Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters. A movie review.

No spoilers!

If you like oversized beasties ripping buildings apart you’re gonna love this pic. Even the family drama at the centre of the movie was good.

I enjoyed the first Godzilla a few years back, and then Skull Island, the Kong movie set in the same cinematic universe. This sequel works as well as the others, setting up Godzilla as the dude Kong will fight in the next movie. Monarch, the semi-secret monster-hunting organisation is back, this time with husband and wife scientists (Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler) and their daughter (Millie Bobbie Brown) working with them. There’s a new eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) determined to set the various ubermonsters free and return the planet to a more natural state, but one of the Titans turns out to be more than Monarch can handle.

One problem—Monarch, an almost faceless organisation, is the human link between all the movies, but none of the recognisable characters stay for long, so there’s no one for viewers to emotionally connect with over time (something the Marvel movies do so well). The character development and acting in Godzilla 2 is great, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to just have a big monster as the thing that brings audiences back each time. I’m hoping some of the faces in this movie will be back for Godzilla vs Kong, because we need some likeable ongoing human characters to root for.

Godzilla 2 was enjoyable and well worth a watch. The special effects were amazing! I’m just hoping the connective tissue between these movies becomes a little more recognisable.

Rating: B

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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. A movie review.

No spoilers!

I hate Pokémon. But my son dragged me to see this because of his lifelong obsession with the cute and annoying cartoon creatures, and I have to say…it wasn’t that bad.

Pokémon-less Tim (Justice Smith) finds out his estranged dad has died in a car accident and travels to Ryme City, where Pokémon live in harmony with humans. Most humans bond with a Pokémon, but not Tim. He meets Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) in his father’s apartment and after breathing a strange gas, realises he can understand what Pikachu says. Pikachu believes Tim’s father is still alive, so they team up.

What can I say about this movie? It’s definitely for kids or lifelong fans. The Pokémon are nicely realised in 3D animation next to their live action counterparts. They’re not as annoying as the cartoons where trainers throw pokeballs at each other and the doofus creatures fight (although there is a scene like that to keep longterm fans happy). There are a few amusing jokes along the way (it seems Reynolds is destined to do his Deadpool-shtick for the rest of his acting career – this version is a lot tamer, of course). The CGI is good, the creatures are cute and cuddly, there’s some cliches and a few nice twists in the story.

Whilst I’m not a fan, I didn’t mind sitting through Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. My son lapped it up. And he’s not exactly a kid anymore.

Rating: C (my son and other big kids who don’t want to grow up: B)

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John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. A movie review.

No spoilers!

I’m a big fan of the John Wick movies. JW3 is another fine entry in the violent action series.

Keanu Reeves is back as John Wick, the almost-retired hit man who loves his dead wife and wreaks bloody vengeance on, well, pretty much everyone over the death of the dog she left him. JW3 starts where JW2 left off: the High Table of assassins has excommunicated him and he needs to get out of New York fast in order to survive. This leads to lots of murder and mayhem, with Wick disposing of various assassins in new and gruesome ways. JW3 is all about loyalty and the consequences of Wick’s actions in previous films. There’s even a sly Matrix joke.

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There’s a bit more world building about the High Table, some new characters, some new twists and a set up for the next movie (how unexpected), but don’t expect searing dialogue and multi-textured layers of meaning. That’s not what these films are about.

The JW franchise has prided itself on its use of practical effects and wonderfully visceral fight sequences. There are several action set pieces in JW3 and Keanu continues to perform many of the fight scenes himself. But age is catching up with him and in JW3 there’s more use of stunt doubles and CGI than previously. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just an observation. There seems to be more guys getting punched and kicked in the balls than ever before, but maybe I just noticed it more this time around (there’s lots of crossed-leg moments in this film, especially when the dogs come out—for guys, anyway).

JW3 is great. Wick punches, kicks, throws and shoots his way out of trouble. And back into it. I’ll be back for the next one.

Rating: B+

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Avengers Endgame. A movie review.

Avengers Endgame has been hyped to the nth degree, and for good reason: it’s really good.

The Marvel Studios movie universe has been going for 11 years. 22 movies later, and Endgame arrives as part 2 of the Infinity War saga, and a movie that keeps most of the fans happy. I say most, because not everyone will like the way some of their favourite heroes are treated.

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I loved Endgame, but not because of the huge superhero battles, convoluted time travel plots, occasional plot holes and over-hyped appearances (yep, Captain Marvel is a blink or you’ll miss her opportunity at several points. It appears the only reason she was hyped so much was to sell her solo movie, as her impact on Endgame is negligible). I loved Endgame for the emotional character moments, of which there are many. This movie delivers these in a big way, with gravitas, sensitivity and poignancy. Yes, there is a fair bit of humour (some of which falls flat), and some characters (two in particular) have been transformed into shadows of their former selves, but Endgame really delivers as a bookend to 11 years of superhero movies. Several character arcs are given very satisfying conclusions. If you’re not a wee bit teary by the last scene then you’re obviously heartless.

Avengers Endgame delivers on the hype. This is the kind of movie that makes me happy to be a superhero fan. It has massive moments, dark moments, bright moments and emotional moments, and provides satisfactory closure to the storylines of several major characters. For people only seeing a Marvel movie for the first time, it will be confusing and probably lack the emotional investment required to really experience this movie at its best, but for fans, this is the superhero piece de resistance.

Bravo Marvel Studios. I predict Avengers Endgame will get a best movie Oscar, similar to the way Return of the King won for the Lord of the Rings series. You heard it here first.

Rating: A+ (Non-fans seeing a Marvel movie for the first time: B)

 

 

The Curse of the Weeping Woman. A movie review.

The Curse of La Llorona, or The Curse of the Weeping Woman as it’s called for Australian release, is an okay horror movie that does its best to scare you with a rejigged ghost story that’s fun to watch but fairly shallow and somewhat forgettable.

I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, as I tend to compare them to my fave, The Grudge, which was actually scary. It’s not often that I’m surprised by a horror genre flick, and The Curse of the Weeping Woman is no exception. Sure, there are a few jump scares (okay, I jumped once), but this ‘ghost coming for your children’ story seems a bit old hat, and not just because it’s set in 1973.

The actors are good—the mother and kids are especially great at displaying fear and shock. The practical effects are effective and it’s only when the director decided to use CGI at the end that the effects suffer.

This movie is loosely part of The Conjuring universe, although you don’t need to be a fan of that series to see this one. The Curse of the Weeping Woman is an okay horror movie, which Conjuring completists may enjoy more.

Rating: C (Conjuring fans C+)

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Shazam! A movie review.

Shazam! is an enjoyable, feel-good superhero movie reminiscent of 80’s family flicks.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a resourceful orphan looking for the mother he was separated from many years before. Placed with a new and quirky foster family, he meets Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), foster brother and roommate, who is obsessed with superheroes. After fighting some bullies, Billy escapes via the subway and is magically transported to the cave of the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who grants him superpowers and transforms him into his adult champion, Captain Marvel – oh, sorry, we can’t call him that anymore due to legal niceties (Zachary Levi). His job is to fight the seven deadly sins, who have chosen their own champion in Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Shazam! has a fun premise: what happens when a kid becomes an adult with superpowers? It’s Big for superheroes, and a lot of the humour comes from Zachary Levi learning to use his powers (and abuse them, as any kid in an adult’s body probably would). Along the way he learns responsibility and respect, and it’s no spoiler to say he eventually saves the day (it’s a superhero movie, after all). There are a few unexpected surprises along the way, though…

Director David F. Sandberg and his very diverse cast look like they had a ball. The script is playful and inventive, and sufficiently different from other superhero movies to make this one stand out (DC writer Geoff Johns has his creative footprints all over it). It’s funny, nostalgic (with 80’s references galore), and also demonstrates it is very much part of the existing DC extended universe (DCEU), with numerous character references and a surprise cameo. It didn’t require me to use my brain at all (I generally prefer my superhero films more complex) and I laughed a lot. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in the Trump-infested mire of today’s world.

I enjoyed this movie. It’s one for the family, who can all leave their brains at the door and have a nostalgic and wacky time.

Rating: B

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Glass. A movie review.

Minor spoilers!

Glass is the sequel to Unbreakable and Split. It’s the culmination of one journey and the start of another. It’s really good, and deserves more appreciation than it’s gotten from some critics.

M. Night Shyamalan is an auteur director with a reputation for ‘twist’ endings and a distinctly uneven quality to his releases over the years. Unbreakable starred Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a man discovering superpowers and coming to terms with his true purpose, aided by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Elijah, who believed superhero comics were a mythological representation of real events and people. The film premiered in 2000 as superhero movies were making their comeback and starting to dominate screens. Unbreakable was quiet, deliberate and allegorical. And under-appreciated by critics and the box office.

Split was a more recent (2016) conventional horror/thriller which showcased James McAvoy’s wonderful range as serial killer Kevin Crumb, a man with 23 personalities who could call forth the super-powerful ‘Beast’. Whilst it could have been deeper, it took a more conventional approach and did well at the box office. And included a final reveal that it was set in the Unbreakable ‘universe’. My initial impressions of Split were lukewarm, per my review in early 2017, but this has improved somewhat on consecutive viewings.

The scene was set for a sequel to both, bringing the best elements of the two movies together and providing a fitting conclusion to a trilogy that wasn’t really a trilogy (it’s now referred to as the ‘Eastrail 177’ trilogy, in relation to events from the first movie).

Glass brings together all the major characters from the two prior films. And it does this well, affording each character reasonable screen time to establish their current status quo and motivations. The first act sees David Dunn confronting The Beast. The second act takes place in a psychiatric institution, where David, Kevin and Elijah are assessed by psychiatrist Ellie (Sarah Paulson), who attempts to convince them they are merely human. The third act is the final showdown between the protagonists, with a setup for future movies in the same universe.

Glass succeeds admirably as a sequel. On its own, however, it doesn’t have individual narrative strength—those who have seen the previous movies may appreciate it (as I did), but newbies may find themselves at a bit of a loss without the context of the previous films.

Don’t expect this to be a Marvel-style movie, just because it’s about superheroes. It’s a serious take, and it works. There’s a time and a place for mindless, humorous superhero antics, but Glass is not one of them. Glass is thought-provoking, dark and visceral. The acting, script, direction and music are top notch and show what superhero movies could be if the current mainstream gave intelligent superhero dramas a chance.

I loved Glass. I didn’t find the second act dragged. I didn’t feel any character received short shrift. I felt the movie was balanced in its storyline, and the dialogue was good, in keeping with the prequels. Shyamalan is a stylish director, who can deliver fine films when he puts his mind to it. Smaller budgets appear to have reined in his excesses, and this “franchise” looks like having feet for some time to come.

Rating: B+ (if you haven’t seen the two prior films: C)

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. A movie review.

The best superhero movie I’ve seen. Ever.

Miles Morales is a school student trying to fit in at a new prep school. He is bitten by a radioactive spider while practising his graffiti art one night (one of the same experimental spiders that bit Peter Parker), and stumbles upon Spider-Man battling Kingpin. We’re entering spoiler territory to say more. Suffice to say there is a parallel universe motif and lots of Spider-Men/Women.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the Spider-Man movie that fans have been waiting for. Not only does it have amazing, ground breaking animation and visuals, it has a fun and engaging story with an endearing emotional core, cool characters and more comic book references than you can poke a stick at. In fact, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the closest thing you’ll get to a living, breathing comic book—not only does the animation reflect this stylistically, with shading, onscreen sound effects, panels and narrative boxes, but it also features comic book covers, references to real comic book writers/artists and origin stories and costumes dragged straight from the source. It demonstrates how Spider-Man can be done right, and makes you wonder why Sony has continually dropped the ball with so many of its previous attempts. It also references the Sam Raimi movies very nicely, making this a spiritual successor to the original Spider-Man movie trilogy.

I only had one issue with the film: during some of the action scenes the mix of music and sound effects made some of the dialogue difficult to hear. No problem, really, as I’ll be seeing this again and buying the blu-ray.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is a fantastic superhero movie—a must-see for comic book fans and eminently watchable for those who aren’t.

Rating: A

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Mortal Engines. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Mortal Engines is enjoyable, with nice ideas, great design and big effects, but ultimately is overly reliant on cliched plot points.

London is a futuristic steampunk city on wheels that travels the countryside consuming smaller towns for resources. Tom (Robert Sheehan) is a Londoner historian who gets mixed up in an assassination attempt on bad guy Valentine (Hugo Weaving) by Hester (Hera Hilmar). Valentine is plotting bad stuff and it’s up to Tom and Hester to save the day, travelling across the post-apocalyptic countryside and finding friends and foes as they do.

Mortal Engines is based on the young adult book series by Phillip Reeve. The script is by Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens, the husband and wife team that brought us The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and while they stay true to some of the first book, they diverge significantly in other areas—probably more than most fans would like. A few story elements appear to have been dumbed-down and some overtly political subtext injected. There are a number of plot cliches we’ve seen before and they stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. This doesn’t benefit the movie.

Whilst I enjoyed most of Mortal Engines, what I liked the most was Weta Workshop’s amazing design work and the prolific use of real sets. There’s lots of lovely CGI on display, of course, which, aside from some poor compositing in two scenes, is of a high standard.

Mortal Engines is not the best adaption of a YA book I’ve seen (the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies remain the gold standard), but it’s good looking and fun. Just ignore some of the ham-fisted cliches that pepper the plot.

Rating: C

Widows. A movie review.

Widows is a remake of a British TV series from some years ago, based on the book by Lynda la Plante. It’s stylishly directed, well written, brilliantly acted, but leaves you feeling somewhat flat by the end as a consequence of its dark tone and focus.

Widows is a heist movie featuring moments of great melancholy (Viola Davis’s character Veronica is mourning the loss of her son and her husband; the other widows are grieving their respective partners), incredible selfishness and greed (the local gang, alderman and pastor are corrupt and criminal) and stark contrasts (rich vs. poor, black vs. white). It doesn’t pull its punches.

Veronica’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), is a career criminal who is killed, along with his crew, after robbing a local Chicago gang of $2million. The gang leader (Brian Tyree Henry) and local alderman-to-be (Colin Farrell) are at loggerheads as they are both running for election and there’s more than a little corruption behind the scenes. The gang leader knows Harry stole the money and wants Veronica to pay it back. Veronica uses Harry’s notes to plan a heist, but needs the widows of Harry’s crew to help her.

The script is excellent, with enough twists to keep you hooked; the direction by Steve McQueen is superbly fluid; the acting is great – Viola Davis steals every scene she’s in, of course, although she’s becoming somewhat stereotyped as the ‘hard nosed b$&@$ with a soft side’.

It’s not perfect: there are a few too many coincidences holding the plot together; having so many characters sometimes detracts from the titular widows’ stories, downplayed in favour of the political and gangland dramas; the widows’ individual arcs seem a bit rushed, a consequence of editing to reduce running time, I suspect; overall, most of the characters are largely unsympathetic and don’t really grow as people by the end of the movie. This doesn’t make for a bad film, more a slightly unsatisfying one. I think it might have worked better as a mini-series.

There are few uplifting moments in this film – it mirrors the inherent darkness of modern society, at times dragging on you like an anchor. By the end you’re almost glad it’s over, but you’re still impressed by the quality of the journey.

Widows is a well-made, well-acted drama that deserves your time. Just don’t expect it to be a wholly pleasant one.

Rating: B

Laidback Movie Reviews: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

* Claire Foy is great in everything (witness her dramatic turns in First Man and The Crown), including this. A shame the script leaves her little to work with.
* Abundant cliches and criminally poor use of the Millenium series’ usually prominent supporting characters makes this movie more pedestrian than it should have been. If I have to see another movie with an all powerful device that controls all nuclear missiles (or alternatively, some other ridiculous deus ex machina device, like something that controls all of the internet or every cappuccino machine in the world), I’ll scream.
* There are a few good action sequences—the “sniping through walls” scene was tense and well done.
* The trailer gave away the main villain, something I really hate. The “family member assumed long dead is the bad guy” cliche is really overused. Any attempt to explore the more subtle and hard hitting character issues are quickly pushed aside to drive forward the average plot.

Rating: C-

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

* J K Rowling demonstrates she’s a wonderful author who’s still learning how to write screenplays. Better pacing, editing and less exposition would be nice; movies are a different medium to books and need to engage the audience in other ways. This film is more world building and set up for the rest of the series, rather than a movie in itself.
* Nice to see Hogwarts again.
* Great special effects and action set pieces. Some welcome character development for Newt and the supporting characters.
* Paradoxically, I enjoyed this one more than the first Fantastic Beasts movie. It makes me want to see the next in the series, so I guess it succeeded in what it set out to do.

Rating: C+

First Man. A movie review.

First Man is, hands down, the best movie I have seen in the last five years. It’s in my top 10 movies of all time. It’s that good.

First Man is the story of America’s race to get a man on the moon before the Soviets in the 1960’s. But more than that, it’s the very personal story of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) coming to terms with the loss of his daughter, and his wife (Claire Foy) facing her husband’s emotional distance and the prospect of losing him at any moment.

Armstrong is isolated and driven, and First Man brings this home in dramatically awkward fashion—he interacts with friends, workmates and family, and never connects in any real way. He’s methodical and smart, his emotionless level-headedness ideal for missions. Gosling gives a suitably understated performance, with Foy matching him in intensity.

Director Damien Chazelle has created a work of filmic art. The opening flight scene and those in space are incredibly harrowing. The ancient tech and DIY feel of the rockets makes you wonder how the astronauts got anywhere—it’s not surprising there were so many fatalities. The use of handheld video camera gives the movie a documentary feel, with many scenes filmed in intense close up, emphasising the intimacy and tension.

First Man is not for those who thought Venom was a smart film. It’s intense, painful, gripping, intelligent and moving. It’s everything good movies should be, and it needs to be seen on the big screen.

Rating: A+

Lazy Movie Reviews: The Predator and Venom

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

The Predator

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

Rating: D

Venom

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

Rating: D+

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

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

Crazy Rich Asians

• Bright and colourful Singapore setting

• Conventional story with average acting

• Much of the humour falls flat

• Some great actors wasted in minor roles

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

Rating: C-

Teen Titans Go to the Movies

• A cartoon that often seems more for adults than kids

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

• Very funny at times, only the occasional fart jokes

• Gorgeous and bright animation

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

Rating: B

The Happytime Murders. A movie review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: E

Mission Impossible: Fallout. A movie review.

Negligible spoilers!

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: C+

The Breaker Upperers. A movie review.

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: B

New Movie Trailers!

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

Here are the newest trailers to geek out to:

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

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Skyscraper. A movie review.

No spoilers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: C+

Ant-Man and the Wasp. A movie review.

No spoilers!

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: C+

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. A movie review.

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: C+

Incredibles 2. A movie review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: C+

Solo. A movie review.

No spoilers!

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

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

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

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

Rating: B+  

Tag. A movie review.

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

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

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

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

Rating: C

Deadpool 2. A movie review.

No spoilers here!

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

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

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

Rating: B+

Life of the Party. A movie review.

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

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

life of the party

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  

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-

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.

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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

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+

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