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

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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+

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

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…

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.      

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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