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The Equalizer 2


The Equalizer 2

Denzil Washington stars in this sequel to the 2014 adaptation of an 80s TV series. I enjoyed the earlier film and it must be said that this latest story is cast in very much the same vein. Critics reviews haven't been very favourable but it seems that audiences have been more inclined to have enjoyed what they saw. Denzil Washington is of course a big draw and despite arguably being too old to do what his screen persona Robert McCall does, the credibility factor doesn't seem to dissuade his fans.

As with many action films, the opening sequence has little to do with the ultimate plot, it being an introduction to McCall's penchant for taking up just causes on behalf of people with whom he has but a casual acquaintance. On this occasion it's the local bookseller, whose daughter has been abducted by her father. Cue the interior of a Turkish train, with McCall lightly disguised as some sort of religious elder having a conversation with the aforesaid father, as three mean looking henchmen sit in the background. We all know what's going to happen as McCall sets his watch timer to zero.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp


Ant-Man and the Wasp

I didn't see the original Ant-Man film and am far from up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so some of the plot references were no doubt lost on me. It appears that Ant-Man didn't emerge from Captain America: Civil War exactly smelling of roses, and he is constantly reminded of this during the film. His previous bad judgement has, however, resulted in him, as his normal persona Scott Lang, being held under house arrest with an electronic tag, where he seems quite content, especially when playing with his daughter Cassie. And, what's more, he only has days to go before the tag will be removed.

Enter Dr Hank Pym, or to be more precise, his daughter Hope, aka The Wasp. Pym is a scientist at the forefront of quantum physics, which those of you who saw the previous film probably already know. He and his wife, Janet, were pioneers on the ant-person scene, and in one 'save-the-world' exploit Janet reduced herself into the sub-molecular world and consequently became trapped in the sub-atomic quantum realm. Back to Scott, who has a very vivid dream featuring both Janet and a young Hope. Pym and Hope recognise this as possible quantum entanglement (reading up on quantum physics may help you here) between Scott and Janet, proving that she is still alive. So Wasp kidnaps Scott, who is far from happy as it could violate his parole. But Scott and Hope have a bit of a thing going, so he's probably not totally unhappy.

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Mission: Impossible - Fallout


Mission: Impossible - fallout

The latest Mission Impossible, which is number 6 in the series, certainly doesn't disappoint. In fact it could be the best to date. Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, teams up with Luther and Benji to save the world from the Apostles, a group reformed from the remnants of the Syndicate following Hunt's capture of Solomon Lane. Isla Faust is also here, of course, but on this occasion she's not actually with the team. Her mission is somewhat different, and also so secret as to be kept from Ethan.

The mission is also complicated by CIA chief Erika Stone's insistance that one of her operatives, August Walker, joins the IMF team. This is ostensibly because in the opening sequence of the film we see Ethan missing the opportunity of recovering three plutonium-filled capsules because he put the life of Luther above that of the mission. Walker, we are assured, would not have been so sentimental.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story


Solo: A Star Wars Story

And so the saga continues, although this time it's Han Solo's story. One could feel that they are squeezing the pips out of the franchise, but in fact it's not a bad yarn, and it has the look of the original trilogy, which also can't be bad. Although with an estimated budget of $250 million, it ought to be good.

We begin on Corellia, a ship-building planet where the young Han is a scrumrat, surviving on his wits in a world of criminality. His love is Qi'ra, also a scrumrat, and Han has a plan to get them off Corellia. He has stolen a phial of extremely valuable hyperfuel, which he uses as a bribe to get them on an outgoing transport. But as the gate closes Qi'ra is grabbed by their pursuers, and Han has to leave without her. He vows to return.

Volunteering for the Imperial Flight Academy, he is accepted, somewhat easily I thought. But he is expelled from there and ends up an infantryman, which as we know isn't the the safest ticket in town. In an attempt to escape he tries to blackmail a group of criminals by threatening to expose them, but all this achieves is him being fed to the 'beast'. The beast, however, turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and Han's ability to speak a bit of Shyriiwook enables him to 'make a deal' and both of them break free. At this point the leader of the criminal group, Beckett, decides that the two of them might be an asset on a 'job' they have planned, and he takes them on board.

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Deadpool 2


Deadpool 2

This film continues the story from the first Deadpool, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Rather than repeat all the reasons why I enjoyed it, I would refer you to that first review, which sets the scene nicely.

This time we start with Deadpool in a thoroughly suicidal mood after the love of his life, Vanessa (aka Copycat) is killed by one of the low-lives he had previously tried to take out. But Deadpool is seemingly really indestructible, to the extent that being atomised by barrels of high explosive still doesn't do the trick. Instead his bits are recovered by Colossus from the X-Men and taken to the X-Mansion for him to recover, or should we say regenerate. He agrees to be a trainee X-Man to moderate his rather extreme style. His first assignment is to an incident at the Mutant Re-education Center, where a young mutant, Russell, aka Firefist, is threatening all kinds of retribution. This doesn't go well, Deadpool siding with the young boy and taking a lethal view towards the staff of the establishment. This results in Deadpool and Russell being arrested and incarcerated, high-tech neck bracelets being used to negate their superpowers.

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Tomb Raider (2018)


Tomb Raider 2018

As a devotee of Indiana Jones, this sort of film will always hold an appeal for me. Add in Alicia Vikander as the resourceful heroine, and there wasn't any real doubt that I would go to see it. I'm not a gamer, so I am unschooled in the original premise of the video game, but I did see Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film, which for me seemed more like a video game than this latest incarnation.

Taking a leaf out of the Wonder Woman book, here we have the genesis of the story, as we see Lara as a rebellious young woman who refuses to sign papers to inherit her father's immense wealth while not knowing if he is indeed dead. Instead she just about gets by as a bike messenger in London. Until, that is, her father's business partner, Ana Miller, has to bail her from the police station after she collided with a police car. Taken to sign the papers to release her inheritance, she is given a Japanese puzzle bequeathed by her father, which she soon unravels - "things like this were always around the house !" This releases a key, which in turn, after solving a little riddle, gives her access to her father's secret den. There she finds a cam-corder, on which is a video left for her by her father. How the battery was still charged after seven years isn't explained. In the video her father exhorts her to destroy all his material relating to Himiko, a mythical Japanese queen said to hold the power over life and death. Lara, of course, completely ignores his request, and sets off for Japan after pawning a rare amulet that her father gave her.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

We didn't quite make it to see this latest Star Wars film on its first day, but were there the day after.

In fairness to the effort that has gone into making this film, I am going to refrain from saying too much, although if you want to be totally surprised, then don't read on! This film works as a stand-alone piece, but of course for those of us that have watched the odyssey unfold there is so much more.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) returns, still trying to understand what it is within her that makes her different, and still trying to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to teach her in the ways of the Force.

The Resistance is in full retreat, with Domhnall Green playing General Hux, the evil if somewhat accident prone commander of the First Order's battle fleet. The ultimate bad guy, however, is Supreme Leader Snoke, who puts up with Hux despite his failings. Snoke is also displeased with Kylo Ren (born Ben Solo), which leads to an interesting apparent meeting of minds between Kylo Ren and Rey, all done telepathically through the Force, of course. At this point we are not sure whether Kylo Ren is turning away from the Dark Side. Subsequent events tend to support this possibility. But this is Star Wars, where plot twists and the power of the Dark Side are always going to shape events.

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Justice League


Justice League

We saw Justice League on Friday, its release day here in the UK. I have mentioned previously that the whole superhero genre has started to wane a bit for me, basically because we've reached saturation. Deadpool was a refreshing change, Guardians of the Galaxy provided humour and great soundtracks and Wonder Woman was different because it at last gave us a female heroine. As for the rest, I'm afraid it's just more of the same. Which takes us to Justice League.

My take on the film is that is a group of superheroes looking for a plot; and what a plot. It appears that the super-villain in this case, Steppenwolf, does indeed hail from DC Comics, which surprised me as I thought the whole contrivance was verging on hallucinatory. We are introduced to the Mother Boxes, wrested from Steppenwolf in the past by the combined armies of the Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlantians, ancient humans and Green Lanterns (an intergalactic police force, which was trailed but I didn't notice their representative in the film). The Mother Boxes must be kept apart, since if they are brought back together this would give Steppenwolf the power to conquer the Earth. To this end one is guarded by the Amazons, cue Diana Prince's involvement, one by Atlantis, cue Aquaman, and one by humans. The death of Superman has triggered the boxes to activate and Bruce Wayne is leading a quest to assemble a team to stop Steppenwolf taking over the Earth. In addition to those already mentioned, we have Barry Allen, the Flash, and Victor Stone, a Cyborg who is having trouble coming to terms with his cyborgness.

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Only The Brave


Only The Brave

We saw this film last Friday. I knew what it was about in general terms but hadn't read anything beforehand and I didn't realise that it was in fact based on a actual events.

It is the story of a group of firefighters. Not your ordinary house fire type of firemen, but those who tackle forest fires. The elite teams in this field are called Hotshots, but the team in this film are 'Type 2s', trainee fighters, although their leader, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), aspires for them to become Hotshots. The problem is that they are part of a municipal fire department working for the city of Prescott, Arizona, and no municipal teams have ever become Hotshots. Undaunted, they set out to prove their worth.

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Payback


Payback

The other evening I was browsing Amazon's catalogue and came across this 1999 film with Mel Gibson. The summary sounded interesting so I went for it.

It's a classic crime movie from perhaps a earlier age. I subsequently read that the director wanted to shoot it in black and white, but the studio wouldn't agree. Instead the colours were 'bleached' in post-production, giving it a monochromatic feel, particularly during the street scenes. There's lots of violence but also a degree of black comedy, much revolving around an ongoing 'misunderstanding' over a sum of money that Gibson's character 'Porter' is trying to get back.

We start with Porter being treated in a far from clinical environment for the removal of bullets from his back. It's a while before we see the reason for his condition, which basically arose because of a betrayal by his wife Lynn, and a partner in crime Val Resnick. Resnick is in any event a sado-masochist, who not only likes hurting people but also enjoys pain inflicted at the hands of a particularly brutal sex worker. He's also in hoc to the syndicate, this being the reason for his original betrayal of Porter.

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Thor: Ragnarok


Thor: Ragnarok

The Marvel franchise has been ruthlessly marketed in recent times (this film is the seventeenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and one suspects that film companies and directors realise that the ubiquity of the genre will ultimately wane the audiences' interest. So we have things like Deadpool, the anti-hero, and Guardians of the Galaxy, a sublime mix of humour and a fantastic soundtrack, that offer audiences something different, with some success. This line of thinking has now permeated into the Thor brand with this latest offering, wherein Chris Hemsworth as Thor reveals his comic abilities, while the remainder of the cast play it as much for laughs as for serious intent. And it works.

We kick off with Thor enchained and at first we think he's addressing us, by way of narrative, but we soon see that in fact it is Surtur the fire dragon to whom he's speaking. In good comic book fashion his seemingly impossible plight is merely a temporary diversion awaiting the arrival of his famous Hammer. But before this happens Surtur spells out the forthcoming demise of Asgard at his hands, once he reunites his crown with the city's eternal flame. This prophecy, which goes by the name of Ragnarok, has a short life once Thor gets to work, but keep it in mind!

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Blade Runner 2049


Blade Runner 2049

After setting the scene by viewing the original Blade Runner last Monday, yesterday we went to see the long overdue sequel. I normally give a fairly detailed review of a film's plot, but in fairness to the director of this latest offering I'm not going to do that on this occasion. You need to be surprised by this film and telling too much would ruin it.

So what can I say? Ryan Gosling plays a blade runner, officer K, continuing the theme of the original film, where these special police officers track down replicants and 'retire' them. K is a newer type of replicant that is programmed to obey. His job is to hunt down the older less disciplined models. But he turns out to be somewhat more complicated. Los Angles doesn't seem to have moved on much from the earlier film. It still presents a mixture of futuristic hi-tech and metropolitan dilapidation; it's still constantly misty and there is still a lot of rain. It's a future-noir.

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Blade Runner - 1982 Original


Blade Runner 1982


We hope to see the new Blade Runner film later this week so yesterday evening we watched the original 1982 movie. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the original film is that the setting is 2019. The Sci Fi imagination clearly saw a lot more technical progress being achieved in respect of flying cars, while portraying Los Angeles as decayed and dystopian. And it never seems to stop raining.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a retired blade runner, a specialist police officer who hunts down replicants. These are bioengineered androids that are confined to off-world colonies, but are unwelcome back on Earth, thus the need for blade runners. Deckard is forced out of retirement to track down four such replicants, these being highly advanced and difficult to distinguish from humans. There is a test that will reveal a replicant, but these advanced models have embedded memories and can be quite difficult to identify. An attempt to do so with one of this group, Leon, ends rather badly for another blade runner.

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From Paris with Love


From Paris with Love

After playing 18 holes of golf on Friday, in very warm conditions, I wanted just to relax in front of the TV in the evening, watching something that wasn't too demanding. A search of Amazon Prime revealed From Paris with Love, and the synopsis seemed to fit the bill exactly. John Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a foul-mouthed instrument of death and mayhem, who is assisted by James Reese, a personal aide to the US ambassador in Paris. But we're jumping ahead a bit.

Reese is a very able aide, but he hankers for a more exciting role and doubles as a low-grade CIA operative. He's constantly asking his minder for more challenging tasks, stapling a surveillance bug under a desk, after failing to stick it with chewing gum not actually cutting the mustard for him. On the personal front, he has a beautiful French girlfriend, Caroline.

His wish is granted when he's asked to go to the airport detention centre where Wax is being detained over an argument about bringing cans of energy drink into the country. Wax is ferociously verbally abusing the custom officials and despite Reese's suggestion that similar drinks could easily be bought in Paris, Wax won't back down. A bit of diplomatic privilege finally breaks the deadlock. When they get in the car the reasons for Wax's attachment to the cans of drink becomes clear, and it isn't because he likes the taste.

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The Hitman's Bodyguard


The Hitman's Bodyguard

We saw this film yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Critical reviews have generally been poor, but comparing the critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes (39%) with that of audiences (76%), one can see that an element of artistic snobbery is probably at play. Too clichéd is the general opinion!

A film like this succeeds or fails on the chemistry between the two lead roles, and for my money that between Samuel L. Jackson, as Darius Kincaid, the hitman, and Ryan Reynolds, as Michael Bryce, the bodyguard, is spot on. Shades of The Nice Guys, I thought.

Bryce starts off as a Triple A rated personal protection agent, until that is a client meets a bad ending. He now works in the lower ranks of the protection market and is seriously unhappy about it. Kincaid is striking a deal with Interpol, offering to testify against alleged war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) if his wife (a profane Salma Hayek) is released from prison in the Hague. Interpol has put together an elite team to accompany Kincaid to Amsterdam, a team in which Kincaid has little confidence. Heading up the Interpol team is Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), who also happens to be Bryce's former girlfriend. They broke up after Bryce accused her of leaking information that led to his fall from grace.

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Atomic Blonde


Atomic Blonde

I saw the trailer for this a while ago and decided to put it on my mental future viewing list, and it was released this week. We saw it on Friday and I wasn't disappointed. When I first saw the trailer I didn't realise that it starred Charlize Theron, so that was a bit of a bonus.

The action takes place largely in Berlin at the time the 'Wall' was about to come down. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a top MI6 agent who is dispatched to Berlin after another agent, James Gascoigne, is killed. Gascoigne had obtained a list of agents and their covers, this information being secreted within an expensive watch. Broughton is to liaise with MI6's Berlin station chief, David Percival, played by James McEvoy. It all goes wrong from the off, with Broughton being picked up by two KGB agents, posing as Percival's representatives, while in fact working for a billionaire arms dealer, Aleksander Bremovych. She's not that easily duped, however, and deals with the two of them while Percival is in hot pursuit in his Porsche. The Percival/Broughton relationship thus doesn't get off to a good start.

The film is in fact told mostly in narrative, as Broughton is debriefed after returning to London bruised and bloodied, the reasons for this becoming clear as the plot unfolds. Basically it's a classic spy thriller, with the audience being left unsure who is working for whom, and even when you think you've worked that out, something else happens to make you doubt what you have just assumed. In addition to Percival and the KGB, we have a French agent Delphine Lasalle, played seductively by Sofia Boutelle, who made the Mummy look quite appealing in the recent Tom Cruise film. In this film she becomes Broughton's love interest, while adding to the intrigue as one tries to work out the affiliations of the various players.

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The Sweeney: Paris


The Sweeney: Paris

Another French language film from my watch list on Amazon Prime, this time not a comedy but lots of action. Interestingly for a French film it has an English language title, but apparently it had been know as The Squad, and Antigang, before settling on The Sweeney, piggybacking what was already a popular name from the British 1970s TV series. Most reviewers have found it odd, and a little bit daft, that this film should have been made after the poor reception given to the 2012 British film of the same name. It seems that the Paris version is a virtual remake of this earlier film.

All this being said, the French do make a good cop film, as witnessed in the popular series Engrenages, screened in the UK under the title Spiral. And despite the poor reviews given to the Paris Sweeney, I don't think you can fault it for action, and the backdrop of Paris always adds the extra something to any film.

In case anybody doesn't know, which I doubt is the case, Sweeney comes from London rhyming slang, Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad. The British TV series portrayed this outfit as a law unto itself, cutting official corners but obtaining results. The Paris Sweeney exhibits the same characteristics, but hyped up to the extreme. The film starts with the team causing 40,000€ of damage arresting a small group of robbers. Good results but rather expensive, and the new commander, Becker, is about to make changes. To complicate matters, the team's leader, Serge Buren, is having a relationship with Becker's wife, Margaux, who's on the team. Cartier is Buren's sidekick, a small man who certainly outperforms his stature.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming


Spider-Man: Homecoming

We saw the latest instalment of Spider-Man today, although in putting that way it tends to suggest that this film is a continuation of those that have gone before: it isn't. This time we have, in effect, Spider-Boy. Tom Holland plays the role as naive 15 year-old high school student Peter Parker, with much of the plot dedicated to his friendship with his classmate, Ned, who early on in the scheme of things discovers his friend's superhero secret. This leads to some close calls as the over-enthusiastic Ned is just bursting to let everybody know what he knows. And then there's Liz, Peter's dream girl at school, who, as you might have guessed, has a thing for Spider-Man.

The scenario is that a group of salvage workers, led by Adrian Toombes (Michael Keaton), otherwise known as Vulture, some years earlier were effectively robbed of a contract to scrap and dispose of alien hardware left over from the scrap that took place in Captain America: Civil War, a film I didn't see. To rub it in, the lost contract went to Stark Enterprises, as in Tony Stark/Iron Man, who had been complicit in the mayhem that led to the need for the salvage operation. This enraged Toombes, who with his techie genius, The Tinkerer, set about using some retained alien power crystals to produce a range of super weapons for profit. Our youthful Spider-Man accidentally comes across a team of Toombes' men robbing cash machines and sets about stopping them, only to be confronted with more than he perhaps expected. From this point on our hero dedicates himself to tracking down the weapons and the people behind them, despite being told to leave it alone by Tony Stark.

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The Mummy


The Mummy

We saw The Mummy yesterday on its cinema release date, a rare occurrence for me. I had decided to see it based on the trailer and wasn't disappointed, although judging by the reviews a lot of people haven't felt as charitable. Tom Cruise is one of those actors that people either like or not, and many people may have judged the film on this basis. Personally, I find Cruise an extremely dedicated actor who puts everything into a role, to the extent of inhabiting the character and training himself to carry out whatever stunts are involved. In a recent interview on the Graham Norton Show he divulged that he has been training two years for something that we are hopefully going to see in a forthcoming Mission Impossible movie - if whatever it is comes off!

Back to The Mummy. This is an updated version of an idea that's been around since the 30s. However, this time instead of a clunking male mummy we have a lithe young woman, Princess Ahmanet, who was mummified and entombed alive after making a pact with the god Set, following which she murdered her family. Set gives her a special dagger with a ruby type jewel at the top of the handle, which will allow Ahmanet to transfer Set's spirit into the body of a human, but she was prevented from doing this when captured and entombed after her killing spree.

We now move forward to present day Iraq where we have Cruise, as Nick Morton, with his partner Chris Vail, chasing down a 'treasure' that he believes exists based on a map he stole from the attractive archaeologist Jenny Halsey after spending a night with her. Nick and Chris become pinned down by insurgents and look to be in serious trouble, but Chris has summoned a drone strike that sees off the insurgents and opens a large hole, in which we see an Egyptian statue that signifies the presence of a tomb. The treasure Nick was looking for? Jenny arrives and tears Nick off a strip for stealing the map before the three of them descend into the hole to investigate further.

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John Wick


John Wick

I reviewed John Wick: Chapter 2 a while ago having seen it at the cinema. With the original now on Amazon Prime I thought I should fill in the back story.

Unsurprisingly this original is very similar to the second chapter, or should I say the second chapter continued the first. The plot is much the same, somebody seriously upsets John Wick and pays the ultimate price. On this occasion John has recently lost his wife and after the funeral he receives a cute puppy, called Daisy, something that his wife had arranged to give him so he could transfer his love. Filling his Mustang up with fuel, with puppy sitting in the passenger seat, another car rolls in with music blaring and a number of men who you know immediately are going to be trouble. The leader, Iosef, remarks on John's car and asks "how much?", to which John replies that it's not for sale. Iosef says something to John in Russian and is surprised when John replies in Russian. Not to be denied, the gang break into John's house that night and take him by surprise, stealing the car and killing Daisy.

Iosef is the son of Russian crime syndicate boss Viggo Tarasov, and while almost everybody realises the folly of upsetting John, Ioseph doesn't, and doesn't really care. His father soon acquaints him with John's reputation. When Iosef asks half-jokingly if John is the Bogeyman, his father says no, he's who you send to kill the Bogeyman. He goes on to say, "I saw him kill three men in a bar with a pencil - with a pencil!" From this point on Viggo's task is to stop John killing his son. Meanwhile, Aurelio, the owner of the garage where Iosef took John's car to have a new identity has contacted John, having thrown Iosef out after flooring him. John learns Iosef's identity from Aurelio and ignores Viggo's subsequent attempts to reach some sort of compromise.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I remember seeing the trailer for the first instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy and concluding that it looked too daft to bother with. However, I watched it on TV a little while ago, and while my opinion of its daftness proved to be spot on, I found it extremely enjoyable. The humour and the background music carried it along and the fact that the plot lines and antics verged on the ridiculous hardly mattered.

And so to Vol.2. Well, it's a fairly seamless continuation from the first film. All the team are in place, although in place of Groot, the walking-talking tree whose self sacrifice saved the rest of the team in the first film, we have a Baby Groot who was planted as a sapling from an offshoot of the dying Groot. Now it has to be said that Baby Groot is adorable, getting into all sorts of trouble as any devil-may-care youngster might. Like Groot senior, his only vocabularly is "I am Groot". If you're not familiar with the Guardians, the rest of the team are almost as bizarre as Groot. Peter Quill, or Star-Lord as he likes to be known, is the leader. He's human of the Earthling type, although not entirely so, as we find out. Gamora is the green-skinned woman who's the sensible one. She has a sister, Nebula, who's not on the team. In fact Nebula wants to kill Gamora. Drax the Destroyer is all muscle but with a softer side. And finally Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon, who's a master of weapons and military tactics. I did say it may seem daft.

In this sequel the team is first seen protecting some valuable batteries in the service of, Ayesha, the High Priestess of the Sovereign people, a gold race that is genetically engineered to be both physically and mentally perfect. This involves a battle with an inter-dimensional monster and they are doing this to secure the release of Nebula, who was caught trying to steal the batteries. Task complete they leave, only to be pursued by the Sovereign's drones because, it transpires, Rocket has pocketed some of the batteries.

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Free Fire


Free Fire

A bonus trip to the cinema this week while I was waiting for some work to be done on the car at Bury St Edmunds. I had seen the trailer for Free Fire, which showed a shoot-out in a derelict factory. What I didn't expect was that said shoot-out would be the whole film! Amazing as it may seem, this hour and a half film depicts one gun battle in the form of a black comedy.

Set in 1978, Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) have set up an arms deal between some IRA men and a gun dealer. Frank and Chris are the IRA chaps, who are meeting Vernon, a South African dressed in a loud 'Saville Row' suit. Each side have their helpers. Frank has Stevo, a zoned-out druggie, and Bernie. Things are going reasonably smoothly, despite the weapons not being as expected. "I'm not a pizza delivery service" says Vernon, when told that the rifles weren't the ones ordered. The money has been counted by Vernon's efficient sidekick, Martin, and everything is go, but then Harry, one of Vernon's team, recognises Stevo as the person he had fought with the previous evening, and all hell breaks loose.

The one-liners in this film come thick and fast, with the natural Irish humour mixed in with Vernon's equally funny retorts. But the 'little disagreement' between the two guys, thought to have been calmed, takes on a more serious aspect when shots are fired. And so the fire fight starts, with everybody drawing weapons and seemingly shooting at everybody else. To add to the mayhem, Martin, by way of insurance, has two more shooters outside, who subsequently arrive and start adding to the outright confusion.

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Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)


Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)

This film is set against the backdrop of the Algerian independence movement. It follows the life of three brothers from the end of the Second World War up to Algerian independence in 1962, although we are in fact first introduced to them when, as children, their father's land was taken away from the family in Algeria. The film has attracted controversy in respect of historical accuracy, with accusations that it portrays the French as the villains, while likening the Algerians to the Resistance during the War. I must say that I certainly came away with that feeling.

As adult brothers we are next introduced to the three of them, Messaoud, Abdelkader and Saïd, at a parade in the Algerian town of Sétif. This was on the morning of 8 May 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered. The film depicts the French forces opening fire on the marchers, the impression given that it was French aggression, while historical reports are more equivocal, indicating that there was aggression on both sides. Whatever the truth, it is acknowledged that this event was a turning point in Franco-Algerian relations, leading to the Algerian War of 1954-1962. In February 2005 the French ambassador to Algeria formally apologised for the massacre, referring to it as an "inexcusable tragedy".

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Eye in the Sky

I didn't get to see this film when it was at the cinema but caught up with it the other evening on Amazon Prime. It's a tense film that explores the modern day fight against terrorists by the use of armed drones and other technology. Some of the equipment shown is either pushing the envelope quite hard or purely fanciful. The high resolution cameras on the drone I can just about believe, as I can the camera mounted in an imitation humming bird on a wall outside the property under surveillance, but the flying bug was perhaps pushing things a bit too far. Even if I accept that such a thing exists, which it may well do, manoeuvring it as precisely as was shown in the film using just a smartphone sized controller seemed highly questionable. But let's forget the tech and consider the plot.

Eye in the Sky

Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell based at the Northwood control centre in Middlesex, UK. She is part of an international team monitoring Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi, Kenya. In Nevada a USAF team is controlling an armed drone while at Pearl Harbour the intelligence centre is responsible for identifying targets using incredibly fast, and accurate, facial recognition technology. Kenyan troops are also on standby and they have field operatives monitoring the target property. The weak point in the chain turns out to be a COBRA meeting attended by British Government ministers, the Attorney General and the long-suffering and very frustrated Lieutenant General Frank Benson, played brilliantly by the late Alan Rickman.

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John Wick: Chapter 2

I didn't see Chapter 1, but the introductory sequence in this latest instalment reminds us that John Wick was brought out of retirement on that occasion to take revenge for a slain puppy. As well as killing the puppy, a present from John's terminally ill wife before she died, the Russian gangsters stole his vintage Ford Mustang Mach 1. The latest story opens with John going to retrieve his car and it's non-stop action from that point on. After taking out countless armed tough guys he gets his car back. It's a total wreck but his friendly garage man says he can fix it - by 2030!

John Wick: Chapter 2

All the foregoing just sets the scene. The real story starts when Italian crime lord Santino D'Antonio calls at John's house, asking him to honour a 'marker', an unbreakable promise in the form of a blood oath. John says that that life is behind him, but D'Antonio soon makes it clear that is not an acceptable answer. John visits 'The Boss', Winston, at the Continental Hotel in New York, this apparently being the hub of an assassins' syndicate. We later see the organisation in action, when we're shown an office full of what appear to be very ordinary female office workers, save perhaps for their tattoos, who are arranging 'hits' in the same way as they might be placing purchase orders within any other company.

Winston's advice to John is that he should accept the marker, do the deed, and then he could go back to his 'retirement'. Reluctantly he agrees. He then finds out that the 'job' is to kill D'Antonio's sister, Gianna, such that Santino can take her place at the 'High Table'.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Today it was the latest Star Wars film. The Guardian reviewer says that this is a film made for the fans, and I tend to agree with him. It stitches together other parts of the genre in that we now have an insight into how the plans for the death star were obtained, and indeed more background into the Rebel Alliance.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The dynamic duo in this film are Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, the former being the daughter of scientist Galen Erso, who is regarded as a traitor for working for the Empire. Galen, however, is playing the long game, and while on the face of it he's assisting with the creation of the super weapon, he's at the same time incorporated a weakness, that we all know is exploited in the original Star Wars film. Jyn, played by Felicity Jones, who I wouldn't have put as an action hero but admit to being wrong, becomes a plucky and resourceful rebel after at first eschewing their cause. Her sidekick, Cassian, whose orders were to assassinate Jyn's father, soon falls victim to Jyn's charms, very much a re-run of the Leia - Han Solo relationship that started off frostily and, well we all know what happened.

The threat of the Death Star is not universally believed in the rebel camp and they refuse to take the risk of recovering the plans of the super weapon. In typical Star Wars fashion, Jyn and Cassian take matters into their own hands with some help from a small dedicated band that they've collected along the way. In an imperial ship that they previously acquired this little party make their way to the Imperial garrison on the planet Scarif, where the plans are kept, their only advantage being the element of surprise. The action that follows is classic Star Wars and, of course, when the chips seem to be down unexpected assistance arrives.

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Assassin's Creed

Yesterday's cinema film was Assassin's Creed. I'm not a video games player and wouldn't normally bother with a film based on the genre, but I read a review that suggested that after a succession of video game-to-movie turkeys, this one could break through the mediocrity. Well, I'm afraid it didn't do so for me. The promise was of real locations and stunts that weren't CGI enhanced in front of blue screens. That may well be true, but it still seemed like a video game to me. The story line was also a bit contrived, a sort of Matrix rip-off whereby the body stays put but the spirit, or whatever you like to call it, occupies another body, this time a body in 15th century Spain during the Inquisition.

Assassin's Creed

Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a murderer somehow rescued from his lethal injection to next appear at Abstergo Industries, a futuristic research facility where he is about to embark on his transportation to medieval Spain under the supervision of Sofia (Marion Coutillard), the daughter of the facilities director. Lynch is hooked up to the Animus. Inspired no doubt by The Matrix, it is attached to Lynch whereupon his brain and genetic code are synchronised with those of his forebear in the 15th century. We are then transported back to that time with Lynch's former self and there's some impressive action, albeit of the video game variety.

The objective is for Lynch to reveal where the Apple of Eden can be found, a mythical orb that contains the seeds of man's first disobedience, the possession of which will allow the Templars to eliminate personal free will and thus remove disobedience from society. A number of return visits to medieval Spain treat us to some spectacular parkour and martial arts, for me the high spots of the film.

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Our Kind of Traitor

Skimming through Amazon Prime the other evening we came across this film, which was a bit surprising as it was only released in May 2016. However, during the lead-in Amazon Prime were credited along with other producers, so that perhaps explains things.

Our Kind of Traitor

I remember seeing the trailer at the cinema so had an inkling about the story. It's based on a John le Carré novel, so the pedigree was good.

The prologue treats us to some shady goings on involving the Russian mafia, leading to gangland executions of an apparently respectable family. This cues the main story involving Dima, a mafia money man who has become a target of his new boss, The Prince, and seeks a way to protect his family from what he sees as the inevitable outcome. To do this he befriends an innocent holiday maker, Perry, who's on holiday in Morocco with his barrister wife, Gail, she being rather too involved in her work and leaving Perry to his own devices. Dima sees Perry as an incorruptible 'good man' and entrusts him to carry information back to MI6 in Britain, as a trade for the safety of Dima's family. Unfortunately the mafia has a highly placed politician in Britain that can thwart these plans, but a tenacious MI6 agent, Hector, is prepared to ignore his superiors' orders and pursue Dima's offer. He co-opts Perry and Gail who at first are reluctant to agree to help, but as time passes Perry, and then Gail, begin to feel sympathy for Dima, despite his mafia connections and his violent background.

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The Accountant

Today we saw The Accountant with Ben Affleck playing Christian Wolff, an autistic maths genius who has a sideline in assassinations.

The Accountant

There is a bit of jumping about between his childhood and the present, which is to help to explain why he is as he is. He and his 'normal' brother were brought up in a military family, with a father who pushed aside professional help and instead elected to teach the boys to survive, which included punishing martial arts training. Judging by what comes later, there was a fair amount of special forces training involved as well.

Wolff's small accountancy firm is a cover for his multi-national exploits that involve helping some very unsavoury people. He receives his instructions from a mysterious woman over the phone. She informs him that people "are looking for him", and suggests a more low-key assignment at a company developing advanced prothetic limbs. This assignment in fact turns out to be anything but low-key. Contracted to investigate anomalies discovered by Dana, a young woman from the company's accounts department (played by Anna Kendrick), he does what he's good at and finds a major accountancy discrepancy. This results in an executive of the company meeting an untimely end. Dana is then targeted and the sister of the company's owner doesn't last long either.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

It's a while now since I went to the cinema but Wednesday we saw the second Jack Reacher film with Tom Cruise. The reviews aren't good, citing silliness and preposterousness, to name but two. Well, such adjectives can easily be applied to the vast majority of films that reach our screens these days, so what's new?

We start with the scene that has featured on shows that have previewed this film. Reacher, sitting in a diner, has taken down a group of bad guys involved in people smuggling and the local sheriff arrives threatening to put Jack away for a long time. Cue a phone ringing and military police cars screaming to a halt outside, with the sheriff now in cuffs and being taken away.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

This opening is nothing more than a cameo leading in to the main story, which starts when Reacher contacts Major Susan Turner (who it seems took over his post in the army) after his little fracas in the diner. They flirt over the phone and arrange to meet, but when Reacher arrives at her office he finds that she has been arrested on a charge of espionage, which of course he doesn't believe. In pursuing the truth he soon finds that there is a wall of silence. The attorney representing Major Turner meets a sticky end after talking to him, and Reacher is then charged with the murder. A conspiracy is obviously afoot that all began after two of Major Turner's troops were murdered in Afghanistan. And she is now at risk, prompting Reacher to escape his own custody and take her with him.

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The Legend of Tarzan

As someone who read all the Tarzan books when young, and was a member of the Tarzan Club (yes, it did exist), any new take on him is obligatory viewing. The critics have not been impressed but audience satisfaction at Rotten Tomatoes is higher.

The Legend of Tarzan

As I've already said, I start off biased, and found the film to be enjoyable enough. After a plot-setting beginning, we move to London where Lord Greystoke (Tarzan) has been accepted back in society after coming out of the jungle. He is asked to return to Africa as a representative of the British government to meet an envoy of King Leopold II of the Belgians, the said envoy being the dastardly Léon Rom who has set the whole thing up to capture Tarzan. The plot setting at the beginning explains why.

Tarzan, however, expects foul play and leaves the ship early making his way overland to meet friendly natives. Unfortunately Rom and his mercenaries anticipate Tarzan's plan and make their way to the village, where Tarzan evades capture, but sees his Jane taken away. Thus the plot is set for a Tarzan saves Jane adventure.

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Bastille Day

When I saw the trailer for Bastille Day it appealed to me, so yesterday we went to see it. The reviews haven't been tremendous but the mix for me was just about right. Set in Paris, with the French speaking French, it provided plenty of action as well as an opportunity to try to understand what was being said - there were of course subtitles.

Idris Elba plays a somewhat rogue CIA officer, Sean Briar, who's on the case of an apparent terrorist bomber whose face has been captured on CCTV. The said bomber, Michael Mason, is however no more than a very proficient pick pocket who happened to 'lift' a bag from the actual bomber, a distraught young French woman, Zoe, who had become embroiled in something far more sinister than she had realised.

Bastille Day

It's difficult to review this film without giving away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that everything isn't what it seems where the bombers are concerned. Briar soon suspects this, and sets out on what is effectively an unauthorised one-man campaign to track down the suspects, but he must first co-opt Mason and find the now petrified Zoe who's in hiding. The trio form an unlikely alliance as they pit themselves against a very dangerous and well resourced enemy.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Back to the cinema after the school holidays and this week it was the epic battle between these two superheroes. I was intrigued on two levels: firstly, why two good guys should fight and, secondly, how Batman, despite his abilities, could hope to take on an indestructible opponent.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The answer to both conundrums becomes clear as we are shown the destruction of Metropolis as a result of the earlier battle between Superman and the evil Zod, which leaves Batman highly distrustful of Superman, who he feels would be able at any time to wreak havoc, should he so choose. Add to this the devilish scheming of Lex Luther, who I thought was interestingly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, whose aim is to set the two crime fighters against each other. Then we have, of course, a large chunk of Kryptonite, the final leveller in the battle that was to ensue.

In this film Batman's suit is more like armour and he certainly comes across as a much meaner figure than in earlier films, his demeanour matching his outfit. Superman is much nicer, his relationship with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) being sort of out in the open on this occasion. In fact his rescuing of Lois early on in the story turns out to be the result of a Lex Luther plot that is part of the grand plan to undermine Superman's public persona.

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Deadpool

We saw Deadpool at the cinema today. Every so often a film comes along that is truly different, and I believe that Deadpool deserves this accolade. Yes, it's a superhero story; yes, it involves lots of shoot-em-up and beat-em-up moments; yes, there are lots of (amazing) stunts. So what's different? Well, this is almost a send-up of the genre, it is very funny, and the 'good' guy is at the same time pretty mean.

Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool), who renamed himself after a sweepstake that bet on the likelihood of who was going to die first out of a group mercenaries that offered protection to woman for money. After starting a passionate romance with Copycat, played by the gorgeous Morena Baccarin (Brody's wife in Homeland), he finds out that he has terminal cancer and takes up an offer of a cure that involves him mutating, à la X-men. His 'doctor' is Ajax, a really mean piece of work, who relishes inflicting pain, spurred on by Wilson's refusal to stop joshing him.

The cure has some rather unpleasant side effects but Wilson, who has now named himself Deadpool, has become almost indestructible. He sets off to find Ajax believing that he can help him undo the unwanted effects of the treatment. He travels by taxi to his showdown, which sort of sums up the non super hero aspects of this film. The showdown itself is a feast of amazing slow-mo photography as vehicles and people are spread all over the freeway. Things are interrupted by the arrival of a couple from the X-men stable, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who don't exactly agree with Deadpool's approach.

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The Revenant

Our cinema film this week was The Revenant. My choice and I'm pleased that we went to see it.

Set in 1823, in the unsettled wilderness of what now is the Dakotas, it's a brutal film depicting the lives of frontiersmen hunting for pelts. The local indians are hostile and the story effectively starts when a raiding party attacks the hunters. The effectiveness of the bow and arrows against single shot rifles and pistols is graphically displayed as the 'white men' are cut down, resorting to escape by boat as the indians overwhelm them.

The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, the group's guide, who is accompanied by his son, the product of a relationship with an indian woman who had previously been killed. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) doesn't think a lot of Glass, especially when Glass insists that the group abandon their boat and take an overland return journey to the safety of the fort.

On the way Glass is savaged by a grizzly bear and seriously injured. After at first trying to stretcher Glass it is decided that the group should split, with the captain leading the returning group and Fitzgerald remaining with Glass and his son, along with the young Jim Bridger. It doesn't end well.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

No golf today as the course is waterlogged, and closed. So we went to see Star Wars. By waiting a bit we benefitted from the cinema not being packed to the gunnels.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I've tried to avoid seeing spoilers but it's been difficult. I already knew, for example, that the director had returned to the formula that took the first three Star Wars films into cult status. I wasn't surprised, therefore, when the familiar scrolling text appeared at the beginning, nor was I surprised by all the nods, some subtle and some less so, to the originals.

I was a bit worried by the fact that they were bringing Han and Leia back, but in the event they fitted the story line while adding to the nostalgia. The meeting up in the vastness of space of Han and his beloved Millennium Falcon seemed a tad too coincidental, but it was of course necessary.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were relative unknowns when the first Star Wars film launched, and this has been repeated with Daisy Ridley, as Rey, and John Boyega, as Finn, both of whom are great finds. Rey is shaping up to be a worthy bearer of The Force as we inevitably go into the next productions. Perfect casting in fact. The mystery, of course, is why she can summon The Force, and there is already much speculation over this. But I think we all know that she's related to somebody from the earlier films, even if we don't know who at this stage. Again this mimics the original stories.

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In the Heart of the Sea

My first visit to the cinema in 2016 and we saw In the Heart of the Sea.

In the Heart of the Sea

The film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired the novel Moby-Dick.

Herman Melville, the subsequent author of Moby Dick, visits Thomas Nickerson, the last survivor of the whaleship Essex's last voyage. Nickerson has previously refused to discuss with anybody the events of that voyage, and it's only when his wife intervenes that he agrees to do so.

As he recounts the story, the film takes us back to that fateful voyage. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) is first mate to Captain George Pollard. Chase is an experienced whaler who had been promised his own captaincy, only to be denied by the parachuting in of Pollard, from an established whaling family. There is animosity from the off, which nearly costs them the ship fairly early into the voyage. After an early success they stop off in Ecuador, where a Spanish captain recounts visiting 'Offshore Grounds' some 2000 miles away, but where his ship was destroyed by a white whale. This is scoffed at as a 'mariner's tale' by the crew of the Essex and they set off to find the whales.

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Spectre

Having waited for the crowds to die down a bit, yesterday we saw Spectre. All Bond films are 'must see' for me, having read all the books when I was younger and seen all the films. I still regard Sean Connery as the archetypal Bond (showing my age) but must say that Daniel Craig has reinvigorated the genre after some pretty lean years. This latest instalment of the franchise is, quite frankly, stupendous.

Spectre

The opening sequences to these films have become a look-forward-to feature, each one seemingly outdoing the previous ones in terms of action and incredulity. For Spectre they have pulled everything out of the bag. How on earth they produce effects such as these is testament to the technical advances in cinematography and computer simulation. This opening sequence is going to be very hard to better.

Meanwhile the rest of the film doesn't disappoint. The story line is strong, the 'girls' are more than just eye candy and the villain is a worthy adversary for 007. It seems our hero has a soft spot for French actresses. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd captured his heart in Casino Royale and in the latest outing he finds himself somewhat captivated by Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. I can fully understand why this should be the case.

The villain turns out to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a name from the earlier Bond films and, of course, from the original novels. The twist is that said Blofeld has a connection to Bond that comes as a bit of a surprise. This film thus reintroduces some of the original villainy and links it to story lines of the more recent films. The bits of the puzzle coming together, if you like.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Following on last week's Mission Impossible saga this week we saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Both are arguably of the same genre, so it made for interesting comparisons.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

My immediate reaction was to think that Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, would make a superb James Bond. I suppose my idea of Bond is heavily influenced by the Sean Connery years, and Cavill has that same suave persona and the ability to inject comedy into what is supposed to be serious stuff. Meanwhile Armie Hammer completely recasts Illya Kuryakin as a KGB superman [David McCullem as the original Kuryakin wasn't anything like this!]. He also adds to the humorous side of this production. Meanwhile, Alicia Vikander provides one half of the glamour content as Gabby Teller, daughter of a missing German scientist.

The film actually leads up to the coming together of the trio as a team, as they're certainly not buddies at the beginning. I guess, therefore, that we're in for at least one more instalment, perhaps more.

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

My grandson stayed with us last week, which influenced the choice of film, although the Mission Impossible films are always worth watching.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

This latest instalment doesn't disappoint. Tom Cruise seems to defy ageing and it appears that he again did his own stunts. The film is non-stop action but the two most difficult and most dangerous stunts were quite amazing. In the first he clings to the door of a cargo plane as it takes off, while later in the film he undertakes a six minute free dive that may have you holding your breath.

There are scenes shot in the upper parts of the Vienna State Opera that were, by all accounts, filmed at least in part while a full production of Turandot was under way. It seems real enough as you watch it, but with all the cinema trickery now available it was interesting to learn that in this case it was the real thing.

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Jurassic World

Jurassic World has opened to extremely positive reviews and spectacular box office success, so we went to see it. The formula hasn't changed much. The theme park is now fully developed but that brings its own problems, in that dinosaurs are now 'old hat', so the mad scientists have dreamt up a new attraction to keep the public coming.

Jurassic World

Using gene manipulation they've produced a dinosaur that 'isn't a dinosaur'. It's a mixture of genes that give it some interesting evolutionary leaps, such as chameleon camouflage capability and the ability to disguise its thermal image. Add to this a brain that can and does outwit the humans, well at least the less switched-on humans, and you have a recipe for a good disaster movie.

The Indominus (that's what the new creation is called) escapes, surprise surprise, and havoc ensues. A lot of people get eaten and two visiting children, who happen to be the nephews of the theme park's operations' manager, coincidently become the creature's quarry.

In this fourth outing of the Jurassic Park phenomenon we see four fearsome Velociraptors, villains of the earlier films, actually being used to hunt down the Indominus thanks to a bit of nifty animal training by the films hero, Owen. But that doesn't work out quite to plan either, as Indominus happens to have been given some velociraptor genes - yes, they're related!

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Spy

I've been a bit busy lately so the blogging has suffered. In fact I've been to the cinema twice since I last reviewed a film on this blog.

Spy

Last week we saw Spy. The trailer enticed me, and I'm not sorry I chose to see it. It's a comedy and succeeds completely as such. Melissa McCarthy is to my mind quite brilliant in the role of agent Susan Cooper (Coop) who, having for a long time having been kept in the 'back room', is given the opportunity to get out in the field. She is given express instructions only to observe and report, but as you can probably guess that that doesn't quite work out.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

I took my car in for service on Wednesday and while we were waiting for it, we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Now I must admit that I didn't have great expectations. I've become a bit disenchanted with crash/bang movies that major on destruction of one sort or another.

I was, however, very pleasantly surprised. Yes, there is a lot of destruction, mainly of vehicles, but this film moves along at a pace that will certainly keep your attention. The story line isn't fantastic, just something to hang on what is basically a car chase movie. The effects are, however, quite amazing. From the depiction of the people in this futuristic view of a post-apocalypse world, to the phenomenal action sequences that sit somewhere between computer generated graphics and mind-blowing stunts. The effect is, however, one of believable reality. It really sets a standard.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Our second film this week was Kingsman. Colin Firth as you've never seen him before!

Kingsman

With the latest Daniel Craig 'Bond' films having become serious again, after Roger Moore's almost slapstick portrayals, I suppose we needed a Bond alternative that didn't take itself too seriously. Kingsman certainly meets that criterion.

Ian Fleming's Bond was certainly a 'gentleman' and the Kingsmen take this idea to a new level. Operating from a gentlemen's tailors in Saville Row (or thereabouts) these agents always dress immaculately even when on assignments, although the opening sequence allows them a temporary lapse into SAS type garb. The organisation mimics King Arthur's legendary story with the chief Kingsman (Michael Caine) being Arthur and his team of agents adopting the names of the legendary knights. The table isn't round, however!

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American Sniper

We saw two films this week. The first outing on Wednesday was to see American Sniper.

American Sniper

Critical reviews of this film were mixed but box office receipts would suggest that it has been popular with audiences. The chief criticisms seem to be that it was blatant American propaganda, it inaccurately portrayed Chris Kyle and it unfairly implied that all Iraqi people were 'bad' while all American troops were 'good'. In other words your average war movie albeit the players may be different depending on the conflict being portrayed.

I wouldn't disagree with any of those criticisms but having accepted these shortcomings I found it a very watchable film. I suppose the difficulty lies in it being based on 'fact' and perhaps it would have been better if it was a purely fictional tale, as the 'truth' would not then have got in the way.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

We saw Exodus today. The reviews have been pretty awful and there's been a bit of a fuss over the casting white actors in the lead roles. Not a good start then!

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I think I must be reasonably easily pleased as I didn't find it all that bad. I agree that the lead players didn't come over as very Egyptian, so perhaps some of the criticism is warranted. The story was sufficiently dynamic for me not to find the 154 minutes running time overly long, which can't be said for some films of that length. The special effects were, as you would expect, impressive. We've become so used to computer generated scenes now that they're no longer quite as awe inspiring, but the long list of computer design artists shown in the credits gives you some idea of the amount of work that goes into creating these simulations.

I must admit that my biblical knowledge is limited but I found it quite shocking how the Egyptians supposedly suffered at the hands of God. He seems to have lost that inclination nowadays as otherwise there would be quite a few people out there who might be feeling his wrath. Depicting God as a child was also an interesting take on things. Or was it just that Moses saw him as a child because of his longing for his own son?

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Fury

We saw Fury yesterday. It is a film that doesn't pull any punches and while I have no personal experience of war, I think this film probably does a good job of portraying the inhumanity and the psychological suffering that people must experience. From the hardened soldiers to the young office clerk who is initiated into the tank crew by being made to shoot an unarmed prisoner in the back. From the SS officers to the German child soldiers, and those other young Germans who were publicly hung by the SS for refusing to fight.

Fury

There wasn't much glory on display until the final sequence, which was a bit fanciful, but this was probably a matter of playing to audience expectations. I suppose it's in the same genre as Saving Private Ryan, although in some respects more sobering. Of course it was the usual American story with no acknowledgement of other allied forces, but we're all used to that by now.

If you like war movies and are not put off by gore then it's a film worth seeing.


La Femme Nikita

Nikita
I watch French films but find it difficult always to understand spoken dialogue. To help, if possible I buy films with French subtitles. Unfortunately it's not easy to find these films in England. I bought several when I was in Paris and more recently I bought some from Amazon France. It's very easy to do. You can use your Amazon UK email username and password and delivery is quick, and not too expensive.

One of the films was La Femme Nikita, which I watched last week. I was impressed. This genre is these days commonplace but I don't think that the more recent films are better. In fact, I think that Nikita by Luc Besson is still one of the best examples.


Tarzan (Animation)

We went to see the latest Tarzan animation today. My choice, being a great Tarzan fan when I was younger. I read all the books.

The reviews were terrible, but I thought it might be interesting to see what the latest animation techniques could produce. Many reviewers feel that the animation was, in fact, quite poor, and I suppose on reflection it wasn't anything special; even in 3D. What was more annoying for me was that Lord Greystoke had suddenly become American. Now I realise that perhaps it is necessary to update what is now an old story and bring it into the modern environment, but the whole essence of Tarzan is that of a British Lord being raised as an ape. Also, in this story he is 'adopted' by the she ape as a young boy, not as a baby, yet remarkably seems almost to lose his ability to speak. The original story was much more plausible, if one can accept the plausibility of it at all.

And the plot! Utter rubbish. And Jane is now blonde; of course.



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Hunger Games - Catching Fire

We went to see the latest Hunger Games film yesterday, the second of the trilogy. I enjoyed the first and this sequel didn't disappoint.

Katniss and Peeta seriously upset the apple cart in the first film by both surviving the 'Games', wherein 'tributes' drawn from the 'districts' are meant to fight until only one is left. This has led to them becoming symbols of hope for the downtrodden people in the districts, something that is upsetting the 'Capitol' even more than the way the two of them manipulated the games, which led to their joint survival.

To suppress what appear to be nascent murmurings of revolution in the districts, the forthcoming games are recast such that the tributes are to be drawn from previous winners, this being a device to eliminate Katniss and Peeta, but it merely results in them garnering even greater support from the people.

So the games commence, but an unexpected pact seems to develop within a group of the tributes, which, given 'the only one can survive' nature of the games, is unexpected. But not all is as it seems.

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Gravity

As it was tipping down with rain all day yesterday we went the cinema and saw Gravity, a film I was keen to see. And I wasn't disappointed.

Every so often a film redefines cinema and I think Gravity fits this genre. One review said that it is less of a movie and more of an experience, and that describes it nicely. The whole thing is, of course, a computer simulation, but it's so real that if you didn't know better you would surely assume that it was actual filmed footage. I'm not a great fan of 3D cinema but this film is an exception. There are no 3D gimmicks, just a fantastic 3D simulation of what it must be like floating in orbit around Earth. Ethereal and very hazardous, as it turned out.

The plot isn't anything special and probably a bit far-fetched in parts, although it doesn't stretch the imagination too far. There are in reality only two actors, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, playing respectively Matt Kowalsky, a veteran astronaut, and Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. The other 'actors' are just voices.

Disaster strikes in the form of a chain reaction of space debris, initiated by the Russian's decision to destroy one of their satellites. The shuttle is badly damaged and only Kowalsky and Stone survive the debris storm, but are left floating in space. The ensuing story of their struggle for survival forms the plot, and I won't say any more at the risk of spoiling it for anybody who is planning to see the film.


Rush

A day late this week but today we went to see Rush, the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Quite brilliant. The racing scenes are fantastic but it's the story of the rivalry between the two men that is spellbinding. Lauda, the ultimate technician and Hunt, the raw talent, pitted against each other during the 1976 F1 season. An absorbing insight into the emotions of both men, one calculating the odds and not being prepared to push them, the other with a do or die attitude, not letting anything stand in the way of his ambition to be the F1 champion.

But Lauda did push the odds, his 'unlikable' character leading him to be outvoted by the other drivers when he suggested abandoning the German race at the Nürburgring because of the appalling conditions. It was during this race that he crashed and nearly died as a result of the fire that engulfed the car. Amazingly he was back on the track a couple of months later.

The adverts before the film (lots of ads for testosterone fuelled cars) suggest that the marketing folk rated it as a male preserve. If so, this was a mistake, as it's a very human story that happens to involve people involved with Formula 1. Don't miss it.


Elysium

Today we saw Elysium. Helen now has a monthly CineWorld pass so I have to choose what film we see on Orange (EE) Wednesday while she can see anything else she fancies on other days.

I chose Elysium on the basis that I'm quite happy to see sci-fi and the fact that Jodie Foster is usually very discerning about what films she choses to make. Unfortunately I didn't warm to Foster's character, which I suppose wasn't surprising as the woman she plays isn't particularly nice. But it was more than just the nasty role. I found that there was something not quite convincing about her characterisation, and it pains me to say this as I think she is an exceptionally fine actor. Matt Damon, on the other hand, was for me far more convincing.

The plot assumes a massive leap in technology between now and 2154 but that's what one would expect from sci-fi. It also assumes that we will have wrecked the Earth, which is less hard to believe. The 'have-nots' live on the overpopulated planet suffering disease and deprivation while the 'haves' live on an orbiting space colony, Elysium, with every luxury you could imagine and advanced medical technology that it would seem can cure anything and re-grow any form of body damage. Just a futuristic projection of where we are at the moment if you think about it, and there is certainly a political message in this film. To emphasise this point the poverty that is displayed is real, having been filmed in the world's second largest garbage dump - on the Bordo Poniente landfill site in Mexico City. Whereas the luxury of Elysium, full of pristine lawns, swimming pools and sun loungers, was shot in Vancouver. Showing that the gulf between rich and poor is in no way a futuristic projection but an existing reality.

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The Lone Ranger

We went to see The Lone Ranger last week but I've only just got around to telling you about it. The film had poor reviews generally, although, interestingly, the audience figure for positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes is twice that of the 'approved critics'. That doesn't surprise me as I often like films that the 'critics' have panned.

So what about this one. Well, it's a comedy, although not in the Shakespearian sense as too many people get killed. Johnny Depp plays Tonto, and as in Pirates of the Caribbean, his makeup is flawless, and original. I liked Tonto, as I long ago sided with the 'injuns', having spent most of my younger childhood playing at shooting them. They were the good guys, but not in the western books and comics that I read in the 50s. But the Lone Ranger, the man that is, was not what I expected. He was portrayed as a bit of a twit, with Tonto providing most of the brainpower and wisdom. Now it's nice to see the injun put in this role, but for somebody brought up on westerns I found this diminution of the famous Texas ranger a bit hard to take.

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Now You See Me

Today's film was 'Now You See Me'. It seems to have received quite poor reviews but I actually enjoyed it. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for magic, which may explain why I seem to have liked the film more than many of the reviewers.

The plot was a bit like the magic, plenty of misdirection. Just when you thought you knew why 'The Four Horsemen' were doing what they were doing, you discover that you were wrong. And the final twist was pretty difficult to foretell, although with hindsight there were clues along the way.

Mélanie Laurent added French interest and the final scene on Le Pont des Arts brought back memories of my recent stay in Paris.

If you like magic and are willing to have your imagination stretched somewhat then you may well enjoy this film.


Man of Steel

I keep referring to Orange Wednesday, but of course it's now EE Wednesday, but that doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Today it was Man of Steel. I remember being bowled over by the original Superman film with Christopher Reeves. In 1978 the 'special' effects were ground-breaking, and impressive. As they said at the time, "you'll really believe that a man can fly." We've long since absorbed this type of effect and these days it's difficult to be surprised by people 'flying', and by whole cities being reduced to wastelands. So while these things were present in today's film, it needed more to differentiate itself. I was however impressed by the inclusion of sonic booms and shock waves as he broke the sound barrier - nice touch.

For the women the differentiation was no doubt provided by Henry Cavill, who even from a male perspective was, I must admit, certainly up to the job. But us males weren't short-changed, since Amy Adams is playing Lois Lane.

Fan worship aside, I liked how this version was structured. Clark Kent's job at the Daily Planet only came at the end, and we instead saw him in a number of jobbing roles as he came to terms with his identity, and his uniqueness, and the childhood years were presented in flashbacks triggered by events in this adult life. Russell Crowe was great as his father and the demise of Krypton, and the reasons for this, were I thought described in more detail and more convincingly in this version.

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Life of Pi

We saw The life of Pi today and it was quite incredible. Ang Lee can be relied upon to produce something special and this is no exception. The film obviously relies heavily on CGI but the brilliance lies in the fact that it's only your intuition that informs you what is likely to be real and what is generated in a computer. The 'joins' certainly aren't visible and suspension of disbelief is easily realised.

And the ending is both unexpected and superficially baffling. It's only when you start to think about it, that you realise that you are being asked to make a personal choice, and that the choice you make is effectively a reflection of your beliefs. If you've seen the film and are still struggling with the ending, try Screenrant.

Brilliant film and amazing cinematography. Interestingly in France the story is entitled L'Odyssée de Pi, which is probably more descriptive, as an odyssey it certainly is.


Gangster Squad

We saw Gangster Squad today. Very violent but with humour and very watchable.

A group of hand-picked cops leave their badges at home and set out to take down Mickey Cohen, a psychotic mobster who wants to own LA, and is well on his way to achieving his goal.

I particularly liked officer Max 'Hopalong' Kennard, who seemed to have drifted in from a wild west movie, replete with his Colt 45 (or something very similar), lightening fast draw and dead-eyed shooting.


Skyfall

Went to see Skyfall yesterday. It's been out a few weeks but with popular films we usually wait until the crowds have died down.

It was worth the wait. I read all the Bond books in my youth, have seen all the films and have all the DVDs. I'm one of the 'Connery was best people', which probably shows my age as much as anything else. I've always thought he was more true to the characterisation in the books. Roger Moore, I'm afraid, completely took the edge of the character, while the other actors (pre-Craig) sit somewhere between Connery and Moore. The arrival of Daniel Craig in Casino Royal, which was a return to both the plot and the characterisations in the book, redeemed the franchise for me.

Skyfall is good, very good. Bond with attitude has returned with a vengeance. Obviously all Bond movies must have a devilish villain, and Silva is about as devilish and cunning as you can get. And, of course, the Bond girls, one of whom always meets a sticky end. Not sure about the reappearance of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger; a bit too gimmicky for the otherwise largely serious plot. In contrast to the new, very ungimmicky, Q - good casting.

The end was a surprise!

If you haven't yet seen it, it's well worth the trip.


Argo

We saw the film Argo today and were impressed. Based on a true story, with no doubt quite a lot of dramatic fiction added in, it was a gripping tale interspersed with some good humour. The final sequence, where the CIA agent attempts to get the six American embassy staff out of Iran posing as a film crew for the non-existent film Argo, is nail-biting.

News footage from the time is cleverly incorporated into the film, which gives it an added realism, and during the final credits there are stills from the film shown besides actual photos from the event. The similarities are uncanny.

The film was directed by Ben Affleck, who also plays the CIA agent. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.


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