Crazy Rich Asians

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Release date: 14th September 2018/Watch the trailer here

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is not just another romcom: it also happens to be the first film by a major Hollywood studio starring an almost entirely Asian and Asian-American cast in a contemporary setting since 1993. The film follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who happily agrees to accompany her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited to visit Asia for the first time but apprehensive about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is also surprised to discover that Nick had neglected to mention a few minor details about his life: namely, that his family is extremely wealthy, and that Nick is also considered to be one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Finding herself thrust into the spotlight as a result of being on Nick’s arm, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, eccentric relatives and, worse, Nick’s disapproving mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).

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At first glance, it seems as though there’s little – aside from the cast, of course – that sets Crazy Rich Asians apart from the average romcom – after all, it’s clichéd and predictable from the very first frame. But the thing is, there’s just so much to love about the rest of the film that the clichés and the predictability fail to matter. Even though we all know how the story is going to end, we’ve never seen the story told quite like this before.

For one thing, romantic comedies set in London or New York are a dime a dozen at this point, but Crazy Rich Asians is a transportive cinematic experience that takes audiences somewhere new. Beautifully filmed, Singapore acts as a stunning backdrop for the love story and family conflict that make up the film’s central narrative, and director Jon M. Chu doesn’t hesitate to show the city-state in all of its dazzling detail. From a street food montage that will make your mouth water to an exquisitely beautiful wedding ceremony and all of the opulent displays of unimaginable wealth in between, Crazy Rich Asians is a visual treat; never detracting from its characters or story but adding to them instead.

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The characters are another element of the film that elevate Crazy Rich Asians above so many other films of its kind. Often in a romantic comedy at least one of the leads is so intolerable that you find yourself unable to care whether or not they’re together by the end of the film, but Rachel and Nick – likeable, charismatic and with effortless, natural chemistry between the two actors – are a couple you find yourself rooting for right from their first introduction to the audience. Rachel in particular makes for an empowering change from the typical romcom ‘damsel in distress’: a successful economics professor at NYU with lasting friendships and a close, loving relationship with her mother, she doesn’t need Nick in order for her life to feel whole. The supporting characters, too, have their individual moments to shine: in particular, the scene-stealing, hilarious best friend of Rachel, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), and Nick’s formidable mother; cold, powerful, dignified yet also vulnerable, played to perfection by Yeoh.

Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians has everything you need from a good romcom: laugh out loud humour and, of course, plenty of romance. But it also has everything you want from a good romcom, too: the characters, the costumes, the location, even the music – as well as a surprising amount of depth and meaning, with observations about the relationships between parents and their children and the way in which wealth can warp those relationships, both familial and otherwise. Throw in the fact that the cultural specificity of Crazy Rich Asians also makes it a film that is every bit as important for under-represented audiences as it is tremendous amounts of fun for everybody, and you have all of the makings of a modern classic.

★★★★

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Christopher Robin

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Release date: 16th August 2018/Watch the trailer here

For those who grew up either watching or reading about the adventures of a bright-yellow stuffed bear named Winnie the Pooh, the name Christopher Robin should be synonymous with one of Pooh’s closest friends, a young boy who would join him on his many escapades in the Hundred Acre Wood. But in Disney’s latest addition to the Winnie the Pooh franchise, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is now an adult with very little sense of fun or imagination, neglecting his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) in favour of his demanding job; his old friends now long forgotten about.

But after a surprising reunion with the honey-loving bear (and with Jim Cummings returning as the much-loved voice of Winnie the Pooh), Christopher finds himself revisiting his childhood and with it, the Hundred Acre Wood, in order to help Pooh find his missing friends – including Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed) and Tigger (Cummings).

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For anyone who has seen last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin – a film about how the success of Winnie the Pooh negatively affected author A. A. Milne’s son, the real-life Christopher Robin and the inspiration behind his father’s stories – it will be difficult not to view Christopher Robin as a ‘Disney-fied’ take on the true tale – but then again, it’s also a film that features walking, talking toy animals who live in a fantasy world, accessed via a secret door hidden within the trunk of a tree. This is not a film that has ever claimed to be anything other than a work of fiction, after all.

While it might not be a film for the cynical, it’s almost impossible to deny yourself the pure, infectious likability of Christopher Robin. It has the sort of plot that you can guess the outcome of within the first five minutes – the kind that some variation of has been told dozens of times by now – but then again, the plot isn’t where Christopher Robin truly shines, nor is it supposed to be. It’s merely a vessel to carry a sweet, wholesome story about a man rediscovering the joys of life, with a little help from an adorable toy bear named Pooh. The interactions between Christopher, Pooh and Eeyore are well-written and laugh-out-loud funny, and occasionally even unexpectedly moving. These are the moments that make Christopher Robin worth watching, and it helps that the CGI used to bring Pooh and his friends to life is masterfully utilised, bringing a sense of realism to even the most fantastical of stories.

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If there is one hurdle that Christopher Robin will perhaps stumble at, it will be in its search to find an audience. This is a film that’s not entirely sure who it’s intended for: too slow-paced and melancholy for children, but also not a film solely meant for an adult audience, either. But maybe there is an audience for Christopher Robin after all, and it happens to be a lesson that Pooh tries to teach Christopher, too (in his own special way) – it’s a film for every adult in search of their inner child, and the nostalgia that comes with finding it. Christopher Robin might not be perfect, but you’d have to be a heffalump or a woozle to not fall in love with it – and that silly old bear, too.

★★★★

The Meg

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Release date: 10th August 2018/Watch the trailer here

Based on the 1997 novel Meg: A Novel of Deep TerrorThe Meg has had a somewhat troubled production. Although the rights to the novel were snatched up more or less immediately, the project had stalled by 1999, and it wasn’t until 2005 that The Meg resurfaced, this time with names such as Guillermo Del Toro attached to it. Needless to say, that particular attempt at resurrecting The Meg never came to fruition either – but, thirteen years later, and following rumours of Eli Roth directing before being replaced by Jon Turteltaub (best known for the National Treasure movies and, bizarrely, ’90s rom-com While You Were Sleeping), The Meg is finally able to see the light of day – although whether this was for better or worse remains to be seen.

Five years after surviving an attack by a colossal, seventy-foot sea creature, expert rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is forced to confront his fears in order to rescue those trapped in a sunken submersible, after a mission to explore an even deeper section of the Mariana Trench went awry. Jonas soon discovers that the creature is a Megalodon, the largest shark known to mankind and wrongly thought to have been extinct for millions of years – and now Jonas must stop the Megalodon before it hunts down the entire crew of an underwater research facility financed by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson).

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Perhaps even more surprising than the sheer number of years that The Meg spent stuck in development hell is the fact that it took not one, not two, but three writers to come up with a screenplay chock-full of every cinematic cliché known to man. If there’s a chance for Jason Statham to deliver a trite one-liner in his increasingly bizarre accent, then The Meg takes that opportunity and runs with it – and Statham, to his credit, manages to keep a straight face throughout, in spite of the ridiculousness that The Meg throws at him.

So, yes, The Meg might be clichéd and cheesy and ultimately little more than two hours of utter silliness, but its saving grace – the factor that takes a film that should, for all intents and purposes, be absolutely appalling and instead elevates it to something that’s passable and even entertaining – is that The Meg realises all of this, and never once takes itself too seriously. It’s the perfect kind of end-of-summer popcorn movie, with the sort of schlocky, B-movie quality that will probably ensure that it remains well-loved in years to come – and even if you find yourself laughing at it rather than with it, at least you can’t say that it’s boring.

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In many ways, it’s almost a shame that The Meg didn’t embrace its absurdity even further. The characters are so one-dimensional that each could easily be described in just one word, and the acting – the supporting cast includes Li Bingbing, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose and Cliff Curtis – isn’t much better. But what The Meg lacks in character development, it makes up for in its fair share of tense chases, last-minute escapes and more than a few Statham vs giant shark moments. Unfortunately, however, the film is constrained by its family-friendly, summer blockbuster rating – and it can’t help but feel like a little bit more blood and a few more teeth wouldn’t have gone amiss. After all, this is a shark attack movie (a genre which seems to have grown strangely popular of late).

Ultimately, those who go into The Meg expecting the next Jaws will only be left disappointed – but if you’re after a film that sees Jason Statham take on a seventy-foot shark single-handedly, then The Meg will almost certainly provide you with your money’s worth.

★★

Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Release date: 2nd August 2018/Watch the trailer here

Following on from the biggest and most ambitious film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far – Avengers: Infinity War – is a slightly more lighthearted palate cleanser in the form of Ant-Man and the Wasp. After the events of 2015’s Ant-Man (and the brief appearance of the MCU’s smallest superhero in Captain America: Civil War), its sequel sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) grappling with the consequences of being both a superhero and a father. Approached once more by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Scott finds himself donning the Ant-Man suit and fighting alongside the Wasp. The urgent mission involves journeying into the quantum realm to retrieve Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer): mother to Hope, wife to Hank, and missing and believed to be dead for the last thirty years. However, there are obstacles to be faced along the way – namely, double-crossing black market dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a mysterious masked woman with molecular instability.

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While the Ant-Man series will never reach the heights of some of the MCU’s best – Infinity WarCivil WarCaptain America: The Winter Soldier – it’s also certainly a long way from the franchise’s worst, sitting quite comfortably somewhere in the middle, never anything remarkable but always reliably entertaining. For those who prefer their superhero films to be a little bit more tongue in cheek, then it doesn’t get much better than Ant-Man and the Wasp – and the consistent, laugh-out-loud humour makes for a welcome change of pace after Infinity War; a film which left the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a somewhat sombre note after its infamously far-from-happy ending.

The humour in Ant-Man and the Wasp is largely achieved through its sharp, witty script, as well as the occasional clever sight gag, but it’s also in large part thanks to its likeable cast. Whilst Paul Rudd being both funny and utterly charming will come as no surprise, it’s often the supporting cast who steal the show – in particular, returning scene-stealer Luis (Michael Peña) and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). It’s also gratifying to see Hope be given more to do this time around, and as the Wasp she succeeds in being both more capable and often more entertaining to watch than Ant-Man himself.

And while the physics in the Ant-Man movies make very little sense – nor do they pretend to – the constant shifting in size of mundane, everyday items and a villain who’s capable of phasing through solid objects makes Ant-Man one of Marvel’s most cinematic heroes. It also makes for some really fun action set pieces, and while they might not be some of the most awe-inspiring in the MCU, there’s something undeniably gleeful in the goofiness of a third act that involves our heroes zooming around the streets of San Francisco in a miniaturised car.

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There was always going to be a lot of pressure on the first film in the MCU following the epic, universe-changing events of Infinity War, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is firm proof that Marvel still know exactly how to make a crowd-pleaser – even when their films have slightly lower stakes and are on a much smaller scale (literally).

★★★★

Incredibles 2

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Release date: 13th July 2018/Watch the trailer here

As impossible as it might be to believe, The Incredibles was somehow released fourteen years ago. Still one of the most beloved Pixar movies to this day, the film told the story of a family of superheroes who are forced to live a quiet, suburban life while hiding their powers from the world – and the long-awaited sequel picks up immediately from where the first film left off, with the Incredibles pursuing the Underminer. It was a cliffhanger ending that fans had been left on the edge of since 2004, but if there was one question more pressing than the outcome of the Incredibles’ fight with the nefarious Underminer, it was this: will Incredibles 2 be worth the fourteen-year wait?

Pixar don’t have the most reliable history when it comes to sequels: while plenty will argue that Toy Story 3 is the best in the series, the same can’t quite be said for the sequels to Pixar classics such as Finding NemoMonsters, Inc. and Cars. Thankfully, Incredibles 2 falls into the former category: not only is it a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, but it even manages to surpass it in some ways (although deciding which of the two films is the superior one is too close a call to make).

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In the aftermath of the events involving the Underminer, superhero fan and owner of a telecommunications corporation Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) presents an offer to Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), proposing a publicity stunt to regain the public’s support in superheroes. But while Helen is chosen to spearhead the stunt under her old superhero identity, Elastigirl, Bob is left at home, looking after the kids – Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), who is starting to display powers of his own. While Elastigirl confronts the mysterious new super-villain Screenslaver, Bob struggles to relinquish the role of Mr. Incredible, instead playing the part of a stay-at-home parent, helping Violet with her boy problems and Dash with his maths homework, all the while struggling to deal with the onslaught of Jack-Jack’s new superpowers.

Perhaps the most important thing for an animated family film to be is great fun, which is something that Incredibles 2 possesses by the bucketload. While the superhero genre is undoubtedly far more prevalent (and successful) in 2018 than it was in 2004, there’s still a lot of satisfaction to be found in watching the Incredibles join together to save the world – with the help of their good friend Frozone, voiced to perfection by Samuel L. Jackson – and animation injects new life and potential into the genre, creating exciting and fun action set pieces that would never have been possible with live action.

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But the film also doesn’t forget a large part of what made the original so well-loved in the first place: that The Incredibles is every bit as much of a sweet family story as it is a fun superhero caper, and thankfully Incredibles 2 has just as much heart as the first film, if not more. As satisfying as it is to watch Elastigirl defeat super-villains, it’s equally satisfying to watch Bob on his journey from stressed and slightly clueless to super-dad. Returning writer and director Brad Bird’s strong script ensures that the sharp, witty interplays between the characters are just as entertaining as all of the action and the world-saving that make up the rest of the film.

So, with all of that being said – not to mention the exceptionally detailed animation and an outstanding score from Michael Giacchino – the answer to that pressing question is a resounding ‘yes’: better in some ways, slightly worse in others, but absolutely and undeniably worth the wait. Now let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait a further fourteen years for Incredibles 3.

★★★★

The First Purge

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Release date: 4th July 2018/Watch the trailer here

The fourth instalment in The Purge franchise of dystopian horror films is The First Purge, which acts as a prequel to the three previous films in the series, depicting the origins of the annual ‘Purge’: a twelve-hour period in which all crime is legal. Following the rise of a third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, a sociological experiment is conducted: no laws for twelve hours overnight on Staten Island. No one must stay during the experiment, but there is a $5,000 reward for anyone who does so – an amount which will only increase should the person choose to ‘participate’ in the Purge.

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As the franchise has continued to grow beyond its horror movie origins, it has become more and more political in the process – the third film in the series, released in 2016, was not-so-subtly subtitled Election Year – and The First Purge does nothing to shy away from this trend. The political commentary is the furthest thing from subtle, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing: after all, one thing that the Purge films largely succeed at is playing with very real fears. Some moments may be eye roll-worthy in their heavy-handedness, but those same moments can also be viewed as empowering if the audience chooses to do so – and there are far worse things for a film to be seen as than one which gives the crowds an opportunity to cheer for the good guys and boo and hiss at the bad guys.

Even so, The First Purge is still the weakest film in the franchise so far. It’s competently made, so the blame doesn’t lie at the feet of first-time Purge director Gerard McMurray (all previous films in the series were written and directed by James DeMonaco, who remains as writer for The First Purge). The problem is, the franchise has been moving further away from horror and closer towards action movie territory ever since the second film in the series, Anarchy. While this has previously worked in the franchise’s favour – Anarchy and Election Year are the strongest entries in the series – it works to its detriment in The First Purge, trading scares for shootouts and becoming frustratingly generic along the way. The action is well-choreographed for the most part and there are some thrilling moments, but there’s little that sets The First Purge apart from the rest.

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It’s well-acted – particularly by leads Y’lan Noel and Lex Scott Davis – but it’s not so well-written, with clichés abounding and dialogue that often sounds forced and unnatural. Strangely, Marisa Tomei stars in The First Purge as the architect behind the whole idea of an annual Purge, but her character feels like an afterthought who was added in reshoots. The bizarre resolution of her character’s subplot, along with some questionable CGI and green screen, means that The First Purge has its fair share of unintentionally laughable moments in a film that is otherwise unrelenting in its grimness and cynicism.

Ultimately, The First Purge isn’t bad – but it’s not good, either. All the same, this is a low-budget, successful franchise with a great idea buried at the centre of it, so it stands to reason that one day, The Purge franchise might produce a film worthy of that idea – but until that point, entertaining yet rather on-the-nose popcorn movies will just have to do instead.

★★

Sicario 2: Soldado

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Release date: 29th June 2018/Watch the trailer here

If there was ever a film that didn’t need a sequel (much less a franchise, which appears to be the direction the series is going in), it would be the excellent Sicario, the 2015 Denis Villeneuve-directed film about an idealistic FBI agent (played brilliantly by Emily Blunt) enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the US-Mexico border. Neither Villeneuve nor Blunt chose to return for Soldado, with Stefano Sollima taking over directing duties and the only returning talent being writer Taylor Sheridan (also known for Hell or High Water and Wind River) and stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, both reprising their roles as CIA agent Matt Graver and undercover operative Alejandro Gillick, respectively.

In Soldado, the drug war has escalated, with the cartels now trafficking terrorists across the United States border. In response, the CIA sends Graver and Alejandro to eliminate the problem, which they choose to do by kidnapping Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a drug lord, in an operation designed to incite war between the rival cartels.

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Had Soldado been a standalone film in its own right, it would be all too easy to view it as a competently made and sufficiently entertaining movie – quite good, in other words – but the fact that it’s attached to Sicario in any way makes it all the more disappointing. The absence of the talent involved in its predecessor is felt throughout Soldado: in the lack of the central character to root for that Blunt’s Kate Macer provided the audience with in Sicario, in the tragic loss of another terrific score from Jóhann Jóhannsson and, most notably of all, the lack of the genius of Villeneuve’s (whose impressive filmography also includes PrisonersArrival and Blade Runner 2049) direction. Unfortunately, despite being far from a bad film, ‘lacking’ is simply the most fitting word to describe Soldado. There’s very little to be found here that made the original Sicario quite so special.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing redeemable about Soldado, however. While it might be difficult to rival the sheer intensity of the border crossing scene in Sicario, there are still more than a few impossibly tense, edge-of-your-seat shootouts that occur in Soldado and, when coupled with another strong performance from Del Toro – darkly threatening, mercurial, while also at the heart of the film’s most surprisingly poignant moments – it’s not so farfetched to believe that Soldado once had the potential to be a worthy successor to Sicario.

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No secret has been made of the fact that the finished product of Soldado greatly differs from Sheridan’s original screenplay, and it shows – because, surprisingly for a Sheridan film, the script is the film’s biggest downfall. This is most evident in the way in which the film all but falls apart in the final act, falling victim to plot holes and unresolved endings for most of the characters and their respective subplots. For almost two hours, it feels as though Soldado is building towards something great, but it never gets there – in fact, the film’s climax feels practically non-existent, ending with a whimper when it should have finished with a bang.

There are fragments of a good film buried somewhere within Soldado, but as a whole, it fails to rise above mediocrity: a fate made even worse when compared to the depth and thoughtfulness of its predecessor – qualities which have been cast aside in favour of guns and violence with little that’s meaningful to say about the strife and conflict at the heart of it.

★★