Thor: Ragnarok (12)

It was a huge gamble for Marvel to hand the reigns over to the hitherto little-known director Taika Waititi for the third instalment of the massively successful Thor corner (maybe that should be ‘Thorner’?) of the MCU.

Having previosuly directed episodes of surreal New Zealand comedy ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ (I’m yet to watch it but everybody raves about it) and Empire Magazine’s offbeat choice of favourite film of last year ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’, the stakes were higher than ever when handing Taiki a $180 million dollar budget to direct one of the most eagerly anticipated sci-fi comic-book action blockbusters of the year.

Fortunately, for all concerned, the gamble has paid off (as if Marvel ever had any doubts!?). Big time.

Thor: Ragnarok has proved to be a massive success. Budgeted at $180 million and currently raking in almost $528 million dollars (and counting), and the film scoring a whopping 8.2 on IMDB. Safe to say, the results and the critical and commercial reviews having been fantastic. But what of the film itself, in my humble opinion?

Well, having watched it over a week ago now, I still catch myself chuckling unexpectedly at some of the one-liners contained therein: it definitely leans more towards the comedy angle, which is totally expected given the Director’s comedy pedigree, but this doesn’t mean that the action is sparse either. There is a very surreal streak of comedy throughout the film, which is difficult to convey accurately in print but trust me, it is hilarious.

Self-deprecating, witty, quick-fire, irreverent and pithy are just some of the adjectives I could throw at it, with Chris Hemsworth’s immaculate comedy timing complimented nicely by Jeff Goldblum’s jittery, hesitant comedy-stylings as ‘The Grandmaster’ of landfill-planet Sakaar and his interplay with his ‘Melt-Stick’-happy hench-woman ‘Topaz’ is pure comedy gold.

Much like both volumes of ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’, most of the runaway laughs come courtesy of a hulking blue alien, this time named ‘Korg’, a gladitorial rock-warrior voiced by Waititi himself (absolutely screaming out to be given his own film). He easily steals the show with his stream-of-consciousness speech patterns, high-pitched voice and unexpectedly philosophical nature.

The opening sequence alone sets the tone for the film as one seriously dreadful foe Surtur (mo-capped by Waititi and voiced by the legendary Clancy Brown) fails spectacularly in his attempts to instil fear into the mighty Thor as he is ensnared in a net bag like a giant Satsuma.

The action is slick, exciting and consistently peppered with surreal humour and Cate Blanchett’s Hela adds a superbly dark and gothic (not to mention quite intentionally sexy and fetishistic) element to the story as she absolutely chews up the scenery whilst revealing that the origins of Asgard proves to be not so resplendently wholesome after all.

The improvisational nature of Waititi’s comedy has clearly given the film a fresh and funny approach and an early encounter in New York with another major MCU character is genuinely hilarious. Researching behind the scenes has also revealed that Waititi encouraged much of the film’s humour to be free-styled and then cherry-picked the best gags from the comedically-rich material (keep your eyes peeled for some very amusing and unexpected cameo’s during the Asgard ‘play’ scene).

The literally devastating and controversial ending – of course I’m saying nothing – has set the film up nicely for not only the inevitable Thor 4 (hope they pick an easier title to say!) but also next April’s ‘Avengers: Infinity Wars – Part One’.

Much has been made of the gladiatorial duel between Thor and Hulk featured prominently in the trailer and the finished results don’t disappoint: the pivotal scene is an instant-classic in the MCU, both funny and thrilling.

The only character I did have problems getting to grips with was Karl Urban’s Skurge The Executioner, a tattooed, shaven-headed Cockernee Royal Executioner so stereotypically (and inexplicably) Landuner, I found him quite painful to watch at times. Mainly because I’m really fed up of British characters being represented by either “Doimand Gee-Zaa’s” or Hugh Grant-style-oh-so-affluent-from-Henley-On-The-Wald-dontchoo-know?-types. Mercifully, his character is not in the film enough to spoil it and I was able to pretty much ignore his small-but-embarrassing role.

The character development of The Hulk, Thor, Loki and (plus the very-hard-drinking) female warrior Valykrie are nicely balanced with action and humour throughout and one major character gets a beautifully understated and poignant send-off.

All-in-all, a terrifically entertaining, constantly hilarious and superbly action-packed Threequel – which I would argue is easily the best Thor film to date (and easily the funniest) – and it takes the “Thorner” in some very intriguing directions indeed.

A terrific addition to the MCU. Oh, and the opening title music is fabulously naff too.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)

John Wick: Chapter 2 is the sequel to the surprisingly brilliant 2014 adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name and it sees the titular hitman returning for another bullet ballet with only the meagerest of plots to bolster it.

Again, the plot, such as it is, could be written on half of a Post-It Note. All I will say is that it opens immediately after the first film and the film does have sliiightly more story to it this time around. Basically, this film is 132 minutes of achingly stylish and beautifully choreographed action. The film is shot with the cool precision of an aftershave advert, except with thousands of bullets, guns, knives, chest-thumps, head-shots and arm-snaps.

The action is wince-inducing and brilliantly realised: much like ‘The Raid’ and its sequel, ‘Ong-Bak’ and the brilliantly under-rated Malaysian action ‘Chocolate’ (no, not the Johnny Depp French sweetshop one) there are no safety mats, no Wire-Fu, no CGI.

Oh no, this is two solid hours of people being hit by cars, pushed through windows, shot, stabbed, thrown down stairs, necks snapped, knees shot out (alot)…you get the idea.

Weirdly, Keanu’s “acting” (also such as it is) actually seems to be getting worse over the years and he is laughably poor in this film, but given the blank, apathetic nature of the character and the brutally cold context of the film, it actually works to a fitting and humourous advantage here.

Much like the Milla Jovovich sci-fi action film ‘Ultraviolet’ , anybody who has seen the first John Wick will know that this is a series of John Wick walking into a series of rooms, staring intently, before wiping out legions of anonymous – and very nicely besuited – goons.

Except ‘Ultraviolet’ was, let’s face it, turgid.

Much like ‘The Raid 2’ , just when you think you’ve seen the best action scene of the whole film, the next one comes along – dockyard…Rome…Subway…art gallery – and the film culminates with a very Po-Mo twist on another martial arts classic: don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it.

Also drawing on ‘The Raid 2’ comparisons, so relentless is the wave of brutal violence washing over the audience, it really is just case of sitting back and enjoying every minute of it, if brutal violence is your thing.

A certain mid-film cameo will make you momentarily think it’s 1999 again, except with stubble, beards, Hobo overcoats and racing pigeons.

Essentially, the whole film is like an action film directed by a fashion designer, with the crisp, elegant finesse of a finely-tailored suit. Ian MacShane does his usual schtick (but he does it SO well!) of loucheing about, delivering superb monologues in his bassy, eloquent tones and the film is set up in a stunning manner for the inevitable Chapter 3.

All-in-all, two hours of brutal, bruising, bone-crunching barbarity and balls-to-the-wall action.

Easily the best action film since (not surprisingly) ‘The Raid 2’ and that is saying something very nice indeed.

A magnificently choreographed piece of action cinema.

Roll on Chapter Three.

Project Square Eyes (Monday the 13th November 2017)

T2: Trainspotting (18)

There has been a lot of criticism levelled, perhaps unfairly, at Trainspotting 2. Some critics hailed it as pointless, too-belated and simply “not as good as the first”. This is perhaps a tad unfair considering its ground-breaking, micro-budget, hyperactive predecessor frequently ranks highly within the Top Twenty Best British films EVER made lists, spawned countless imitations and launched virtually everybody involved into the A-List, even poor Kevin “Tommy” McKidd, and look what happened to him in the film!

With its era-defining soundtrack and poster, stunningly inventive cinematography, anarchic spirit, brilliantly bleak (often stomach-churning) humour, flawless acting, breathless pace and the perfectly balanced tone of the film, ‘Trainspotting’ was going to be one tough biscuit to follow.

It is true, to an extent, that T2 does not quite live up to its predecessor’s legacy, but then it was never going to. Put this aside and view it almost ad a standard gelated sequel and there is much to enjoy. I watched it twice in the cinema upon its its release in February and recently watched it again on dvd and can confirm the film still happily stands up to repeat viewings.

Like its protagonists, T2 is slower, more mature, more sedate than its punky, grimy, juvenile predecessor, but it also does have some very neat technical flourishes, some cracking dialogue (of course) and some brilliantly suspenseful scenes (step forward, the nightclub toilet scene).

The plot – as per I’m saying nothing – treads very familiar ground with the plot following Irvine Welsh’s sequel novel ‘Porno’ faithfully adhered to, but this time in 2017 the hapless quartet – or should that be trio? – find themselves lost in a modern world of robot-hoovers, European immigrants working at Edinburgh Airport and cocking around with SnapChat filters.

T2’s 18 certificate seems almost tame by today’s standards and the visceral violence of the first film is thankfully absent. Has it been toned down, or are we just less sensitive to it twenty years on? Also, the sex and drug scenes also seem less shocking too. Thankfully, nobody gets heroin injected into their penis vein this time around either.

The music is of course absolutely excellent, with modern dance, punk and pop happily sitting side by side with eachother on the blisteringly eclectic soundtrack which festures (of course) Iggy Pop, Bob McGlynn, Queen, RUN D.M.C and The Fat White Family.

Without edging too far into nudge-nudge, wink-wink territory, there are a few familiar nods towards the predecessor peppered throughout the film too (toilet, car bonnet, pub fight), some out-and-out flashbacks as well as explanatory backstory which helps to flesh out the hitherto little-known characters relationshops. This manage to build up the back-story without ever being intrusive enough to get in the way of the plot.

By the time the credits roll, the film has been funny, sad, exciting, tense and wholly unexpected as the plots takes some dramatically different directions and one major character becomes the unexpected focus of the film in its latter half.

As Sick Boy says during one poignant scene, “Nostalgia? You’re a tourist of your own youth.” He’s right, he’s almost saying it to the audience, not to Renton and Spud, and it’s why almost 90% of the audience went to watch this superb and worthy sequel in the first place.

Oh, and yes, there is a brand new “Choose Life” speech and, yes, its scathing, vitriolic dissection of modern life absolutely knocks it out of the park. Again.

Thanks for reading, hope to se you again soon!

Project Square Eyes (Sunday 5th November 2017)

Project Square Eyes

Hello Cinephiles and a hearty welcome to my Blog for film-lovers everywhere, the snappily-titled Project Square Eyes.

What is its purpose I hear you cry? Well, in brief, I absolutely ADORE films and cinema of all colours, descriptions, lengths, languages and genres. I am totally indiscriminate in the films that I watch. I will watch ANYTHING at least once.

Over the years, I have carved myself out a reputation for being a “go-to-guy” for film-lovers seeking out some light-hearted entertainment for a Saturday night, to serious cinema connoisseurs looking for something with a bit more grit, something a bit more challenging, something a bit more…obscure.

I have a passion for reviewing films, but I REALLY hate reading reviews that explain the plot. Why do they do this? And don’t get me started on the ‘Spoilers’…(Ucchh!)

This is where I differ.

I will give you a brief, SPOILER-FREE video review of the film as an average self-taught cinema fan, critiquing it a short, snappy, fun and (hopefully) interesting way that will allow you to make up your own mind about the film in question.

I really hope you enjoy my Blog.

Please comment, like, share, the usual…

Come on in!

Perfect Blue: 20th Anniversary Re-release (18)

So, here we go!

Welcome to my very first review on Project Square Eyes, it is Thursday the 2nd November 2017. I hope you enjoy….

So, how did I choose to spend my Halloween this year? Trick or treating? Worshipping The Fallen One in the pensive gloom of my chamber? No, I chose to spend it watching the 20th anniversary one-off showing of the Japanese Animé classic Perfect Blue (18). After a slight technical hitch at the cinema whereby the film played for five minutes with part of the subtitles cut off at the bottom of the screen, the film was then re-booted and played in all its sublime glory.

Now, I will freely admit I had never seen the film before, having been too young to watch it (and generally not really knowing much at all about films in general, let alone about feature-length Japanese adult animation) upon its release twenty years ago, but I had heard alot about it so was just itching (or perhaps that should be Itchi-ing?) to see it on the big screen.

The film’s plot is one of deep themes and is shot in a genuinely lurid and provocative manner, reminiscent of the kind of thrillers Paul Verhoeven, Brian De Palma and Joel Schumacher used to relish courting controversy with in the Nineties.

Without giving away any of the intriguing plot – my number one rule of film reviewing – the film follows young Miramin, a successful and idolised J-Pop sensation who plumps for a very different career direction, which then prompts a chain reaction of mental collapse and violent murder. But is any of it real? If it is, whose mind is it in? I’m saying nothing more!

The deep themes touched upon earlier during the film’s brief 90 minute running time range from fame, isolation, obsession, loneliness to mental health, the importance of image and even paedophilia with the Japanese music industry. But the themes are integrated smoothly into the plot and the script never feels preachy, laboured or contrived.

References to the Internet, the World Wide Web and URL’s may seem laughably dated now, but it has to be remembered the film is 20 years old now and the Internet was just in its infancy when this film was first released, so in that respect, the film could be considered to be almost ahead of its time back in the day. Plus it at least provides some unintentional amusement amongst all the murk and neon-drenched grot.

The direction is of course beautiful, seductive and dream-like particularly during the surreal and tense finale.

The sexual scenes are tastefully drawn and artfully angled and the violence – particularly during one violent murder scene – is truly wince-inducing.

The twist-ending is not entirely unexpected but, again, the film is 20 years old now and countless thrillers have been made after this so even this has to be forgiven I would say.

As it stands, with its boldness to explore properly adult themes, the beautifully-rendered animation, engaging story, genuinely catchy J-Pop music (inane lyrics about clouds and Love included), interesting gallery of characters / suspects, gruesome violence and raunchy sex scenes make this an Animé film truly worthy of its status as a bona fide classic.

And not a gun-toting Mechanoid warrior in sight.

Thanks for reading, hope to see you again soon!

Project Square Eyes (Tuesday the 2nd November 2017)