Bright – Film Review

Sometimes a premise is so unavoidably eye-catching that the resultant movie all but sells itself. Netflix’s Bright is a prime example, pitching an darkly comic alternate reality where fairytale creatures live uncomfortably alongside humans in modern-day Los Angeles. It’s basically Lord of the Rings meets Training Day, only with the sight of Will Smith bludgeoning a fairy with a broomstick thrown in for good measure. Sadly, the end result fails to live up to the expectation, resulting in a clumsy and confusing cop-comedy-fantasy-thriller-social-drama unable to blend its mish-mashed parts into an entertaining whole.

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All credit to director David Ayer (Suicide Squad) and screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) for crafting such a vivid, richly imaginative world. Two thousand years after humans banded with mythical creatures to defeat the Dark Lord, the victors have neatly divided into social factions. Elves are the elites, gliding through their glitzy gated community in sleek sports cars. Orcs are the thuggish underclass, dismissed and discriminated against by everyone for picking the losing side during the war. And humans, it seems, are somewhere in the middle, grinding out a living by doing the jobs no-one else wants to do.

While there’s a lot of clever ideas at play here – the notoriously mischievous fairies are depicted as pesky insects who need to be exterminated – it often feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of what this word has to offer. Key concepts such as a secret prophecy and the existence of brights, magic users who are closely regulated by federal forces, are introduced and then left frustratingly underdeveloped.

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The story is similarly underfed. Following the fine buddy cop movie tradition of chalk-and-cheese police pairings, Smith’s grouchy Daryl Ward is forced to partner with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the force’s first orc officer. But when a routine call lands the pair in possession of a magical wand, the movie shifts into an plodding chase movie as Ward and Jakoby race aimlessly across a gloomy Los Angeles pursued by corrupt cops, federal agents, an orc blood cult and Noomi Repace’s evil ninja elves. Quite why Lucy Fry’s waifish-looking elf also tags along for the ride is also never made clear.

Such a busy plot, coupled with Ayer’s typically frenetic pacing, leaves little time for the characters to flourish. Edgerton does well to imbue his orc with kindness, humility and pride from beneath a mound of prosethetics, yet the pain of being shunned by his own kind and the tumult of having to choose between his people and his badge never quite ring true. Smith, meanwhile, is merely required to shoot stuff and crack wise like a creaking Mike Lowrey, with little attention paid to his family struggles or his past troubles with the orc community.

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That also means that Bright’s admirable attempts at social commentary also fall flat. The notion of using mythical creatures to shine a light on our own social divisions is an effective, if not wholly original device, but it seems that Landis’ has nothing new to say on the subject, save for the fact that some people are unfortunate to be born without privilege. It’s almost as if a wealthy white man might not be best placed to explore the nuances of racial tensions.

The strongest moments, as they so often do with buddy cop movies, come when Smith and Edgerton are exchanging banter in their cop car. Like when Jakoby correctly surmises that Ward isn’t getting enough sex, just by examining the look on his face. It’s a smart, funny, entirely honest scene that reveals much more about their personalities and relationships than any cartridge-showering shootout ever could.

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Perhaps the movie would’ve been better served spending more time with these two misfit cops, rolling around this vibrantly magical world trading swipes about the sorry state of their Iives. Now there’s a bright idea…

Runtime: 117 mins (approx.)
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriter: Max Landis
Stars: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Repace, Lucy Fry

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Film Review

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke Skywalker warns Rey on the rain-swept island of Ahch-To. As it turns out, that line isn’t just a tantalising soundbite for the trailers, but a full-blown mission statement for Rian Johnson’s Star Wars sequel.

Following The Force Awakens, a movie that delighted with plenty of fan service but all too often felt like a blow-by-blow remake of A New Hope, The Last Jedi pushes the saga into a deeper, darker and richer territory than ever before. Make no mistake: The Last Jedi delivers answers to many of the Big Questions on fans lips; but they come wrapped in a satisfying narrative filled with hidden twists, unpredictable character arcs and gut-wrenching beats that will hit you like a bolt out of the blue.

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If Johnson does pinch one thing out of The Empire Strikes Back playbook, though, it’s his decision to split the core cast for much of the movie. Gung-ho fly-boy Poe Dameron leads a revolt against cautious military chief Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dean), the Reisistance’s defacto leader after General Leia is incapacitated. Finn (John Boyega) teams-up with wide-eyed maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to infiltrate a First Order ship. And on the dark side, Supreme Leader Snoke pits Kylo Ren and General Hux against each other in a bid for his favour. Meanwhile, back on Ahch-To, Rey seeks out awol Jedi Master Luke in the hope of luring him back into the fight.

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Handing every major player their own mission means everybody has got more to do this time out. Oscar Isaacs, Domhnall Gleeson and Andy Serkis, in particular, register far stronger here – even if their characters are still frustratingly one-note – while Carrie Fisher’s scenes take on an added poignancy after her untimely death last year.

Of course, the biggest beneficiary of this greater character focus is a certain beardy bloke last seen standing on a picturesque cliff edge in the North Sea. Needless to say, Mark Hamill is handed a meatier part this time out and doesn’t disappoint, layering Luke with greater depth and nuance than ever before to perfectly capture how a hopeful farm boy could become such an embittered and regretful figure.

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That being said, The Last Jedi belongs to the new generation and the rich, complex bond between Daisy Ridely’s scavenger and Adam Driver’s reckless apprentice. Both excel once again as the connection that binds them develops in powerful, thought-provoking ways and the scenes of them engaging in a battle of wills are the movie’s most shocking and engrossing.

For all his grandly conceived character arc and plot twists, though, Johnson isn’t adverse to letting his giddy, geeky side show. The Last Jedi delivers everything you could hope for from a Star Wars movie – daring dogfights, ferocious lightsaber duels, exotic creatures and plenty of offbeat comedy. Even a poignant reunion between two pivotal characters opens with a gag about hairstyles.

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Yet Johnson is also unafraid to throw new elements into the saga’s established visual palette. The rickety rust-bucket set designs remain just as charming, but they’re infused with operatic tracking shots, scenes where real-world sounds have been ripped out leaving only John Williams’ evocative score, and a finger-snapping sequence so trippy you’ll think you’ve stumbled into a completely different movie.

It doesn’t all work. The film is overlong and feels overstretched in the middle section, while a detour to the Cantina-aping Canto Bight is entirely superfluous to the plot – but when it hits its stride, The Last Jedi is a bold, ballsy, inventively challenging movie that defies expectations and culminates in a jaw-dropping finale that effectively leaves J. J. Abrams with a clean state from which to create the final episode of this new trilogy. Over to you, J. J.

Runtime: 152 mins (approx.)
Director/Screenwriter: Rian Johnson
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Justice League – Film Review

It’s difficult to overstate just how much the DCEU needed Wonder Woman. After the dour and mean-spirited Batman V Superman and the full-metal racket of Suicide Squad, Gal Gadot’s virtuous Themysciran warrior was a Wonder-ful leap forward for the franchise, finally placing an endearing superhero at the heart of an entertaining movie that was as witty and inventive and it was groundbreaking.

If the success of Diana Prince’s first solo-outing offered the chance for the DCEU to shift gears, it’s one Justice League fails to take. Visually ugly, boring and repetitive, this souped-up superhero team-up is a return to the murky aesthetic, sketchy characters and chaotic action that have continuously dogged the series since its conception.

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Tonally, the movie is all over the place, clumsily attempting to stitch together it’s disparate elements into an uninspiring whole. This is most noticeable during a labourious opening act which swings wildly between a grim and gritty Gotham, the shimmering lands of Themyscira and the submerged ruins of Atlantis as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) grumpily tries to recruit a mis-mash of meta humans and ancient gods to his nebulous cause.

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It’s several months after the ‘death’ of Superman and the absence of the son of Krypton has encouraged exiled God Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of buzzing Parademons to invade Earth in search of three cosmic MacGuffin boxes that, when combined, posses the power to destroy the universe. Realising that a seven foot supernatural warrior with a magic axe might pose more of a threat than a bunch exploding wind-up penguins, Batman assembles a ramshackle band of super-beings to help him defeat Darkseid’s right-hand man and prevent the world from becoming an apocalyptic wasteland.

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Such a hackneyed plot holds few surprises, essentially following the tiresomely typical beats of a team-up movie – even the idea of an alien baddie invading Earth to unite a trio of cosmic trinkets is ripped straight from The Avengers. Perhaps that’s why the movie is in such an almighty rush to get down to business. Coming in at a trim two hours, it’s a brisk, breezy adventure – further leavened by an abundance of knowing gags, no doubt penned by Joss Whedon, who replaced director Zack Snyder after a family tragedy and here receives a writing credit.

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Yet this leaves very little time to get to know our new heroes and to dig down into the team dynamics. Like every other movie in the DCEU, Justice League is so eager to catch up with its Marvel rival that it assumes our connection with its characters rather than earning our affections. As a result, the planned emotional beats fail to pay off and the entire story descends into an underwhelming mess of ropey visual effects and lunkheaded plot developments – culminating an overblown finale featuring giant purple tentacle-things, flying zombie insects and a CGI monstrosity so sloppily developed it’ll make you yearn for the heady days of Doomsday and Superman playing computer-rendered whack-a-mole.

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Even so, there’s great fun to be had, particularly in scenes of the League together, bickering and bonding in a rapid-fire exchange of quips, and the cast play off each other extraordinarily well in the circumstances. Ezra Miller is the highlight as a whip-witted and overzealous The Flash, while Gadot once again radiates gravitas as Wonder Woman. Ray Fisher perhaps needs more fleshing out as the brooding Cyborg, though his digitised Frankenstein arch holds promise. Of the new recruits, Aquaman is by far the worst served, Jason Mamoa reduced to bellowing stock-jock phrases like ‘Oh yeah’ and ‘My man’, as if he’s a drunken frat boy rather than the heir to an ancient kingdom.

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If Batman feels like an after thought to the team, that’s hardly the fault of Affleck, who brings an enjoyable gruffness that works well with his elder statesman interpretation of the Caped Crusader. The problem is that Batman is simply not suited to the role of inspirational leader to a team of superheroes – a point the movie tries to address, to unsatisfying effect – and his physical handicaps when compared to the rest of the team understandably see him left behind during many of the action scenes.

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Justice League is undoubtedly brighter and funnier than any DCEU movie to date. But it remains lumbered with the same flaws that have been dragging the franchise down from the beginning – namely a loose grip of its tone, haphazard plotting and a collection of unengaging heroes who fail to live up to their billing. As long as these problems persist, there’s no danger of the DCEU usurping the big red behemoth as ruler of the multiverse.

Runtime: 120 mins (approx)
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriters: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok

It’s been six years since Chris Hemsworth’s Thor swaggered onto the MCU scene with charmingly misplaced arrogance and pecks that could crush an Infinity Stone to dust. But lately it feels like the God of Thunder has grown stale: Alan Taylor’s grimly stogy follow-up and an overstuffed Avengers sequel proving that all the Shakespearean haminess and entitled worthiness were starting to lose their appeal.

Thankfully, Thor: Ragnarok is just the bonkers shot in the arm the hammer-twirling superhero required. Gleefully tearing up the rule book for a cape-and-tights adventure, director Taiki Waititi has crafted a colourfully cosmic thrill ride that’s funnier and more uproarious than a modern superhero movie has any right to be.

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The director of affectingly funny Kiwi comedies Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi wastes little time in stamping his off-beat style on the Norse god. Things kick-off with a side-splitting prologue in which Thor’s attempts to reason with a fiery demon are constantly interrupted by the twirling of his restraints and the from there delivers belly laughs at every turn.

It’s indicative of a movie that cheerfully brings out the superhero genre’s inherent silliness by undercutting any hint of seriousness or pomposity with a perfectly executed mix of clever, daft and just plain weird gags. Make no mistake, Ragnarok still delivers all the pulse-quickening set-pieces you could desire – it’s just that it’s all imbued with an effervescent sense fun which brings a whole new energy to proceedings.

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The God of Thunder likewise feels reinvigorated by this change in tone. Since we last saw him swatting verbose robots in Age of Ultron, Thor’s taken to wandering the cosmos to learn more about the Infinity Stones (or “glowing stoney things” as he calls them). That is until a premonition forces him to return to Asgard – where his brother Loki has dethroned Odin and dumped him in an Earthly retirement home – to head off the threat posed by Cate Blanchett’s invading Hela. After receiving an almighty pasting from the Goddess of Death, Thor is tossed from the Bifrost and finds himself stranded on the junkyard planet Sakaar. There he’s promptly taken hostage, shorn of his cape, his trusty Mjolnir and, most devastatingly of all, his flowing golden locks, before being thrown into the gladiatorial pits to fight for his freedom.

Being stripped of his defining traits proves to be transformative for the buffest of deities. Left with only his fists and wits to survive, we get to see a grittier, wilier Thor, but also a more vulnerable one, which is particularly enticing given his strength is about to be severely tested in terrifying new ways. It also allows Hemsworth to flex the comedic muscles he so handsomely displayed in last year’s Ghostbusters reboot, ditching the fish-out-of-water schtick of previous outings and throwing himself into a much sillier version of Odinson.

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And then there’s the big green rage machine. Riffing on the Planet Hulk storyline, Thor is joined in his kaleidoscopic exile by Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, whose stuck in perma-Hulk mode and eking out an existence as Sakaar’s premier tourist attraction. Having developed a broader vocabulary, the strongest Avenger gets more to do than just Hulk smash his way through every scene (though there’s still plenty of destructive force on show) and quickly forms a winning double act as the tightly-wound straightman to Hemsworth’s reckless hero.

Indeed, the movie is stuffed with staggering performances. Tom Hiddleston makes a welcome return as sly mischief maker Loki, who finds himself unexpectedly on the fringes of his brother’s plans after his previous betrayal. Jeff Goldblum is at his most flamboyant as Sakaar’s eccentric overlord the Grandmaster. Tessa Thompson is an impressive addition, playing an ale-swigging Asgardian warrior-turned-scavenger. Meanwhile, Waititi almost steals the entire movie with an hilarious turn as softly spoken Kronan gladiator Korg whose heartfelt commentary results in some of the best lines.wits

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But true to Marvel form, the villain fails to inspire. Blanchett is a certainly striking presence, looking for all the world like Marlyn Manson’s stroppy sister with her smudged eyeliner and twisted headdress, and poses a significant threat with her superior strength and ability to conjure razor sharp weapons out of thin air. Yet she’s underused, her motive for invading Asgard never fully fleshed out and little being made of her complex connection to Thor’s family. Her scenes rarely move the action forward and serve only as an unwelcome distraction from the bombastic joys of Thor’s off-world hijnks.

That’s ultimately where Ragnarok falters: when it’s forced to be a straight-forward superhero movie. Though the plot is far from slight – dealing with massacres, slavery, refugees and the small matter of the end of days – attempts to reach the heavier emotional beats are hampered by the constant barrage of gags that are fired towards us. It feels like the movie spends so much time goofing across the universe that there’s little time left for character building or emotional depth. With the stakes made to feel so low, it’s hardly shocking that the climatic showdown lacks gravity – and not just because Waititi can’t help but resort to the usual Giant CGI Thing cliche.

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Nevertheless, Thor: Ragnarok is a delirious carnival of psychaedelic colour and bonkers entertainment that offers a fresh, invigorating look at one of the most popular Avengers. If only Waititi has resisted the urge to revert to formula in the final third…

Runtime: 130 mins (approx.)
Director: Taiki Waititi
Screenwriters: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett

Happy Death Day – Film Review

It’s a rare occasion when a great performance manages to elevate an otherwise sucky movie. The likes of Nicholas Cage and Eva Green have made careers out of the art – but very few others have managed to pop up out of the mess and do something truly special to make their movie watchable. Jessica Rothe does just that in Happy Death Day, her full-blooded performance turning an otherwise forgettably bloodless teen slasher movie into a genuine thrill.

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Rothe plays Teresa – or Tree for short – an irresponsible college student whose birthday – a day she already loathes – gets off to the worst possible start when she wakes up hungover in the dorm room of her adorably dorky one-night-stand. Naturally, things get progressively worse for Tree in the ensuing 24 hours as she endures repeated calls from her disappointed dad, snarky snipping from her sorority sisters and the needy advnaces of her sexually confused ex. Oh yeah, and she gets murdered in a campus underpass by a baby-faced psychopath. But then she wakes up, stuck in the same day, unable to to break the cycle until she finds her killer.

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Few surprises lay ahead in this slasher horror meets teen comedy as Tree naively barrels into every cliche in the horror cannon in her attempt to Live.Die.Repeat her way to uncovering her killer’s identity. There’s enough walking through darkly lit corridors and fleeing into obvious dead ends that genre aficionados will likely suffer a repetitive strain injury from the amount of eye rolling they’ll be doing. The lack of invention wouldn’t be so problematic if Tree’s many deaths weren’t so scare-free and gore-less. That’s the key flaw with this Groundhog Day-aping format: we already know she’ll wake up again so we have no reason to fear her next impending demise – especially as it appears it’ll be largely painless.

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Thankfully, Rothe is the movie’s saving grace. Whether she’s strutting across a college campus in the nude, delivering brilliantly bitchy one-liners with venomous aplomb or going full Sarah Connor in her attempts to defeat her killer, Tree is a fireball of badass energy that actually makes the movie a fun, spirited watch for 90 minutes. It’s also pretty refreshing to see a female action hero being so unafraid to be unlikeable and confident in her sexuality – at least until she’s bizarrely slut-shamed by an incomprehensible third act twist. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie doesn’t share her boldness.

Runtime: 96 mins (approx.)
Director: Christopher Landon
Screenwriter: Scott Lobdell
Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken

Blade Runner 2049 – Film Review

If reviving the Star Wars franchise seemed a near-Herculean task, spare a thought for Dennis Villeneuve. Revitalising the superlative space saga might’ve had its challenges, but at least its legion of fans were of one mind about their expectations. In creating this long-awaited follow-up to Blade Runner, Villeneuve faced a much tougher assignment, its diehard supporters having spend the past 35 years pouring over every iteration of the sci-fi classic, endlessly debating the plot’s myriad mysteries. While Villeneuve wisely steers clear of offering any definitive answers to those questions, there’s no doubt Blade Runner 2049 defies even the loftiest of expectations.

Scripted by Michael Green and Hampton Fancher – who also penned the original – 2049 unsurprisingly picks up three decades after the first film. The intervening years have not been kind to Earth: the climate has collapsed and the wealthiest citizens have abandoned ship for the off-world colonies, leaving only the poorest, who survive on synthetic gruel and the companionship of holographic call girls.

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The Tyrell Corporation has also fallen, bought out by the Jared Leto-led Wallace Corporation, who’ve created a brand new line of replicants, more compliant than the Nexus-6 models thanks to the eradication of troublesome features like emotions or free will. Ryan Gosling’s Agent K is one of the new breed, a blade runner tasked with hunting down and retiring older models. His latest mission leads K to an encounter with Dave Bautista’s protein farmer where he makes a startling discovery that causes him to question his own existence and the future of the human race.

To say anymore would be to spoil a bold, absorbing movie, who’s mysteries are best discovered as the story unfolds. What is certain is that 2049 is a much cleaner, easier watch than its predecessor. Whereas the original was deliberately, almost punishingly obtuse, Villeneuve’s update feels like a much brisker watch – despite being 45 minutes longer – and is more open about it’s intentions, rather than hiding everything behind a wall of portentous eulogising.

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Not that Blade Runner has become yet another commercialised blockbuster filled with city-pulverising, vertiginous actions sequences. 2049 remains a slow-burning, deeply ponderous detective story that gently muses on themes of isolation, identity and human connection in a way that feels like a natural progression to the first film. Any violence is brief but brutal and purposeful, acting as a sudden, devastating blow within a supremely satisfying, emotionally compelling narrative.

The defining elements of the original’s dark, twisted future world remain intact, too. Eyeballs are a prominent motif, fluorescent-hared denizens still munch on Asian street food and the Voight-Kampff test has become an even more distressing experience. In fact, so delicately has Villeneuve recreated the look and feel of the original, it’s almost to his detriment. Blade Runner was such a ground-breaking piece of work at least in part due to Ridley Scott’s impressively realised neon-drenched futurescape, which has been aped countless times over the intervening years. By contrast, 2049’s rain-soaked tower blocks and dust bowl necropolises feel like just another respectful copy – albeit a superbly crafted one.

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One area where 2049 undoubtedly excels is in the performances of its two leads. Gosling once again demonstrates his talent for imbuing deep pathos into handsomely passive characters, transforming the outwardly machine-like K into a thoughtful, engrossing presence. Harrison Ford is on similarly excellent form. Returning to yet another classic character, Ford’s skills are seriously tested in role that requires him to dig much deeper into Deckard’s emotional state than in his previous outing.

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Only Jared Leto, playing self-aggrandising, monologue-prone industrialist Niander Wallace, feels below his best. Though given he’s lumbered with an entirely superfluous character who exists solely to deliver drawn-out theological rants to Sylvia Hoecks’ super-humanly patient replicant enforcer, it’s perhaps no surprise that Leto would resort to biting huge chunks out of the gorgeous scenery.

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Without an engaging antagonist to match the Rutger Hauer’s tragic skinjob Roy and the unplanned poetic alchemy of his ‘Tears in rain’ soliloquy, 2049 misses some of the devastating emotional force of its predecessor. Yet that shouldn’t detract from what’s otherwise an extraordinary achievement by Villeneuve. Whether Blade Runner 2049 lives up to the expectations of its demanding fanbase will no doubt be debated for at least another 30 years, but there’s no denying Villeneuve has succeeded in crafting a smart, gripping and thought-provoking movie that immensley satisfying in its own right.

Runtime: 163 mins (approx.)
Director: Dennis Villeneuve
Screenwriters: Michael Green, Hampton Fancher
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoecks

It – film review

For those who’ve ever pondered what the resultant movie would’ve looked like had Stephen Spielberg directed The Exorcist in 1973, Andy Muchietti’s It might be the closest you’ll get to the real thing. Pitched somewhere between The Goonies and E.T., if either of those movies had a penchant for perma-grinning demonic clowns or severed toddler arms being munched on like breadsticks, this latest adaptation of Stephen King’s classic tome is a heartfelt coming-of-age yarn that will pin you to your seat – even if it doesn’t always rattle your bones with fear.

Barring a few slight differential nods, this new version immediately sets itself apart from the Tim Curry-starring TV movie of 1990 by making some smart updates to the source material. Discarding the cumbersome back-and-forth timelines (saving the grown-up part of the story for a planned sequel), Muchietti shifts the action forward from the quaint 1950s to an Amblin-inspired 80s that often makes it feel like we’ve mistakenly dropped in on the set of Netflix’s Stranger Things.

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Like that TV show, It hones in on a band of young outsiders, each with their own identifiable dysfunction. There’s Richie, the class joker; Ben, the chubby new kid on the block; Miles, the orphaned son of a sheep farmer; Eddie, a germaphobic mama’s boy; Stan, whose dad is a rabbi; Bev, the snarky token female of the group; and stuttering B-B-Bill, whose little brother was believed to have drowned during a heavy storm.

Though it leads to a rather baggy and cliche-riddled opening third, Muchietti’s devotion to developing each member of The Losers Club pays off to great effect when the gang eventually face-off against Bill Skarsgard’s titular supernatural being. Each kid has their own frightening encounter with Pennywise, who often takes the form of their greatest fears.

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While the fright-factor of these encounters is fairly hit or miss – Bev’s bloody grapple with a tangle of sentient drain hair is chest-poundingly terrifying, while Eddie’s tussle with a decaying patient feels rote by comparison – they’re still intensely gripping throughout, the horrifying effect amplified because we understand the personal stakes for each kid and feel invested in their survival.

It helps that the entire cast are superb throughout, each perfectly capturing the carefree recklessness of youth and the paralysing fear of impending adulthood that courses through the veins of every adolescent.

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And then there’s Pennywise. Though Tim Curry’s iconic performance will continue to linger long in the memory, Skarsgard has successfully carved out his own distinct interpretation of the unhinged child killer. With his oversized porcelain dome, puffy cheeks, protruding bottom lip and grubby Victorian garb, Pennywise is a triumph of make-up and design. Yet it’s the subtle nuances in Skarsgard’s performance that really draw you in and disturb. The realisation that It’s eyes aren’t looking in the same direction as Skarsgard executes that slight malevolent smirk and a bead of drool drips from his chunky fangs will unsettle even the toughest of moviegoers.

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The only disappointment is that the resultant horrors don’t quite match the insidious power of Skarsgard’s performance. Muchietti leans heavily on well-worn horror tropes, with jump scares, spooky empty rooms and bone-snapping body horror all getting a thorough airing here. The practical effects work is mightily impressive, but the set-pieces themselves so often fail to elicit a stir simply because we’re so familiar with how they will play out. It’s telling that the most chilling scenes of all are the moments when the kids are subjected to real-life horrors, whether it’s a harrowing encounter with a rabid school bully or the uncomfortable touches of Bev’s lecherous father. Proof that sometimes the suggestion of evil can be even more potent that the real thing.

Nevertheless, It works surprisingly well as a standalone movie – a rarity in these times of tentpole blockbusters, unleashing an emotionally affecting tale that effectively relays the horror in King’s original novel while amplifying its heart. How Muchietti will make the second part as entertaining and satisfying is anyone’s guess, but the very prospect has us grinning like a bloodthirsty demonic clown whose just spotted his next victim.

Runtime: 133 mins (approx.)
Director: Andy Muchietti
Screenwriters: Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman, Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Taylor, Sophie Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Grazer