Paddington 2

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Release date: 10th November 2017/Watch the trailer here

If one of the biggest surprises of 2014 was what an absolute delight Paddington turned out to be, then it seems appropriate that one of the biggest surprises of 2017 is that Paddington 2 is just as good – if not slightly better – than the original. Featuring the kindhearted bear who travelled to London from deepest, darkest Peru in Michael Bond’s much-loved children’s books, Paddington 2 picks up where the first film left off; with Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) happily living with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, and as a popular member of the local community.

While searching for the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s (Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday, Paddington stumbles upon a pop-up book of London in Mr Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop. He takes on a number of odd jobs – from a disastrous spell at a barbershop to a somewhat more successful stint cleaning windows – in order to save up enough money for the book, but when it is stolen by faded actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), looking to restore his fortune and resurrect his career, it’s Paddington who finds himself in prison for the crime.

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Of course, prison in the Paddington universe isn’t all that bad – much like the London the characters inhabit, the filmmakers have crafted a whimsical take on a prison, in which the inmates wear pink-striped uniforms following a washing machine incident involving a stray red sock, and eat marmalade sandwiches with their afternoon tea after the recipe is passed on from Paddington to the fearsome prison chef, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson). Meanwhile, the Brown family – led by mum Mary (Sally Hawkins), dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and housekeeper Mrs Bird (Julie Walters) – attempt to apprehend the thief and prove Paddington’s innocence.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to pass a couple of hours: Paddington 2 is one of the rarest of children’s films; the kind that actually has something to offer for the whole family. There’s more than enough silly humour here to keep the younger audience members happy, but there’s plenty to entertain the adults, too – namely, Hugh Grant as an excellent villain, making a fool out of himself and appearing to enjoy every minute (stay for the credits if you want to see him do a song and dance number in a sparkly jumpsuit).

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From a filmmaking perspective, there’s much to be admired, too. The attention to detail in the beautiful sets and costumes is impeccable, creating a fanciful, rainbow-coloured world for its characters (all pleasantly good-natured, aside from the dastardly villains) to live in. The result is a joyful, feel-good film that couldn’t be more apt for this time of year (and the warmth and coziness it exudes makes it feel like a festive film, despite not being set at Christmas). Even the most stone-hearted of cinema goers would struggle not to crack a smile at a film as charming as Paddington 2.

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Murder on the Orient Express

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Release date: 3rd November 2017/Watch the trailer here

Perhaps the greatest difficulty facing director and star Kenneth Branagh when adapting Agatha Christie’s classic detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was managing to add something new to a well-known story that has been adapted for film and television numerous times before. Unfortunately, Branagh never quite achieves this: his film is a serviceable attempt, but fails to shake off a feeling of pointlessness – other than an all-star cast, there’s nothing new to see here.

In 1930s Europe, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) boards the legendary Orient Express while in between cases. What starts as a lavish train ride soon spirals into fear and tragedy, with the train halted mid-journey due to bad weather and a passenger found brutally murdered. Poirot takes it upon himself to solve the case before the killer strikes again, and every passenger – including missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz), professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) and his secretary Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad) and valet Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi), doctor John Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), and widow Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) – is a suspect.

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There’s no denying that Murder on the Orient Express is a wonderful story, and watching the pieces of the puzzle come together is satisfying whether or not you know the twist ending beforehand. It’s because of the excellence of the source material that Branagh’s film succeeds for the most part, but it’s a problem when the best part of a film is a story that was written more than eighty years ago. The film takes much too long to get going, partly due to the time taken to introduce the large ensemble of characters – but in spite of this, none of the characters feel adequately developed and it’s frustrating to see a cast of such talented, likeable actors be reduced to so little individual screen time.

The cast is another saving grace of Murder on the Orient Express, however. While no one except Branagh (hamming it up every time he’s on screen and clearly having a lot of fun with it) is given much of a chance to show off, they all deliver good performances. So many people crammed into such a small space should ramp up the tension effectively, but while it allows Branagh to have some fun with the cinematography, the overall effect is a lot less suspenseful than it should be, as a relatively straightforward ‘whodunnit’ becomes more and more convoluted by the second.

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In the end, though, it can’t help but feel like a bit of a waste of time. Branagh has achieved very little that couldn’t have been done in the format of a ninety-minute, made-for-TV Christmas special – and he’s achieved even less that hasn’t been done many, many times before. To remake a story like Murder on the Orient Express, you really need to be able to put an original spin on it in order to make it feel worthwhile. Admittedly, the source material in this instance is rather confined, but originality is still something that Branagh’s film has very little of. As a result, Murder on the Orient Express is never anything more than average: it could have been worse, it could have been a lot better, but it also didn’t really need to exist in the first place.

Breathe

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Release date: 27th October 2017/Watch the trailer here

Breathe marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis and tells the true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) and his wife Diana (Claire Foy). While perhaps an unexpected direction for Serkis’ first foray behind the camera to take, the choice in source material is actually a personal one: the film is produced by Robin and Diana’s son, Jonathan, who also happens to be a friend of Serkis’.

When Robin Cavendish found himself paralysed from the neck down by polio in his late twenties, he was given just months to live by doctors. His life devastated by the disease, Robin was prepared to die, but his wife Diana refused to let him give up, instead doing everything in her power to let him live a life outside of a hospital. In the years that followed, Robin became an advocate for the severely disabled, and the wheelchair with a built-in respirator developed by Robin and Diana’s friend Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) was the first of its kind.

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There’s nothing particularly remarkable about Breathe, but an inspirational story and strong performances make for a film that’s surprisingly likeable and compelling for the most part. Garfield and Foy are well-matched leads with a lot of chemistry, although it’s Foy’s understated, powerful performance that stands out as the best part of an otherwise average film. It’s largely due to Garfield and Foy that Breathe‘s emotional moments hit a little harder than expected, given that so much of the film feels strangely distant, going through the biopic motions with mechanical precision.

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It’s a little disappointing that Serkis – who has been so pioneering as an actor with his many impressive motion-capture performances – has chosen to play it so safe with his first film as director. Breathe is far from being a bad film, but it won’t find itself on any ‘best of the year’ lists, either – quite honestly, it’s not even the best film out this week. It fails to be romantic without also being cloyingly sentimental, while never achieving the inspirational, feel-good heights that it strives for. In the end, Breathe can’t help but feel like a watered-down version of a truth that ultimately deserved better.

Thor: Ragnarok

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Release date: 24th October 2017/Watch the trailer here

If it feels like a long time since we last saw Thor on the big screen, that’s because it has been: prior to Ragnarok, the last time we saw the God of Thunder was in Avengers: Age of Ultron more than two years ago, and there hasn’t been a solo Thor movie since 2013. While he’s an undeniably excellent character, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never seemed quite sure of what to do with Thor and all of the weirdness that comes with him.

Enter director Taika Waititi, known for the oddball New Zealand comedies What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. His previous works might be the polar opposite of anything that we’ve seen in the MCU so far – but as it turns out, he couldn’t be a more perfect fit for our favourite Asgardians.

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As the ruthless, all-powerful goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), arrives in Asgard, intent on destroying it and its people, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself imprisoned on the planet of Sakaar, on the other side of the universe from his home-world. He has been captured by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who intends to use Thor as a gladiator in his games, pitting him against his champion: a ‘friend from work’ of Thor’s; Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in Hulk form. Thor attempts to assemble a reluctant team – consisting of himself, Bruce, an Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – in order to escape from Sakaar and return to Asgard to defeat Hela before it’s too late.

It’s wonderful to see Thor, Loki, Bruce, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) again, but that’s not to say that the new characters introduced in Thor: Ragnarok aren’t superb additions to the franchise, too. Blanchett and Goldblum are perhaps a tad underused, but they more than make up for their limited screen time by becoming some of the most memorable villains that the MCU has to offer. Not only is it obvious that every actor had the time of their lives making this movie (something which is always refreshing to see), but the script has become a little more self-aware this time around, with each character fully acknowledging and embracing the utter ridiculousness that the Thor movies seemed to shy away from previously.

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It’s this knowingness that makes Ragnarok such a delight, and this can partially be attributed to the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies – bright, colourful, and set on strange planets with even stranger inhabitants; those movies are everything that the Thor series should have been. The first two Thor films were set largely on Earth, and while Ragnarok makes a brief visit to New York City to catch up with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the rest of it is set entirely in Asgard or on Sakaar. These two worlds are vividly realised, brought to life with stunning CGI and beautiful costumes, accompanied by Mark Mothersbaugh’s retro-inflected score; and the overall effect is a weird, wondrous and fantastical one.

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To say that Ragnarok is the best Thor film would be accurate, but it also wouldn’t be giving Ragnarok nearly enough credit. While the previous two are entirely forgettable, Ragnarok is memorable not just as a Thor movie, but in the MCU as a whole – and it’s in large part thanks to Taika Waititi. This is not so much a Marvel movie as it is a Waititi one that happens to be set in the Marvel universe, and it’s hard to imagine it working anywhere near as well without his outrageously bold vision and unique sense of humour (he even plays a character himself; the hilarious, scene-stealing alien Korg).

It’s incredibly daft, a little bit insane, and ridiculously good fun, with exciting action and larger than life characters who have the sort of believable chemistry that makes you want to join their team. It might not be particularly groundbreaking, but it doesn’t need to be – the real success of Thor: Ragnarok lies in the fact that it’s managed to make the tried and tested formula that Marvel have spent the last nine years perfecting feel like something fresh and new.

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.

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.