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+

Lion. A tear-filled movie review.

This review contains spoilers.

I never got the chance to see Lion in the cinema. In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t. Not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s a movie that guarantees I’m going to cry, and I don’t want to be going to the movies with a mate and tear up (it’s a bloke thing). If I ever have a girlfriend again (and if you’ve ever read one of my dating posts, you’ll know the odds of that seem ever remote), then I will gladly accompany her and blubber away like a baby.

I borrowed my Mum’s copy (as you do when you’re poor) and watched it by myself (why don’t you go to the cinema by yourself, I hear you say. My life is sad enough already without going on my own, thank you very much).

Lion is, without doubt, the best movie I have seen all year. That’s a pretty big statement to make, so I guess I better back it up.

Lion tells the story of a five-year old Indian boy called Saroo (played by newcomer Sunny Pawar), who is separated from his brother and ends up on a train that takes him thousands of miles away from his Indian home town to Calcutta, where he is lost. Eventually he is relocated to an orphanage, and from there is adopted by Australian parents and raised in Tasmania. Later on, he discovers he can track down his mum and brother by using Google Earth, and does so.

The story sounds pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t prepare you for the sheer emotional rollercoaster this movie puts you through. From the squalor and heartbreak of the living conditions of Saroo’s family, to the plight and serious abuse of street kids in Calcutta; you are overwhelmed by incredible anger and profound sadness, and I was on the verge of tears throughout the first act in India. Saroo’s adopted brother is profoundly affected by the abuse he’s received, and this is a theme carried through part of the film’s second act in Australia.

Dev Patel is magnificent in the role of the adult Saroo, who suffers from PTSD as a result of the separation from his family. His adoptive parents are played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman (in possibly the best role I’ve ever seen her in. In Australia, Nicole falls into two camps: ‘national treasure’, or ‘can’t stand the frigid cow’. I quite happily sat in the second camp, until I saw her in this movie. Wonderful performance, glowing with warmth and intensity).

As expected, Saroo finds his mother and is reunited. Tears all around.

It’s not a perfect movie: there are times when the pacing drags, the secondary characters are often underdeveloped. But the cinematography and music are excellent, and the leads more than make up for anything else that is lacking.

I found this movie mentally and emotionally overwhelming to watch. But it was also profoundly uplifting. I challenge anyone to not feel for the characters and their situations. This is a movie you should see, even if you hate tear jerkers, if only to remind yourself that you are better off than you think you are.

My movie of the year. If I judged movies based on the number of tears I shed while watching, it would be movie of the decade.

Borrower.

This is a uni piece I wrote a few months back. It was actually the first appearance of Alpha Girl, Beta Max and Me. I’ve removed the academic references and included one of my discussion thread responses from that week. NOTE: This was back when I used social media. Nowadays I only use it to promote my blog, which makes me even less well informed then I used to be. 

I haven’t read a newspaper in well over a year. It’s not that I don’t like newspapers; it’s not like I don’t have a ready supply of them each day. It’s just that I’m not really bothered to read them when I get my news through social media and television.

(“Are you on Twitter again?” says Beta Max.

“No,” I reply, quickly changing to YouTube.)

So, I was a little surprised when I read the Insider Movies section of the Sunday Telegraph and found a number of well written movie reviews by Vicky Roach, the reviewer in residence.

(“Why are you reading the paper?” says Alpha Girl.

“Research,” I reply.

“Why can’t you be normal like other people?” she says. I extend my tongue.)

When I read through Critical Review in my uni course notes, I thought to myself: “this is a bit clunky – I don’t recall reviews being this structured.” Identification of work, Context, Description, Assessment, Identification of reviewer – it all seemed a bit robotic to me. I got to the bit about “blending the elements”, and was somewhat relieved. Heaven forbid I’d have to write a review in such a stilted way.

So, back to the newspaper: Ms Roach reviewed four movies: Passengers, Assassin’s Creed, Rosalie Blum and Paterson. I really enjoyed her approach. She was knowledgeable about the art form (script and director techniques, for instance), had a good understanding of the plot and themes of each movie, and raised relevant points and criticisms insightfully. Her comments about Assassin’s Creed succeeding on a “kinetic level”, but failing to deliver in the end due to the character’s “moral ambiguities” and a lack of viewer investment in the outcome, struck home with me as I was planning to take my son.

(“We’re still seeing it,” says my videogame-loving nerd.)

Ms Roach obviously loves the film medium. You can tell from the way she crafts her reviews. (I love women who write well about things they love, especially when it’s a subject I know and love as well. It’s a bit of a turn on. Um, that probably was more than you needed to know.) As expected the smaller “art nouveau” films like Rosalie Blum and Paterson rated better than the big budget movies. Is this a thing with reviewers? “I will always take art over fluff!” I happen to like a little fluff with my art.

(“It’s like chocolate, marshmallow and vegemite sandwiches,” says Beta Max. “They shouldn’t work, but somehow really, really do.”)

Each of Ms Roach’s appraisals captured the essence of the five ingredients of a review, including context and a witty summation of each movie in the legend (for example: “French crowd-pleaser sure to leave audiences blum-struck”, with an attempted pun, no less). I especially liked the intro headline for each movie, in punchy prose – for Passengers: “Sci-Fi romance has too much space in its plot”. For Paterson: “Story of a secret poet has its own rhyme and reason”.

So now I have to read the newspaper every week, just to check out the movie reviews. And maybe read some of the other stuff: news and the like.

(“Are you finished with the paper” says Alpha Girl.

“Not much longer,” I reply.

“Buy your own,” she says.)

 

One of my responses to the discussion thread:

Hi

I, too, like short reviews. I think it’s a measure of a “real” reviewer to be able to do a review in a short format and not leave anything out; to be able to capture the essence of a movie, book or CD in a short, almost perfunctory way.

I have to admit that I’m not good at short. I think I’m a bit verbose at times (read: boring). Maybe I should try writing reviews as Haiku – that way I’m deliberately restrained by the form:

Assassin’s Creed film
Started well but ended bad
Little investment

Could be onto something here. I’m just going to rush out and patent the Haiku movie review concept.

Cheers

Steve

John Wick: Chapter 2. A Movie Review.

No spoilers here!

I loved John Wick, the Keanu Reeves actioner from a few years back, about a retired assassin who returns to the business after some local mobsters steal his car and kill his dog. The movie features plenty of martial arts and Gun Fu action, with Keanu doing many of his own stunts.

The sequel has just opened in Australia (why so late? I don’t know. I prefer movies being released at the same time worldwide – less piracy that way). Chapter 2 continues on from the first, with Keanu reprising the lead and with a new dog (acquired at the end of the first film). He is approached by an Italian mob boss closely linked to the society of assassins Wick used to work for. He calls in a marker that helped Wick retire from the business. He wants Wick to kill his sister in Italy, so he can take her seat at the High Table that heads up the assassin society. I’m not going to spoil the movie any more than that, but will give my general impressions.

John Wick 2 kicks ass! This movie has a bigger budget than the last and it shows. The action and stunts are bigger, the story bolder and broader, production values have improved, more backstory is provided for the assassin society (which is more expansive than you’d think), and new characters are introduced that will carry over into Chapter 3 (yeah, it sets up a sequel).

Reeves’ stoic performance suits the character. Wick’s motivations are pretty basic: finish the contract, avenge his losses, survive. And he does these with aplomb: lots of killing with guns, knives, cars, hand to hand, and pencils (yes, you read that right). Remember the 1980’s, when people used to comment on how many people Sly Stallone and Arnie Schwarzenegger killed in their movies (alright, you’re probably too young to remember, but it was a thing)? Well they’ve got nothing on Keanu in this. Wick also gets run over (multiple times), stabbed, shot, tossed down stairs, and generally made a mess of. 

I thought John Wick 2 was pretty awesome. If you like action movies that cut to the chase and get on with it, with dramatic action and stunts, guns and cool fight scenes, this is the movie for you.

Awesometacular Justice!

The new trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie is here. I’m sure it will be the first of many as the November release of the movie approaches.

For those who don’t know what the Justice League is, they are the premier DC Comics super team, made up of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. And they come together to kick evil’s ass.

In the comics the Justice League was created before Marvel’s Avengers, but Warner Brothers, the studio that owns DC Comics, has been dragging its feet and has finally got the celluloid version going. The JL movie comes after the Wonder Woman movie released in June.

I’m looking forward to Justice League. I think the first trailer is pretty good, but I think the upcoming ones will be even better. So, enjoy:

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

And while you’re at it, check out the Wonder Woman trailer.

Wonder Woman – still great at 75

I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this, but I am a HUGE fan of Wonder Woman.

I love the current comic book version (in DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative), by Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp, and I love the trailers that have been coming out for the new movie.

Why am I such a big fan? Wonder Woman is not only a cool superhero, she’s also the first and greatest female superhero of them all. She’s super strong, can fly, has an unbreakable mystic lasso that forces people to tell the truth, can deflect bullets and stuff with her bracelets, and, although she’s trained as a warrior by her Amazon people, she’s an ambassador for peace .

When Wonder Woman was first created by William Moulton Marston in December 1941, the intent was to create an allegory for the perfect woman leader. Marston was a supporter of women’s rights and believed that women were more honest than men – and thus capable of being better leaders. Having helped create the polygraph lie detector, I guess he knew what he was talking about.

And for 75 years, Wonder Woman has been the subject of great comic book stories. Yep, it’s her 75th anniversary this year.

She’s got a movie coming out in June. Check out the latest trailer:

If you haven’t read a Wonder Woman comic lately, rock on down to your local comic shop and pick up an issue. Or check out her movie in June. She’s also in the Justice League movie coming out later this year.

It’s a great time to be a Wonder Woman fan. And to become one.

‘Kong’, baby! A movie review.

No spoilers were harmed in the making of this review

Just saw Kong: Skull Island. Lots of big monsters, big explosions, soldiers getting eaten by big monsters, big explosions blowing up big monsters, crazy-ass leave your brains at the door logic. Awesome.

So, you know the deal from the trailers. King Kong is a humungous ape the size of a building. He protects the natives and the peace-loving animals of Skull Island, a lost world protected from discovery by a massive weather system surrounding it. Until Skull Island is picked up by satellites in 1973, that is. It’s the end of the Vietnam War, and Monarch, a company funded by the US Government to track down monsters and stuff, joins up with another expedition planning to map the island. Add a military escort, lots of helicopters, and you have a recipe for lots of head kicking goodness and Apocalypse, Now references. Cue shots of Kong smashing crap up.

There are a lot of good actors in this movie, and some solid performances – Samuel L. Jackson as the crazed, vengeance-driven colonel, Tom Hiddleston as the ex-SAS tracker, John Goodman as the Monarch boss who knows more than he’s letting on, Brie Larson as the more-than-capable anti-war photographer, John C. Reilly as the war-lost pilot gone native. And more. But don’t let the acting get in the way. What you’re really here for is the big dino-like beasties and lots of ‘Kong smash’! The 70’s soundtrack  that accompanies it is freakin’ great.

You may have guessed that I really enjoyed this movie. I love a good, thought-provoking and message-laden film as much as the next literary nerd, but every once in a while, I just need to switch off my life-stressed brain and see some big explosions. And giant apes.

Kong: Skull Island delivers. Catch it now. Oh, and hang around for the post-credits scene – franchise building begins…

Firefly is back! Or, might be…

Fifteen years ago, a Joss Whedon TV show called Firefly graced the airwaves on the Fox Network. In no time at all, it was cancelled. In no time at all, fans started begging the network to bring it back. In no time at all, DVD sales for the series went through the roof, and have pretty much stayed there. In no time at all (okay, two years), Whedon was able to make a movie sequel to the series, called Serenity, something that had been previously unheard of, for a show with only one season.

So, what is Firefly? (I know you know but I’ll remind you, anyway). Firefly is an ensemble science fiction show about the crew of a Firefly-class spaceship, captained by ex-Browncoat revolutionary Malcolm Reynolds. The crew gets up to mischief and shenanigans in a wild west-style frontier region of space. In twelve episodes, Firefly manages to fit in more characterisation, charm, humour, and intelligence, than most long-term series can do in several seasons.

And people love Firefly. I don’t just mean they love it. I mean they LOVE it. Diehard fans are everywhere, and the one thing they have clamoured for all these years, is to bring the show back to TV.

Years ago, Fox was not keen on low rating series. That’s when Firefly was cancelled. If the series had run today, it would have been given more chances to establish an audience, or would have had multiple seasons on a cable network like SyFy. Recently, however,  networks have been reviving old shows, like The X-Files and Twin Peaks, riding a wave of nostalgia for TV old and beautiful. A few weeks ago, Fox indicated they’d be willing to bring Firefly back, if Whedon were  to run it (the “showrunner” leads the writing team and provides the general direction of the show).

I know what you’re thinking:  for fifteen years the fans have been asking for this, and all of a sudden Fox is saying “no worries”. In a 2013 interview with ComingSoon.Net, Whedon said, “If all the planets align that would be great, but I’m not going to do what I did the first time and move heaven and earth to make it happen.”

So, we may be waiting for longer then we think.

Still, it’s nice to dream. And sometimes, just sometimes, dreams come true.

 

This post seems a bit late, doesn’t it? That’s because I originally wrote it six weeks ago, as part of a uni assignment. It’s has only just been marked, so I can post it, now.  

English spelling, too, not American. Nothing wrong with American spelling, just letting you know.

Logan. A movie review.

This movie review is spoiler free.

I saw Logan yesterday. And what I saw was a great movie, one that focussed on character, with a good story, great acting, great action set pieces that contributed to the plot (rather than being there for the sake of it) and some deep underlying themes and messages that resonated with me.

It’s 2029, mutants have all but disappeared from the planet, and Hugh Jackman’s Logan is no longer Wolverine, but instead a cynical and washed up alcoholic, whose healing ability is fading. He’s looking after a decrepit Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is slowly losing his faculties and whose mental abilities have him classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the government. They’re hiding out in Mexico, from where Logan drives back and forth across the border working as a limo driver to pay the bills and get drugs to control Xavier’s dangerous seizures. Logan meets up with a young girl, Laura, also known as X-23, who has abilities like his own. She is the first of a breed of new mutants, designed as weapons and now hunted by the Transigen corporation. Logan and Xavier need to take Laura north to Eden, to meet up with other young mutants, who escaped Transigen together. Thus begins a road trip that reveals much about the characters and leads to inevitable showdowns with the corporation’s agents.

Hugh Jackman has stated that this will be his last outing as Logan/Wolverine. Patrick Stewart has similarly indicated he is retiring from the character of Charles Xavier. Both actors deliver gritty and emotive turns in perhaps the finest performances of their careers.

Director and writer James Mangold delivers a dark and violent story where Logan acknowledges the cost of killing, and the pain it has caused him. It’s a spiritual quest for Logan’s personal deliverance, driven by Xavier and Laura. There are big action scenes, as you would expect, and the MA rating (Australia)/R rating (America) means plenty of gore and language, but it’s all appropriate to the story. There are references to the original X-Men movie and the X-Men Marvel comics play their part, as a sort of manufactured history of the characters. Logan is ultimately about personal redemption.

Logan is not a movie for kids. It’s has adult themes and content. It delivers in the way Chris Nolan did with his Dark Knight trilogy, that superhero movies can be deep, dark and thought-provoking. It’s a shame that it’s Jackman’s last appearance as the character.

Logan is the Wolverine movie we’ve all been waiting for.

Trainspotting 2 review – the train’s still running on time

This review is spoiler free.

The original Trainspotting was released in cinemas in 1996. Directed by Danny Boyle, based on a book by Irvine Welsh, the black comedy starred Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, and was about heroin addicts in inner-city Edinburgh, who eventually make off with £16 000 worth of drugs, which McGregor’s character, Mark, steals. It’s a funny movie, with some serious social commentary on the side.

Trainspotting 2 was recently released in cinemas, 20 years after the original. But unlike the spate of sequels to old movies released lately, Trainspotting 2 is actually good.

Mark returns to Edinburgh from Amsterdam, where he has been living the last 20 years. He’s had a near death experience and his wife has divorced him, so he has nowhere left to go. Naturally his best friend, Jonny Lee Miller’s character Simon is not happy to see him. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie, the strong-arm man of the group, has been serving time in gaol, escapes, finds out Mark is back in town and naturally wants to kill him. Ewan Bremner’s Spud has returned to heroin addiction, having been thrown out by his wife and son.

This is the set up for Trainspotting 2, which has the same tone and feel as the original, but does not run as one expects sequels to. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone. Safe to say, Trainspotting 2 is funny (in a hard, sometimes grim way) and still has time to comment on mid-life disappointment, social media and the impact of economic rationalism. The cast slips adroitly back into the roles they played 20 years ago, and each character gets ample screen time and character development. Boyle continues to utilise surrealism in some of his direction, perhaps not as famously as Mark swimming into a filthy toilet to recover his dropped suppository, as in the first movie, but through interesting shadow metaphors and by nostalgically integrating some scenes from both movies. At times the strong Scottish accents are a tough act to follow, but I’m sure this was more because of the bass-heavy cinema speakers.

Watching Trainspotting on DVD before seeing the sequel will provide additional insight, but it’s not essential.

Trainspotting 2 is a great movie. The train’s still running on time. Don’t miss it.

 

Trainspotting 2 is in cinemas now.      

Splitting Hairs – “Split” Movie Review

*** Warning: This post contains spoilers for the movie “Split”, If you’re planning to see it, stop here and come back afterwards to see if you agree with my review ***

I saw Split today, the new M. Night Shyamalan movie. Having it fresh in my mind, I thought I’d do a little movie review, as I haven’t done one before, and felt that I needed to.

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s first two movies, Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Every movie he’s done since has fallen a little flat, failing to capture the verve of those two.

Split is a horror/thriller on a par with his later movies. Marginally better, but not by a lot. It’s a shame, because right through the movie I was thinking “Come on M. Night, you can do it with this one, you can make a really good movie.” But as more time elapsed my fears were realised.

Let’s talk about the story. The main character, Kevin, has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), with 23 distinct personalities (called the Horde) brought on by child abuse. Three of Kevin’s personalities, a heavy handed, obsessive compulsive male called Dennis, Patricia, an upright, schoolmarmish woman, and an insecure 9 year old called Hedwig, have taken over the other personalities, fuelled by a belief that a 24th personality, known as the Beast, will come forth with the power to protect them all.

The Dennis personality has been stalking two girls, and kidnaps them along with Casey, another girl who is a survivor of child abuse. Dennis locks the girls away in a room (and later, separate rooms) in his underground haunt, planning to use them as “sacred food” for the Beast.

Meanwhile, Kevin’s psychologist, Doctor Fletcher, who is an expert on DID, is contacted by email by some of Kevin’s other personalities, because they object to what the three dominant personalities have done. Dennis tries to put Dr Fletcher off the scent, but the good Doctor is wise to this, working out that Denis is trying to hide something.

Dr Fletcher has posited that Kevin’s DID personalities can enable physical changes in his body to match each personality (one of the female personalities is diabetic, for example), and that they may be a potential next step in human evolution. It’s a bit X-men, but you get where the director is going with this.

Eventually, Casey, the final survivor, confronts the Beast, who exhibits unusual strength, wall climbing and an ability to shrug off conventional attacks. The Beast identifies that Casey is a victim of long term abuse like he is (she is “pure”, he says), and escapes.

A surprising scene takes place at the end. Via a slow dolly through a roadside diner as the news reports discuss the outcome, a girl at the bar remembers a similar case from years before with a man in a wheelchair. She can’t remember his name and the camera ends on Bruce Willis, who says his name was “Mister Glass”. Anyone who has seen Unbreakable, will remember that Bruce played an invulnerable man who faced off against Samuel L. Jackson’s Mister Glass. So in effect, Split is a semi-sequel to that movie, and the ending is no doubt setting up a proper sequel to Unbreakable. Say franchise, anybody?

So what was it that didn’t grab me about this movie? It was well directed, with Shyamalan’s Hitchcock obsession apparent in his scene compositions and shots, it was edited well with a suitably eerie soundtrack. James McAvoy was excellent as Kevin (although a little over the top by the end), as was Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey. But something was missing.

I think the problem was the script. Only McAvoy’s and Taylor-Joys’ characters have any meat to them, and even then the scenes are almost ham fisted in their approach. As a result the two girls are killed and we as an audience don’t feel the loss. Although audiences can sympathise with Casey’s abusive past and current plight, by the time she confronts the Beast any concern we should feel is lacking. All the amazing pan shots and skillful edits in the world won’t make up for audience emotional disconnection.

While Casey uses her past as a victim of horrific abuse to advantage over Kevin, it never really leads anywhere. Any form of empowerment she has is whisked away by the end, as she sits in the police car and her abusive uncle arrives to pick her up. There is an expectation that she will do something now, but it fades along with the shot. Any potential transformation for Casey, as a result of both her abusive past and the kidnapping she’s experienced, falls flat.

The Bruce Willis scene seems, on face value, more the case of a director who has reached the end of the road, saying “hey, look! This is like a sequel to one of my good movies.” It’s like Shyamalan admitting he is out of ideas.

And Split is not scary. At no point did the dramatic tension get to a level where I was worried about Casey. In fact, many of the outcomes were telegraphed from early on. I expected the other girls to die. I expected Casey to survive, and I expected her abuse to be the reason why she did.

Split was a disappointing return for M. Night Shyamalan. I expected more, I wanted more, I so wanted this to be good. With the exception of that closing scene setting up the sequel to one of my all-time favourites, the movie ended up being purposeless. It had the potential to make some lasting and important statements about child abuse in modern society and the impact of serious mental health issues, but in the end these became mere plot points (and almost tacky ones at that), with any gravity lost by the time of the b-grade horror movie finale.

I’m hoping that Unbreakable 2 will be a lot better. It better be. I don’t want yet another of the movies of my youth being vandalised by a terrible sequel.

Man of Steel – Superman for a pragmatic generation

I watched Man of Steel the other day, the underrated and divisive Zack Snyder film that reintroduced Superman on film and was the start of the celluloid DC Comics movie universe (known as the DCEU). It had been a while since I’d last seen it, so I thought I’d write a review (as you do), even though it’s somewhat late (like four years).

Henry Cavill stars as Clark Kent/Superman, and aside from being a good English actor who can do a decent American accent, he’s also built like the proverbial brick sh*thouse (Aussie slang meaning he’s big). Apparently he worked out solidly for six months before filming and put on about forty pounds of extra muscle. He’s the first Superman (sorry, Chris Reeve), who has the actual size and build to match the character in the comics. Clark is rocketed to Earth to escape his home planet Krypton’s destruction, grows up with human parents who teach him right and wrong, and eventually defends the planet from an invasion by Kryptonian criminals who survived the extinction of their world.

Amy Adams does a fantastic job as Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lois Lane, and Russell Crowe is suitably stoic as Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian Father. Kevin Costner plays Clark’s human father, stealing his scenes in some deeply emotional flash backs with young Clark. Diane Lane is ideal as Martha Kent and Lawrence Fishburne redefines the role of Perry White, a role he was obviously made for. Michael Shannon plays General Zod, who wants to return the Kryptonian race by converting Earth into Krypton.

Now I know almost everyone loves Superman: the Movie and Superman 2, and for many people Christopher Reeve is the definitive Superman. I loved those movies when they came out, however there were some non-comics things that irked me about them even at a young age. For example, in Superman: the Movie, Superman turns back time by spinning the world backwards, undoing a major earthquake, saving Lois Lane from death and basically meaning he could do literally anything. Mario Puzo, who wrote the original script, advised that time traveling was not in his script, it was added by other scriptwriters later. And it was not a good choice. In effect, it demeaned the value of the characters and the movie itself, by being a deus ex machina plot device. In Superman 2, Superman loses his powers to a Red Sun Chamber in the Fortress of Solitude, so he can have a good time with Lois Lane, then gets them back when he needs to save the world, then reverses the chamber to take away the Kryptonian supervillains powers, whom he then throws into the freezing arctic waters where they die (who says Superman doesn’t kill – I guess it’s convenient in movies). And don’t get me started on the stupid cellophane “S” he uses as a weapon.

Man of Steel is a much more mature take on the Superman story. There’s no time travelling saves, no made up superpowers – in fact this version is probably the closest to the comics the movies have ever been. Man of Steel was pitched by Christopher Nolan (my all-time favourite director, who co-wrote the script with David Goyer) as a first contact movie, which makes a lot of sense. After all, if a guy like Superman was to appear and we found out he was an alien, what would people think, how would they react? They might not necessarily cheer him on at first and would probably be scared. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS), the much-maligned sequel (which is a lot better than its critics suggest), addresses some of this in the news reports and interviews that feature as backdrops to some of the main Superman scenes in that movie, and includes the political and religious implications of a Superman.

Man of Steel has a serious and dark tonality. I like comic book movies taken seriously. I love the Marvel movies, but I understand that Warner Brothers was looking for a different tone when they launched the DCEU. One thing you notice when you watch Man of Steel is that almost every scene is filmed with handheld cameras, and the digital grading used washes out the primary colours, so that it appears more realistic looking – almost like a documentary. This is the effect that Snyder wanted. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly makes the movie look much different to the standard superhero fare.

Man of Steel contains some of the best high-powered superhero fights committed to celluloid. The Kryptonian attack on Smallville is a standout. The impact of super-strength and super-speed on human soldiers and the town is convincingly portrayed, and Superman shows he can fight with the best of them (whereas previous Superman movies have shown the titular character as easily outclassed when he doesn’t have his powers, you can imagine a powerless Man of Steel Superman holding his own).

I like the fact that Lois Lane knows Clark’s identity from the start. In fact, many people in Smallville know he’s got powers. It makes more sense considering he is seen doing things a normal man can’t possibly do. Following up eyewitness accounts is how Lois tracks Clark down.

*** SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie, but want to, don’t read any further ***

One of the things that made the movie so contentious, was the ending. After defeating the Kryptonian invaders, General Zod and Superman duke it out in Metropolis, destroying multiple buildings and a satellite. The Superman most people know should have tried to take the battle away from the city to prevent property damage and possible loss of life.  The explanation is that this is a brasher, younger, inexperienced Superman, who makes mistakes. Of course, Zod had threatened to destroy all humans at this point, so it’s quite possible Superman may not have been able to take the battle elsewhere, even if he wanted to.

Another thing that irks many viewers (especially those who prefer Chris Reeve’s Superman, despite the evidence in Superman 2), is Superman’s choice to break Zod’s neck, when Clark finds he has no other way of preventing Zod from incinerating some civilians. Yes, the comic book Superman has killed supervillains in the past (in fact, a parallel General Zod and Kryptonian villains in a storyline where they had destroyed an alternate Earth and threatened our Earth – it did send Superman a bit crazy, though). A lot of people make out that it’s some easy thing, but if you watch the scene you can see the impact is clear – Superman has not only killed a man, he’s killed the only other member of his race. Now he is truly alone. Luckily Lois is there to pick up the pieces, otherwise Clark may have ended up a basket case.

I haven’t mentioned the music. Hans Zimmer is not known for generic movie soundtracks. The Man of Steel soundtrack is a standout. Yes, I know the John Williams Superman theme can’t be beat, but Zimmer’s take is weighty and resonant, and in keeping with the current version of the character.

So take a look at Man of Steel again. It’s a lot better than you might have been led to believe.

And if you watch the sequel BvS afterwards, make sure you check out the extended edition Blu-ray, which includes a lot of scenes deleted from the original theatrical cut and provides much additional context and motivation for the characters.

Man of Steel presents a Superman for a newer, perhaps more pragmatic, generation. And it does it well.

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