out into spectacular violence. Having previously directed the stunning B-movie Western Bone Tomahawk (2015), S. Craig Waller is certainly making a name for himself as an independent film director of some note.

Waller finds a compelling cinematic partner-in-crime in Vince Vaughn too. Vaughn, who burst on the scene with a hilarious performance in brilliant indie-hit Swingers (1996), could be argued to have not lived up to his full acting potential. While he has performed in some excellent movies his CV is also peppered with unfunny comedies, soporific romances and bland family films. Don’t get me wrong, we have to pay the mortgage but there’s always been a nagging sense Vaughn was not utilising his meaty acting ability. Having said that in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and now Brawl in Cell Block 99, he proves himself to be a character actor of some force. Indeed, his natural comedic timing, muscular frame and searing intensity are all utilised here to mesmeric impact in a career-best performance.

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Katabasis, as aforementioned, is about descent; but the archetypal hero will usually return triumphant in victory. Brawl in Cell Block 99 offers an alternative vision of moral redemption though within Bradley Thomas’ avenging-angel-versus-the-devil narrative. As such, Brawl in Cell Block 99 joins a list of recent lower-budgeted-independent-minded movies such as: Cold in July (2014), Green Room (2015), Out of the Furnace (2013) and Hell or High Water (2016), which rip into the dark underbelly of United States’ industrial and criminal landscape leaving us in no doubt to the destructive nature of the American dream.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2

**MINIMAL SPOILERS**

I’m a tad tardy on my cinema reviews for last month mainly because I have been writing a couple of short script projects to be filmed. One is a sharp little horror story called Flatmates and I’m looking to shoot in November. The casting has been going well, after which I will rehearse and film on HD video. The other is a follow-up to our Star Trek fan film Chance Encounter (2017) released earlier this year online, which has now has over 40,000 views on YouTube!!  Not quite Gangnam Style or dancing cats on a piano but pretty good nonetheless to have one’s work viewed that much.

Anyway, enough of the filmmaking hobby momentarily to switch back to the film reviewing pastime. Below are reviews of three excellent genre films, plus a little reprise of my opinions on Aronofsky’s two hours of hell that was Mother (2017). As usual they are marked out of eleven in tribute to This is Spinal Tap!

IT (2017)

Stephen King is clearly a genius. To be able to maintain creativity and longevity as a writer, plus give birth, as it were, to any number of iconic narratives, characters and events is a testament to his massive energy and talent. When I was young one of the scariest things I ever saw on TV was the horror serial Salem’s Lot (1979), which was about vampires taking over a small town. His book Carrie (1976) was also adapted into one of the best horror films of the seventies too. Moreover, the ‘80s TV and cinema screens were peppered with King’s work notably: The Shining (1980), Stand by Me (1986) and the under-rated Pet Semetary (1989).  In 1990, Tommy Lee Wallace directed a mini-series of IT, with the terrifying Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. IT proved to be an excellent horror story until the – faithfully sticking to the novel of course – ridiculously silly ending.

Stephen King's It Trailer screen grab

Flash forward twenty-seven years and Pennywise is back to haunt the dreams, drains and sewer pipes of Derry, Maine, using manipulation and fear to lure teenagers to their death. Developed by, among others Cary Fukunaga, the film was eventually directed by Andy Muschietti and has deservedly become a big box office hit. I say deservedly because, while it is not a particularly amazing cinema offering, it is a highly entertaining genre horror film. As an experienced Stephen King cinema and TV viewer all the staples are there such as: geeky-small-town-outsider-kids; abusive tough-guy-bully types; negligent parents or appropriate adult; monstrous beings hidden in the shadows; plus coming-of-age teenage friendship and love.

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The clown in this case is portrayed with fiendish joy by Bill Skarsgard and there are some fantastic stand-out scares. My only criticism is, and this is my fault being over-familiar with King’s work, is that with the recent Super 8 (2011) and over-hyped Stranger Things (2016), I felt as if I had seen it all this before. I also felt they crammed too much into the two hours and some of the character emotion was lost at times. However, the cast of kids are excellent in their respective roles, the horror set-pieces are brilliantly staged and King’s iconic bad guy Pennywise makes it well worth the cinema admission fee alone.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)

The first Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) film was one of my favourite genre films of the past couple of years. It showed a clean pair of spy heels to the, occasionally brilliant but overlong Bond disappointment Spectre (2015); while at the same time confirming Taron Egerton as an actor with great star potential. Having done the business at the box office then Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan have once again written and directed an explosive, funny, pacey and adrenaline-filled spy spoof sequel.

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In this story, Eggsy / Galahad is back with Merlin (Mark Strong), battling with the United States counterparts The Statesmen, against Julianne Moore’s perky, yet deranged, Americana obsessed drug baroness. The Statesmen are represented by such heavyweight acting talent in Jeff Bridges and a cracking turn from Pedro Pascal as the hilariously named Jack Daniels. Channing Tatum pops up too but he is lightweight compared to the effervescent Pascal. Poppy’s fiendish plot is actually quite a decent motivation for the story and the subplot involving a Lazarus-type-return from a major character from the first film is well developed.

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To be honest the story is just the bare bones to hang a series of fantastic set-pieces, car chases, shoot-outs and fights, as Eggsy and his kick-ass team once again attempt to thwart the end-of-civilisation as we know it. My main criticism is the film is probably too long with an unnecessary gratuitous sex-driven sequence set in the Glastonbury Festival. It also lacks that sense of characterisation from the first film which had the working class underdog Eggsy battling the upper-class sneers of the over-privileged. Nonetheless, Matthew Vaughan is a great gag-heavy-action-director and the plot has some decent twists and turns throughout making it well worth a watch.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

MOTHER (2017)

While Darren Aronofsky is a cinematic artist of the highest level, I connected badly with this two-hours-of-hell-excuse-for-entertainment. My full review can be found here but, in a nutshell, this is what I thought of it:

“It was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.”

Mark: 3 out of 11 (for the film)
Mark: 9.5 out of 11 (for Darren Aronofsky)

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WIND RIVER (2017)

Taylor Sheridan has carved himself a fine reputation for writing very solid character driven genre films such as Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). Wind River (2017) is his first writer-director effort and it is a fascinating study of: grief, murder, racial tension and dark humanity. Sheridan is adept at choosing specific areas of America with which to place his stories. Sicario reflected on the war on drugs, located betwixt the violent border of Mexico and the U.S.A. Hell and High Water illustrated the financial ruin of the sub-prime mortgage crash and its effect on West Texas. In his latest screenplay Sheridan focusses on the Indian Reservation territories of Wyoming and the people who inhabit the stark wintry landscapes.

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The quietly impressive Jeremy Renner, as Cory Lambert, takes most of the acting plaudits as the respected, expert tracker and estranged family man. He is an individual who, while in perpetual control on the external Reservations and snowy terrain, finds himself crumbling internally due a horrific event from his past. Renner is ably supported by his Avengers co-star, Elizabeth Olsen, who imbues the rookie FBI agent with a steely determination, despite her lack of experience and confidence. The portrayal of the Native Americans I feel was sensitively presented as their lives are further marginalized by corporate America as its venal greed destroys the environment and humanity within the area. While this is a beautifully looking film there is a dark murderous heart within the stunning vistas and natural beauty.

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Sheridan again confirms he is adept at combining social commentary with an impressive crime plot.  Moreover, throughout the film he also bleeds in a compelling study of grief as well as a subtle critique of patriarchal capitalism and its’ destruction of the Native American’s land and people. Yet, the message could arguably have gone further in its criticism; however, as he proved with his prior screenplays Sheridan prefers subtext and a rising tension rather than polemics. Quietly, Sheridan is building an impressive filmic body of work and Wind River manages to be a thrilling police procedural drama, empathetic character study and socio-political examination of American corruption; all amidst the cold, harsh and white-washed landscapes of Wyoming.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

 

MOVIE PREVIEW: FREE FIRE (2016)

2016 MOVIE PREVIEW – FREE FIRE (2016)

TITLE:  FREE FIRE (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley

SCREENPLAY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

CAST:   Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley etc.

STORY:   An arms-deal-gone-wrong sets off a blistering gun fight in an abandoned warehouse.  

UK RELEASE DATE: 31st March 2017

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FIVE REASONS THIS IS GREAT!

1. Ben Wheatley and his writing/editing partner Amy Jump make independent low-medium budgeted films, seemingly on their own terms, get cracking actors involved and receive decent critical praise too. The recent critically acclaimed High Rise (2015) was an intriguing filmic cult hit while his grim crime-horror Kill List (2011), violently focused on two hit-men’s descent into hell. Wheatley’s work on comedy-serial-killer film Sightseers (2012), Dr Who, and Ideal confirmed him as a very talented filmmaker.

2. During a London Film Festival Q & A Wheatley basically said, “I wanted to make a film with guns where people get hurt.” And he has certainly succeeded there, because Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up. 

3. The cast are all brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal.

4. The script is terrific with sparkling one-liners throughout as the cast spit out insults and zingers with glee. Do you remember when you play gunfights with your mates in the playground?  Well, this is the film equivalent of that – except with more blood and violence and death. 

5. Stylistically the film is a joy employing a wonderful 1970s setting with actors dressed up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a fast-paced-high-octane-gun-fest. The soundtrack is a hoot too with a particularly fun use of a middle-of-the-road classic.

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

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Of late I have watched a plethora of heavyweight Oscar-driven dramas such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016), Fences (2016), Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and Moonlight (2016) and the cinema-going experience was in danger of becoming far too thought-provoking a place to be. I mean I like using my brain but I was seriously getting over-worked here. Even feel-good films such as La La Land (2016) were pretty complex in their whip-bang delivery, while the bio-pic Hidden Figures (2016) dealt with issues of racial segregation and empowerment during the space race. Thankfully, my brain can take a rest from such challenging dramas as first John Wick 2 (2016) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) have come to save the day with some good old-fashioned-fast-paced-B-movie-bloody-genre-action.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Kong director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and platoon of screenwriters have constructed a thrilling monster movie which is low on plot but high on pyrotechnics in a cinema blast which they should have called APOCALYPSE KONG!!  The story, if you can call it that, involves John Goodman’s murky conspiracy theorist embarking on a “surveying” mission of an island which rarely shows up on radar. Plus, it looks like a skull on a map AND pretty much every boat or plane which goes near it vanishes. So, enter at your peril!

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Personally, I probably would not choose this as a holiday destination yet Goodman manages to gather an army consisting of United States marines who’ve just that day finished fighting in Vietnam. These battle-weary veterans led by Samuel L. Jackson, Shea Wigham and Toby Kebbell should probably go home but Jackson’s Lieutenant-Colonel Packard has some old testament vengeance business he needs to re-enact. Meanwhile, anti-war photographer Brie Larson and SAS mercenary Tom Hiddleston also join the crew too along with a generic bunch of scientists and military grunts all destined to be Kong fodder!

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Now, I wasn’t a massive fan of the most recent Godzilla (2014) film –  my review here testifies – as it did not have enough of the monsters or action and was WAY too serious. Skull Island is a totally different beast altogether. You get monsters galore from the get-go and of course Kong is the King, as he finds his eco-system invaded by humans and their big weapons so he fights back with hairy, muscular abandon. The humanity and humour of the film is provided mainly by John C. Reilly’s WW2 soldier who has gone bamboo with the natives and his story arguably has the most emotion. But the real stars are the tree-monsters, subterranean creatures, Pterodactyls, giant Squids and Spiders, which along with Kong, leap out of the screen at regular intervals dining on humans for breakfast, lunch and supper.

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Overall, the film wears its’ Jurassic-Park-Hell-In-the-Pacific-Lost-World-Predator-Apocalypse-Now-Godzilla influences on its gigantic jungle sleeves. So it’s safe to say I had a lot of fun taking my brain out and watching the fireworks and monsters in this B-movie behemoth. The story is uneven and characters paper-thin but the gorgeous imagery, fun action set-pieces and a very attractive cast including Hiddleston, Larson and Corey Hawkins, plus the off-kilter mania of John C. Reilly make it worth the admission alone. (Mark 8 out of 11 – for the monsters and mayhem mainly.)

SCREENWASH SPECIAL- ARRIVAL, DR STRANGE & NOCTURNAL ANIMALS REVIEWED

SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER CINEMA SPECIAL – by PAUL LAIGHT

I often have all my reviews for the month in one place but occasionally I split them, as is the case here. I haven’t seen that many films at the cinema this month but the three I did see were all excellent in their own way. Here are my reviews with marks out of eleven.

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

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ARRIVAL (2016)

The wonderfully serene Amy Adams portrays, Louise Banks, an academic linguist whose standing is such that when Earth is visited by twelve spaceships, she is called in by the military to attempt communication. Governments all over the world try various methods in which to discover whether the aliens are intending to attack. What are their primary intentions or targets? Are they friends or foe?

As it is directed by the supremely talented Denis Villeneuve the film moves at a careful but considered pace. When Adam’s accompanies Jeremy Renner’s physicist, Ian Donnelly we at first see the inside of the alien craft and it’s not long before we are faced with the strange-looking cephalopod-type creatures. The narrative meat becomes a series of attempts by Banks and Donnelly to try and crack the visual alien code. Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russians are becoming impatient and, like the Americans, considering attacking the spaceships in a pre-emptive military measure.

I won’t say any more because it would risk ruining the story but what unfolds is a clever and mind-bending turn of events which upsides genre expectations. The intriguing premise, brilliant script, ambient score, stylish effects, subtle cinematography and purposeful direction make this one of the best films I have seen all year. It is an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative which constantly surprised and moved me.  It also asks big questions on the nature of time, existence and love; informing us that not all extra-terrestrial life in movies has to be monstrous and deadly.  (Mark 10 out of 11)

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DR STRANGE (2016)

Marvel, like they did with Ant-Man (2015) take a lesser known character in Dr Stephen Strange and turn it into one of the most entertaining and spellbinding blockbusters of the year.  To be honest none of this should work, however, it is a testament to the work of a committed director in Scott Derrickson and formidable heavyweight acting cast including: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and imperious Tilda Swinton, that this mystical soufflé works so well.

Cumberbatch, filtering his Sherlock persona wonderfully, is a gifted, yet arrogant neurosurgeon who following a bone-crunching automobile accident finds his gifted hands are no good to man nor beast. His attempts at physical rehabilitation prove unsuccessful so he goes on a spiritual journey to Nepal in an attempt to fix his damaged body and soul. There he meets Mordo (Ejiofor) and subsequently The Ancient One (Swinton) and that’s where the real fun starts.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this. Its pacey plot zips along rapidly with some fine comedic one-liners. Cumberbatch and Swinton stand out amongst a fine cast with both of them imbuing their characters with a depth beyond your usual super-hero film. While the origins story is standard genre stuff the magical gifts and capes Dr Strange uses are wonderful fun, as are the hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping Inceptionesque fight scenes plus mystical marvels straight out of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lastly, Derrickson deserves praise for several cracking set-pieces notably the out-of-body fight in the hospital and complex temporal-twisting combat with inter-dimensional beast Dormammu. Strange days are indeed upon as Marvel spellbinds us with yet another big comic-book hit. (Mark 9 out of 11)

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NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Filmmaker Tom Ford’s debut film A Single Man (2009) was an eloquent character study of grief, loneliness and existential romance; beautifully photographed, styled and constructed with Colin Firth’s heartfelt performance providing the thudding beats of pathos and pain. It was a film I only saw recently but knew that the director was definitely one to follow, and thus, his second film Nocturnal Animals promised much.

Nocturnal Animals is an altogether colder beast centring on separation of love rather than the meditation on loss like A Single Man. The once again brilliant Amy Adams is a privileged art gallery owner married to Armie Hammer’s rich, yet absent, businessman. She is a hollow woman musing about her failed previous marriage to writer Jake Gyllenhaal and the apparent emptiness of her life, career and the people around her. It is a testament to Ford and Adams that they extricate empathy for such a seemingly spoilt character, but they ably demonstrate that wealth does not defeat loneliness or the guilt of past actions.

Adams’ Susan Morrow is similar to Firth’s George Falconer in that she is lost and flailing in her first world but very human problems. Thrown into the mix is the about-to-be-published book her former husband has written and sent her. So, we end up with two stories for the price of one as the events in the manuscript come to life in Susan’s mind. As she reads it, Jake Gyllenhaal’s (yes, he plays two characters) family are terrorized on a backwater freeway by Aaron Johnson’s violent gang. Michael Shannon also pops up as a busted lung of a cop sick of the scum and his turn is a delight.The sun-bleached, desert and neo-Western style in these episodes provide a fascinating and stylistic juxtaposition to shadowy, cool darkness that is Susan Morrow’s life in Los Angeles.

The two stories collide, compare and contrast each other to fascinating effect as Ford weaves literary and cinematic tropes, brilliantly adapting the original novel on which is it based – Tony and Susan – written by Austin Wright. This, overall, is about storytelling being used as a means not only to haunt and create guilt, but also wreak revenge. It’s a complex watch but beautiful, cold creature to look at. Yet, despite the privilege of Amy Adam’s character I was thoroughly absorbed by her crumbling psyche, while the book within the film is totally gripping too. (Mark 9.5 out of 11)