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Director: Stefano Sollima Starring: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabel Moner, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener Running Time: 122 minutes


It can’t hurt a film to have a little ambiguity from time to time. Three years ago, the uncompromising crime-thriller Sicario took us to the darkest corners of the greyest areas of the US-Mexican border, a place where Mexican cartels and the US government could compete to get up to the shadiest shit. It was an intense film with a considerable combination of talent: Denis Villeneuve combining to great effect with Roger Deakins to put the suffocating effect of the crime scene on screen, a great score by the gone-too-soon Jóhann Jóhannsson and a script by Taylor Sheridan that was seemingly very thoughtfully assembled; like an Apocalypse Now for America’s drug war. On screen, the talents of Emily Blunt dragged viewers down with her own sinking feelings, an FBI agent turned bystander to the morally ambivalent machinations of the Department of Justice, embodied by the casual hoo-ra “consultant” Matt Graver played by Josh Brolin and the mysterious, violent sicario Alejandro Gillick, played by Benicio Del Toro. They were up to something, it was no good, and there was noting Blunt could do about.

Something suspicious happened towards the end of Sicario though. A balance shift, a feeling that the film was becoming a bit too enamoured of its hitman for its own good. If Matt and Alejandro come out on top at the end, does that make it a downer ending or a triumph? Who is the main character of the film again? Emily Blunt’s conspicuous absence from the sequel Soldado might tell its own story. The boys are back in town. Sicario is not sending us it’s best people. In a fraught political environment, this sequel feels even less wanted, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.

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Director: Paul King Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Boneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters Running Time: 103 minutes


Perhaps one of the reasons that critics respond so heartily to the Paddington films is because of what they’re not as much as what they are. Seeing the trailers for children’s films before the feature begins, it’s a breath of fresh air to see just how earnest Paddington Bear is, how little he dances to the latest pop hits, how not-voiced-by-James-Corden he is. An actual effort to celebrate the charming work of Michael Bond, to whom this sequel is dedicated after he passed away this June, shines through in this film; without delving too far into cliche it presents a world of wonder, one that looks increasingly appealing where most kid’s film follow ups double down into a cynical cash-grab.

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Director: Denis Villeneuve Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas Running Time: 163 minutes


 

The advanced screening of Blade Runner 2049 and presumably, all advanced screenings of the film, began with a letter from the director, imploring those in attendance to keep tight lipped about the film’s various twists and turns, to “not spoil the magic”. And though there are plenty of spoilers that will, for the purposes of playing ball, be avoided in this review, Blade Runner and its sequel are not films about the plot details, not really. Despite the many story-changing cuts and decades of speculation and misleading trailers and advance screening advanced warnings, these are films whose true value lays not in the story beats but in the ideas and the images and everything else that a rogue tweet or a too-curious eye over a Wikipedia page cannot take away from you. From the outside, Blade Runner 2049 may look like yet another nostalgia cash-in, and an odd choice for one at that, but it’s no mere replicant of the original, providing a beautiful backdrop against which the series’ themes about identity, memory and autonomy are given further thought.

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Director: Brian Fee Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion Running Time: 109 minutes


The Cars franchise has always been an easy punching-bag, even among Pixar enthusiasts. It’s less grown-up friendly than other Disney/Pixar films, it’s more commercial, it’s character designs aren’t great, it gives a prominent role to “Larry the Cable Guy”, etc. But as the Fast & Furious sequels have shown, it’s never too late for audiences to turn around on a series, even if it’s a shallow series about cars that go fast. Cars has always been a hit with the kids, but can it entertain the adults as well? The latest entry doesn’t offer anything too deep or emotional or original, but it’s simple fun that provides a nice message, a few laughs and not too much Larry the Cable Guy.

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Director: Chad Stahelski Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane Running Time: 122 minutes


John Wick is not a character overloaded with depth, but there is something that stands out about him. There’s a moment in John Wick Chapter 2 where the rapper Common’s character tells him that he’ll make John’s death a painless one, as “a professional courtesy”. One of the stock phrases of movie assassins that the John Wick films throw out with glee. When he says this, Keanu Reeves makes a face of real exasperation. John Wick is so goddamn tired of this world of assassins and its rules and its posturing. Later a villain says that John is addicted to this life of killing, but it isn’t really true at all. Unlike most other protagonists who come back for one last job or who get pulled back in just when they thought they were out, John Wick is so done with this whole life. He really just does want to kick back and relax with his new dog. Fortunately for viewers and unfortunately for John, it seems that killing absolutely everybody is the only way to be certain that he never has to kill anyone again.

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Director: Danny Boyle Starring: Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Anjela Nedyalkova Running Time: 117 minutes


For a good chunk of the people involved, Trainspotting was a launching pad for success, providing steady careers for the likes of Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlysle or Kelly MacDonald and Oscars, OBEs and stardom for lead Ewan McGregor and director Danny Boyle. Which is to say that revisiting Trainspotting isn’t necessarily a ‘Glory Days’ exercise because the film wasn’t necessarily as good as it got for the people involved. But what about the characters involved in the film itself? What if living as a despondant, criminal heroin addict was the best years of your life? T2 Trainspotting never comes close to reaching the chaotic energy of its predecessor regardless of the return of its original cast and director, but it always knows what an uphill battle that is and at least tries to remain wryly self-aware about the mid-life crisis it appears to represent.

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Following on from their screening of an alternative Christmas classic in December with Batman Returns, Hollywood Babylon are returning this January to kick off 2017. On January 14th at the Light House Cinema, they’ll be showing another well-remembered sequel and paying their tribute to the great Joe Dante in the process, bringing the cult classic Gremlins 2: The New Batch back to the big screen in 35mm.

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Director: Ron Howard Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy Running Time: 121mins


Inferno marks the third time Tom Hanks has teamed up with Ron Howard to adapt a Dan Brown novel. The previous two installments being The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, both of which were released to fairly mixed results. After two failed attempts, could this third time be the charm? Could the pair have finally gotten it right?

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Director: Adam Wingard Starring: Callie Hernandez, James Allen McCune Running Time: 89 minutes


In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released amidst a massive wave of hype, propelled by early attempts at viral marketing and a ‘based on a true story’ flimflam that caught viewers offguard. With more story around the film than in it and a loose structure much closer to actual found footage than the genre staple tends to be today, it really was a project, a different kind of horror than audiences had seen before. However, audiences often don’t want different and the backlash was swift and the rushed and disastrous sequel Book of Shadows did little to help. Nearly two decades later, new sequel Blair Witch has flown in deliberately under the radar, filmed under the misdirect title The WoodsBlair Witch frequently feels like the kind of film viewers thought the original was offering, which should satisfy some but those who were happy with what they got first time around might leave disappointed.

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