Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is an American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics superhero team Guardians of the Galaxy. The film is a sequel to the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy and is once again written and directed by James Gunn with an ensemble cast featuring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel & Bradley Cooper.

The film begins with the Guardians in the middle of a mission as they have been hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign race, to protect valuable batteries from an inter-dimensional monster in exchange for Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillian).

When Rocket (Bradley Cooper) steals some of the batteries for himself they are on the verge of being destroyed by the Sovereigns’ drone fleet when they are rescued by a mysterious figure called Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Peter’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father.

Peter, Gamora and Drax (Dave Bautista) agree to accompany Ego and his empath servant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to Ego’s planet whilst Rocket and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) remain behind to repair their badly damaged ship.

Unfortunately for the Guardians more trouble looms as the Sovereigns hire Peter’s old boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his gang of Ravagers to hunt down and capture them.

Director James Gunn sticks to the formula that worked so well in the first movie and quickly establishes the fun dynamics between the core Guardians team (Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot). The banter and jokes throughout the film will be familiar to fans but there are still plenty of new funny and touching moments to enjoy.

Visually Guardians Vol. 2 has stepped up a notch from the first film with sequences and set pieces being more sophisticated in design and Ego’s planet being particularly impressive with gorgeous psychedelic colours and the perfect use of CGI to bring it to life.

The storyline serves to resolve the “family issues” that Star-Lord, Gamora and Nebula all had in the first film setting the scene for them to have more interesting character development in future films. This allows more screen time for Yondu and Nebula with Yondu in particular evolving into a standout supporting character and is surprisingly the cause of the film’s most touching moments.

Of the new characters added in Vol. 2 the awkward but charming Mantis is the biggest standout whose interactions with Drax provide some of the film’s funniest scenes. In order to introduce new characters, locations and aliens this does mean that for most of the film Rocket and Baby Groot are split from the rest of the Guardians meaning the film loses some of the great team dynamic that worked so well in the first film.

Rocket and Groot are still very entertaining though with Baby Groot stealing every scene he appears in and fans will love the opening credits which include him dancing to an “Awesome Mix” song.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 provides the same non-stop comedy, action and great soundtrack that audiences will expect and helps to bridge the gap between the first film and the Guardians next outing in Avengers: Infinity War. As with all Marvel films don’t stop watching until the end credits of the film are completely finished!

Doctor Who/Mr. Men Books

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You wouldn’t normally talk about Doctor Who and the Mr. Men in the same sentence but that is exactly what is happening now with the release of the first four books in a series of twelve new mash-ups of the sci-fi and children’s characters.

Roger Hargreaves first created the Mr. Men series after his seven year old son Adam asked him what a tickle looked like. Roger started sketching his answer which resulted in the first book Mr Tickle being published in 1971.

Forty five years later, Adam is still part of the Mr. Men world continuing the series after the death of his father in 1988 and now writing and illustrating the new range of Doctor Who books in the style of the Mr. Men.

The first books to be released in the series are Dr. First, Dr. Fourth, Dr. Eleventh and Dr. Twelfth and all of The Doctors are instantly recognisable. The First Doctor with his monocle and walking stick, the Fourth Doctor with his Fedora and multi-coloured scarf, the Eleventh Doctor with his Fez and bowtie and the Twelfth Doctor with his sunglasses.

Adam sticks to the successful Mr. Men formula both in storytelling and format which will bring a sense of nostalgia for older fans. For the younger fans they will learn about human emotions and morals through colourful characters and humour.

There is also plenty for the fans of Doctor Who to enjoy too with the books including popular characters such as Missy, River Song, Sarah Jane and Susan as well as the Cybermen, Silurians, Weeping Angels and Daleks all drawn in adorable form.

The books are great fun with the two universes working really well together and should be enjoyed by Doctor Who fans of all ages. For those too young to watch the TV series these books will make a great introduction to the Doctor Who world.

Next up in the series due for release in August are Dr. Second, Dr. Seventh, Dr. Eighth and Dr. Ninth with Adam Hargreaves promising the return of the Sea Devils!

Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast is an American musical romantic fantasy film directed by Bill Condon. The film is a live-action and computer animation remake of Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name.

The film is set in Bourbon-era France and tells the story of a selfish prince (Dan Stevens) who is transformed into a Beast when a spell is placed upon his castle and servants by a beggar woman when he refuses to give her shelter in exchange for an enchanted rose. To break the spell the prince must learn to love another and earn her love in return before the rose’s last petal falls.

Years pass and in a small village near by a music box maker called Maurice (Kevin Kline) lives with his daughter Belle (Emma Watson). Belle is a young progressive independent woman who loves literature which makes her an outcast amongst the more traditional minded villagers.

When Maurice stumbles upon the prince’s castle and is taken prisoner Belle comes to his rescue and forces the Beast to take her prisoner instead. The Beast is downright hostile towards Belle to begin with but it’s not long before he mellows and Belle, encouraged by the castle’s staff who have been turned into inanimate objects, realises there is much more to the Beast than meets the eye.

Meanwhile, Maurice desperately pleads with the villagers to help him rescue Belle but only Gaston (Luke Evans), the village’s popular war hero, comes to his aid though unbeknown to Maurice his intentions are far from honourable.

Director Bill Condon brings the world and characters of Beauty and the Beast to life blending real world sets with digital backdrops and photo-realistic versions of the castle’s servants. Cordon and his team also succeed in making iconic musical numbers such as ‘Gaston’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ visually-engaging with the latter drawing on moments from many famous musicals.

Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos stay largely faithful to the original animated movie screenplay whilst seamlessly adding additional character backstory and subplots which further flesh out the story.

Alan Menken once again co-writes the musical numbers and whilst they are not as memorable as the original songs they help to move the story along and provide a vehicle for the cast to show off their vocal talents. Watson and Stevens are both impressive but are naturally outshone by those with proven singing ability, Luke Evans, Josh Gad (Le Fou), Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) and Audra McDonald (Madame de Garderobe).

Emma Watson perfectly embodies Belle’s compassion, intelligence and strong-willed personality whilst Dan Stevens makes a splendid Beast playing up the character’s frustration, anger, hidden sadness and eventual love in his voice and gestures.

Beauty and the Beast combines classic Disney romance and musical numbers (with a modern feel) along with gorgeous costumes and set designs which should please fans of the original as well as those new to the tale!

Hidden Figures

hfHidden Figures is an American biographical drama film, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.

The film tells the true story of mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monte) who are all African American women working in the segregated West Area Computers division at the NASA Research Center in Langley during the 1960’s.

With the race to beat the Soviet Union for supremacy in spaceflight capability, Katherine is unexpectedly reassigned to be a human computer for the Space Task Group, reporting into director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) who leads the charge to put a man into Earth orbit and return him safely.

Katherine finds it hard to keep up with the demands placed upon her and the racist treatment she must deal with which is also true for her friends Dorothy and Mary as they try to achieve their ambitions at NASA.

As it becomes clear that the Soviet Union are pulling ahead in the space race, the bosses at NASA are forced into facing reality, if they want to win the race they must all work together as equals.

Director Theodore Melfi, who also co-wrote the script with Allison Schroeder, tackles a largely unknown aspect of NASA history and achieves in making it a feel-good and inspirational story.

The film is further elevated by the three leads whose performances bring warmth, fun and likeability to their characters as the viewer roots for them to succeed and overcome the segregation they have to endure.

The supporting cast of Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst and Kevin Costner are equally as good portraying their characters not as hateful figures but of individuals who have little reason to question or acknowledge the segregation that takes place unless they come face to face with it.

We are also treated to a charming performance from Mahershala Ali as military man Jim Johnson in the film’s romantic subplot whose on-screen chemistry with Henson makes the relationship between the two convincing.

The film manages to capture a strong sense of the 1960’s with its use of music, costume design and visuals which are blended with archival footage from the decade.

With its strong direction and acting alike Hidden Figures is able to tell an important story in a way that will captivate, entertain and inspire its audience.

 

The Lego Batman Movie

legobatman-jpgThe Lego Batman Movie is a computer animated superhero action-comedy film directed by Chris McKay and is a spin-off from the very successful 2014 film The Lego Movie.

As the title suggests the film focuses on Batman (Will Arnett) who spends his time defending Gotham City from all of their supervillains whilst lapping up the adulation from his fans who happily remind him frequently that only the Caped Crusader can defend their city.

But not everyone is a fan of Batman’s loner mentality and solitary lifestyle with his loyal butler and surrogate father figure Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes) urging him to let others into his life and new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) requesting him to work with the police so they can battle crime together.

Batman though is determined to avoid being part of a family again and to continue to only work alone but when he unwittingly adopts a young orphan called Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) he is forced into changing his ways.

When The Joker appears on the scene and Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his greatest enemy, the Clown Prince of Crime cooks up a plan which involves releasing the world’s most dangerous supervillains who are all currently locked away in the Phantom Zone. Batman soon realises that he can’t defeat them all on his own and that he must embrace his new friends and accept their offer of help.

Chris McKay, who was the animation co-director of the original Lego movie, brings us a visually-striking, fast paced film with a continuous stream of visual gags and many references to the Batman franchise which will please long term fans.

Will Arnett is in fine form as Batman and you can tell he is having fun playing up the character’s loner personality and arrogant manner to comical effect.

The film is more than just action/comedy set pieces though as Batman is given real character development and the audience are given an insight into his psyche.

Will Arnett and Michael Cera have great comedic chemistry as Cera plays up the naivety in Dick Grayson/Robin along with his adoration of Batman which is both funny and touching.

There are also great vocal performances from Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes and Zach Galifianakis which helps to give memorable personalities to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Alfred Pennyworth and The Joker.

Whilst this is definitely the Batman and Robin show we are treated to quick appearances from other DC characters, both villains and superheroes, which all adds to the fun.

The film also features characters from other notable franchises and movie series, including the Daleks from Doctor Who, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter and the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.

The Lego Batman Movie succeeds in being a fun action packed film with a meaningful storyline and it should appeal to fans of all ages.

 

 

La La Land

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La La Land is an American romantic musical film written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

The film follows Mia (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress who works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio lot in-between attending as many auditions as she can. Over the course of a few months Mia has numerous encounters with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz club, but instead spends most of his time trying to make ends meet, working one-off gigs.

Mia and Sebastian soon fall in love and begin living a life together as they continue to follow their dreams. As they experience mixed success they begin to question their future and whether that future still includes the both of them together.

La La Land bursts into life from the get-go with the opening musical number “Another Day of Sun” which sets the scene for Chazelle’s direction of paying homage to the old-fashioned Hollywood musicals but at the same time bringing in the realities of life in the real-world (traffic jams, cost of living) along with what it takes to pursue a career in the performing arts.

The film’s love story is easily sold by Gosling and Stone who have great chemistry having previously collaborated together in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2014).

Stone is the standout performer of the two bringing wit, intelligence, vulnerability and warmth to her character. Though Gosling is less striking he still puts in a great performance bringing charm and authenticity to Sebastian.

Whist this is definitely the Gosling and Stone show  we are treated to a scene or two from Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons as Sebastian’s boss and Rosemarie DeWitt as Laura, Sebastian’s sister. John Legend also puts in a good performance as Keith, an old acquaintance of Sebastian and a fellow musician.

The catchy songs and score for La La Land were composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz with the lyrics written by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul except for “Start a Fire” which was written by John Stephens, Hurwitz, Marius De Vries and Angelique Cinelu.

Gosling and Stone are no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but this doesn’t matter as it makes the characters more human and relatable to the viewer. Their dance sequences are cleverly choreographed by Mandy Moore who plays to their strengths rather than adding an array of complicated steps.

With two strong performances from its leads, great musical numbers and stylish direction, La La Land will make you smile and cry in equal measure!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

swRogue One is the first film in the Star Wars Anthology series and is set immediately before the events of A New Hope. It is the first live-action Star Wars film to feature neither an episode number nor an opening crawl.

The story opens with research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) hiding on planet Lah’mu when Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) arrives to take him against his will to complete the unfinished Death Star, a space station-based superweapon capable of destroying an entire planet. Erso’s wife Lyra is killed during the confrontation but their daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) escapes and is taken to safety by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fast forward fifteen years later and cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) deflects from the Empire, smuggling a holographic message from Galen to Gerrera on the desert moon Jedha. On hearing of Rook’s defection, Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) frees Jyn from Imperial captivity and brings her to the Rebels, who plan to use her to extract Galen and learn more about the Death Star.

Believing that Gerrera might bring her closer to finding her estranged father, Jyn agrees to aid the Rebels. When their search for Gerrera reveals that Galen had secretly built a vulnerability into the Death Star, Jyn proposes a plan to steal the Death Star schematics and sets out with a small squad of Rebels on a mission to get revenge on the man responsible for tearing her family apart.

Director Gareth Edwards is given the task of making a blockbuster movie away from the safety blanket of Han, Leia and Luke and he does so with aplomb. Rogue One is a thrilling ride with beautiful visuals, action set-pieces, likeable characters and fun nods for viewers at all levels of the Star Wars fandom.

Rogue One proves that a Skywalker is not essential for a Star Wars movie to work away from the main saga and whilst it remains respectful to the source material it also manages to feel very different from the movies that have come before.

The franchise’s greatest strength has always been its characters and this film is no exception.

Jyn Erso is a strong likeable lead whose side story within the larger saga smacks an emotional punch for viewers.

The remaining members of Rogue One are equally effective. Cassian and Bodhi along with former Jedha temple guards Chirrut Imwe (Jiang Wen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) are all given moments of humour and heroism though it is Cassian’s droid co-pilot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) that steals all the scenes he appears in.

Orson Krennic makes a fitting villain for the Erso family story but he is mostly reduced to threatening conversations meaning he won’t go down as one of the most memorable Star Wars villains to date.

Rogue One is a great success which should ensure the long-term future of the franchise. The film has been able to delve right back into the history of Star Wars whilst adding real value to future events in the saga. Longtime fans should also be happy with the inclusion of some surprise appearances.

It will be interesting to see where Episode VIII takes us next!

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

fantastic-beastsJ.K. Rowling returns to the wizarding world she created in Harry Potter in her screenwriting debut inspired by her book of the same name Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The 2001 book was written to benefit the charity Comic Relief under the pen name of the fictitious author Magizoologist Newt Scamander. In the Harry Potter universe the book is a required textbook for first-year Hogwarts students with Magizoology being the study of magical creatures.

The film introduces us to Newt (Eddie Redmayne) in 1926 when he arrives in New York City to aid a rare beast in need of his assistance. It doesn’t take long for Newt to lose his magically-expanding suitcase, containing many fantastical creatures, when he accidentally swaps suitcases with No-Maj (non-magical) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) resulting in several of the mischievous creatures escaping.

Magical creatures running amok in the city couldn’t have come at a worse time for the magical community as a conflict with wizards, fed up of living in secrecy, threatens to reveal the Wizarding World to America.

In his quest to find his suitcase Newt meets demoted Auror (a hunter of dark wizards) Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) who helps him find Jacob and introduces them both to her Legilimens (magical skill of extracting feelings and memories from another person’s mind) sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).

They along with the Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) who is employed within the Magical Congress of the United States of America, all become embroiled in the search for a very dangerous beast. A beast which was believed to be extinct and has the capability of harming human and magical beings which in the wrong hands could break the Wizarding World from within.

Director David Yates, a veteran of the Harry Potter film series, brings us into a much darker world than seen before with themes of abuse, repression and fear. Graphic violence and death are depicted which younger Harry Potter fans if watching will find disturbing.

Eddie Redmayne is perfectly cast as the introverted Newt who is much more comfortable being around creatures then he is with humans. It is his interactions with them where the character is at its best as his enthusiasm and knowledge of the magical creatures shines through leading to some lovely scenes.

The creatures are all visually stunning and this is where the film really excels as they are brought to life on screen. My favourites were Niffler, a cross between a mole and a duck-billed platypus, Pickett, a Bowtruckle, which are made out of tree stems with their own little branches and Thunderbird, a massive bird that can create storms by flapping its wings.

The characters of Newt and Tina, though very likeable, are not given enough time to be fleshed out, in fact we are given none of Newt’s backstory, meaning the stronger personalities of Jacob and Queenie continually outshine them. The sub-plot of their attraction to each other not only provides some comic relief but develops their own characters and they end up becoming the heart of the film.

The cast also includes Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller and Jon Voight to name a few but they are all underused as the film quickly moves past their contributions.

With this the first of five films planned in the franchise the story was always going to be lightweight, as it introduces us to a group of new characters, but there is still enough to keep the viewer interested and with hints of things to come I look forward to seeing where J.K Rowling takes us next.

 

Doctor Strange

doctor-strangeBenedict Cumberbatch joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing the role of Dr Stephen Strange, an acclaimed but arrogant neurosurgeon, who damages the nerves in his hands in a car accident (do not text and drive!) and is no longer able to perform surgery.

Fellow surgeon and former flame Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) tries to help him come to terms with the diagnosis but Strange is adamant that he can regain the use of his hands and spends months and millions of dollars in experimental procedures which are all in vain.

When Strange hears of a paraplegic who has mysteriously gained the use of his legs again he seeks him out and is directed to Kamar-Taj in Nepal.

Here he discovers that for centuries Earth has been protected by a secret society of sorcerers from supernatural threats. Led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and helped by her disciples Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) he becomes a practitioner of both the mystical arts and martial arts.

When ex-disciple Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) returns seeking revenge, Strange must decide whether his new abilities should be used to fix himself so he can return to his former life or to embrace a new path of service and self-sacrifice.

Director Scott Derrickson gives us a visually stunning film, which has influences of M.C.Escher and Christopher Nolan’s Inception, creating a world which is like looking through a kaleidoscope. Comic book fans will also notice the influence of artist Steve Ditko who created Doctor Strange in the 1960’s with Stan Lee. His artwork in the comics was acclaimed for its surrealistic mystical landscapes and psychedelic visuals.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a solid performance (though I wasn’t sold on his American accent) as Doctor Strange managing to add credibility to the characters journey from neurosurgeon to sorcerer whilst injecting just enough humour to make him likeable despite his arrogance.

As with all origin stories there isn’t enough time to develop the supporting cast and they are mostly used as a contrast to Strange. Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is provided the most development time outside of Doctor Strange as her character helps him come to terms with his powers. Despite the controversy surrounding Derrickson’s decision to hire a white actor in a traditionally Asian role, Swinton is great in the part bringing an air of authority and presenting the Ancient One as skilled, tormented and flawed.

Mads Mikkelsen makes a convincing villain at the start of the film but is very underused as the story progresses making him the weakest aspect of Doctor Strange as a whole. Marvel have yet to give us the perfect villain.

Doctor Strange takes place in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe but whilst there are shots of the Avengers Tower and the team are mentioned the majority of the story is stand-alone making it a good jumping on point for the casual filmgoer and for those Marvel fans who want a break from the Avengers world.

With two end credits giving a hint of things to come it looks as though Marvel intend for Doctor Strange to be around for some time and that’s no bad thing.

The Power of the Daleks

power-of-the-daleksThe 5th November 1966 is a significant date in the history of Doctor Who and one that all fans will know.

This was the day we were introduced to a new Doctor with Patrick Troughton replacing the popular William Hartnell.

Sadly Hartnell’s health had deteriorated to the point he could no longer continue in the role and with an idea that would save the series we discovered that The Doctor was able to ‘renew’ himself. The term ‘regeneration’ was not used until 1974 when Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor turned into Tom Baker.

Patrick Troughton’s Doctor is arguably the most important of all The Doctor’s as he has to convince the audience that though his take on The Doctor is very different to Hartnell’s he is still playing the same man.

Sadly many of Troughton’s episodes are missing, including all of his first story, The Power of the Daleks, due to the BBC’s policy at the time of purging their archives to make room for more film.

What does still exist though are the tele-snaps (off-screen photographs of British television broadcasts),  the audio recording of all episodes taken by a fan and around 7 minutes of surviving footage which has enabled BBC Worldwide and a team headed up by director Charles Norton to bring us an animated version of the story.

The story follows The Doctor and his companions Ben and Polly when the TARDIS lands on planet Vulcan where the crew discover a crashed space capsule containing some Daleks. Chief scientist Lesterson is keen to wake them up not knowing how dangerous they are and it doesn’t take long for them to start reproducing…..

It’s a classic story with plenty of twists and turns that keeps the viewers interest for all six episodes. Troughton puts in a superb performance and the Daleks are genuinely scary as they demonstrate how ruthless they can be.

The animation works really well and remains faithful in style to the era with the decision to keep it in black and white as the original was is definitely the right decision.

The audio soundtrack has been restored by Mark Ayres who has also created a new Dolby 5.1 mix and the team have done a great job in syncing the visuals to the audio soundtrack.

Whilst some of the movements of the human characters are a little jerky in places the Daleks glide across the screen effortlessly making them even more menacing.

The Doctor’s likeness and expressions are captured superbly and even though this hasn’t worked quite as well for the characters of Ben and Polly this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of being able to watch this story again.

Troughton steals every scene he is in bringing to life his mischievous and likeable Doctor with a performance that would secure the future of the series.

As a huge fan of Troughton’s Doctor it was a joy to be able to finally watch his debut and I hope this won’t be the last of his missing stories being made into animated versions.

 

The Power of the Daleks is available now to buy from the BBC Store with a DVD being released on 21st November.