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+

Adele – 25. Sing ‘em loud! A Review.

I’m a big fan of Adele. She has an amazing range to her voice and the tone has an earthy, time worn quality to it. She also revels in songs about lost love, which, being the sad sack that I am, I’m particularly fond of. So if you’re not a fan, you may as well click away now, as this will not be an unbiased review. Just saying.

I guess almost everyone in the world has 21, Adele’s sophomore album that blew minds with its dark and swaggering vocals and 60’s aesthetic. 25 is the follow up (all of her album titles reflect her age when the album was produced – I guess she’s not going to change that in a hurry). As usual, she has surrounded herself with great musicians and co-writes all of the songs. Adele has a capacity to take a fairly simple song and turn it into an emotive tale of longing and pathos that manages to take hold of your brain and not let go.

There are 11 songs on the album, all soaring ballads and torch songs. Hello is the big hit that everybody has probably heard way too many times by now. Send My Love, Water Under The Bridge and River Lea get a bit funky. I Miss You and Sweetest Devotion are boldly percussive. Melancholic piano strains fire up When We Were Young, Remedy, Love In The Dark and All I Ask, and the sensitive acoustic filigree of Million Years Ago is hauntingly sweet. This album never really steers a foot wrong.

Let me be clear: this is not an adventurous experiment that takes Adele out of her comfort zone. Adele has a formula that works and fans love it. We’ll be singing out loud accompanying these songs until the next album rolls around.

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.

Guardians of the Galaxy – 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. 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.

Versatile Blogger Award Nomination – Woo hoo! Cheers and thank you 😊

Having just gotten over the excitement of being nominated for the Awesome Blogger Award (read about it here), I was surprised and excited to find I’d been nominated the next day by Sonyo Estavillo from https://lilpickmeup.com/ for another, the Versatile Blogger Award. I’m only able to post this now as I have been doing assignments, seeing movies, posting other (shorter) stuff, researching blogs to nominate and generally screwing up my life (as I usually do each waking moment of my day).

Being the humble person that I am (NOT!), I was delighted to receive this nomination and thank Sonyo from the bottom of my heart (which is not bottomless, but it’s pretty deep – see what I did there, not quite hidden double meaning. Sometimes I just impress myself. And only myself. I told you I’m not humble).

So before I dig myself deeper into a hole of egomania countered by self-deprecation and self-loathing, let’s talk about the award rules and who I’ve nominated…

The Rules:

The rules say to thank the person who nominated you (also providing a link to their blog), nominate 10 blogs you feel should be awarded, and then share seven interesting facts about yourself.

The 10 blogs I’m nominating for the Versatile Blogger Award:

My apologies if you’ve already received it or don’t feel like participating.

 Seven Interesting Things About Me:

I’m not sure if these qualify as interesting, but what the hey, I’ll give it a go:

  1. I’m very fit, if I do say so myself – I work out regularly with free weights, 4-5 times a week, including walking, bike riding and other stuff (yes, I post about it, too. Last one was here). I do Wing Chun Kung Fu (you can read about that here). I’m healthier now than I have been at any other time in my life (including my very active 20’s). Unfortunately, the offset of that is I’m probably going through the unhappiest time in my life, but the exercise helps to keep my depression in check, so it all balances out…sort of.
  2. I always have about ten books on the go at any one time – I loooooove to read. Goes hand in hand with the writing thing. How do I keep up with them all? That’s a good question. Bookmarks, mostly.
  3. I loooove RPGs – what’s an RPG, I hear you say? To answer that, click here. I DM a group regularly, and it’s lots of fun. If you’ve never played, give it a go. You will be pleasantly surprised at how fun nerd stuff can be. Yeah, I’m a big nerd. A fit one, though.
  4. I like to make up stupid nonsense words – Certainly not to make myself sound smarter. More to make me look stupidlier (yep – new word). Which isn’t hard.
  5. I am a full time mature-age student with next to no social life – What’s this? A student with next to no social life?! Unheard of! Well, it’s true. On top of my ongoing depression I have loads of anxiety issues. And not many friends. See, this blog has cheered you up already, because you secretly realise you’re so much better than me. See? My blog is a ‘feel good’ blog.
  6. I am a true romantic – yeah, it’s true. Walking on the beach at sunset. Romantic candlelit dinners. Spoiling my partner (when I have one). I’m particularly good at buying presents (it’s a real skill, y’know). I cry in sensitive movies. I love blokey stuff, but like girly stuff, too. Yes, I’m as confused as you are about that. Maybe it’s some male menopause thing…
  7. I loooooooove movies – If I could live permanently in a movie theatre, existing on nothing else other than popcorn, I’d be as happy as a pig in you-know-what. I would have a little batch of bedding and a shelf of books (for when the movies aren’t showing), and be that lovable hermit over near the wall who never leaves. Come to think of it, that sounds more like something from a Stephen King novel…

Hmmm. I’ve just realised this is starting to sound like some sort of dating blog (Noooooooooo!!!).

Once again, thanks Sonyo for the nomination! Much appreciated!

Cheers 😊

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