Lazy Movie Reviews: The Predator and Venom

Yep. I love movies, but I’m over long movie reviews. Maybe you are, too?

The Predator

  • Unlikeable protagonists. The gung ho military men are caricature crazy, like everything in this franchise.
  • “Let’s make the bad guy even bigger”. What is this, Jaws?
  • The world building would be more interesting if the movie wasn’t so dumb.
  • 20th Century Fox should leave the Predator franchise alone. At least the earlier movies weren’t trying so hard.

Rating: D

Venom

  • Tom Hardy is good. Shame he’s wasted on such an unnecessary and pointless story/anti-hero.
  • So many plot holes, so little time. Sigh.
  • Decent special effects. The bike action sequence is well done. The rest? Yawn.
  • No likeable characters anywhere; the villain is one-note: “I’m rich and crazy. Oh, and now I’ve got a symbiote in me.”
  • You’ll forget this movie not long after exiting the cinema.

Rating: D+

Lazy Movie Reviews: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Teen Titans Go to the Movies’

Yeah, I’m lazy. But I just love seeing movies. Here’s a couple of reviews.

Crazy Rich Asians

• Bright and colourful Singapore setting

• Conventional story with average acting

• Much of the humour falls flat

• Some great actors wasted in minor roles

• I know this movie was considered a breakthrough for Hollywood because of its all-Asian casting and storyline, but Asia and England have been making these sorts of movies for decades, and better than this

Rating: C-

Teen Titans Go to the Movies

• A cartoon that often seems more for adults than kids

• Lots of movie parodies and references that many kids just won’t get

• Very funny at times, only the occasional fart jokes

• Gorgeous and bright animation

• Better than some of the live action superhero movies of the last few years

Rating: B

The Happytime Murders. A movie review.

No spoilers, but does it really matter for this one?

Where do I begin? The Happytime Murders is a muddled attempt at a comedic crime drama. The big problem: it lacks humour and a by-the-numbers conventional plot leaves you wondering why someone put up the money to make it in the first place.

Puppets and humans coexist in the world of the The Happytime Murders. Puppets are inferior and downtrodden by humans. Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is a puppet PI who was the only puppet to serve on the human police force, forced out over an incident involving his then-partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and the death of an innocent bystander. Now Phil lives the life of a Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe, who is approached by Sandra, a nymphomaniac puppet who thinks someone is out to blackmail her. Phil’s investigation leads him to a number of puppet murders, linked to the syndicated Happytime show. He teams up with Edwards to solve the case.

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From there it’s all downhill: puppets having sex, puppets drinking and doing drugs, puppets using the F-word a lot. It’s a one-trick pony that’s novel and amusing at first, but rapidly grows tired. Melissa McCarthy doesn’t seem to find her rhythm until the second act and even then, it’s patchy.

The Happytime Murders doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. At times it’s way too serious, at others attempting to pass off repetitious, miss-the-mark, frat-boy humour as comedy (the silent audience was telling). There are a few funny lines, but you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to them. It’s not really worth the effort.

This is the first time this year I’ve actually felt like I was cheated by a film company. If I could get my money back I would.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend The Happytime Murders to anyone.

Rating: E

Mission Impossible: Fallout. A movie review.

Negligible spoilers!

I’d heard good things about Cruise’s latest impossible mission and decided to give it a go. MI:Fallout has a reasonable story with twists I (unfortunately) saw coming a mile away and some very stoic performances. It rises to the occasion with lots of well executed and thrilling stunts, many performed by Cruise himself.

Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, working for the IMF, a covert group that takes on impossible and deniable government spy missions. A terrorist group has gotten their hands on three Russian nuclear warheads and plan to blow up stuff. Hunt’s team has to get the warheads back. Along for the ride is a CIA hitman (Henry Cavill) to make sure they don’t screw up. He seems to screw up far more than they do, though.

I get the impression if I’d watched the previous movies I would have more attachment to the characters, as MI:Fallout assumes you’re a fan and thus provides no backstory for any of them. I felt detached as a result and so really didn’t care if they lived or died (or why they bother doing these thankless jobs in the first place). The story was full of twists (as you’d expect from an action spy thriller), but they were fairly obvious so the movie lost the element of surprise it should have had going for it. I’m so tired of hearing The Dark Knight’s much-copied plot twist: “he planned to be captured all along!”

Tom Cruise did many of his own stunts, with various scenes showing Cruise in the thick of the action—across rooftops, on a motorbike, cars, helicopters, halo jumping—he certainly earned his money. The stunts were the core of this movie and quite impressive, but without an emotional attachment to the characters the whole thing left me feeling flatter than Cruise and Cavill’s monotone performances (Cruise hasn’t really acted in a movie since Magnolia in ‘99).

MI:Fallout is one for the franchise’s fans, or for people who love action set pieces but don’t care about emotional engagement.

Rating: C+

The Breaker Upperers. A movie review.

New Zealand humour is quirky. The accents certainly help (no offence intended, kiwi readers—I love your accents). The Breaker Upperers, the new comedy from the scripting and directorial team of Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek (also the two leads) is funny and sweet, with a bit of raunch thrown in for good measure.

Mel (Sami) and Jen (Van Beek) are two long term friends who make a living providing a service that breaks up relationships. They live by a credo of not getting attached or involved, which makes their ethically-dubious schemes easier for them to live with. It’s not until they start breaking their own rules that they realise karma has a habit of catching up, and their friendship is in the firing line.

The Breaker Upperers is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. It manages to nail the bizarre circumstances of relationship breakdowns on the head, while at the same time teaching some valuable life lessons about true friendship. The gags are original, understated and, at times, over the top, and I couldn’t get enough. Despite this some will feel it’s not their thing, even if they do get the humour.

And everyone in this movie looks natural. Yep, there are no good looking people to be seen. How often does that happen on the big screen?

I thoroughly recommend The Breaker Upperers. If you like NZ comedies, such as Hunt for the Wilder People or Boy, you’ll love this. Oh, for those who try to avoid these things, there’s a sex scene—it’s very funny, though.

Rating: B

New Movie Trailers!

I’m a movie fan. More than that, I’m a HUGE superhero and monster fan, and a number of the announcements coming out of the San Diego Comic Con had me nerdgasming. Aquaman, Shazam! and Glass are superhero movies I’m really looking forward to next year. The next Harry Potter universe Fantastic Beasts movie premiered a new trailer, as well as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, sequel to the popular Godzilla movie from a few years back and set in the same universe as the Kong: Skull Island movie.

Here are the newest trailers to geek out to:

I can’t wait to see these films! In the meantime, enjoy!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Skyscraper. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Dwayne Johnson’s new movie is a cross between Die Hard and Towering Inferno. Despite the derivative premise it manages to be a successful homage to those movies and once again shows why Johnson is the world’s leading action star.

‘The Pearl’ is the world’s tallest and most technologically advanced skyscraper, built in Hong Kong by a super-rich computer tycoon. Johnson was an ex-marine and FBI agent who retired after an explosion took his leg. Now he’s an amputee who runs a security consultancy, brought in to inspect the Pearl’s safety features for the world’s biggest insurance underwriting. His wife (Neve Campbell) and kids have travelled with him and are staying in the as yet unopened residential level. Some bad guys from the tycoon’s past set the building on fire, with nefarious intentions (other than burning the building down, that is). Time for big Dwayne to step up. Along with a whole lot of duct tape.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to dislike Dwayne Johnson. Offscreen he seems like a genuine and affable guy. Onscreen he generally plays to type. What’s different this time around is Johnson plays a disabled man, making him a viable protagonist. Let’s face it, the guy’s so big it’s hard to believe the villains will give him a hard time, but having one leg evens the odds a bit and allows him to play up his disability in a number of scenes.

As a movie Skyscraper is a bit dumb, but it succeeds because it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s a full-on action-come-disaster flick, ready-made for the burgeoning Chinese market, with lots of lovely views of Hong Kong and a peppering of Chinese co-stars. Neve Campbell (remember her from the Scream movies and Party of Five?) gets to kick some ass as well, keeping happy that portion of the audience tiring of guns and testosterone-fuelled blokes. Who am I kidding? They won’t go to this film.

In the end it’s all about the Rock hurting himself and others as he takes on the building and the crooks, Bruce Willis-style, but without the jokes. Yep, this is pretty serious, but hey, he’s saving his family so the tone feels right. There are plenty of tense scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat and Johnson displays just enough machismo combined with fear to pull them off.

Skyscraper is the kind of exciting and entertaining romp that you’ll secretly enjoy even if you hate action movies.

Rating: C+

Ant-Man and the Wasp. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Marvel pumps out another enjoyable superhero sequel. Amusing but non-essential viewing.

Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-man) and Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne/Wasp) reprise their roles from Ant-man, along with Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) and motor-mouthed Michael Peña (Luis). Along for the ride this time are Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne.

Scott Lang has nearly completed two years of house arrest after the Civil War incident. He has a vision of Hank Pym’s wife, who was trapped in the subatomic quantum universe many years ago. Hank wants to bring his wife back but villainess the Ghost is slowly wasting away and wants Pym’s tech to save herself. So do some other bad guys. Time to save the day.

Ant-man and the Wasp is pretty funny, with Rudd and Peña assisting with the script (I’m assuming there were a few ad libbed jokes in some of the scenes). Unfortunately, I’m one of those dreary souls who prefers more drama—I love humour, but I like my superheroes a touch more serious. It would have been nice to let non-fans know that Evangeline Lilly’s character was Wasp. It’s never mentioned—as a comic book fan, I knew, but some casual viewers I spoke with didn’t make the connection.

Ant-man and the Wasp is an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, but it won’t leave you with the burning desire to discuss the bigger issues raised by the film afterward, because there are none. It’s fun, but ultimately disposable.

Rating: C+

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. A movie review.

The dinosaurs are back! The sequel to massive money-spinner Jurassic World and the earlier Jurassic Park films contains all the big action bluster you expect from a major tentpole movie, and just enough story to keep the audience engaged for the two-hour running time.

A volcano is about to erupt on Isla Nubar, home of the original Park and World movies. The second half of the John Hammond team that started the whole dino cloning thing, billionaire Benjamin Lockwood, wants to save the dinosaurs by transporting them to another island where they can roam free as nature intended. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, reprising their roles from Jurassic World, are on board to help identify and recover the dinosaurs, with a few extra cliché and forgettable characters along for the ride. Needless to say, things go awry (this is a Jurassic Park/disaster movie, after all—there’s an established template to follow).

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This time around the bad guys want to weaponize the creatures. Don’t expect too much in the way of literary metaphor or social commentary—the story is almost by the numbers, but enjoyable, none the less. There are loads of nostalgic call backs to the original Jurassic Park movie (recognise the upturned car and the broken fence where the T-rex first appeared, and the crushed vehicle that fell through the tree?) and some scenes aping the original (a child escaping a raptor by hiding while the raptor brains itself on the sliding door, the shadow of the beast’s head on the wall, etc.). I can happily report there are enough interesting new developments to keep most audiences pleased, and it sets up some post-apocalyptic pretensions for a sequel.

Unfortunately, while the dinosaur special effects look great (as usual), the dinos just aren’t scary anymore. Too much of a good thing, I guess? You still gotta love ‘em, though—my son, a dino nerd, was engrossed.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a fun popcorn flick—no brains required. It took the story in a new but not unexpected direction and left me looking forward to the inevitable next instalment.

Rating: C+

Incredibles 2. A movie review.

I loved The Incredibles. Made by Pixar at a time when Disney was just a distributor of Pixar movies, before Disney bought the animation studio and started focussing on the bottom line. The Incredibles has humour, heart, action, conviction, amazing music and is a wonderful homage to 1960’s spy flicks and comic-book family, the Fantastic Four. It is one of my all-time favourite movies.

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Which brings me to Incredibles 2. The new film features the same characters, voiced by the original actors (Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson) and starts where the original left off—superheroes are outlawed and Mr Incredible, Elastigirl, Dash and Violet, with baby in tow, take on the Underminer. Elastigirl is recruited by a communications company as the public face of the superhero comeback and Mr Incredible has to stay home to look after the kids and deal with everyday problems and a baby with multiple superpowers.

The premise is excellent and I was sold before I saw the film. Then I actually saw it.

Incredibles 2 has a solid story and fantastic superheroic action sequences that could only be done in a cartoon (live action CGI-realism comes with certain limitations). Mr Incredible’s struggle to cope with maths, Violet’s boyfriend troubles and an uncontrollable infant nicely balance out Elastigirl’s adventure as she attempts to capture the new villain. Frozone gets more screen time, and more of Sam Jackson is never a bad thing. A bevy of new, but shallow, superpowered characters is introduced.

But all too often Incredibles 2 feels like an inferior sequel to a great movie: the humour sometimes falls flat; the villain is predictable and unmemorable; the story drags at times; the sense of connection I felt with the first film wasn’t really there. It often feels like part of the Disney conveyor belt, rather than a sequel that was made because the story demanded it (see Toy Story 2 and 3 for examples of GREAT Pixar sequels made for the right reasons).

Incredibles 2 will make lots of money for Disney. It will sell huge numbers of toys (a primary motivator for Disney nowadays—Cars and its abysmal sequels, anyone?). There will be a sequel sooner rather than later. But it can’t help but feel like another film with an opportunity to be great that fell short because of a parent company’s focus on shareholder dividends.

Rating: C+

Solo. A movie review.

No spoilers!

I read the scathing and toxic reception of fandom to Solo, a Star Wars Story, read the critics’ poor reviews and generally dismissed the movie without giving it a chance. I’m happy to report that a friend dragged me to see it, and I was not only pleasantly surprised, I got to see a movie that was as good as, if not better, then Rogue One and The Last Jedi.

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Solo stars Alden Ehrenreich as the young version of the character made popular in the first three Star Wars movies by Harrison Ford. He doesn’t quite fulfil the roguishly charismatic promise of Ford, but then, that’s to be expected. He does, however, play the part well (better than reported) and works convincingly with the other stars— scene-stealing Danny Glover as Lando Calrissian, always reliable Woody Harrelson as Beckett, his distrusting mentor, and Emilia Clarke as Kira, young Han’s inscrutable ex-girlfriend.

Solo is a heist movie, and it shows some of the formative moments in Han Solo-history: how he gained his name, met Chewbacca, got the blaster, won the Millennium Falcon, completed the legendary Kessel Run in record time/distance. The action is great, especially the train set-piece. There’s a nice little link (no matter how unlikely it may seem in retrospect) to the formative Rebellion. Solo ably shows the start of Han’s journey from optimistic and unlikely hero to cynical reprobate. There’s also the promise of a sequel with Jabba the Hutt and a cool cameo from a character mired in pre-Disney extended Star Wars universe history (looks like they didn’t scrap everything after all). Let’s hope DVD and streaming sales make it happen.

I really enjoyed Solo. It’s well worth a look and certainly much better than some people might indicate.

Rating: B+  

Tag. A movie review.

A bunch of friends play tag for 30 years: for the month of May, they attempt to tag each other with the winner reigning supreme until the next year. One of the friends has never been tagged and he is about to retire. Time for the team to take him down! The whole idea of the game is it keeps these childhood friends in touch, even though they live in different cities and states. I guess they haven’t discovered Facebook, yet. That’s the premise of Tag, with the punchline that it’s based on a real tag game that has been going for 30 years. Yep, that’s right, a bunch of old guys actually chase each other around every year in the real world (there’s a nice video montage at the end of the movie showing the real taggers).

Tag-Banner-Poster

The ensemble cast includes Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress and Jake Johnson. This movie has a number of slapstick comedy moments, and a few awkward gags that never quite land. Jeremy Renner plays the guy who’s never been tagged, who’s so good that his mind drops into a Sherlock Holmesian-style analytical mode whenever someone attempts to tag him. John Hamm, the ultra-competitive CEO and Jake Johnson, the slacker stoner, are involved in a brief romantic triangle. Aside from that, the story is wafer thin: a number of tag scenarios with Renner escaping the others as they attempt to tag him. There are some laughs, but I guess I would have liked a bit more than pratfalling comedy.

You can forget about any real drama—those moments fall flat as well. The characters are basically far too two-dimensional to give this film any weight. And the female characters are even less developed than the males.

Tag is fun most of the time, but it’s also eminently forgettable. Like many other comedies you will see this year, it promises so much and only just delivers.

Rating: C

Deadpool 2. A movie review.

No spoilers here!

No doubt you’ve read a thousand times that Ryan Reynolds was born to play fourth wall-breaking, motormouthed mercenary superhero Deadpool, so I won’t repeat it. Oh, I just did. Sorry.

Deadpool 2 is a fun and incredibly violent movie. Yep, it’s not for the kids. It’s funnier than the first, but much of the humour often seems aimed above the average teen audience’s heads. It features the debut of X-force from the comics (umm, think second-tier X-men), lots of pop culture references, music from the 80’s, great visual gags, whiz bang action set pieces and a surprisingly emotional core tying it all together. The Terminator-style storyline is what I’d call “superhero conventional”, but the humour and action lifts it above the average.

Deadpool 2 is lots of fun. You’ll love it if you like superhero movies, Ryan Reynolds, offbeat humour and the 1980s. If you’re averse to blood and violence you may want to give it a miss.

Rating: B+

Life of the Party. A movie review.

Saw Melissa McCarthy’s new movie the other day. I’ll admit up front that I am a McCarthy fan. I like her sassy, in-your-face and inappropriate witticisms. I guess they remind me of my own big mouth. Her movies tend to be overly formulaic, though, as scriptwriters and directors stick to the McCarthy formula her core audience admires.

Life of the Party is a bit like that, but in this case, McCarthy is a recently-divorced mother who goes back to her alma mater to finish the last year of her archaeology degree. Oh, and her daughter is attending the same campus. Let the fun begin. McCarthy plays the motherly role well, limiting the language and capturing the fish-out-of-water mother mannerisms well.

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Yes, the movie is funny—not overwhelmingly so, but it was enough to keep me amused for most of its running length. The story is clichéd and the characters stereotyped, but McCarthy’s likeable enough to carry it through.

Life of the Party is one for the McCarthy fans. If you’re not an admirer of her performances, you won’t be after this, but if you are you’ll have a good laugh and leave the theatre with a smile on your face. I did.

Rating: C

Avengers: Infinity War. A movie review.

Okay, okay! I said I wasn’t going to the movies this week, but I did. Couldn’t help it.

Avengers: Infinity War is a star-studded extravaganza, the culmination of ten years of Marvel world-building. It’s one of those movies that fans will love to death— you need to have seen the previous movies to be truly invested in the backstory, the characters and their tribulations—but one that may not be very accessible to anyone who’s a casual Marvel movie-goer or first timer (read: confused if not fluent in Marvelese).

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Thanos, the big bad guy intent on balancing the universe by wiping out half of every living being in existence, is well-developed and almost sympathetic at times, which makes a change from smirking on his big throne. He wants the six Infinity Stones, which were formed at the creation of the universe and represent all sorts of comic-book hokum but really just make Thanos impossibly powerful once he has them. There are lots of big battles, big action set pieces, big team ups, and decent jokes—more than enough to keep me and any other Marvel fans happy.

There are also lots of deaths. So many, in fact, that you just know the next movie in a year’s time will ‘rectify’ the situation, which left me feeling the stakes were a bit pointless. That being said, I still enjoyed the ride.

A friend of mine commented she would rather have waited for both movies on DVD so she could watch them back-to-back. I feel in the long term that will be the preferred viewing experience, however Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that looks great on the big screen and should be experienced that way.

If you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I’m no fan of the Disney corporate monstrosity, but I really enjoyed this movie and recommend it heartily for invested Marvelites. Take my money, you devil-mouse you.

Rating: B+

Ready Player One. A movie review.

You know how spoilers spoil movies? Well, there are none here to spoil stuff. Just thought you’d like to know.

Ready Player One is the Steven Spielberg-directed movie based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel of the same name. I have the book but haven’t read it yet (it’s on my ever-growing list).

Wade Watts lives in overcrowded and destitute Columbus, Ohio, in 2045. Like most people alive in the future, he escapes day-to-day life to live in the Oasis, a limitless virtual world created by James Halliday. Before Halliday died, he created an Easter Egg to give control of the Oasis to anyone who finds it—or rather, finds three keys. Naturally everyone wants control of the Oasis, including the dastardly IOI corporation, who wants to monetize it. Yeah, it’s Willy Wonka for the 21st century.

Ready Player One Movie

Ready Player One is a glorious CGI, video gaming and 1980’s pop culture fest. Every scene in the Oasis is packed full of characters (Batman! The Iron Giant! Gears of War! Halo! Wonder Woman! TMNT! Gundam! To name a few) and 80’s references (Atari! Dungeons and Dragons! Back to the Future! Star Wars! Just a couple) that you may miss the first time around (my son wants to buy the blu-ray later so he can freeze frame each scene like the nerdy gamer he is). Most of the movie is set in the Oasis, with about a third of it in the real world.

The special effects are fantastic, the music by Alan Silvestri is wonderfully complementary to the movies and characters referenced, and Spielberg shows he hasn’t lost any of his flair for direction in his old age. Some of the secondary characters are a bit two-dimensional, but I find most visual effects-heavy movies tend to overshadow character development.

If you’re a gamer you will geek out over Ready Player One. If you’re an 80’s pop culture nerd you will love the nostalgia. If you like a good teen-based action adventure, you’ll enjoy it. I had a great time with this movie, and my 20-year old son loved it more than I did. Check it out.

Rating: B+       

Tomb Raider. A movie review.

There’s no such thing as spoilers (in this review, anyway)!

Alicia Vikander is the new Tomb Raider (for those of you not familiar with the previous movie incarnation, Angelina Jolie was the titular heroine), and she ably fills the tank top—umm…role.

This is a reboot of the franchise, based heavily on the popular computer game reboot of 2013 (so many reboots…). Lara Croft (Vikander) is a girl with no direction to her life after losing her rich father (Dominic West) seven years ago. Refusing to accept that he’s dead, she hasn’t taken over the Croft fortune and title and is living a simple life as a bike messenger in inner city London. She receives a Japanese puzzle from her missing father which sets her on a quest to find him and the tomb of Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai, a supposed sorceress with power over death.

Tomb Raider Movie

I enjoyed Tomb Raider. In this origin movie Vikander is a feisty, yet vulnerable underdog, who kicks some serious ass along the way. She’s very physical in the role (Vikander did the majority of her own stunts), but at no point does this Lara Croft seem unbelievably super heroic. Some of the set pieces are over the top, but through them all you believe that Lara is scraping through, stubbornly fighting on. One thing I would have liked was more opportunities for Vikander to show her stuff—a few more action set pieces wouldn’t have gone astray.

Go see Tomb Raider if you like gritty, believable action heroines who feel pain. And bring it, as well.

Rating: B  

Annihilation. A movie review.

Alex Garland’s new science fiction movie, Annihilation, is now available on Netflix in Australia (part of Paramount’s current risk management strategy is to recoup production and distribution costs in smaller markets by going directly to streaming).

Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a Cellular Biologist with an Army background, whose army husband Jake (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year. One day he turns up, but he seems like a different man. He also starts vomiting blood. On the way to hospital, the ambulance is intercepted by government vehicles. Lena awakens and discovers the government has a secret watch post overlooking an area called the ‘Shimmer’ – a hazy and colourful border of light that frames the site of an alien meteor that hit a lighthouse on the coast. The Shimmer is expanding. Several military teams have been sent in, but none have returned, and the Shimmer prevents radio communications. Lena joins a group of female scientists, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny, to attempt to get to the lighthouse and discover what’s going on. Inside the Shimmer everything is mutating—plants, animals, the environment itself. It isn’t long before the scientists find out what happened to the last team and the implications for them…

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Annihilation is a slow-moving thriller, with generally subdued acting (except when things get a little crazy). The special effects are exceptional, with the Shimmer almost hallucinogenic at times. None of the characters are particularly likable, but then, this is a movie about a concept, rather than the people involved. There’s a fair bit of explicit violence as well, so be prepared.

Annihilation has been hailed by some reviewers as both revelatory and confusing. I wasn’t confused, but not because I’m particularly smart. Annihilation is a movie you need to pay attention to and some viewers just won’t get it. I don’t believe that Annihilation is as ground breaking as some think. It is, however, a well-directed, intelligent, slow burn sci-fi movie, with a great concept and a nice twist at the end.

I enjoyed Annihilation. It’s not as good as Arrival, another recent thought-provoking sci-fi movie which provided a greater emotional connection with its characters, but it’s still an enjoyable concept film.

Rating: B-

Red Sparrow. A movie review.

A few minor spoilers!

Red Sparrow is a harrowing spy movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton and directed by Francis Lawrence. Why harrowing? Because it includes several excruciating scenes of graphic torture and explicit violence (there’s sex, too—surprisingly it’s kept to a minimum, but it’s generally pretty nasty as well).

Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina whose career is ended when her leg is broken. She’s about to lose her home and medical support for her disabled mother, and turns to her sleazy uncle, who works for the Russian Security Services. He places her in a situation where she witnesses a state-sanctioned murder and is forced to work for the government as a ‘Sparrow’, a spy trained in seduction. Off she goes to a dehumanising Sparrow school, where attractive women and men are taught psychological and sexual manipulation.

Lawrence is given a mission to discover a mole and encounters Edgerton’s disgraced CIA agent, who’s protecting the mole. That’s about as far as I can go without spoiling the story further.

Red Sparrow is a cat-and-mouse spy story about post-cold war politics, the incongruity of human nature, the patriarchal abuse of women and the lengths people will go to for revenge and survival. It’s better than you might think, although at times the director’s push for realism can make it a disturbing viewing experience.

Rating: B-

Black Panther. A Movie Review.

No spoilers here!

Okay, you’ve read the reviews already. More than likely you’ve already seen it. I’m talking director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, the latest Marvel Studios’ superhero film that ends up being one of the best movies Marvel has released since Spiderman: Homecoming. I’m not going to talk about the story. I’ll just give some impressions and you can make up your mind based on those.

Black Panther

Black Panther is a bright, colourful, hopeful, heavily African-inspired movie, with a majority African-American cast. It has a great story (although somewhat derivative of The Lion King, which was itself derivative of Kimba the White Lion), great acting, fantastic music full of African drumming, vocals and instruments (yes, this is the first Marvel soundtrack in ten years that doesn’t sound generic) and makes some great political points regarding anti-isolationism (take that, Trump). Yeah, some of the CGI is a bit dodgy at times, but the female characters’ strong roles and gritty resolve, and Black Panther’s/King T’challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) endearing openness and honesty more than make up for it. Even the bad guy, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is sympathetic (and possibly one of the best developed Marvel villains since Michael Keaton’s The Vulture in Spiderman: Homecoming). There’s also some cool James Bond elements in the first act: T’challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is his Q, but has better and funnier lines, and there’s a Bond-style mission.

You may have guessed that I really liked this movie. It’s not without its issues, but has a bit more gravitas than most superhero films.

So, go and see it. Give Disney your money (but please don’t do it more than once—Disney is evil, after all).

Rating: A

 

The Shape of Water. A movie review.

I’m a big fan of Guiermo Del Toro. I loved the Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth is in my Top 10. I’m also a big softie for romance movies (so sue me).

The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s homage to the monster movies of the 1950’s, a ‘beauty and the beast’ romance about a mute girl who falls in love with a South American water monster being held in a secret government facility. The creature is due to be killed and vivisected, so the girl and her gay next-door neighbour break him out to save him.

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This movie has all the elements to make it something special. Del Toro’s production design and practical prosthetic creature effects are on point. The actors are good, especially Sally Hawkins, who plays mute orphan Elisa. The 1962 setting is evocative, including commentary about the harsh treatment of African-Americans and minorities, and the brittle nature of Russian/American Cold War relations. There’s even a dance/big band musical scene with all the trappings. But something’s missing. What should have been an endearing and moving love story contains some jarring elements and has a predictable plotline that prevents this from being a Del Toro classic.

This is not a movie for kids. There are scenes of female nudity, masturbation, sex, and some brutal violence. Instead of lending the film an aura of realism/believability, they detract from the romantic, fairy tale plot and seem custom-made to titillate, rather than complement the characters or story.

Michael Shannon plays the same two-dimensional bad guy he’s typecast as nowadays. The ending is not only clichéd, but lapses into ET territory (but where ET the extra-terrestrial was a wonderfully woven story that remains a classic, Del Toro’s take on it is heavy-handed, derivative and predictable).

The Shape of Water was another near miss for me. So close to being good, but still disappointing overall.

Rating: C

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. A Movie Review.

No Spoilers!

My son dragged me (literally) to see the new Jumanji film. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Four teens given school detention find an old game machine with the Jumanji game loaded. They are sucked into the video game-world of Jumanji, where they take on the roles of four game characters to try to return the ‘Eye of Jumanji’ to the final level to stop some bad guy from taking over the jungle world. Along the way they discover the meaning of friendship, yadda, yadda, yadda. All very uncomplicated.

Jumanji_Welcome_to_the_Jungle

Dwayne Johnson (that guy is in everything, lately), Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan, all have a ball with their roles, with Black (playing a self-centred teenage girl in a middle-aged professor’s body) and Hart (a jock in a nerd’s body) getting the funniest lines (although most of the jokes fell flat with me, the teens in the audience seemed to be chuckling enough). There are some decent action set pieces, but the bad guy and the overall threat to Jumanji are pretty shallow.

The movie manages to deliver some nice moral messages—don’t judge a book by its cover; be yourself; your real friends are the people you can rely on—and it wasn’t even from Disney. And in an era of over-the-top violence and overwhelming narcissism (which, ironically, also feature in this film), that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Jumanji is a movie best appreciated by gamers, teens and kids. And the occasional adult dragged along for the ride.

Rating: C

Justice League. A movie review.

I read about twenty negative reviews of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon’s Justice League prior to going. I took my son with me to see it and we and everyone else in the theatre had a fantastic time. Screw you, critics.

The big DC heroes come together in this huge romp ‘em, stomp ‘em popcorn flick. I’m not sure why critics had probs following the story. I didn’t, and neither did my son. And the CGI was fine.

Basically, Batman and Wonder Woman bring Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg together to face bad guy Steppenwolf, a failed Apokoliption commander who lost the original battle to take earth for Darkseid thousands of years ago. The forces of the Amazons, the Atlanteans, the humans and a Green Lantern(!) capture Steppenwolf’s three Mother Boxes (living energy sources he was planning to use to change Earth into a version of his home world Apokolips) and hide them away. When Superman was killed in Batman vs Superman, the Mother Boxes came back to life and called Steppenwolf back to finish the job. No more spoilers!

Every hero got their fair share of screen time. There were laughs, there was conflict, there were heroes facing off against heroes and heroes versus villains. And yes, it all made sense. The fight scenes were well done, the action was great. The camaraderie and the character scenes were great.

Yeah, the story was a bit old hat and the villain was a bit blah, but we had an absolute blast with this movie. Go see it. Oh, and hang around to see the two awesome post credits scenes.

Rating: B

Thor Ragnarok. A movie review.

By Odin’s shaggy beard, there shalt be no spoilers here!

I’m one of those moviegoers who felt the Marvel formula was getting a bit stale. Well, Thor Ragnarok hasn’t varied it too much, but has added enough humour and lasting change to a major character and setting that I’m still interested.

Thor Ragnarok is a fun ride. Thor has always been a bit, well…boring. Compared to the rest of the Avengers, anyway. Director Taika Waititi has added his quirky comic flair (and propped up the NZ film industry, judging by the number of Kiwi actors in this) and allowed Chris Hemsworth to display some impressive comedic chops (expect to see him in lots of romantic comedies over the next few years).

The supporting cast are great, even if they are given little to do (although Mark Ruffalo as Hulk gets more space here than ever before. And it’s about time). Cate Blanchett as Hela, Goddess of Death, is a bit of a missed opportunity to add real gravitas to the Asgard story (the film’s humour tends to overshadow any of the implied tragedy), but I think she’ll be back to link up with Thanos in a future movie (he’s all about hooking up with Mistress Death, after all, and I’m sure it won’t take Marvel much to tweak that and change it to Ms Blanchett. You read it here first).

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The special effects of Thor Ragnarok are impressive as always and the designs and bright colours really capture the Kirby-esque feel of the 60’s and 70’s Thor comics. As a lover of all things Led Zeppelin, I enjoyed the inclusion of their Immigrant Song. Jon Bonham’s drumming rocks!

Whilst I liked the lighter (and oddly, heavier) themes of Thor Ragnarok, I’m hoping Marvel doesn’t go full on camp with future outings. I love my superheroes and occasionally I like them taken just a bit seriously. But in the meantime I’ll enjoy the bright bluster of this.

Rating: B+

Blade Runner 2049. A movie review.

Spoilers? Don’t think so.

Okay, so you saw the trailers and it looked interesting. Maybe you were interested enough to stream the original 1982 Blade Runner (actually one of the four director’s cuts, because the original with the horrible Harrison Ford voiceover is long gone). Maybe you read the fauning reviews or glanced at the positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. Director Denis Villeneuve (who previously directed the brilliant Arrival) has made a methodical, smart, and visually spectacular film. Blade Runner 2049 is a superior sequel that stands on its own as a great movie.

A lot has happened in the 30 Years since the last film, and the old school tech has evolved along with the replicants, which are now used everywhere as slave labour (previously they were only used offworld). Ryan Gosling is K, a replicant blade runner who discovers a secret while hunting an old Nexus 8 (same as the ones in the first movie), a secret that could change the balance of power in the world and leads K to question his own reality. The first act is a noir-style detective story, as K slowly puts the pieces together. And that’s about as much as I can say without spoiling the movie. And this is one film you don’t want spoiled.

Blade Runner 2049 is dark and it’s looong. It’s a thinking person’s flick with some cool action sequences, but it’s a slow burn the rest of the way.

You know from the trailers that Harrison Ford is back as Rick Deckard, giving his best performance in years. Gosling is fantastic as K, and Jared Leto is a standout as Wallace, a blind and weirdly charismatic multi-billionaire who recreated replicant technology after the original Tyrell Corporation went bust. Robin Wright is K’s hard-nosed police captain, Sylvia Hoeks is Wallace’s violent right hand. Everyone in this film is good.

The script is layered, includes lots of throwbacks to the original movie, and no knowledge of the first Blade Runner is required to understand the story. Set design and an emphasis on practical effects really help to capture the feel of the original film. The music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is coolly reminiscent of Vangelis’ original soundtrack.

Who would have thought that a sequel to an 80’s movie could be so good (even if it does drag a little in parts). If you like an intelligent sci-fi movie that poses interesting philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, rock solid performances and a great story, then Blade Runner 2049 will be right up your blood and rain-soaked alley.

Rating: A

American Assassin. A Movie Review.

Minimal spoilers. But it won’t matter much, because you know what’s gonna happen before it happens anyway.

I was dragged along to see American Assassin. My best mate paid for the ticket, and it got me out of the house, so I couldn’t complain.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) watches his girlfriend and lots of people killed at a Spanish resort by Islamic terrorists. He dedicates the next 18 months of his life training (18 months? That’s not much. Bruce Wayne spent 12 years becoming Batman) to infiltrate and take out the terrorist cell. He’s picked up by the CIA, sent to covert ops specialist Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to be part of his assassination team. Rapp has issues with authority, is a loose cannon, blah, blah. Soon they have to stop one of Stan’s best students (oooh, didn’t see that coming. Yeah, you did) from using a nuke to take out a bunch of Americans.

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American Assassin suffers from the weight of numerous clichés, from characters to story to stunts to dialogue. It’s not the worst action movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s not memorable and not a movie I would recommend—you’ve seen all of this before with better scripts and direction.

Michael Keaton, as always, is great, but his role lacks depth and so he does what he can with the material he’s given. Dylan O’Brien looks alternately depressed and angry, but doesn’t muster much in the way of leading man charisma. The bad guy (Taylor Kitsch) is just an average bad guy.

My advice is save yourself the price of a ticket and see something better. This is one to stream on Netflix or rent on DVD (can you still do that?).

Rating: D

It. A movie review.

Nein spoilers!

A mini-series of Stephen King’s horror novel, It, was made in the late ’80’s. At the time it was considered pretty scary, but by today’s standards it’s very tame. My favourite horror movie is The Grudge and I tend to compare it to every other horror movie I see, in terms of scare-value. It is not in The Grudge‘s league, but it’s a solid viewing experience.

The new version of It focusses on the first half of King’s book: titular fear clown Pennywise terrorises and murders children in the Maine town of Derry in the late ’80s, is confronted by a motley collection of nerdy kids who dub themselves ‘the Losers’, and general creepiness and gore ensues. There’s also encounters with bullies and overbearing and abusive parents.

The direction and production values are excellent, but some of the scenes are telegraphed and less scary as a result. A cliched score doesn’t help. Despite this, It remains compelling viewing.

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One of the things I took away from this movie was the stark portrait of emotional and physical abuse perpetrated by the parents of several of the child characters. In some cases this was more shocking than Pennywise the clown’s antics. More than anything else, It is an empowering coming of age tale, as the Losers overcome not only the clown, but the monsters in their own homes.

It is a good Stephen King movie adaption, and it’s not often you can say that. The already in production sequel, It Chapter 2, will cover the ‘kids grown to adulthood’ side of the novel. Based on It‘s box office performance alone, I predict a spate of King books-to-movies appearing in the next few years, riding the horror rebirth gravy train.

It is not as scary as one would have hoped, but it is a good movie, one that most horror fans will enjoy.

Rating: B

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. A Movie Review.

Spoilers? No, none needed for this. And even if there were, they wouldn’t spoil this mess.

Luc, Luc, Luc. Here you had the perfect opportunity to wow audiences with some unique and memorable SF, and what did you do? You blew it. Here I was, waiting for the next The Fifth Element, and you gave me this fiasco instead.

Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (try saying that five times fast) is NOT his brightest movie moment, and will probably go down along with a number of his other forgettable movies as yet another misstep. It has gorgeous special effects, but aside from two sequences early in the film (a marketplace in another dimension and the hero running through a number of walls on the space station), you’ve seen it all before. And I’m sick and tired of cutesy space-monsters. Not to mention three aliens that look like winged platypuses that just aren’t funny, despite the fact they’re there for comic relief.

The story is a yawn and devoid of much humour at all (which this flick desperately needed). In the 28th century, Alpha, a giant space station floating through space and home to a thousand races, is under threat. Valerian and Lorelei need to uncover the dark conspiracy behind it and save everyone. Yeah, that sums it up. In between: a few nice special effects scenes, the usual bad guy stuff, some lazy writing and a short nap, depending on your age and/or attention span.

Dane DeHaan (Valerian) phones in his performance (he’s not a bad actor, he was excellent in Lawless) in perhaps one of the most poorly miscast roles of the year. Cara Delavingne (Lorelei) brings little to her role, but does look great in body armour (why do you only see half their heads in the shot above? Because the rest of their faces show just how disappointed they are). Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke aren’t given much to do, although they are much better actors than the rest of the cast and beefing up their roles would have helped the story no end. Rhianna dances well. ‘Nuff said.

I am waiting, waiting, waiting for a movie that doesn’t let me down. Where are you, non-disappointing movie? Find me!

Rating: D

War for the Planet of the Apes. A movie review.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best movies this year. You should do yourself a favour and see it. Matt Reeves has directed an incredible movie (which bodes well for his proposed Batman trilogy).

Andy Serkis as the driven and emotive Caesar, leader of the apes, and Woody Harrelson as the fundamentalist Colonel, commander of the human soldiers, are ideally cast and give nuanced performances throughout. Most of the apes speak in sign language, with a few exceptions. Bad Ape is a great new character, providing some light relief to the seriousness. The CGI apes are amazing, with only a few quirky jitters in some of the action scenes. 

WftPotA has themes that should resonate with any audience: retribution, family, redemption. There is more focus on drama than action, allowing for greater lead character development. The overarching story is a Moses allegory–freeing the slaves and leading them to the promised land.

I’m not going to spoil any more of this for you. It’s probably my first ‘must see’ call this year. This is the best of the current crop of Planet of the Apes movies, and certainly the deepest.

Rating: A+

Three Loves. A Haiku Trilogy.

Film Lover
Movie watching love
My shared escapism
Better with a friend

Tabletop Gamer
Playing RPGs
Becoming a new person
Only for a night

Guitar Player
Guitar strings strummed
Emote in rhythm and rhyme
Musicality

Manchester by the Sea. A movie review.

Thar be spoilers ahead…

Manchester by the Sea is a depressing movie. Even with the great dialogue and character performances, it leaves you wondering what just happened. In truth, not much did. Kenneth Lonergan’s script, from his play, won the 2017 Oscar for best original screenplay; he directed as well. But a story is supposed to show the protagonist (in this case Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler) learning something and moving forward in some kind of constructive way. This is not the case in Manchester by the Sea.

Casey Affleck’s restrained performance won him the best actor Oscar and it was well deserved. He plays a loner with repressed anger and grief issues. He’s a man who has never recovered from the loss of his children in a house fire he was responsible for. When his brother dies he returns to his home town and finds out he’s been made the guardian of his 16-year-old nephew. What ensues is 131 minutes of Affleck not coming to terms with his grief. Everyone is excellent in this film, from Kyle Chandler, who plays Lee’s brother in flashback, to Michelle Williams as Lee’s wife, who has moved on and had a new baby with another man, to Lucas Hedges as Patrick, the nephew, caught up in his own pain and self-absorbed lifestyle.

But by the end of the movie Lee admits that he can’t face living in Manchester anymore. The hurt is too great. There is no endearing moment or uplifting ending: Lee gives up and moves to Boston to work in another janitor job. This leaves the audience (well, me at least), feeling a bit miffed that Lee doesn’t have a proper character arc. Yes, I know real life doesn’t work out. But we go to see movies to be entertained. If I wanted to see a character not going anywhere I’d take a look at my own sad life. I want to see the protagonist make some sort of worthwhile change, no matter how minor. This movie doesn’t do that.

Manchester by the Sea has wonderful writing and performances. It does tend to drag a bit in places (as you would expect from a low key drama), and there is no real resolution to Lee’s issues. So if you’re looking for escapism, steer clear of this movie. But if you like to get a bit teary and enjoy great acting, Manchester by the Sea is for you.

Rating: C+       

Dunkirk. A movie review.

So, if you haven’t seen the movie Dunkirk by now, all I can say is: “why not?”

Dunkirk is a movie about the evacuation of 330 000 British and French troops from the Dunkirk beach after being surrounded by the German offensive in 1940.

No doubt you’ve read piles of reviews praising this movie and how well it presents the claustrophobia and confusion of the beach, the heroism of the pilots and troops, the grit of the average joes who answer the call to provide their own boats to rescue many of the survivors. Chris Nolan is one of my all-time favourite directors, and there’s very little that he can do wrong. What he’s done here is create a tense and subdued war film, very different from any war movie that’s come before. The photography, sound and music is amazing, as you would expect. The performances from the actors are spot on, even if they are generally limited to running and looking anxious.

So what’s missing? This is not a conventional movie. There are multiple characters who are there to show what’s happening on the beach, in the air and at sea, but there is no character development, something you usually expect from a movie. It’s a bit like a personal documentary of an event with no voiceover describing those events. But the good thing is it doesn’t need it. This movie puts you in the shoes of every man on the beach and boats, from facing screaming Stuka bombs to u-boat torpedoes sinking  ships. You feel the fear of the soldiers hiding on the grounded boat waiting for the tide to come in as German soldiers play target practice with the hull. You feel the anxiety of the fighter pilot as his plane goes down and he can’t get out of the cockpit. You feel the patience, the courage, the fear, the apprehension.

Dunkirk doesn’t include anything other than a brief mention of the courageous rear guard action by around 80 000 British and French soldiers. Maybe this could be covered in a later film, as it is a disservice to those men who fought and died valiantly so that the troops could be evacuated.

Dunkirk is a good movie, and deserves to be seen in the theatre, with big sound and screen. Some people will be dissatisfied by it. Others will love it. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one you are.

Rating: B+      

Spider-man: Homecoming. A movie review.

Spoilers? What spoilers? No, none here

Okay, okay, I was a bit late coming to the party on this one, but I finally got to see it today.

Great movie! Excellent performances: Tom Holland, perfect as 15 year old nerdy high schooler Peter Parker; Michael Keaton, who’s very menacing as the Vulture (and possibly the second most well-developed Marvel super-villain, after Loki); great cameo(s) by Robert Downey Junior as Tony Stark, Peter’s mentor (and he doesn’t steal the movie – yay!). Some nice Avengers’ developments with Gwyneth Paltrow at the end, as well. The young cast surrounding Holland are fantastic and they have some very funny lines. Lots of laughs all around.

The story is fairly straightforward, as are some of the set pieces, and the CGI animation of Spidey is a bit jerky at times (I seem to remember the first Spider-man movie in the 90s having more fluid animation, so I was a bit surprised this time around), but it’s the characters and the actors portraying them that really sets this movie apart. Tom Holland is likable and brings a fresh naivety to the role. His best friend (whose name escapes me) is a hoot. It’s amazing how many times Spidey lets people find out his identity. And thankfully the origin story is covered in a few brief lines of dialogue (yay!). I’m not sure how I feel about Spidey having a Tony Stark-designed super-suit, but it led to some funny situations.

I really liked Spider-man: Homecoming, possibly my favourite Marvel Studios movie ever. Go see it. Enjoy.

Rating: A

Baby Driver. A movie review.

Ain’t no spoilers here

Edgar Wright has made some spectacular movies: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World’s End, and one of my Top 10 faves, Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Having read several positive reviews, I went to Baby Driver with high expectations that this would become one of my all-time favourites. I was surprised, then, when what I saw was not what I expected.

What I saw was a slick, well-directed, edited and acted, but straightforward crime drama with fantastic live driving scenes (no CGI – take that Fast and the Furious). A movie aimed at a young audience, with the two leads Ansel Elgort (Baby) and Lily James (Debora) displaying some great chemistry on screen. Some great acting by Kevin Spacey as the kingpin mastermind, Jamie Foxx as the crazy and violent Bats, and Jon Hamm as Buddy, the smooth cokehead bank robber. Enough character development to keep things interesting. So why did it leave me cold?

Baby is a driver – one of the best. He listens to music constantly due to tinnitus, caused when his parents died in a car accident when he was a child. He’s working off his debt to Spacey by being a getaway car driver for Spacey’s heists. He meets Debora, a waitress, falls in love, plans to get out of the game, but when he’s even with Spacey he still can’t escape. One last job…

Baby Driver is quite different from Wright’s previous movies. The critics have generally loved it, and audiences have responded well. So why didn’t it appeal to me as much? I guess I was expecting more of the quirky humour of Wright’s previous films. There were two jokes in the entire movie—most of the time the movie was incredibly serious. The driving scenes were amazing. But as soon as the bank robberies and driving were over, the movie started to drag. I don’t think pacing was actually an issue, it was probably more me waiting for some amazing Edgar Wright moment to happen. And unfortunately it never did.

After the first incredible drive/chase scene, there was a continuous shot of Baby walking down the street to get coffee while manoeuvring amongst traffic and pedestrians to the sounds of Harlem Shuffle in his headphones. It showed signs of some of Wright’s quirky genius shining through, but then faded into convention again. There are some great ideas at play in this movie, but by the end I hadn’t connected with any of the characters. Maybe I set my expectations too high.

Baby Driver is a well-executed heist movie with great acting, fantastic driving scenes, incredible music soundtrack and great editing, that doesn’t make you care for any of the characters. I didn’t leave the theatre saying “that was a great movie”. I left saying “that was pretty good”. I expected more from Edgar Wright. Maybe next time.

Rating: C+

Movie. A poem.

How dark the walls
That hide our shadows
Dancing in the light
Of images cast brightly
Mapping regions lost
And angst so bold
To fill sedentary lives
With excited sobriety

Wonder Woman. A movie review.

No spoilers on the Western Front

It seems like it was only yesterday that I was commenting about the superhero movie formula becoming stale (oh, it was – check out my Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 review here). Little did I know that I would be watching Wonder Woman and feel the excitement of seeing a superhero movie that’s different. And a character that I can care about, who actually cares about people (without the need for financial or selfish incentive, I mean).

Wonder Woman is an origin story, set in 1918 as the First World War is coming to an end. Steve Trevor is a spy who crashes his plane on the island of Themiscyra, hidden island of the Amazons. The Amazons are warrior women created by the Greek gods to help bring peace to the world. He is rescued by Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. They have their first encounter with German soldiers, who are chasing Trevor for a journal he has procured that has information about dangerous new gas weapons about to be deployed on the Western front, gas that could change the course of the war and threaten the upcoming armistice negotiations. Diana decides to travel with Steve to man’s world to help end the war.

This movie doesn’t shy away from exploring the horrors of the conflict and its effect on the soldiers and civilians caught up in it. In fact, Wonder Woman seems ideal for this period, and despite the fantastic/mystical nature of her origins, is more at home in this somewhat more realistic environment than you might expect. There are some amazing battle scenes–for instance, when Diana crosses No Man’s Land, and fights soldiers in a town behind the front lines. The characters of Diana and Trevor are well developed, giving both Gal Gadot and Chris Pine roles they can get their teeth into. Pine is particularly good in this role, stretching himself a bit more than his usual arrogant Star Trek demeanour. All the supporting actors give fine performances. A big thumbs up to Patty Jenkins, director, on a great movie.

Wonder Woman is a movie that seems to appeal to a broad range of people (I went with my son and my mum, who both loved it). It’s well paced, the special effects and music are good, the story keeps you interested all the way through and the final showdown with the big bad is pretty spectacular. Nice twist at the end, too.

I haven’t felt this good about a superhero movie in a long time. Wonder Woman is a movie about hope, about selflessness and about doing the right thing. It has been a while since I’ve seen a superhero with these motivations, and as old-fashioned as they may seem, it’s also a refreshing take in light of all the Deadpool and Logan-style movies nowadays (And I loved both those movies, by the way – you can check out my Logan review here).

Do yourself a favour and check out Wonder Woman. You will love this movie. Unless you’re a rabidly sexist/racist fanboy troll who can’t stand seeing a woman in the limelight. And I think the world has had just about enough of that.

Rating: A

Guardians of the Galaxy – the Marvel formula strikes again…A movie review.

No spoilers here…

I’ve seen all the Marvel movies and generally I love them (Incredible Hulk was a bit meh, but that’s okay, you can’t have everything). The last few have bordered on a bit average, though. So why is this? Is it because I’m basically seeing more or less the same film every time, just with different characters? Is the music basically the same every time, forgettable (don’t believe me? Can you remember any of the music from Dr Strange? Thought not). Maybe my love affair with Marvel movies is coming to an end. Maybe the first wave of characters were the ones I really liked the most. Maybe…

Which brings me to Guardians of the Galaxy, vol.2 (GotG). Another Marvel blockbuster, filled with likeable characters, humour, huge explosions, crazy-ass comic book moments, and team-bonding experiences. So why did I come away from the theatre thinking, “that was pretty good”. Pretty Good?! Not, “that was mind blowing”, but “pretty good”.

GotG has lots of humour. Drax is the standout, with his complete lack of tact stealing the entire show. Every character gets their little bit of screen time (with the exception of Peter Quill/Star-Lord, whose plotline with Celestial “Ego” takes up the majority of the story). Every character gets some sort of emotional struggle to contend with (Gamora and her sister, Rocket Raccoon and his need to be loved, Star-lord’s daddy issues, etc.). There is a major character death (although by the end of the movie you’re struggling to feel much about it—and this from a guy who cries in movies if someone breaks a glass). The special effects were amazing, as would be expected from a film with a budget bigger than some small countries (far too much reliance on CGI, though). I loved the 80’s soundtrack, but it wasn’t quite as catchy as the first time around. The orchestral soundtrack, as usual, was cookie-cutter forgettable.

So, what was the problem?

I think we are seeing so many of these movies and their sequels every year (and now DC is in on the act, as well), that unless there is something new in the story, tone and feel of the movie, then we become a little jaded. At least I do.

So GotG was fun, but it didn’t have me wanting to talk about it afterwards (not in the way Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight movies had me discussing implications for days afterwards with my wife). We live in dark times, with economic stresses, rampant terrorism, crazed isolationist governments, growing homelessness and a host of other ills. People want movies that make them forget about serious problems. So, this movie achieves that. At least while you’re in the cinema. But it doesn’t give you anything meaningful to attach to it, to stick with you beyond the initial viewing. I’m sure many will disagree with me. Feel free.

I’m looking forward to Thor: Ragnarok later this year. Hopefully I won’t come away feeling the same.

Rating: C

Alien Covenant. A movie review.

No spoilers! Not real ones, anyway…

I just saw Alien Covenant. I was a bit concerned that it might be all promise and not deliver the goods (a bit like the rather crappy Prometheus that preceded it). But guess what? I was pleasantly surprised. Alien Covenant was good, it filled in the story behind the additional canon Prometheus introduced, and actually made that movie better as a result.

The colony ship Covenant is on its way to Origae-2, where 2000 colonists in suspended animation will start a new life. On the way the ship intercepts a transmission of human origin. They identify the planet it’s coming from as being suitable for colonisation, and make their way to the source of the signal. Landing on the planet, they find it eerily deserted. Then some of the crew members breath in alien spores…

That’s the set up for Alien Covenant. Ridley Scott returns as director, and as expected the visuals and set designs are spectacular. Michael Fassbender returns in dual roles as David (the android from Prometheus) and Walter, an android accompanying the mission, and gives a suitably nuanced performance as both. The human colonists are the usual selection of lesser known actors, with little to care about when they are inevitably killed in various gory ways. This movie belongs to the enigmatic David, and Fassbender’s performance.

Alien Covenant manages to resolve a lot of the issues caused by Prometheus, the movie that divided audiences with its bizarre logical leaps and glaring continuity problems. The pathogen, what happened to the engineers, the different early forms of the Alien progenitors, how the final Alien xenomorph evolved, what happened to the alien ship that took off at the end: all these questions are answered.

Unfortunately, the humans in Alien Covenant are still just as stupid as they were in the previous movie. Walking onto a new world without some kind of breather to protect against bacterial and viral infection? Come on, that’s almost as bad as running in a straight line from a wheel-shaped spaceship rolling towards you… And yes, you just knew someone was going to get killed in the shower. What is this, Friday the 13th?

Alien Covenant was fun, a little bit creepy at times, but not very scary (we’ve seen the Aliens enough by now). It answers the questions you probably asked when you saw Prometheus, improves that movie as a result, and sets up a potential sequel. Not perfect, but good stuff.

Rating: B+

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