Thor: Ragnarok

Image credit: Disney

The powerhouse that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing no signs of slowing down with its latest edition, Thor: Ragnarok.

With such a high standard to live up to, this newest Marvel film has still managed to bring something new to the table. Director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows) creates the perfect mix of edge-of-you-seat action with witty comedy that will have you in stitches.

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor when a threat arises that could see then end of Asgard. Unfortunately for the God of Thunder, before he can face that, he must survive a gladiatorial contest where he is pitted against none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Ragnarok brings new and old characters together to face the new big bag threatening the universe. While comic fans may know some of these new additions, as is the rule with all Marvel movies, Thor is crafted in a way to keep current fans from getting bored with hidden easter eggs, but still be perfectly coherent to casual fans of the film franchise.

More and more, characters from previous Marvel films are being slotted in to fill small parts of the storyline, without becoming major players. This continued interconnectedness shows serious dedication to their stories and really give viewers the sense that this is a whole new world they have created.

A lot happens in Thor: Ragnarok which means the story line has to move quickly. Not a scene is wasted however, and you don’t feel like anything has been rushed with how perfectly everything falls into its place.

Taking a leaf from Guardians of the Galaxy, a kick-ass soundtrack of power ballads carries the retro vibe this film is saturated in. These carefully chosen songs placed at just the right moments give a huge boost to the energy of this action packed sequel.

Along with the soundtrack, a heavy use of bright colours and lights in the design of the locations and characters is different to the pervious Thor films, helping with the mix of action and levity.

Fans of Director Taika Waititi’s work will likely recognise his slightly quirky style woven through the movie. It is this style that ultimately finds the balance between making fans laugh and giving a strong, emotive story.

Along with all the mandatory Marvel easter eggs throughout the film, Waititi has cleverly added plenty of references that will likely only make sense to Australian and New Zealand fans.

Marvel are well and truly ahead of the pack when it comes to superhero films and only really have themselves to compete with. But that doesn’t stop them from continuously besting themselves with each new endeavour, and Thor: Ragnarok is a prime example of that.

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War for the Planet of the Apes

As written for West End Magazine.
Image Credit: Chernin Entertainment
Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield) returns to the director’s chair for War for the Planet of the Apes. Taking post-apocalyptic battle movies to a new level, it’s both high-energy action and emotional roller coast as you try to decide where your allegiances lie. For those concerned that it will fall into the trap of so many franchise sequels, don’t worry: strong characters, plot, and moral quandaries would make it successful even as a stand-alone film.
After a huge personal lose, ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) is torn between his duty to lead and protect the apes, and his thirst for revenge against the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
A long journey to face off against the Colonel and his men leads to new discoveries and new challenges for everyone trying to survive in the new world.
The opening scenes are understated in a wonderful, almost vintage way. With a slow, quiet build up, Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014) draws viewers back into his world of intelligent primates. Moving from an eerie, almost silent forest to a battle for life and death, you’re immediately invested.
Characters on both sides of this ongoing conflict have been carefully crafted. As more is learned about each ape and human’s backstory, acts that seemed cruel become a little less black and white.
Steve Zahn joins the cast of this latest Apes film, adding some unusual comedy. While laughing may feel out of place at first, his physical comedy and quirky personality was conveniently placed to traverse slower plot points and make necessary connections between scenes. His caution and self-preservation held a juxtaposition to the gung-ho, ride or die attitudes of other characters.
For those who haven’t seen Rise or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes recently or at all, don’t worry too much about missing out. While the story definitely carries on and fans of the series will see familiar faces and make connections a little quicker, this film can still be enjoyed as a standalone feature.

Baby Driver

Image Credit: Sony Pictures

Baby. B-A-B-Y, Baby.

Heist movie, meets car movie, meets love story, meets one killer soundtrack. Directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), Baby Driver is a true break through film.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young hot-shot driver whose skills have him in the unwilling employ of criminal master mind, Doc (Kevin Spacey). A childhood injury has left Baby with a constant ringing in his ears which he drowns out using his favourite tunes, letting him choreograph his life to his personal playlist.

Not one to enjoy the criminal life, Baby is happy when things start changing. His time with Doc is coming to an end, and the beautiful Debora (Lily James) is the start of a new tune. Of course, things don’t go to plan; but it wouldn’t make for a good movie if he could just whistle a tune and end his contract in peace.

The film kicks off with a heist. As Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Griff (Jon Bernthal) head in to rob a bank, Baby is left in the car, waiting to make a quick getaway. This is the first example of how important music is going to be to this film. An epic lip sync routine ensues to Bellbottom by The Jon Spencer Blue Explosion ensures while Baby is waiting. Music continues at the forefront of the film, really becoming a character all its own. Different situations require different songs, and Baby carries around numerous iPods to ensure he’s never left without the right track.

The specific choreography of the film really comes to light in the second scene as Baby heads out on a coffee run. The way Elgort moves down the street blending to the music as the street itself matches up with lines from the song using graffiti, store signage and more to create the ideal music video for life.

Throughout the film camera angles chop and change to make the most of each scene. With aerial shots and street view following Baby’s insane route through the city.

If you’ve listened to anything about this film, chances are you heard it described as ‘cross-genre’; there isn’t a better way to describe it than that. Action filled car chases and adrenaline fuelled gun battles blend with love in the diner and witty work colleagues in a seamless way.

Baby Driver will have you completely invested in the first 5 minutes, and unable to look away until the very end.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Marvel fans rejoice! We have another roaring success with the newest addition to the Cinematic Universe. Since his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, the newest reincarnation of New York City’s web slinger, played by Tom Holland, has captured the hearts of Marvel fans.

During the wall-crawler’s first stand-alone film, we see the clean-up of New York after the Avenger’s (2012) battle. Some entrepreneurial workers who are less than pleased when they have the post battle clean up contract taken from them. Luckily, they find other ways to make a profit from the battle. Add a little time jump (Civil War, 2016) and, of course, things have started to go bad; But Spidey is there to save the day.

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Gold

Image: Black Bear Pictures

2016 gave us some great based-on-true-event films, and 2017 looks set to continue that trend. Built loosely around the mining scandal that befell Bre-X in 1993, Gold brings adventure, crime, and suspense to the big screen once more.

Prospector Kenny Wells’ (Matthew McConaughey) business is just like his liquor, on the rocks. Having taken over his late father’s company, Wells has been unable to land a big contract and he grasps at his last available straw. Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) is a geologist living in Indonesia. When Acosta is approached by Wells to find the gold the geologist was once so sure exists beneath the jungle, a little persuasion is required. Soon enough, they’re off, obtaining funding (though only enough to scrape through by the skin of their teeth), workers, and core samples; but they find nothing. Just as all hope seems lost, what should appear? Gold.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Image: Paramount Pictures

Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is back, and he’s just as hook on adrenaline as ever. The extreme sports junkie is called in to once again save the world as part of Augustus Gibbons’ (Samuel L. Jackson) xXx program.

As far as action movies go, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is everything people love, without brining anything new to the table. Stunts, explosions, girls in bikinis, and guys with no shirts. It’s all well and good, and if action movies like this are your thing then, by all means, check it out. In all, it’s very reminiscent of late 90s, early 00s action flicks with big explosions and little subtlety.

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Moana

Image: Disney

Summer holidays means kids movies! And you can’t go wrong with a little bit of Disney magic.

Moana is the latest heroin to join Disney’s repertoire. This water loving Polynesian girl is the village chief’s daughter. While her mother and father want nothing more than for Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) to take her rightful place as the future chief, the young woman has dreams of her own. She wants nothing more than to be with the sea. Her love to the ocean is so great that when an ancient curse invoked by the demigod Maui (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) threatens all life, the water choses Moana to help fix it.

Being Disney, you come to expect a pretty catchy sound track; and Moana doesn’t disappoint. With Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) on board, you can expect to have at least a few of these tunes stuck in your head long after the movie has finished.

Catering for multiple ages, this film has the colour and sound to occupy the littlies, those expected shrouded jokes for the adults, and a complex and entertaining enough storyline to entertain anyone in between.

One particular feature, which may seem small to some but had me internally shouting, was the fact that the characters actually put their hair up! So often you see animated characters with ‘princess hair’ that, no matter how rough things get, just seems to sit perfectly. Well not here. You see Moana’s amazing curls get in her way on occasion, enticing her to just tie them back and get on with her mission!

As far as animated movies go, 2016 is set to finish on a high with Moana.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Image: Disney

Over the past 39 years, we’ve been given a reasonably complete timeline for the Star Wars galaxy from the Skywalker point of view. While this is all fantastic, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story marks the first time the goings on of the rest of the rebellion have been brought forward (at least since the dismissal of the extended universe).

In Episode IV: A New Hope, the Alliance were able to destroy the Death Star, thanks to intel provided by a group of dedicated rebels. Rogue One tells the story of the rebel fighters who acquired the Death Star plans in the first place. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the estranged daughter of an Imperial scientist, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), an Alliance Intelligence Officer with vast field experience, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), the reprogrammed, and extremely opinionated, Imperial droid are just the base of the team tasked with finding the newest Imperial plans. Continue reading

Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Years before Harry, Ron, and Hermione graced the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the wizarding world was already in full swing. In this newest addition to JK Rowling’s repertoire, we are introduced to one Newt Scamander. Mr Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a young English wizard (and a Hufflepuff) with a fascination for all magical creatures under the class of beast. His travels take him to 1926 America. Through a series misfortunate occurrences, Newt has the great opportunity of meeting witch sisters Porpentina ‘Tina’ (Kathrine Waterson) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and nomaj (the American term for a muggle), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).

Eddie Redmayne is positively adorable in his portrayal of Newt. With his long blue coat, bowtie, and pleasant, if quiet, mannerisms, Newt is a stereotypical English gentleman. His character is all the more obvious when stood alongside Dan Fogler’s Jacob. Jacob, while still a gentleman, is much more outwardly confident and talkative. In one scene, Jacob’s charisma and Newt’s honest curiosity are beautifully displayed in their body language as they carry a conversation; Jacob making sure that Newt is still there and interested, while Newt is constantly angled towards his friend, showing undisrupted attention and interest.

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Arrival

Image: Paramount Pictures

In a post 9/11 world, having multiple phones around you going off and receiving requests to turn on a news channel is sure to inspire fear. For linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an attack is not what she finds, but instead, the arrival of interplanetary visitors.

12 identical pods set down at seemingly random coordinates around the Earth; and with no governing body, the human race soon discover how hard it can be to work together. In an effort to understand what the beings inside these devices want, US army officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists the help of experts such as Banks and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).

What could be described as animalistic sounds make up the spoken dialogue for the visitors, suggesting that beings don’t have to speak a seemingly humanoid dialect to be considered sentient and intelligent. Their written language however, is where things truly start to get interesting.

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