Film Review: Logan

The cinematic X-Men universe has been a mixed bag, with some of the movies doing quite well (see Deadpool and Days of Future Past), while others were plain awful (X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand). The movies have struggled to get the tone right and have also created a convoluted and contradictory timeline, it’s time for a reboot and where better to end it than with the driving force and most consistent part of the series- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

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Since the first X-movie only Jackman has popped the claws as the Canadian mutant and while he’s often been in lacklustre movies he’s managed to do the character justice. Now, he is finally given the kind of swansong the character, and his efforts, deserve.

Set in 2029 we find Logan in dark times, working as a chauffeur and living out in the Mexican desert looking after Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has destructive seizures and seems to be in the early stages of dementia as he enters his nineties. Logan and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who burns easily in sunlight, keep Xavier drugged to dampen his powers. Logan’s healing powers have slowed, meaning he limps and carries severals scars. He hopes to save money to buy a boat and sail away with Charles so that his seizures can’t hurt anyone.

The other X-Men are revealed to be dead and mutant kind has died out, with no new mutants having been born in decades. While on a job Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who asks for his help as she is being chased by shady figures. Logan refuses to engage with her and leaves. One of these, the cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for the Transigen corporation. Logan denies all knowledge and Pierce tells him to call him if he hears anything.

Logan is called to another job but it turns out to be Gabriella who has arranged it, she offers him $50,000 to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota and a safe place known as Eden. The money will be enough for the boat and Logan reluctantly agrees, however when he returns he finds Gabriella murdered. Returning to Mexico he discovers that Laura has stowed away in the boot of his limo and Pierce arrives shortly after. Xavier claims to communicate with her and says they must keep her safe.

Logan is subdued by Pierce’s men, but Laura then reveals that she too has adamantium claws, similar to him and kills many of the men. Logan, Laura and Charles escape and head for North Dakota with Pierce in pursuit, using Caliban and his mutant tracking powers to continue the hunt.

A message left by Gabriella reveals that Transigen bred new mutants, using DNA they had on file in order to develop super soldiers, of which Laura is one of the X-23 programme. However, upon discovering that Transigen had decided to abandon the project due to the fact the kids were hard to control she and several other nurses helped the kids escape before they were “put down”.

Will the jaded Logan be able to form a bond with Laura? Can they make it to North Dakota, and if they do will the promised safety exist or merely be revealed as a dream? And what have Transigen created to replace Laura and her peers, and will Logan be able to defeat this new threat in his weakened state?

I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, which felt like a solid conclusion to the series and a good place to leave this version of Logan. However, I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone and the downbeat, bleak future wasn’t appreciated by MWF and the friend we saw it with. For me, it worked and I liked the way it slowly revealed the fate of the other mutants and the reasons for their extinction.

Rated 15 here in the UK this is by far the darkest and most brutal film in the series, and the first time that Wolverine’s berserker side has really been shown. Previous fights have always been rather bloodless and tame, but this kicks off with a brawl where Logan takes on a gang of criminals in a fast, vicious encounter. It’s good that after suggestions of his dark side we finally get to see it on show here. Otherwise it’s all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as is the case in Doctor Who where they repeatedly tease that he was a badass during the Time War only to never deliver on this.

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Logan in action

It is hard work in places and Logan is a lot more bitter and jaded than his last outing which makes sense, we left him during the cheerful altered present of Days of Future Past, surrounded by friends at the Xavier School, so it stands to reason that years down the line, with his friends gone he would have reverted to his angry, cynical ways. There’s a suggestion that the X-Men didn’t go out in glory and there’s definite tension between Logan and Xavier, and when it’s finally revealed what happened it’s a gut punch of a twist.

The whole road trip is a tough journey, with tragedy and violence dogging the trio across the US, and the stakes feel higher than in any previous movie.

It’s here I have to give a lot of praise to Patrick Stewart, who does a sensational job as the ageing, shattered Xavier. His performance is genuinely moving, almost heart breaking as he captures the sense of a man long dependent on his mind who is now losing it slowly. His crankiness and vitriol is a world away from the dignified, compassionate leader of the past, but there are glimpses of this throughout, especially when Laura arrives and he sees the opportunity to aid her and do the right thing. It’s quite nice to see that the relationship between the two has changed and shifted, and that there’s some closure between then.

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Charles Xavier, a broken man

But this is Jackman’s movie and he excels again as Logan, capturing all the different aspects of the character- the brooding loner, the reluctant hero, the savage and even the man trying to do better. Coughing, limping and stiff it’s a shock to see the most robust of the X-Men in such a state, and yet it works.

The rest of the cast do their jobs extremely well, with props going to newcomer Keen who captures the almost feral detachment of Laura and who slowly gets the audience to feel for her while avoiding any child actor cliches or excesses. Her relationship with Logan develops slowly and at times unsentimentally, and it’s interesting to watch as she slowly tries to form a bond with someone for the first time while he tries to pull away due to the fact that he’s lost so many people.

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Laura and Logan, both put through the wringer

The villains are well done, especially Richard E. Grant as a slimy, manipulative scientist behind the experiments.

The bleak future world is wonderfully executed, with machines replacing human workers, a gigantic wall at the Mexican-US border and a sense that corporations are running the show now. The reason for the absence of mutants is revealed in quite a clever way, and the quest to safety is tense as throughout it’s never certain what awaits the group when I get there.

The final sequence, a mad dash for safety and Logan unleashing his berserker side against Pierce’s men and the latest Transigen experiment X-24 is bruising, vicious and intense. The ending is emotionally raw and well played, and a fitting finale for the series.

As a series the X-movies have often stumbled, but it’s good to see that they stride out on a high, a well executed and solid movie. It’s the most grown up of the series, and not just because of the blood and swearing, it feels like the story of a grown man still struggling with who he is and what his purpose in the world is. Jackman shows again why he was brilliantly cast as Wolverine and leaves big shoes to fill in the inevitable reboot.

Although it is a shame we won’t get to see Jackman’s Wolverine team up/fight Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool.

Verdict: Dark, brooding and bleak this is the most grown up and emotional of the franchise. Jackman and Stewart excel playing aging, failing versions of their characters dealing with loss and change. The plot is solid and moves along well with a few nice twists along the way. Finally a film that delivers after a series which often botched its potential. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Lego Batman Movie

I was a massive fan of The Lego Movie and one of the many good things about it was the treatment of Batman (Will Arnett), who they transformed into a cocky, self absorbed show off. When it was announced that he’d be getting a solo run out, it instantly joined the list of movies I was looking forward to and yesterday MWF and I went along with a friend to check it out.

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The film kicks off with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) leading a team of Gotham’s villains in a daring attempt to seize control of the city by threatening with a gigantic bomb. Unfortunately for the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman arrives just in time and makes short work of his associates. As the duo face off the Joker is hurt to discover that Batman doesn’t regard him as special or his archenemy, announcing he doesn’t care.

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Tears of a Clown

Batman saves the day and all is good, however, it is revealed that when he returns to Wayne Manor he is lonely and bored. His trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is concerned that he has no life beyond Batman, but he refuses to acknowledge this. Bruce—0s0A\\\ attends the retirement party of Jim Gordon, where his replacement is to be announced. The replacement is Jim’s daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), who Bruce is attracted to. Distracted by Barbara’s beauty Bruce agrees to adopt nerdy orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).

Barbara announces a bold new plan for Gotham and her desire for Batman to work with the police, and highlighting that despite his efforts Gotham is still the worst city for crime. Joker and Co. attack but Joker then surrenders, much to the suspicion of Batman and Barbara. Joker and the other villains are imprisoned, and the city celebrates.

With nothing to do Batman is bored and sad, resisting Alfred’s urging to spend time with Dick and act as his father figure. Batman continues to spy on Joker and decides that the only way to be safe is to send Joker to the Phantom Zone, where the universe’s worst villains are imprisoned. Recruiting Dick as his sidekick, and giving him an old colourful costume the duo steal a device to send people to the Phantom Zone from Superman (Channing Tatum), who Batman discovers is throwing a party for all the superheroes that he was not invited to.

They send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara imprisons them. Unfortunately, this has played into the Joker’s plans and he breaks out with several other villains to get revenge on Batman and Gotham.

Batman reluctantly agrees to allow Barbara, Dick and Alfred to help him, but can they triumph and can he resist his urge to go it alone? And will he be able to admit to himself that his insistence on working alone comes from his fear of losing people again?

This is an incredibly daft and fun movie which works because of the central character, with Batman continuing to be a swaggering, boastful jerk who has to face up to his failings and feelings. It’s a big twist on the traditional way the Dark Knight is portrayed and the egomaniac is hugely entertaining, especially when he is repeatedly outwitted or out of his depth.

This happens often with Barbara who is a clever, confident woman who has his number from the jump and provides sensible advice he routinely ignores. As the movie unfolds he is forced to accept that teamwork is key and slowly acknowledges the help the others provide him with.

The other supporting players work well, especially the irritatingly cheery Dick Grayson who slowly breaks down Batman’s stern exterior.

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The Dynamic Duo

The storyline of the Joker’s rejection and his relationship with Batman is quite well done, playing it as almost a warped romance, with Joker believing it was a deeper connection and Batman brushing it off saying that he “likes to fight around”. The Joker’s plan is pretty clever and allows a whole host of cameos from different villains in the final act, with King Kong, Voldemort, Daleks, Gremlins and the Wicked Witch of the West among others.

The action is fact paced and largely comical, with characters making the sounds of the guns they use and the Lego world allowing for inventive chaos. Batman, as a master builder, continues to build massive, crazy contraptions and visually it is stunning.

It’s also a delight for geeks as it’s rammed with little gags and references. The beginning and end poke fun at the seriousness of some superhero movies, and there are nods to the many different incarnations of the characters (including a brief clip of Adam West in action). The Joker’s posse includes a host of Gotham’s villains including lesser, dafter enemies and there are nods to the comic book conventions, especially how inept the Gotham police are and one hostage’s relaxed response to being confronted by the Joker. It’s quite clever and funny, but I did wonder how well it would play for kids as a lot of it is very ironic and pokes fun at the character and the world.

Plot wise it’s quite straight forward, and the issues of teamwork, family and Batman accepting help from others and letting people in hardly groundbreaking. It’s not quite as good as The Lego Movie in terms of sheer manic energy, but it’s still a very solid comedy adventure and keeps moving at a decent pace. But it feels like this is a good place to leave the block Batman, as any more would overplay the joke.

Verdict: Consistently funny and loaded with injokes, this is an extremely entertaining movie. Daft in places it, it works well as a fast paced romp. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #42: Serenity

In the early ’00s there was a horrible affliction that devastated the geek community. Like a vampire, the infected would be unable to stop themselves from passing it on and forcing others to endure their curse. And, to mix my monsters, like zombies it was often the ones you loved that you hurt. You’d resist, but finally the curse would out and you’d pass it on with one simple sentence:

“Have you seen this show, Firefly? It’s amazing!”

And you’d hand over your box set and see them fall as you had. But what’s worse than a fall?
A fall from a great height.

And so the show would raise them up, lifting them with the cool space western vibe. Higher as they embraced the charming, likeable characters and still higher through the witty, exciting writing.

BANG!

Fourteen episodes and you crash back down. Mid season. Mid story. Plot lines left dangling unfinished, questions unanswered. The most persistent nagging at you: What happens next?

Online complaining, love one and petitions alerted Fox that there was a market. DVD sales climbed.

And so Joss Whedon got a second chance. Serenity would fly again.

But would a standalone movie really satisfy the fans. Would it work? Could it avoid being a disappointment?
You bet your ass it could.

Picking up sometime after the show we find roguish smuggler Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) leading his small crew on the outer reaches of space aboard the eponymous ship. 

Mal during a job

The young, frazzled genius River (Summer Glau) still struggles with the effects of government experimentation and her brother Simon (Sean Maher) tries to find a way to help her and work out what they did to her.
After a close call with the savage, mindless Reavers, Simon decides it’s time for them to leave. Mal agrees despite the protestations of some of his crew, particularly Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the engineer smitten with Simon. However, their plan to drop her off is abandoned after something triggers River to become a ruthless, skilled fighter. The only clue is that she uttered the word “Miranda” before her rampage.

Meanwhile, a shadowy government Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is hunting for River who carries important secrets in her damaged mind. He seeks out Inara (Morena Baccarin), the “companion” who previously travelled aboard Serenity. He uses her to send a message to Mal and set a trap. Mal, despite knowing it to be a trap goes in anyway and they narrowly escape after a fight with the Operative.

Using the few clues they have the group set off to work out what River knows. On the way they find out more about what was done to her and discover the dark origins of the Reavers.

I remember going into this movie with nervous excitement and being reassured very early on as it nails the tone of the show. As a fan of the show I don’t know how it would play to newcomers to the world, but I think it fills in the gaps quite quickly and deftly. And I think the writing, which is sharp and witty would win people over and engage them with an involving plot.

Of course, some of it works more for fans. When two characters but the farm it’s bound to hit harder to those who’ve known them longer. One in particular, the sudden, shocking demise of slacker pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) was a gut blow for me and several friends who had loved the show, and the character.

The death comes out of nowhere and leaves you reeling, and the impact it has on the other characters is keenly felt. In a later scene where his devastated widow Zoe (Gina Torres) rushes into battle and is injured left me with a sinking feeling we were headed for Dirty Dozen/Magnificent Seven territory where the bodies would pile up and only a couple would make it.

This last stand against the Reavers is wonderfully tense and well done, with Whedon injecting little character moments into the build up (Zoe’s devastation and loss of hope, Simon and Kaylee expressing their feelings for each other) and there’s a laugh when Zoe talks to the brutish Jayne (Adam Baldwin) about strategy.

Jayne: Can’t be thinking on revenge if we’re gonna get through this.

Zoe: Do you really think any of us are going to get through this?

Jayne: (slightly nervous)…I might.

The returning cast slip into their old roles with ease and for fans it’s a comforting and satisfying end to the story (although if they want to do more I wouldn’t complain).

It’s massively entertaining and I loved it.

And of course it gave Nathan Fillion a chance to pull on his old Browncoat again. No actor seems to have loved a project more than Fillion who complained about the cancellation and still seems sore about it. 

It’s easy to see why, Mal is a great role and a perfect fit for Fillion’s easy charisma. He gets to play the big damn hero who has a softer, less confident side underneath the swagger. Mal’s like Han Solo’s geekier little brother, someone who’s not quite as cool as they’d like to be and often caught off balance, but managing to make it through due to luck, skill and determination.

Smarter than he makes out, kinder than he wishes and quietly noble Mal is the heart of the film and a great hero. He can handle himself in a fight, but knows when to run, and keeps going against the odds to do what’s right. Fillion’s charisma, humour and enthusiasm shines through making him a supremely likeable protagonist.

Hands down one of the most entertaining sci-fi movies of the 21st century.
Gorram it, I’m gonna watch the series again.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Films of 2016

So, I saw a fair few new movies this year and these were my favourites.

10. Doctor Strange

Marvel goes magical as Benedict Cumberbatch dons the cape as the sorcerer supreme in a hugely entertaining and gorgeous to look at movie of a selfish man forced to reassess his priorities and become a hero. Full review.

9. Ghostbusters

Rebooting a much loved and well crafted movie was always going to be tricky and the makers of this flick caught a fair amount of flak. I loved the original but the new version worked for me. It kept the laughs coming and the four leads all did their jobs well. As good as Murray and Co? No, but still pretty damn good. Review.


8. Captain America: Civil War
The biggest Marvel movie so far pits hero against hero as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chris Evans) clash over new restrictions on the heroes. Great fight scenes and a solid story ensure this is an entertaining super flick up there with the best in the MCU. It also introduced the latest on screen Spider-man who’s probably the best so far, and that’s just after a few minutes.

I’m Team Iron Man, by the way. Find out why.

7. Pete’s Dragon

A gloriously warm and charming story about a boy raised in the wild by a dragon and his journey to find a new family. Reduced MWF to tears and left me a little choked up too. Magical filmmaking. Review.


6. The Revenant
A gritty and at times grim tale of survival features a fantastic central performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and is utterly gorgeous. Thoroughly gripping throughout. Full review.

5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I have mixed feelings about the Harry Potter films but this prequel/spin-off really worked for me thanks to the fantastic beasts living up to their hype and a core group of very likeable characters. Really charming film. I rave about it here, but there are spoilers.

4. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets the superhero he deserves as he plays the crude, wise cracking mercenary granted superpowers and out for a cure. Gloriously OTT violence, postmodern humour and a real sense of fun this movie was a real winner for me. Read me barely containing my man crushing here.


3. Moana
The latest Disney movie features a strong female lead embarking on an exciting adventure and a scene stealing turn from Dwayne Johnson. Great fun. The full review is here.


2. Zootropolis
A Disney film with a buddy movie vibe fused with a noirish conspiracy this is a wonderful movie with a good message at the heart. There’s also a fantastically creative and innovative world created. Loved it and it stands up to repeat viewings. Review.

1. The Jungle Book

A remake of a much loved classic that I was nervous about which actually blew my socks off. Fun, moving and gorgeous this was a masterpiece. The voice cast is good, the thrills gripping and the characters loveable. A gem of a movie and I gush about it here.

Have I missed one of your personal favourites, or picked a movie you hated? Let me know, but keep it civil!
You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #7: The Three Caballeros

The second film of the “wilderness period” struggles as it feels far too close to it’s predecessor. Like Saludos Amigos this is based in South America, episodic and features Donald Duck.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched them so close together but I had no idea how similar they would be. Similar, but with the earlier film being superior.

The problem here is that they rely too much on mixing live action and cartoon and in some places this looks a bit creaky. Also the Donald Duck parts are the weakest mainly concerning Donald running around chasing women.

Some of these sequences are flat it trippy as he and his companions Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles (a red rooster from Mexico) jump through the pages of books about the continent. Donald chasing after real human women is a bit weird and you wonder what Daisy must have thought. While played for laughs it feels drawn out and starts leaning into sex pest territory.

Luckily some of the other sections work quite well. The music is quality and the different folk dances are quite good. But the real winners are the animated shorts which are rather charming. The first about a penguin who dreams of escaping to warmer climes is funny and well done with a “grass is always greener” ending.

The other is a goofy but entertaining story about a young boy who finds a flying donkey who he buddies up with and uses to win a race. The whole thing is narrated by the boy as a grown man, exasperated by his youthful stupidity and there’s a nice breaking if the fourth wall. It helps that the donkey is cute and likeable.

It’s okay, but drags in places and hasn’t aged well. There’s also a sense of trying to cover old ground. The animated shorts work but you wonder if they wouldn’t have been better as stand alone shorts.
Not without it’s charms but a weak effort.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #6: Saludos Amigos

It wasn’t until I got with MWF and saw her complete, chronological collection of the Disney Classics that I realised that my impression of the series was out of whack. I always thought there was this long Golden Age and then the shaky 70s-80s era before the Silver Age of the nineties and onwards. It turns out this isn’t the case.

The first five Disney films (see earlier posts in this series) mark the Golden Age of big, much loved and familiar hits. Then there’s this period of lesser known films before Disney emerges from the wilderness with the twelfth movie Cinderella which kick-starts the Silver Age which lasts until the early ’80s.

What’s a shame is that this film, the first of the wilderness years is actually quite a charming piece.

But it is easy to see why it hasn’t endured as much as the others. The travelogue style feels a little dated as does the South America it represents. For later audiences seeing the film open with the artists boarding a plane and some stock footage might spark memories of dull educational films. Like Fantasia it feels like a gamble and something which you can’t imagine the studio trying now.

The documentary parts are done quite well and there’s affection and respect in how they treat the local cultures even if it is brief and simplified. But they mainly serve as a frame on which to hang the different animated sections.

The star here is Donald Duck, who I’ve always preferred to Mickey (who was always too squeaky clean, and Donald’s temper makes him more relatable). Donald plays the hapless tourist who has to deal with the dangerous conditions at Lake Titicaca and a temperamental llama. This sequence is quite fun and well done, especially a dangerous rope bridge crossing.

Donald reappears in the final sequence, a musical number where he dances to samba music with Jose Carioca, a green parrot from Brazil, who introduces him to various parts of South American culture. The scene is quite cool with a catchy, cheerful soundtrack and the birds interacting with the artist’s paintbrush which is pretty cool.

The other sections are a slapstick piece about Argentinian gauchos featuring Goofy which is daft fun.

There’s also a short about a young plane trying to cross the Andes which has enough peril to keep you hooked and is rather sweet.

Due to the way it’s set up it’s not the most cinematic of films and it feels more like a TV special. But it’s entertaining enough and manages to educate while still feeling fun and keeping the momentum going. 

It lacks the level of artistry of Fantasia or the narrative drive of the other films and so while it’s charming enough it doesn’t stick with you in the same way, and it does seem dated in places.

That being said, I was glad I watched it and enjoyed it while I did, but it’s definitely a lesser entry.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (Includes spoilers)

WARNING! Here be spoilers!

I wasn’t overly keen on going to see this, but MWF is a massive fan of the Harry Potter films. My scepticism was born out of the fact that I wasn’t overly fussed on the earlier series and that knowing they planned five films based on one slim book made me think I was in for lots of padding as a money making exercise.

Thankfully I was proven wrong.

Set in the New York of 1926 this deals with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a British wizard who has traveled the world collecting and studying magical creatures. Many of which he keeps in his charmed suitcase.

Arriving in America he encounters a magical society very different from that which exists in Britain. The major difference is that American wizards have no interaction with muggles, or No-Majs as their known in the States. While distracted by an anti-witchcraft preacher Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) his suitcase becomes mixed up with that of No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and one of the critters gets loose. Newt recaptures it but before he can wipe Kowalski’s memory the man flees and Newt is arrested by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). 
However it turns out that Kowalski still has the wrong case and Tina is a disgraced Auror (magic cop) and nobody listens to her. She and Newt go to find Kowalski, who has already met some of the other beasts, three of whom have escaped. Kowalski is injured and in an attempt to hide him from the authorities they take him to Tina’s flat which she shares with her more cheerful, mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who Kowalski takes a shine to.

Meanwhile, Barebone and her adopted children continue to spread anti-magic propaganda although her son Credence (Ezra Miller) is working with Graves (Colin Farrell) a high-ranking Auror who promises to rescue him from his abusive home if he helps him find a magical child who is in danger.

A magical beast kills a prominent No-Maj and Newt is blamed, despite him identifying the real killer as an Obscurus a rare energy formed when a witch or wizard represses their magic creating a dark, lethal force which they have no control over and eventually kills them. 

At this point it’s revealed that Graves is dodgy which comes as no real surprise as he’s played by Colin Farrell. 

I can’t believe he turned out to be a wrong ‘un, said nobody

He has been playing Credence and thinks the Obscurus is tied to his adopted sister, but it turns out it’s actually Credence and the Obscurus is stronger than any of them suspected.
Can Newt and friends save the boy? Or will he be lured to the dark side by Graves? What will become of Kowalski when it’s all over?

The plot is simple enough and well done, but the real strength here are the characters. In the Harry Potter films the problems for me were that in the early films the kid performers are weak (Grint would remain shaky throughout) and the characters annoying. Seriously at most points at least one of what Potterheads call “the Golden Trio” are being a bit of a twerp.

Here all four heroes are well performed and likeable enough, and special mention should go to Sudol and Fogler who make their characters immensely likeable and craft a downright adorable fledgling romance.

Adorable- Queenie and Kowalski hit it off

Having Kowalski at the centre for much of the film is a great touch as the wonder is seen through his eyes and his delight his infectious. It’s his wide eyed joy and acceptance of what he sees which wins you over to him, and shows that in some ways he’s already ahead of wizarding characters in terms of his attitude towards magical creatures.
He also forms a good duo with Newt, ably portrayed by Redmayne who manages to inject just the right amount of eccentricity into the role. Newt’s genuine attachment to his animal charges is affecting and his conservationist style outlook won me over pretty damn quick.

Also a big plus are strong female heroines, with Queenie starting out as a seemingly ditzy blonde who steps up when needed and Tina as a slightly neurotic but noble figure who wants to help others and who shows a flexibility that the wizarding government lacks.

The overall tone is nailed just right with some very funny moments and quite a bit of whimsy, but just enough peril to keep you gripped. Towards the end the film delivers an emotional knockout which I found genuinely moving and I left eagerly awaiting more in the series.

As expected the effects are great, and the magical creatures on display are glorious, with each given a personality of their own.

Some of the Fantastic Beasts

All in all I found this a very fun and entertaining film, with solid characters and a decent plot. The performances are great across the board (even Johnny Depp’s brief appearance is well done, lacking his usual OTT touches) and I was utterly charmed by this glorious movie. For my money it might actually surpass the Harry Potter movies.

Verdict: Incredibly well done this movie has enough warmth and charm to avoid seeming like a needless cash in. The main characters are all extremely engaging and the story, while predictable in places, is gripping enough. I went in sceptical and came out eager for more. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #5: Bambi

This is a Disney movie largely remembered for the death of one character and the fact it has made generations of children cry.

The shooting of Bambi’s mother is the film’s most famous moment and I won’t lie, it’s done remarkably well with the death happening off camera and Bambi only realising what’s happened after the fact. His dad breaks the news to him in a rather blunt manner “your mother can’t be with you anymore”. Dude, soften the blow a little.

And devastated Bambi’s reaction gives the heartstrings a massive yank.

The whole movie is a pretty decent “life of animals” tale, starting with Bambi’s birth and following the eponymous deer to adulthood. Sure some of it is sentimental and softened, but there’s still a dark edge, mainly from man but there are acknowledgements that nature is rough.

Bambi has to fight when another stag steps to his girl, in a sequence which is shot in a stark, dramatic style which makes it so different from the rest of the movie.

The real villain here is man, who after killing Bambi’s mum then run through the woods guns blazing and then start a fire. Mankind does not come off well in this movie, and some of it is harsh. One bleak scene involved some birds cowering in the undergrowth before one cracks under pressure and takes flight, we then see her body hit the deck. It’s not quite at the grim level of The Animals of Farthing Wood, but it’s got a whole lot more edge than I remember.

Heck, Bambi kills a bunch of dogs after causing a rock slide on to them. It might be a softened version of the natural world, but it doesn’t completely ignore the fact that nature can be brutal.

The circle of life is completed when Bambi becomes a dad himself, which follows a sequence where our hero and his friends become “twitterpated” which is basically  Disney slang for overcome with lust. Seriously, there is some visual innuendo going on here which had clearly flown way over my head when I first saw this movie.

Character wise it’s a little flat and the songs aren’t particularly great, but it’s episodic style works and it keeps moving. Also it handles the shifts in tone quite well and is genuinely moving in places. Also it’s very pretty to look at.

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


My Favourite Films #42: The Thing (1982)

My Dad introduced me to the films of John Carpenter, and this is one of my favourites, a tense, gripping sci-fi horror.

Set almost entirely on a remote Ameeican research base in the Arctic it deals with a group of scientists and their support team who must confront a shapeshifting alien beast that assumes the appearance and mannerisms of anything it devours.

The unease starts right at the top when a sled dog races across the icy wilderness, pursued by a helicopter. The pilot is killed in an accidental explosion and the passenger begins firing at the dog only to be shot by Garry (Donald Moffat) the commander. The dog is put in the kennels and after they ID the man as being from a Norwegian base they investigate.

Right away you have questions about what the hell is going on and why they wanted to kill that dog so badly, and then the plot thickens as they find the Norwegian base in disarray, with a burnt grotesque humanoid form outside in the ice.

It turns out the Norwegians found something in the ice and when it woke up it made short work of them and they tried stopping it. The alien being could change shape, hence the weird body, and escaped. Disguised as a dog.

At this point animal lovers might want to look away as the dog-Thing snacks on the dogs. It’s all pretty grizzly and they only stop it when one of the team blasts it with a flamethrower.

This member of the team, MacReady is played by Kurt Russell and that’s an indicator that this is going to be a good movie as the Russell and Carpenter team was dynamite (Escape from New York, Big Trouble I’m Little China). Russell is on great form here as the tough, quiet MacReady who is way out of his depth and not entirely sure how it all works, but who endures through grit and common sense.

“I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done”

It’s his simple reasoning that leads to the blood test that sets up one of the film’s best sequences. Working out that every tiny part of the creature can live separately he comes up with a test. Using blood samples and a hot piece of metal he will work out who’s human and who isn’t.

The whole scene is grippingly tense with the characters eyeballing each other and the unease growing. The final jump scare still gets me out of my seat after repeated viewings and it’s this, not the gleefully gory physical effects that I remember.

Trust breaks down quickly

That’s not to say the effects aren’t great. I’m a big fan of old school effects that look like you can reach out and touch, and the grizzly creations here are very well done, especially a scene where the chest of one opens up to sever the arms of the man trying to revive him. My Dad is not a fan of this scene, possibly because he’s a doctor himself. 
The alien is gory and with no distinct shape it appears as mutant, horrifying blends of the forms it has devoured.

Dude, you fugly.

While the creature has an ick factor that holds up the film’s real success is the atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia that Carpenter creates. Just as the characters aren’t sure of who they can trust, the audience is never sure of who’s still human. Even MacReady’s movements can’t be accounted for.
It means you never know who is going to turn on who and it keeps you on edge for long periods.

This all builds to what I think is one of the greatest endings of all time. With the base in ruins after a massive explosion MacReady sits alone in the snow. And then Childs (Keith David) appears. Childs went missing a short while earlier and the two sit opposite each other, neither trusting the other, when asked what are they going to do MacReady delivers the last line of the movie; “Why don’t we just wait here a while? See what happens.”

It’s a remarkably bleak ending, but works extremely well and leaves lots of questions. Is the beast really dead? Is Childs human? What will happen if/when a rescue team arrives?

It’s a great movie, with solid performances from all involved this is an unsettling thriller that sticks with you and rises above the gore to be a genuinely clever thriller. And it can be rewatched over and over without losing it’s appeal.

This is the first John Carpenter movie I’ve included on my favourites list, but it won’t be the last.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #41: An American Werewolf in London

As it’s October I thought I’d write about a couple of horror movies I love, and I’m kicking off with this more comedic entry. Directed by John Landis at the height of his powers, and it’s successful as both a horror and a comedy.

The movie starts off with backpacking American students David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, respectively) wandering the moors. They stop off at The Slaughtered Lamb, a rural pub but after Jack makes a joke about a pentagram on the wall the mood sours and they leave, with the locals warning them to keep to the road, stay off the moors and “beware the moon”.

Should have stayed off the moors, lads

Distracted by chatting they lose the road and are attacked by a vicious beast, which mauls both of them. The beast is shot and David sees a bullet riddled naked man before he blacks out. 
Awaking three weeks later in hospital David discovers that Jack was killed and the attack is said to have been done by an escaped lunatic. His recollections of a beast are put down as shock. Shortly after Jack appears, still bearing his injuries and fills David in- they were attacked by a werewolf, and David is now infected. Jack is cursed to remain a zombie until the bloodline of the werewolf is stopped, and urges David to kill himself, not only to release him but to avoid harming others.

This is quite dark, and Jack’s increasing decay over the course of the film is done extremely well by the effects team, but it’s to the credit of all involved that the laughs keep coming, even if the humour is pretty black in places. A large part of this is Dunne and Naughton’s chemistry and the writing, which feels easy and natural, the two joking and chatting like real friends.

Jack, not looking his best

Convinced he is going nuts, David pushes it from his mind and is discharged, awaiting a flight home. He’s offered a place to stay by his nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), who he begins a relationship with. Every cloud…

Alex smashing through the therapeutic boundary

Jack warns him again, but David tries to block him. But when darkness falls he changes. This is the film’s most famous scene, where Rick Baker’s practical effects make the transformation a bone crunching, intense watch all soundtracked by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising”. Watching it now it’s dated but the make up effects are still damn impressive and it seems far more “real” than. Lot of CGI which can often look utterly separate from it’s surrounding.

Here there’s a weight to it all and it has a physicality that still holds up.

What follows is a werewolf rampage, and then a flip to almost goofy comedy as a naked David wakes up in the zoo. He flees and realises that he is a danger, phoning home to say goodbye his family and contemplating killing himself. He then spots an even more decayed Jack and follows him into a porn theatre where he meets his other victims.
This is one of the blackest moments of the film as, to the background of a deliberately naff adult film, the recently dead argue over the best way to kill himself. Unfortunately they take too long and David turns as night arrive, running amok through Piccadilly Circus. This part is gleefully chaotic, even if prolonged shots of the beast highlight it’s flaws. The panic is captured well and then David is cornered, Alex tries to calm the beast but he is shot by the police, and reverts to his human form.

This for me is one of the best moments as Landis flips the downbeat ending by launching into the end credits backed by the inappropriately upbeat “Blue Moon” by The Marcels (he soundtrack features many songs about the moon). It’s such a jarring shift in tone that the first time I saw it I burst out laughing.

It’s a scruffy film in some ways, and the shifts in tone are quite big, but Landis handles them grace and it all clicks together, although David’s nightmare halfway through is genuinely disturbing, featuring monstrous Nazis and a cameo from the Muppets, and could throw the whole thing, but it pulls back.

What makes it work is that Landis puts in the time between the horror to develop the characters a little, and the leads are all likeable. Far too many horror movies don’t do this, but by making us care about David it makes this film be more effective.

The film has developed a cult following, and there’s a lot to love here. I watched it as a teen, but every time I see it I still enjoy it immensely, and of all the genres horror is the one that doesn’t usually hold up to repeat viewings.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.