Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

‘Life short, the world is wide – I wanna make some memories’

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Star Trek Beyond

Does it go beyond expectations..?

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I was very lucky to be invited to attend a screening of Star Trek Beyond at Picturehouse Central on Thursday. Disclaimer: I am not the world’s biggest Star Trek fan. I watched some of the Patrick Stewart starring episodes for a period (I’ve got vague memories of it being on BBC two before/after The Simpsons..?) and I’ve seen the previous two films of this reboot, thought they were quite good, but that’s about it. The following review therefore is the review of  someone who may not know everything about Star Trek but adores the Science Fiction genre. This someone also thinks that the special guest of the preview screening, the one and only Idris Elba, is pretty damn cool too…

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Independence Day: Resurgence

“Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”

They’re back! 20 years on from the aliens first visit they are back. This time, with a bigger ship which is apparently 3,000 miles wide. Only one man can save the day – David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Well not really, there are many other people who come into play but yet again the thinking woman’s crumpet steals the show (I acknowledge the fact he is old enough to be my Grandfather but choose to ignore/embrace it). Whilst this sequel does not desecrate the first film, or taint it in anyway, it’s neither better nor worse than its predecessor.  And, considering how dark things seem in news and politics at the moment, this may just be the escapism everyone needs.

In the twenty years since the first alien attack Earth has changed completely. All of the world’s nations are united with a level of global peace never seen before. Instead all of the world is working together, using the alien technology that was left behind, to build the Earth Space Defense (ESD) programme. Overseen by President Lanford (Sela Ward), General Adams (William Fichtner) and Director David Levinson, its figurehead is Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher playing the step-son of Will Smith’s absent character). When visiting the ESD base on the Moon, and squaring up to old friend/rival Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), an alien mothership attacks the moonbase and heads straight for Earth. It’s a call to arms for old faces – such as President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – as this could just be Earth’s final stand.

This is a sequel that is full both of pretty awe-inducing spectacle and amusing cheesiness. From the above headline, a line uttered by Jessie T. Usher without any hint of irony or knowingness, to every line uttered by Judd Hirsch as Mr Levinson Sr this is a film full of enough laughs to entertain. Considering the amount of death and devastation that occurs (I gave up trying to estimate the death toll) there is still enough comic relief that you do manage to leave the cinema smiling. In case you didn’t get my oh-so-subtle hints I loved every scene featuring Jeff Goldblum – he has got the nerdy/cool thing nailed! – and his quasi-science. 

This does lead me to my main issue with this sequel. Promo material and comments from many of those involved in the film have discussed how this is Independance Day for the new generation. It’s a pointless thing to aim for for two reasons. A) I was two when the original film came out. Does that mean ‘It’s not for me’?  B) The best thing about this film is the use of the ‘old’ cast. It is their scenes that are the highlight, not just for purposes of nostalgia but also in terms of character and entertainment. Jessie T.Usher gets sidelined by Liam Hemsworth who is playing a ‘maverick’ who is so bland and vanilla. The actress playing Hemsworth’s fiancee Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of the original film’s president, gets to some cool stuff but still needs to be rescued in the process. Travis Tope as Charlie Miller, best friend of Liam Hemsworth’s character, is a great addition in terms of comedy, although he is rather too fixated on a character who looks pretty gets about four lines (Angelababy playing Rain Lo).

Furthermore, the plot itself magpies (it’s my polite preference to steal) a lot from a wide range of other sources. From Alien, to 2001, to Close Encounters and even Deep Impact. In many ways it’s quite a distracting element to see so obviously the ‘influences’ of a film. There’s also the fact the film starts off so big – destruction of several continents big – that manages to be so large it’s almost ineffective. We are starting to see what could easily be described as a type of fatigue from audiences in terms of big explosions – it’s no longer shocking seeing a big screen explosion of a national/international landmark. Sometimes smaller works better. I think that’s why I enjoyed the second half of the film far more than the third. When the battle occurs within a slightly smaller radius, the many different sub-plots start to connect together, and the jokes are flying, that’s when this film really hits its stride.

All in all, this does the job. It’s more than entertaining enough, looks great and doesn’t require too much brain power. Perfect way to while away an evening.

stars

Elvis & Nixon

Yep. Actually a true, and very funny, story.

Upon seeing the trailer you may have felt a ‘Woah, that’s weirdly brilliant!’ feeling. That feeling lasts the entirety of watching the film itself.  The meeting of two of America’s then most famous/infamous men did actually occur in 1970. In many ways the men were actually quite simillar, seemingly rooted by their conservative values and working class upbringing. Yes, Elvis was the hip-swinging, gyrating King of Rock’n’Roll and Nixon was, well, Richard Nixon. but they did have some shared interests. Or, at least, Elvis thought they did and desperately pursued a meeting with the then President of the United States. The film follows Elvis on his quest and the subsequent meeting, to much audience amusement.

1970, Graceland.  Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) is watching television on his three television screens. He isn’t happy at what he sees. He sees lots of drugs, lots of protest and lots of unnecessary deaths. He decides that he can do something about it, using his celebrity for good and decides to become an undercover agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He just needs to meet with President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) first to get it all organised. Luckily he’s got friends Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) to do that. Nixon’s underlings Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Chapin (Evan Peters) are more than keen, but it looks like their boss will need a lot of persuading. 

The film uses the seemingly unlikeliness of the situation/s to advantage. Quite often (arguably too often) the laughs arise from the ‘No way! I don’t believe it.’ school of comedy. Yet that isn’t such a bad thing when you look at just how good the source material and it’s adaptation to screen is. The gags are good, well written and paced and told with great delivery.

I am a huge fan of Michael Shannon (Midnight Special was an underrated gem, click here of review) and he soars in this comedic-yet-not-really-comedic role. At times I had to remind myself I wasn’t actually watching Elvis Presley, not necessarily due to his look but due to his personality, exuding the aura and charisma of one of music’s true greats.

What helps is the film’s moments where he interacts with us mere mortals. The expressions of those he comes across, the mystification and disbelief, do not get old or less funny. His foe-turned-friend Nixon, as played by Kevin Spacey, also creates a truly memorable and hilarious persona, behaving in a way that certainly seems Nixon-esque. Shannon does steal the show though with the best lines and the fact he can truly pull of huge medallions and a massive gold belt.

The film also utilizes its supporting cast to great effect. I loved both Peters and Hanks as the acting-older-than-their-age young suits, their scenes with Spacey were standout. I also rather enjoyed an unrecognisable Knoxville in his brief but memorable role as Elvis’s close friend. Pettyfer, as Elvis’s BFF, was the only disappointment. He should have been a character played with warmth and wit. Instead he was a bit of a charisma vacuum.

All in all, Elvis & Nixon is fun to watch based on a true story movie that is more than a little bit amusing. Worth a watch.

stars