Geostorm

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Release date: 20th October 2017/Watch the trailer here

It appears that Geostorm is a film that has been doomed to fail from the very beginning: originally due to be released more than eighteen months ago, the natural disaster movie kept on getting pushed back and rescheduled until it finally received a release date – which, unfortunately, happened to coincide with some of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. And things only get worse for Geostorm – because, to the surprise of absolutely no one, it’s not a very good film, either.

With natural disasters on the rise in the near future, multiple nations band together to commission ‘Dutch Boy’, a system of satellites designed to control the climate on a global scale. Three years later, however, and the satellites that were designed to save the planet begin to attack it instead, triggering a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out humanity. The fate of the planet rests in the hands of two estranged brothers: Jake (Gerard Butler) and Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess), who attempt to investigate the cause of the malfunctioning satellites before it’s too late.

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What follows is every natural disaster movie cliché and every ‘things go wrong in space’ movie cliché combined and crammed into one, less-than-two-hour film. It’s so predictable that you could probably accurately guess the ending before it’s even started, and as a result, there’s no real sense of threat, no matter how many tornadoes, tsunamis or giant hailstones it throws at you along the way. Geostorm has clearly tried to veer from the well-trodden path, paved by the likes of The Day After Tomorrow, by throwing in a sci-fi element that ends up being more fiction than science, rarely making any sense and frequently asking its audience to suspend their disbelief (although nothing is as unbelievable as Gerard Butler playing a scientist).

So, no, it’s not very good: bad CGI, a clunky script with cringeworthy dialogue and some terrible acting from all involved combines to make a film that feels more made-for-TV than big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Still, it’s not quite as bad as it could have been: it’s entertaining enough and knows when it’s time to wrap things up. However, disaster movie fans will likely find themselves frustrated by the large proportion of Geostorm‘s runtime that’s dedicated to dull subplots such as Jake and Max’s strained relationship or Max’s Secret Service Agent girlfriend Sarah (Abbie Cornish), in some laughably weak attempts at character development. When the best thing that can be said about it is ‘it could have been worse’, it’s painfully obvious that the struggle Geostorm went through to be released simply wasn’t worth it.

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The Snowman

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Release date: 13th October 2017/Watch the trailer here

The Snowman is based on the seventh book in the popular Harry Hole series by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø. Starring Michael Fassbender as Hole – a hard-drinking, chain-smoking detective – the plot centres around his investigations into a gruesome serial killer who has been killing women when the snow falls. As is to be expected from Scandi noir, The Snowman is a bleak, joyless film – and while that’s not always a problem, in this particular instance, it is.

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the film – directed by Tomas Alfredson of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy fame – goes wrong, but the main problem with it is that there’s very little that actually goes right. Alfredson has assembled a decent cast: Fassbender is joined by Rebecca Ferguson as newcomer detective Katrine, while both Val Kilmer and J.K. Simmons are underused – but none of them seem like they really want to be there. It’s hard to care about the characters of a film when the actors themselves don’t appear to either, and it’s even harder when the script never bothers to properly develop them. As a result, The Snowman plods along at a pace as glacial as its Norwegian setting, with two-dimensional characters and a mystery that’s never as compelling as it likes to think it is.

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By the time the ending rolls around, two, slow hours later, you’ll likely be left scratching your head at the whole thing, with subplots left messily unresolved while the main story grinds to an abrupt halt – that is, if you even care by this point.

It certainly had potential, but it’s unlikely that The Snowman will find itself joining the ranks of the great Scandinavian crime adaptations, instead feeling more like a weak imitation of those it was so clearly striving to emulate. Unfortunately, Alfredson has created a film that feels every bit as cold, dark and lifeless as its snow-covered setting.

Blade Runner 2049

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Release date: 5th October 2017/Watch the trailer here

To say that expectations for Blade Runner 2049 were high would be an understatement. For one thing, Ridley Scott’s 1982 original film is one of the best-loved science fiction movies ever made; seen in the eyes of many as a masterpiece of the genre. Secondly, the director of 2049 is none other than Denis Villeneuve: widely considered to be one of the most exciting directors working today, whose back-catalogue includes PrisonersSicario and Arrival – so there’s no denying that it was under an awful lot of pressure to be good, at the very least.

Set thirty years after the original, when the bioengineered humans known as replicants have been integrated into society, Blade Runner 2049 follows K (Ryan Gosling), a young blade runner working for the LAPD, hunting down the rogue older models. His investigation leads him to discover a long-buried secret and sends him in search of blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing since the events of the first film.

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From the very first frame, there is no mistaking that this is a Blade Runner film. All of the familiar trademarks are here; from the slow, languid pacing to the dark, synth-infused soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch this time but instantly evoking the sound of Vangelis that is so synonymous with the original. But this is not just a copy, nor is it a cold, cash-grab sequel: 2049 is a film that stands up in its own right, that brings plenty to the table that feels new and wholly original, and that has been directed by someone who evidently understands and respects the original film and its source material.

At the heart of it all is Gosling, and the story of K is one of the most tragic of any protagonist in a big-budget blockbuster, as well as being one of the most compelling. He is joined by a supporting cast of underused but fascinating characters: K’s superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), and his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas); replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his favoured replicant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Surprisingly, Deckard doesn’t appear in the film until much of its runtime has already elapsed, but it’s incredibly satisfying to see Ford returning to an iconic role of his and seeming to actually still care about it. Yet perhaps the most interesting of all the characters Blade Runner 2049 has to offer is Joi; an introduction to artificial intelligence that goes far beyond the replicants of the original. Joi and K’s relationship is at the centre of the film’s most pressing existential questions – in particular, what it really means to be human.

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Furthermore, Blade Runner 2049 is, visually, one of the most stunning films in recent memory. The world it builds feels lived-in and real to the point of being all-consuming, when every element of the film – the cinematography, the sound design, the score – combine to transform 2049 into more than just a movie; it’s a cinematic experience. It’s both beautiful and haunting, and the overall effect is one that’s hard to forget. To say that it’s the best sequel ever made might be going too far, but to say that 2049 surpasses the original Blade Runner in many ways wouldn’t be the most ludicrous suggestion.

The word ‘masterpiece’ should be used sparingly, but for a film such as Blade Runner 2049 – that somehow manages to be tragic, romantic, mesmerising and mind-bending, all at once – it’s not an inaccurate assessment. It’s rare for a film like this to come along; one that is not only excellent during the time that you’re watching it but also in the moments that come afterwards, when it refuses to leave you. You can only watch it for the first time once, so treasure it.

The Mountain Between Us

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Release date: 6th October 2017/Watch the trailer here

One look at the poster for The Mountain Between Us and you could probably accurately guess the entire plot, right down to the ending. It’s the sort of film that prides itself on its straight-forward, almost old-fashioned method of storytelling, with not a single surprise to be found along the way.

After the cancellation of their flight due to bad weather, two strangers – photojournalist and bride-to-be Alex (Kate Winslet) and neurosurgeon Ben (Idris Elba) – decide to board a charter flight instead. Tragically, their pilot suffers a stroke mid-flight and the plane crashes, leaving Alex and Ben stranded on top of a remote, snow-covered mountain with no one but each other and the deceased pilot’s pet labrador for company. The rest of the plot more or less goes without saying: Alex and Ben must overcome their differences and numerous obstacles in order to survive, and somewhere along the way (of course) they fall in love.

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It’s all utterly predictable and completely far-fetched, but it’s also inoffensive enough for this not to feel like too much of a problem. Winslet and Elba make for likeable leads, and their chemistry is just believable enough to not induce too many eye-rolls at the cheesier moments – and seeing as this is what the film hinges on, it’s just as well.

There’s nothing in particular that’s bad about The Mountain Between Us, but the problem is that there’s nothing all that good, either – aside from the scenery, which is absolutely stunning. Still, it’s almost refreshing to see a film that’s so unashamed in how much of a people-pleaser it’s aiming to be, with just enough adventure and romance to leave a decent proportion of cinema-goers at least moderately satisfied. By the time the end rolls around (which, truthfully, takes a little too long), you find yourself caring whether or not they survive and if they’ll end up together after all, and that in itself means that The Mountain Between Us has ultimately succeeded in what it set out to do.

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Goodbye Christopher Robin

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Release date: 29th September 2017/Watch the trailer here

In our haste to proclaim almost every film we watch as either one of the best of the year or one of the worst, it’s easy to forget about films such as Goodbye Christopher Robin; quiet little films that are the very definition of ‘passable’. Directed by Simon Curtis, it tells the surprisingly sad story behind the creation of Winnie the Pooh, that lovable bear who was first dreamed up by author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) in England in the 1920s. The tales of Winnie the Pooh and his adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood captured the hearts of adults and children alike, and they catapulted both Milne and his son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) – who was immortalised as a fictional version of himself in his father’s books – to worldwide fame.

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The childhood of Christopher Robin was not a particularly happy one, however. Born to a father suffering from PTSD after fighting in World War I and a distant mother, Daphne (Margot Robbie), who would have much preferred a girl, Christopher Robin – who was known as Billy Moon when at home – spent much of his time with his beloved nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald), and his teddy bear, Edward. This bear went on to serve as inspiration for Milne, who was desperate to write a story that would discourage people from starting another a war. The result brought smiles to the faces of a world full of people that desperately needed something to be happy about, but it did so at a cost: Christopher Robin and his teddy bear were now household names, and he would go on to resent his father for robbing him of his childhood for the rest of his life.

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Goodbye Christopher Robin should be admired for not being afraid to touch on the darker elements of an otherwise schmaltzy story, but there’s still a sense that the truth has been elaborated somewhat; manipulated into a far happier ending than reality had to offer for the Milne family. Still, it’s an interesting story all the same, and it makes for a pleasant enough way to while away a couple of hours. Gleeson and Robbie offer good performances despite playing largely unsympathetic characters, while Tilston shows a lot of promise as a child actor, charismatic and likeable enough to carry the film for much of its runtime.

It may not find itself on any ‘best of the year’ lists come December, but if you’re looking for a competently-made, well-acted and largely inoffensive film to watch on a rainy afternoon, you could probably do worse than Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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Release date: 20th September 2017/Watch the trailer here

Following 2014’s excellent take on the spy genre, Kingsman: The Secret Service, director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn returns with sequel The Golden Circle. After saving the world in the first film, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is now an official member of the Kingsman spy organisation, taking on the ‘Galahad’ title of his late mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), and happily in a serious relationship with Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström). But when the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, leaving Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) as the only surviving agents, they must follow a Doomsday protocol which leads them to their American counterpart: Statesman, a fellow intelligence organisation posing as a whiskey distillery in Kentucky.

Along with Statesman – led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and consisting of agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and tech support Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) – Eggsy and Merlin discover that the source of Kingsman’s downfall was an organisation called The Golden Circle, run by the maniacal Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). The Golden Circle is little more than a drug cartel, but Poppy’s intentions are somewhat more sinister: in a bid to legalise recreational drugs, thus making her a successful and recognised businesswoman, she plans to hold millions of people around the world captive by lacing her products with a deadly toxin to which only she holds the antidote.

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Of course, it’s all utterly ridiculous, but you’d expect nothing less from a Kingsman movie. Julianne Moore had some rather large shoes to fill, taking over from Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping super-villain in The Secret Service, but she’s easily one of the highlights of the entire film. Residing in the rainforests of Cambodia in ‘Poppy Land’ – complete with diner, bowling alley and salon – she is bubbly, charming, and completely unhinged; setting her robotic dogs on anyone who annoys her, making burgers out of the henchmen that have betrayed her, and kidnapping Elton John (whose role goes further than a brief cameo and who also happens to be absolutely brilliant in the film). An awful lot of movies revolve around a ‘saving the world’ plot at the moment, and while Kingsman never shies away from this, its villains’ schemes are always crazy and cartoonish enough to feel original.

Moore is just one A-list actor of many in The Golden Circle, but the only downside of assembling such a talented ensemble cast is that there’s never enough time to allow all of them to shine. On the American side of things, Bridges and Tatum are criminally underused (although a larger role in the sequel seems likely), but Pascal and Berry make for excellent additions to the franchise. The marketing for The Golden Circle has also made no secret of the revival of Harry, despite receiving a bullet to the face in The Secret Service. It can be frustrating when a film avoids killing off its main characters, but there’s no denying just how vital Firth is to the success of the Kingsman movies, and it feels good to see him fighting alongside Eggsy and Merlin once more.

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Admittedly, however, The Golden Circle brings very little to the table that feels particularly new. This is normally an issue for sequels, but when the tried and tested formula of the first Kingsman film worked so well, is it really such a bad thing to stick to it? This sequel is essentially more of the same, but with an emphasis on the more: more characters, more memorable action set pieces, and much more violence. It may not quite capture the magic of The Secret Service, but The Golden Circle never loses sight of what made Kingsman such a hit: these films are unashamed, ridiculous good fun.

As with almost all franchises, there will inevitably come a point when the spell starts to wear off, but that point hasn’t come just yet – and with the promise of more adventures to come, hopefully it won’t wear off any time soon, either.

mother!

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Release date: 15th September 2017/Watch the trailer here

The first thing that should be said about writer and director Darren Aronofsky’s latest fever-dream of a film, mother!, is that it’s more than just a movie: it’s an all-consuming experience, one that grabs hold of you from the start and is impossible to shake off, even hours after the credits have rolled.

It tells the story of a married couple, given only the names of mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem). They live in a beautiful, secluded home that mother has rebuilt and redecorated from the ground up, while Him is a poet, struggling to find his muse. One day, their tranquil existence is disturbed by the arrival of a visitor, Man (Ed Harris). While Him appears happy to welcome Man into their home, mother is hesitant, and it’s instantly apparent that something is not quite right. The next day, Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrives at their door, and she quickly makes mother increasingly uncomfortable with her prying questions and intrusive presence.

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The rest of the plot of mother! is best left undiscussed; it’s the sort of film where the less you know about it beforehand, the better. It has been marketed as something of a home invasion horror/thriller, and while that is how mother! begins, it eventually spirals into something very different entirely.

Quite literally the heart and soul of the film is Lawrence, and she is mesmerising in mother!. In a film that is packed with Biblical references – some very obvious, others much more obscure – one thing that’s apparent is that Lawrence’s character is an allegory for Mother Nature herself; the house that she has painstakingly and lovingly crafted is our planet, and the intruders that refuse to leave her home are us, the humans. It’s possible to interpret mother! as little more than a powerful warning about the damage that we’re inflicting upon our planet – but knowing Aronofsky, there’s much more to it than that.

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For the first ninety minutes, it’s difficult not to lose yourself in mother!; in the beautiful cinematography, the way that the camera follows Lawrence like a dance, the intense atmosphere of claustrophobia that Aronofsky masterfully builds, the way a knock at the door or the sound of the telephone ringing fills you with dread. Then, in the final half an hour, mother! reaches its hysterical crescendo. To begin with, it’s almost tempting to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all – and then, something disturbing happens; a sickening moment that will undoubtedly be talked about for years to come. Of all the nightmarish imagery that mother! has to offer, this is the thing that will stay with you – even if you wish that it wouldn’t.

The end result is a film that is sure to alienate and divide audiences: you will either love it or hate it; think it’s a masterpiece or think that it’s absolutely terrible. It’s not a film that you’ll leave with a shrug and forget about in a hurry, and that was evidently Aronofsky’s intention. One thing is for certain, however: no one is going to enjoy watching mother!. For all of its sheer, insane brilliance, it’s also a film that’s best watched once and then put away for a very long time, until you eventually feel ready to face it again.