Monday, 19 March 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

The first time I saw this movie I couldn't really review it properly, I needed more time, I needed to see it again. Truth be told I disliked it on my first viewing...but there were elements I liked. Surely this couldn't be strike two for the new Star Wars trilogy? (I disliked 'The Force Awakens' also). Well this was my second viewing and I now feel I can get into this fully. Thing is, there is literally so much I could say about this movie it could possibly go on and on. So this time I'm gonna go with a slightly new layout. I'm simply gonna list my thoughts in sections and try to keep them as tight as possible.

General Hux and the beginning: Twas this opening sequence that really bemused and worried me right away (as it did with many). Hux was a relatively solid slimy character introduced in the previous movie. All the trappings of a weaselly baddie. Alas here he has seemingly been reduced to an actual jokey comedic character that could so easily have been torn from the pages of a spoof. The first real dialog we get is an absolutely horrendous back and forth between Hux and Poe. Poe mocking Hux with his communications tomfoolery, or as we in reality call it, a lame mobile (cell) phone gag.

Poe bravely tries to bring down a First Order (Empire) dreadnought during the first space battle. Unfortunately things aren't going too well and the Resistance (Rebels) are being slaughtered. The rebels have one last bomber and one chance to hit their target. In the nick of time the rebel pilot is able to drop the bombs, but how can bombs 'drop' when in space? What about TIE Bombers you say? Well I always thought TIE Bombers fired their bombs downward, like torpedoes essentially, but straight down. That's just me. Also, if you look closely the bomber hangar doors are already open when the pilot triggers the bombs. How was she not sucked out into space?

Princess Leia: Oh boy! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! We've all heard about this now but I can't just ignore it. Yes we know Leia has force abilities (as we saw in Bespin), and we know its entirely possible she has grown stronger with the force since then. That aside, its still almost impossible to get past how stupid this entire sequence looked and felt. To make matters even worse, when she flies/floats back to the ship, there was no airlock. The rebels simply open the flippin' door! Everyone would have been sucked out into space in a matter of seconds for flips sake. Oh and while we're at it, she suffered absolutely no injuries whilst getting blown out of the exploding ships bridge. No burns, cuts, broken bones, nothing. I'm not even sure how those TIE torpedoes got through the ships shields, I guess they were special torpedoes?

Then there is of course the flip side to this stupid scene. Unfortunately Carrie Fisher died in 2016 which naturally caused issues for the film. This scene was the perfect ending for Princess Leia under these circumstances. The fact that Fisher is no longer with us surely cemented that. But apparently not, apparently Johnson thought it better to bring her back and give the next director a real headache. The only thing I can think of is they have a large amount of pre-shot footage which they know they can flesh out into the next story. But if that's the case it sure as hell limits things drastically. Oh and they also killed Admiral Ackbar off-screen here too, you bastards!

Anch-To and Luke: Adrift in a cold sea on an oceanic planet, this small windswept circular rocky island houses the first Jedi temple and the tree library of the sacred Jedi texts. The inhabitants of this small island? Small cutesy flightless (I think) bird-like creatures that get everywhere. And 'the caretakers', dwarf sized toad-like creatures that appear to dress like century old nuns. Both races are completely unexplained and are completely useless to the plot. The Porgs merely serve as fluffy comedic relief, whilst the caretakers look like they belong in a 'Labyrinth' sequel. The only creature we briefly see that grabbed my attention was the sea monster breaking the surface in the background.

As with the Leia controversy I'm sure everyone now knows about the Luke controversy. Apart from milking large alien sea mammals for blue milk and generally being a grouch, there was also the lightsaber tossing moment. I'm not gonna dwell on it...but yes it was totally a 'fuck you' to the fanbase from director Rian Johnson. It was also a pathetic Disneyfied attempt at light humour. They basically used a powerful emotional moment in the plot for a quick laugh. Oh it was a plot twist you say? Keep em'.

Canto Bight: Ugh! Sorry just raising my head outta my hands. Well I guess if anyone wanted something more akin to a Lucas movie this was it. Alas more akin to the worst of the Lucas prequels. Yep this entire subplot was completely unnecessary and really ugly looking. A super rich casino city located on planet Cantonica, its packed with super rich alien lifeforms and humans (most of whom appeared to be white? Even all the city police were white men, interesting). Anyway this was the segment where Johnson (under orders of Disney I assume) added the core liberal commentary on our present day society. War profiteering, animal cruelty, slavery etc...its all here, all the juicy stuff. Unfortunately most average people don't wanna  see this kind of stuff crowbarred into a Star Wars movie, not so blatantly for no real reason anyway. At least try with some flippin' subtly. It was really no surprise that this subplot surrounded the new character of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who herself was the epitome of a token politically correct character.

DJ (Benicio del Toro): Another very pointless character if you ask me. Stupid name, stupid way of talking. I suppose he's the Lando of the movie, I wouldn't be surprised if he pops up again. Main question surrounding him, I wonder just who did that ship he pinched belong to. The owner of which was selling ships to both the Resistance and First Order. A possible set up for later on?

Snoke: So he dies, yeah that went nowhere or so we think. I didn't mind that he died (a decent twist for me) but the way it happened seemed silly to me. This bloke is all powerful with the dark side but couldn't detect Kylo Ren moving a lightsaber that was inches from his person?? I guess Kylo could have clouded his mind or whatever but wouldn't he detect that too? I dunno. Plus his personal guards seemed to be useless. Rey showing her invincibility again...despite being revealed as a nobody. Oh and neither Rey nor Kylo actually use any force powers in that fight, eh?

Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern): In short, a very unlikeable character who looked like a middle aged woman having a midlife crisis (the purple hair). At first it literally seemed like she was just there to put the men (the flyboys) in their place with a show of Disney backed feminism (anyone else notice that both the Resistance and First Order seem to have had a major female recruitment campaigns? I'm fine with the ladies in here but Jesus talk about beyond obvious). Amazingly it turns out that Poe's plans were the wrong route after all and Holdo was in fact correct (another decent twist). The problem is, by the time this happens I was so against Holdo that it just didn't matter anymore. They made her so unlikeable that it was too late to turn that around. Oh and all this technology but a major ship doesn't have autopilot? Really?

Yoda: Very cool (hehe) but why not Ben? Or Anakin? Or Qui-Gon? And force ghosts can now do stuff? They can make things happen in the realms of the living? And again another case of Johnson trying to throw out Star Wars lore and legend by having Yoda destroy the Jedi texts (although we see later they weren't...somehow).

Crait: Ah the Hoth battle bit. I guess it was too hard for Johnson and co not to copy the original trilogy. Seeing as before this we had a copy of the Emperor's throne room with Luke from 'Return of the Jedi' (Kylo, Rey and Snoke). And a copy of the asteroid sequence with the Falcon from 'Empire Strikes Back' (Falcon in the Crait caves). Anyway this time the Resistance have about 15 people left (although in the next shot we see dozens more soldiers outta nowhere), and they're up against an even bigger force from the First Order. Same layout as before, the Resistance base door behind a long trench with a few gun turrets.

Salt!: Yes that's right, random Resistance fighter #5 luckily points out for us that the surface of Crait (or that area) is covered in salt. Just in case you mistook it for snow. You know, just in case you thought they were trying to copy the Hoth battle (insert eye roll here). Thing is, why did he do that? He could of killed himself, its an alien planet, you don't just stick random things in your mouth for Pete's sake. Is this the new Ridley Scott method of alien world exploration?

The First Order use around 10 brand new AT-M6 walkers (with a few older AT-AT's for some reason), TIE's, Kylo's shuttle, and superlaser siege cannon. The Resistance use these old speeders (V-4X-D) which required a sort of rudder that stabilised them. I guess they must have been very old designs? The battle is indeed a fun highlight but is utterly stupid as the goodies should of been wiped out in minutes. In fact its so stupid I'm not even sure what they were attempting to do with those speeders. They certainly didn't have firepower to take on the walkers and they couldn't shoot at the TIE's. Its also here where Finn should of died in an emotional sacrificial moment of heroism...but he's saved by that idiot Rose which in turn gave the First Order the victory. Obviously Disney weren't ever gonna kill off their main minority actors, pish posh!

Luke (again): So Luke dies...but why? It is shown Luke is using force projection to confront Kylo (a controversial aspect in itself). Are we to presume he was exhausted after using this power? So much so that he died? Maybe this ability is so powerful that it drains the users life force. Maybe that's why we've never seen it before? Maybe only the strongest most force sensitive Jedi can do it? Kinda makes you wonder why no one has ever used it before. Ben Kenobi could have used it against Vader when confronting him on the Death Star (if strong enough). Ditto Yoda against Count Dooku etc...Also have to ask why he projected himself looking younger, for Leia's sake?

To sum up, looking closer this is really 'Empire Strikes Back', its just not as obvious. Rebels discovered, Rebels run away, Rebels pursued, Rebels lose in the end. What's funny is most of this movie is in fact a very slow chase between two very slow moving ships. And this is the first time we've heard about fuel issues in Star Wars also. A few other final little things. Phasma, what was the point? (and why don't all troopers wear her laser proof armour yet?). Nien Nunb's mask still doesn't look as good as the 83 version, how???!!! What the hell was all that crap with multiple Rey's in that hole? And what was that hole suppose to be? (other than another scene copied from EST. Luke in the cave on Dagobah). And the final sequence with that kid and his broom, kinda felt like another prequel-esque moment. Is this kid gonna be important?

Did I like this new Star Wars movie? No, I liked bits, and when I say bits I mean bits. I liked the visuals, they were generally a massive improvement over 'The Force Awakens'. I genuinely loved the small chase sequence inside a huge Crait cave with TIE's hot on the Falcon's tail. Not only did this look great, it had some classic Chewie piloting moments plus some actual amusing interactions with the Porgs (dunno why Chewie would allow them to stay on the ship but whatever). The fact this sequence also had some John Williams classic Star Wars score along with it almost brought me to tears. I liked Snoke and his death (yup). Twas cool to see a big baddie go down so quickly and easily, unique. I also liked the First Order presence on Crait as it looked badass, alas nothing much happens with it.

But overall I was again disappointed with the final product although I will say I did enjoy it just that little more than 'The Force Awakens'. I'm really not so sure what they're gonna do going forward and the fact Abrams is back doesn't fill me with confidence.


Friday, 16 March 2018

Geostorm (2017)

Oh my what do we have here?? Did we suddenly quantum leap back to the mid 90's???

So, its 2022 and technology has apparently advanced quite a bit. The Earth is now surrounded by a man made net of satellites which can basically control the weather. Up in orbit there is also an international space station that controls said net of satellites. Bottom line, its a global effort by mankind to try and protect the planet (of course when I say global that doesn't include every country, ahem). There's just one tiny problem, not all humans are nice, not all humans are on the same page. And so the net (called 'Dutch Boy' in reference to an 1865 fictional story) is hacked and used to cause natural disasters around the world. Enter the net designer Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), who is tasked to solve the problem and essentially save the world. The end.

Some of you might think this is just a silly disaster flick, and you'd be right to a degree. But this movie is in fact more of a political thriller mixed with a disaster flick element. The natural disasters we see are in fact triggered and created by the man made satellites, which are in turn started by the evil saboteurs. So its not really man vs mother nature, its man vs man using mother nature as a weapon. To be truthful the idea isn't actually that bad, its just a bit dated. A Pierce Brosnan Bond plot type of dated.

Luckily everyone in the movie acts so seriously, so butch and stoic with their grimaces and steely eyed stares, you can rest assure that everything will work out just fine. Obviously our tough hero Jake Lawson won't die, you think he might (and really he should have, multiple times), but he doesn't. But its really quite amusing and so very 90's how the actors deliver their lines which such ridiculous levels of attitude; trying their best to look and sound as cool as possible as they glare into the camera. I think Jim Sturgess (Max Lawson) is the most guilty of this. He really shows-off all the cliched action movie facial expressions and poses. Its like everyone watched 'Armageddon' before they started filming.

That being said what do you get? Well pretty much everything really, the full gamut of disaster porn. Huge tidal waves, electrical storms, massive hailstones, a firenado, a freezing ice storm, the ground being torn open to reveal what I presume was lava etc...There are lots of sequences which show innocent people getting killed in lots of various ways; including massive carnage to buildings and property.

The action is of course all CGI which ranges from good to average. Whilst the sequences in space look totally fine but nothing amazing, they are by far the best looking parts of the movie. Almost all of the disaster action on Earth looks like CGI. To top that the sequences all look like they've been copied and pasted from other movies such as 'Deep Impact'. You wanna see city skylines get washed away (or frozen, or knocked over) by giant tidal waves? Its all here folks...again. The actual action is simply predictable as feck. Again from seeing other disaster movies you can pretty much guess what's gonna happen.

But one of the main issues with the action, like other disaster movies, is the fact its all so utterly stupid. Whilst trying to obtain a piece of data lodged in the space stations structure via a spacewalk, Jake's spacesuit goes out of control. He is flung all over the place crashing into the space station causing massive amounts of damage...yet he and his suit remain perfectly intact. On Earth whilst natural disasters are occurring specific characters are able to avoid the carnage around them and outrun pending doom in a car. How many times have we seen that? Then in the finale Jake and his new fellow scientist lady friend are both able to avoid masses of space debris flying around as the space station blows up around them. They both make it to a remaining intact satellite (via spacewalking I might add) which also manages to avoid all the deadly debris.

Then to top if all of nicely the last intact satellite pod (why would a satellite be able to house two adult humans inside?) is picked up by a space shuttle...that just happened to be flying by? Seriously was this shuttle just off to the side waiting for the explosion to happen and subside so it could search for potential survivors inside satellite pods?? And while we're at it, why couldn't the self destruct be turned off?? The reason for having one was valid enough, but what about an abort option people?? I also found it quite cute how the person in charge of a countries satellite seemed to be from that country. Like, would NASA (or whoever) go to the trouble of finding a Japanese person to put in charge of the satellite that controls Japans weather?? So the Peru satellite is controlled by a Peruvian person, and the Nepal satellite is controlled by a Nepalese person etc...I mean I know political correctness is hyperbolic these days but Jesus Christ come on!

Despite all that nonsense I gotta be honest and say I actually quite enjoyed this movie. It did exactly what it said on the tin. I was engaged and I found it quite exciting even though it was highly predictable. Yes its not a great movie, but its nowhere near as bad as people are making it out to be. I've said this before about certain movies, had this been released around 1995 or 1996, I think it would have been a reasonable hit. It would have fit in perfectly for the era, although it might have suffered from genre overload. These days of course this type of movie is practically dead, milked dry (almost solely by Devlin and Emmerich). But if disaster porn is your thing don't let that put you off because this really isn't all that bad, for what it is.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie (2017)

So after a very very long hiatus (15 years) Arnold and his friends are back to tie everything up in a nice bow. We last saw Arnold back in 2002 with his first feature length movie. That was more of a stand alone story that simply gave Arnold and co a one off challenge to overcome. It was simply a feature length episode of the cartoon series. This time around the movie is actually a sequel to one of the episodes in the series (series five) called 'The Journal'.

Now here's where the main problem comes in, it does kinda make a big difference if you've seen that series five episode. In general I'm pretty sure that most people watching this will be Hey Arnold! fans and will know what's going on. But for anyone else who's thinking of showing it to their kids simply because its a kids movie, well there's a good chance they won't follow everything. Yeah sure the plot isn't super hard to follow but obviously there are loads of things that hark back to that specific episode and the entire series in general. To be brutally honest this is really one for the fans methinks.

The plot: Arnold's parents had traveled to San Lorenzo in South America to deliver medicine to a mysterious lost tribe of green eyed people, they never returned. Luckily Arnold's class manage to win a competition to travel to San Lorenzo which gives the football shaped headed boy a chance to find his folks. Naturally there are dangers ahead for the class with a mercenary named Lasombra who needs Arnold so he can discover the lost city and its treasures for himself.

So lets look at one of the main thing that breeds life into this cartoon, the unique visuals. How are they in this new modern movie? Well I'm pleased to say they are actually (still) on par with the original series. OK but lets be completely brutally honest here, they aren't as gorgeous as the original series with its clear cut hand drawn/pencil shaded style. Oh no, alas that beautiful look is too rough looking for kids these days. So everything is computer assisted and very sharp; which is nice and its still faithful to the original material but its never gonna be as good. I also have to mention the odd unfortunate cut into complete CGI for some scenes which does stick out like a sore thumb and look terrible. Why do they do that???

As for the characters again I'm pleased to say almost everyone gets a small (visual) cameo at least, some with dialog some not. Heck they even brought back old Lockjaw the turtle from series one, episode six. Not quite sure why seeing as Arnold released him into the sea at the end of that episode. So the turtle came back because...its friends with Arnold now? Anyway pretty much everyone can be seen including Dino, coach Wittenberg, Torvald, stoop kid etc...(where's the sewer King?). Alas not every character is voiced by the same original people. I'm sure there are decent reasons for this but I was annoyed to read that both Lane Toran and Jamil Walker Smith were not used for both Arnold and Gerald (they were the original voice actors for the characters), instead being given background characters. Why did they do that??? It is off putting when certain characters simply sound wrong (Mr. Hyunh for example).

I was slightly disappointed with the plot of the story though. I knew what to expect of course (following on from the TV episode) but it all felt a bit too generic and unoriginal really. What we essentially get is simply another Indiana Jones type clone, because of course. I mean really? Couldn't they do something a bit more unique instead of the same old tired tropes and cliches that have been done a gazillion times over. I don't even have to explain anything to you because you should know exactly what I mean and what to expect.

I was quite stunned to see such a large amount of death on display though. Of course you don't see anything but a lot is implied and its quite amazing. A load of Lasombra's henchmen all get killed by stereotypical booby traps, to which he shows no remorse, in fact he allows them to get killed. And (spoiler alert) Lasombra himself gets shot in the forehead with a poisoned dart which sees him, eventually, fall into a ravine!

Naturally there are massive plot conveniences because its a kids cartoon movie, I can't really complain about that. But I have to point out that the plot and its main mcguffins don't really make any sense. All the adults in the green eyed tribe (including Arnold's folks) have been struck down with a sleeping illness (why Arnold's folks never came back). Apparently they have all been asleep for around the last ten years or so (yet not aged a day it seems). So to reverse this they need to activate this ancient machine which they miraculously manage with Helga's heart locket (the one with Arnold's pic in). When this ancient device is activated it shoots the antidote (I think) into the atmosphere which causes green rain. Which in turn causes a whole load of butterflies to awaken. Which in turn causes all the sleeping adults of the green eyed tribe to awaken, because why?? They couldn't administer this antidote any other way?

So the plot is kinda stupid, it makes no real sense, the ending is also kinda lame, oh and the way Abner gets back to the US on his own is ludicrous. But we do find out Arnold's last name, its Shortman! A clever little play on words there because Grandpa Phil has always called Arnold 'shortman', but it now turns out its not just a cute little nickname after all. Anyway overall I find myself in the same position when I saw the first movie outing for Arnold and co. This isn't a bad kids movie but its not exactly a great one either. Once again the plot is really thin on the ground and feels really padded out. Sure it was nice to see all the little snippets harking back the various TV episodes and all the various characters (in the background). But this show really works best with little short stand alone stories that revolve around simple relatable issues.

If anything they should do a new TV series, but if that means we would see Arnold going off with his new found parents on lots of dramatic adventures all over the world, then maybe not. I think Rugrats suffered the same issue in my view. The bigger and more extravagant the stories become, the less relatable they become. Obviously grand stories are fine but shows like Hey Arnold! (and Rugrats and Doug) worked because their stories and characters were simple and (most probably) based off real life experiences and people. That is why so many are able to connect with the original material and why they are so popular (well that's how I have always seen these shows). So whilst I'm happy to see Arnold back, I just wish it was like the good old days.


Saturday, 3 March 2018

Roxanne (1987)

A wacky Steve Martin comedy set in the pacific northwest of America that is based upon the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand?? You certainly don't get movies like this anymore.

So in a nutshell the 1897 play revolves around a cadet in the French army, de Bergerac. A strong willed, passionate and confident man who is, amongst other things, a gifted poet, musician and duelist. There is just one problem, he has a rather large nose which causes him much angst. It is this one feature of himself that prevents him from expressing his true love for Roxane, his cousin...ahem (twas a different time).

Long story short, a good looking young man named Christian enters de Bergerac's company of guards. Roxane loves Christian and asks de Bergerac to protect the young soldier, he agrees but is angry. After being told that Roxane loves him, Christian is upset because Roxane is an intelligent woman whilst he is basically a dumb soldier, how can he compare? de Bergerac seizes the opportunity and offers to write to Roxane for Christian, pretending to be him. Christian agrees and de Bergerac is able to spill his love for Roxane through Christian.

Eventually of course Christian tires of de Bergerac's help and tries to woo Roxane himself, failing. Over time Christian works out de Bergerac's true feelings for Roxane and wants Roxane to choose between them. But before this can happen Christian is killed by gunshot (twas during a siege with Spain) leading to Roxane living in a convent. Again long story short Roxane eventually discovers that de Bergerac wrote all the love letters to her and realises that she loves him. Alas de Bergerac also dies in the end but not before knowing Roxane loves him. Happy ending?

Naturally this 1987 comedy doesn't exactly follow along these lines. There is no war with Spain and nobody dies. Martin plays the fiery fire chief C.D. Bales (note the initials) who has an incredibly long narrow nose. As with the original plays character of de Bergerac, Bales is confident, skilled in the arts, athletic, and most definitely a charmer with the ladies. And also like the play the residents of the small town Bales lives in know not to mock him for his nose because he will usually get his own back. Unlike the play this does not involve duels of course, but often cruel biting attacks of sarcastic humour, or even the odd scuffle if needs be. His athleticism and dry mocking wit are definitely his main weapons and the main comic tools in this movie.

In the play de Bergerac does tend to hate himself and can be very spiteful. Here Martin (obviously) plays the character of Bales in an upbeat way, he embraces his nose mostly, but at times he does dream of a more regular look. Martin really shows how he can do more than just act silly, which at the time was what he was most known for. There are plenty of great little scenes which showcase Martin's range such as Bales fighting with a couple hecklers in the street. The 20 nose joke sequence where Bales destroys a drunkard insulting his nose. And of course the key scene which is taken from the classic play where Bales assists Chris (Rick Rossovich) under Roxanne's (Daryl Hannah) balcony.

The other key characters Chris and Roxanne are both solidly performed by Rossovich and Hannah. Can't deny Rossovich has a tough job dealing with a character that's just a big lunk yet lovable and likeable. Chris is totally the hunky dumb stereotype that is loosely based around Christian. Admittedly Rossovich's acting isn't stunning or anything but he conveys his character well. As for Hannah (the beautiful Roxanne), she's exactly as you would expect her to be at the height of her sexy phase. Light, fluffy, smart, a beaming smile, golden flowing locks, a great body, a nice house etc...Pretty much every male dream at the time and she doesn't disappoint on that note. Alas despite a good performance its basically nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to soppy rom-coms.

To anyone who is completely oblivious to the original source material of 1897 this movie will probably come across as a very safe schmaltzy romantic comedy. You don't need to know about the 1897 play as everything presented to you works on its own. What you have is a sentimental rom-com about a nice guy with a big nose who's in love with a beautiful young woman; but must somehow get around the fact she loves the good looking hunk who's just turned up on the scene. Most would probably know if the movie was for them simply by watching the trailer with its gooey pleasantville visuals, good looking stars, cheeky comedy, and Martin on a full charm offensive.

To anyone who knows of the original 1897 source material, I think they would appreciate director Fred Schepisi's attempt at updating the play for the modern (at the time) era. Not an easy task all things considered, but I think Schepisi and Martin did an admiral job here in terms of emotion, story and light-hearted comedy. Obviously there are big changes such as the finale which had to be done I guess. Others are more questionable such as the whole firefighter aspect, why did Bales need to be a chief firefighter? This doesn't really add anything to the plot. And why are the other firemen so utterly useless at their job? They are obviously there for pure comedic relief but it just makes no real sense, they are literally bumbling idiots.

But yeah, this is a Steve Martin romantic comedy from the 80's, it does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak. Dare I say that maybe the ladies would like this movie more so than the gents? I mean it is wacky Martin being wacky, but its also Martin being a bit more restrained and maturing at the same time. No surprise that there is more lovey-dovey stuff in here than laugh-out-loud moments (no toilet humour here folks). Despite that the comedy does work in general. It ranges from clever wit to being somewhat dated, a bit childish at times, a bit cringy. But at no point does the movie outstay its welcome, if anything the gorgeous sleepy little town setting makes you wanna live there. Its certainly a unique movie with plenty of heart and a good overall message about being yourself.


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan's latest offering is an accurate representation of an event that occurred in 1940 during WWII. British, Belgian and French troops were cut off within Dunkirk, surrounded by advancing German troops. The allies were literally fish in a barrel to the German forces. They were stranded, being attacked from both land and air with the sea to their backs, nowhere to run.

Situated in Northern France, Dunkirk was the location of the massive evac operation which saw large numbers of British civilians man their own vessels in order to assist with the rescue. Up to 400 various manned craft were voluntarily used and braved the English Channel along with various military vessels. Despite the fact that German forces had halted their crushing advance on Dunkirk (giving the Allies some time to organise the evac), the Luftwaffe were still hitting the port and its beaches and enemy troops were still on the ground.

Nolan's film tells the story of Dunkirk from separate angles, land sea and air. The first angle is from a young British private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who has survived a recent German ambush and has made his way to the beaches. We follow Tommy as he tries to get on-board a couple ships only for them to be sunk by German attacks. Tommy eventually ends up back on the beaches with some Scottish soldiers and a French soldier. The second angle is from RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and two other Spitfire pilots who are part of the British airborne resistance against the German bombers. And the third angle is from a Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter and his sons best friend George. All of whom have volunteered to help in the rescue with the aid of Mr. Dawson's yacht.

First off Nolan's film is not like most traditional films. There is very little dialog throughout the entire runtime; instead Nolan relies on pure visuals and the musical score to convey the films atmosphere. That is where the film may be problematic for many people, this isn't a war movie filled with blood, guts, gun battles and explosions. Obviously if you know about the actual historical event then you would know to expect this. The most dialog comes from the story surrounding Mr. Dawson and his son Peter, second to that would probably be Tommy's story, then lastly and most obviously is Farrier's story which is almost entirely conveyed through Tom Hardy's facial expressions.

Now whilst I did fully appreciate Nolan's vision here, I have to admit to finding it somewhat odd watching a movie like this with little dialog. Looking at Farrier's story (the air section), it was indeed very impressive to watch these old Spitfires dogfight with German Messerschmitt's. Naturally it wasn't shot in the typical Hollywood action sequence type way. What you get are highly realistic air sequences which show the planes trying to manoeuvre into position to be able to attack each other. When the attacks come they are short bursts with very little fanfare. When a plane gets hit nothing much happens at first. The pilots communications are brief and not filled with silly quips. Basically overall it kinda feels like you're watching some kind of airshow display or training video, the fact everything is shot in natural light kinda adds to that.

The story surrounding Tommy is probably the most Hollywood-esque part of the movie, but it still may not please some. Once again this is a highly realistic vision, there are no 'Saving Private Ryan' sequences on this beach. The plot is straight forward, Tommy and another soldier try to board ships by using an injured soldier as their ticket essentially. That seems almost wrong but in the grand scheme of things who wouldn't do that? The fact that they try to get away twice and both times the ships are sunk did seem almost too unlucky to me. The fact that later on they reach another ship and yet again it gets sunk, kinda felt a bit overly dramatic perhaps. Did that many ships get sunk in the real event?

Tommy's tale certainly has the most cinematic visuals of the film, the numerous shots of the troops lined up on the beach are incredibly haunting, yet beautiful. Its easily the most intriguing of the three main plots but at the same time its also a bit too 'Spielbergian' methinks. When Tommy meets up with the Scottish soldiers things get a tad by the numbers and a little dull. I also felt the death of the French soldier (who was thought to be a Brit) was again a little touch of Hollywood which maybe wasn't required. It was too predictable, the minute he is exposed as French you kinda knew his number was up. I should add that whilst all this is going on we get little snippets of Kenneth Branagh as a Commander overseeing the operation from the beach. Again like Hardy he tends to emote through facial expressions more than dialog.

For me the weakest of the stories was following Mr. Dawson and his son. Call me shallow but this was simply because it wasn't really that interesting. I found myself yearning for the plot to get back to the beaches, or in the air with Farrier. Don't get me wrong, Mark Rylance puts in a great performance as the calm and steadfast Dawson, and its important to see the civilian angle of this story. The thing is it just wasn't really that intriguing watching this trio sale slowly towards Dunkirk.

The subplot of them rescuing a stranded officer (Cillian Murphy) from a shipwreck was also something of an odd addition. Murphy's officer is shell-shocked, he argues about going to Dunkirk and tries to stop Dawson. This leads to George (Peter's best friend) falling and badly injuring his head...which leads to his eventual death! I really didn't see the point in all this because it goes nowhere. Dawson and Peter lie to the shell-shocked officer about it and that's kinda that. Neither Dawson or Peter came across as upset when the incident occurred or when George dies. You're left wondering what happens with that. Does the officer get done for murder upon return to England? Would he be let off because of the fact he was shell-shocked?

Would I say this is one of the greatest war films ever made? In terms of realism yes. In terms of score, cinematography and craftsmanship yes. In terms of engagement (for me the viewer) I'd say its up there, but maybe not the best. I totally and utterly shower praise on Nolan and co for their vision and what they have achieved here, the authenticity being the number one factor of course (score not far behind). But I cannot deny the film is a little slow at times. I hate myself for saying this but I did find myself yearning for just a touch of romanticised heroism or emotion just to get those waterworks going.

The final sequence showing Farrier taking out one last German bomber before he is forced to land in enemy territory from lack of fuel, was so fecking awesome. Seeing the Spitfire land in one shot on the Dunkirk beach was fantastic, as was seeing a stoic Farrier stare into the camera as he is captured and led away. But dagnabbit Chris, I just needed a hint, a mere drop of glossy sentimentality. The film was so realistic that it didn't really feel like a film at times (again I hate myself for saying this). But bottom line, this film is a tour de force that ignores manufactured heroics and stereotypical Hollywood-isms.


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Justice League (2017)

So this was it, the main event, the big one to rival Marvels 'The Avengers'. Only five movies in and DC (along with Warner Bros.) felt it would be a shrewd decision to whack out their superhero team-up flick, hmmm.

This was always gonna be a hard sell with the performance of previous DC movies. Superman hadn't really set the world alight and the Suicide Squad was a nice idea that was badly executed. Wonder Woman of course did well (boosted by a political agenda) but that now seems like a flute more than anything. We hadn't had any stand alone movies for Flash, Cyborg or Aquaman up to this point, something that just felt totally wrong. So not only was this a sequel of sorts to the previous Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman offerings, it was also a slight origins kick off for Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman (despite previous cameos).

Alas the plot is anything but fresh (its a superhero flick). A long long long long time ago on Earth, the evil supervillain Steppenwolf (stupid name) tried to take over the planet using three gizmos called Mother Boxes. He was beaten back by a whole team of other superhero types and said Boxes were hidden on Earth (if you wanna protect Earth, why not hide them elsewhere? Like in the far flung reaches of the universe). Much later in the present day the Boxes are triggered by the death of Superman? Or the presence of Superman? Are these things sentient beings? I have no friggin' clue but they activate and this gets Steppenwolf's attention. So he comes back to find the Boxes and try to take over the Earth to please his master Darkseid. Why he didn't just do this before I dunno, don't delve too deeply into this plot.

Enter our team of heroes, the Justice League. First up its good old Batman (Ben Affleck), the leader who's super power is being very rich (his own words). Alas this comment really hits home because his presence is really kinda stupid. Why would you need a regular human dressed in bat armour in a fight with super powered aliens and metahumans? He provides them with some cool vehicles...which they don't need, umm...he also lets them kip at his place? Unfortunately Affleck also seemed to not care about this movie seeing as he clearly didn't wanna be there, and he looked tubby. When he takes off his batsuit the shirt he has on underneath also has a muscle structure built into it. Methinks they had to cover his actual physique.

Then we have Supes (Henry Cavill) who is basically the same as before. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who essentially struts around making smartass comments all the time. Apparently the success of Gadot's only movie has gone to her head because my God does she act smug for the whole time. The Flash (Erza Miller) is the obligatory comic relief which is enjoyable for what its worth but is at odds with the movies tone. Also where did he get that Nasa material to build his suit? Next up is Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who is another character that doesn't really fit here. Like what does this guy do? He's basically an agile Terminator, but it seems like he could be easily destroyed at any point. And lastly there is Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the final pointless character here unless you're fighting underwater. But wait, Aquaman seems to have powers on land in this movie too because plot necessities.

One problem I had with this movie were the effects and general look of everything. Firstly its that same old drab, metallic, dark, shadowy atmosphere that DC (via Zack Snyder) has been pushing this whole time. The movie looks awful, the colour palette is terrible, and it all looks the same. Naturally there is abundance of CGI which is to be expected but again its poor and obvious looking, whilst having that strange DC/WB videogame-esque look to it. Did I mention the greenscreen? Oh my God it was horrendous and so very very obvious. The battle between Steppenwolf's army and the Earth defenders at the start was horribly dated looking. Almost all underwater sequences looked bad plus you couldn't really make much out. Steppenwolf himself looked like a character out of a Mortal Kombat movie. And Cyborg was quite jokey looking at times, he looked like he was made out of tinfoil with a bad face job.

I think the epitome of dross in this movie came when Aquaman surfed on a parademon whilst falling from a great height. He then crashes into a high-rise building, smashes all the way through it from top to bottom, and comes out surfing at the bottom with a grin on his face. This was literally cringeworthy cartoon garbage that also looked shit.

The other main problem here was the entire movie simply being cheap. As in using dated tropes and cliches whilst being just plain stupid. Thing is this was somewhat expected with the characters you're dealing with. Aquaman, he's useless, he merely pops up to do stuff that involves water because he's the water guy. Oh everyone's about to be drowned by a huge tidal wave!! Enter Aquaman...hurray! Oh we need someone to hack into this computer control panel thingy and do some hi-tech computer type stuff? Enter Cyborg because he's the robot guy. Oh we need someone to get somewhere really quickly or rescue some people in the nick of time? Enter Flash because he's the fast guy. Batman turns up to every battle in some yuge mechanical battle vehicle (because otherwise he's useless)...and it gets wrecked instantly. Batman loses a lot of gear in this flick. Wonder Woman strolls out of every battle without her lipstick even being smudged, ugh!

The acting was pretty dreadful across the board (except for Gal Gadot of course, because you can't say anything negative about her now). As said Affleck was clearly uninterested, Fisher swaggered as much as he could but was still awful, Momoa had big muscles and lots of hair, whilst the character of Steppenwolf was basically a live action pantomime. Of course there were numerous other characters throughout offering other actors a crack but its all cameo stuff really. A too many cooks situation basically, heck whilst the big finale battle was going down humanity was represented by one small family, probably because they literally couldn't fit anymore people in.

All in all I really struggled to find anything positive in this movie. The small sequence where the team brings Supes back from the dead was quite enjoyable. It was fun watching Superman knock the team around; I especially liked the eerie moment Supes spies Flash whilst he's zooming in his superhuman speed zone. Although, I'm not really sure why Supes would fight the team after his resurrection. OK he's understandably disorientated but why does he see the others as threats? The opening Batman sequence was also nice and harked back to earlier Batman movies in tone and visuals. Twas also lovely to hear a very short burst of Danny Elfman's Batman 89 score in one scene. It was literally a few seconds but even that was enough to really swell the scene in terms of awesomeness and nostalgia.

That's virtually it! That's pretty much the only bits in the movie that I genuinely liked. The rest of this effort felt very much like (ironically) a Joel Schumacher movie. Yes it is indeed that bad. The entire movie generally looks poor, the effects are very suspect at times (Cyborg), the greenscreen is some of the worst I've seen for some time, and the plot is generic as fuck. Add to that the even more generic villain Steppenwolf with his hordes of flying goggle wearing goblins, and a finale that was possibly the biggest anticlimax in years (considering the content we're dealing with here). And even now I still can't help but think Superman could of done this all on his own. Why is Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman even here?? Flash was probably the only other genuinely useful person. This really felt like bad a movie from the mid 90's. The bottom line, its ugly, dull and unbelievably uninspired.


Friday, 2 February 2018

Innocent Blood (1992)

So in some regions (dunno where) this movie is referred to as 'A French Vampire in America'. Are we seeing the connection yet? Yes this is a horror comedy directed by John Landis, but no this is not a sequel or prequel to his classic 'An American Werewolf in London'. But lets be honest here, that 'French Vampire' title is way better than 'Innocent Blood'. That doesn't really tell you anything, very bland. Personally I like 'A Vampire in Pittsburgh'.

Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a vampire in the (then) present day of the early 90's. We know little of her background, how she became a vampire, where she comes from etc...All we know is she only feeds on criminals. She is currently in Pittsburgh where there just so happens to be a very strong mafia presence, she's in luck. Marie begins to feed on a random Italian American gangster which causes a stir. The aftermath of which results in undercover cop Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) being put into the witness protection program. Eventually Marie feeds on mafioso boss Salvatore 'Sal the Shark' Macelli (Robert Loggia), but she is unable to kill him completely. This leads to bigger problems with Sal becoming a vampire himself and then starting to turn all his men. Marie must find and kill Sal but needs the assistance of Joe, apparently.

So the plot is thin on the ground, its pretty weak. Basically Marie fudges up whilst feeding and causes a shitstorm. Remarkable really considering she's supposedly a very old and experienced vampire, you'd think she would be able to do this kind of thing blindfolded. But I guess everyone makes mistakes, even the undead. From there on out its simply about Sal trying to cope with being a vampire, and then realising he can turn all his men. In the meantime Marie must find Sal and stop this. But with all her supernatural powers you'd think that would be relatively easy. It begs the question, why do we need LaPaglia's character? OK he's a love interest, I get it, but she essentially doesn't really need the guy. What can he offer her?

Interestingly this movie isn't set in New York, even though it clearly really really really wants to be. I mean lets be real here, this movie is so rammed full of cliched Italian American mafia themes its unreal. Almost every cliche in the stereotype book is used here from the black limo's, the sharp suits, slick back hair, mullets, the chewing of toothpicks, the silly mafia names nicknames, the black leather coats, and the freezing cold looking city streets filled with plumes of smoke from the drain grates. Heck they even go as far as using Frank Sinatra tunes in initial scenes. Not only that, I think Landis cast almost every actor around at the time with either an Italian American last name, heritage or simply looks like a mobster (you know what I mean). Indeed many of these actors have gone on to become household names in mafia/gangster roles.

Worth noting, cameos for Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Frank Oz, Angela Bassett, Chazz Palminteri, and Tom Savini. Although it also worth noting that Savini did not do the special effects here, that honour goes to Steve Johnson ('Ghostbusters' and 'The Abyss').

Lets talk about those special effects, how do they compare to Landis' classic lycanthrope movie. Well there is much less emphasis on the vampires and their fangs in this, but a lot of emphasis on the blood. There is a lot of claret on show in this movie, mainly gushing from victims necks as they get torn open. Indeed the effects on neck wounds are really quite grisly and wonderful. Nice big chunks missing with ripped flesh dangling. Often the victims clothes are drenched in wet blood, sodden and dirty. Loggia spends most of the movie virtually head to toe in wet and dried blood. In fact I'd go as far as to say Landis goes a tad overboard with the blood because it becomes less shocking the more you see.

As for the vampires, we never see any fangs believe it or not. The entire emphasis is on the eyes of these supernatural killers. Johnson used special highly reflective contact lenses that change colour. It really is a startling look that really grabs your attention. Some of the vampires have red eyes, yellow eyes, sky blue eyes; whilst Marie seems to have eyes that change colour, not sure why though. The only issue I had with this is the fact they are obviously contacts (clearly very thick) and on most of the actors the pupil was slightly off-centre in one eye. It kinda made all the vampires look a bit simple looking, or like they had strabismus.

Other early effects were a point-of-view flyby effect where the camera simply moves around a space to simulate the vampire flying. Quite a bit of wire work to simulate the strength of the vampires, lifting people up high etc...The vampires roar or scream sounded very familiar to me, I'm sure its the same sound effect used for the werewolf howl in 'American Werewolf in London'. Again its used very effectively, a quick cut to the vampires face with a loud blast of the howl, really makes you jump.

The best effects sequence in the movie has to be the death of recently bitten Manny Bergman (Don Rickles). Whilst in hospital this character is accidentally exposed to sunlight...and you all know what happens next. Well this is the money shot here folks. A slow painful looking death as Bergman's body cracks and breaks up in front of the doctors. The medical staff try to help him but his body crumbles and deteriorates in their hands. One shot of a nurse accidentally pulling off his crispy smouldering arm, only to then drop it and watch it break apart into a mess of black glowing ash, is incredible (for the time).

To be utterly honest not a great deal of interest happens for the most part in this movie (effects aside). Once Joe realises what Marie is he goes after her (ignoring his boss of course). Marie has all manner of powers but somehow Joe is still able to find and catch her. But did she want to be caught huh? This eventually leads to the inevitable sex scene betwixt man and vampire. By this time you will have realised that Anne Parillaud is not shy about showing off her entire self (very European, very French). Although the sex scene shows us how Marie must control herself (something Joe is always concerned about), its of little importance really. A little spice for the movie, gratuitous nudity.

Landis goes for broke with this one, he loves to throw out old beloved conventions. Like I said no fangs here, but lots glowing eyes (although no explanation as to why different vampires have different colour eyes). Vampires do have reflections in this movie, but still garlic makes them sick. A bullet to the head is enough to kill a vampire, as is snapping its neck. No mention of stakes through the heart or crosses though. They can still climb up walls, fly and have incredible strength. Lastly and most interestingly no one actually uses the word vampire in the movie (I think).

Loggia is clearly enjoying himself here as he chews up the scenery big time. He may not have the physique of a vampire but he certainly has the bark and snarl that's for sure. Loggia makes Frank Langella in 'Masters of the Universe' look positively bland in comparison. In the scene where Sal had to rape and abuse Marie, he really fecking went for it! As for the other main leads, Parillaud is definitely very cute and adorable as Marie. Like I said she's not shy about getting it all out for the camera and she's very fit looking to boot. Bit of an issue trying to understand her accent at times but she does convey the shy quiet vampire nicely. You do truly believe she is a centuries old Gallic beauty; a siren that has been seducing immoral men over the ages. On the other hand LaPaglia is...fine. You could literally stick any guy with that Italian American look in that role, the character is kinda pointless.

Ultimately I do think Landis went too far with the blood factor in this one and loses a real sense of dread and spookiness. His werewolf movie had blood but nowhere near as much as this, plus 'Werewolf in London' was eerie as fuck; it was genuinely scary. This movie loses any real sense of scare factor with all these stereotypical mafia bozos running around shooting at everything. Yes there are some good shocks and thrills but the comedy spoils it, its too hammy, too dumb basically. The movie is a horror comedy and Landis does hit his targets well, it is a fun flick for horror fans to enjoy. I just feel this is too much of a homage to other things, too many cameos maybe, too many winks and nods, not gritty and dark enough. Its a hard one to call because the cast is great and the old school effects are superb .

I do heartily recommend this as I'm pretty sure many will not have even heard of it (it is a forgotten gem). Bottom line, it doesn't quite satisfy your vampire needs/requirements, it ticks some boxes but misses others. But overall its still a top John Landis horror comedy and easily better than what you get these days. Shame about the end credits song, totally out of place methinks.


Saturday, 27 January 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

The fifteen movie in the Marvel cinematic universe, the Guardians travel all over the universe trying to unravel the mystery behind Peter Quill's parentage. That's the plot right there, that's it.

So the start of this movie shows us the origins of Quill's parents with a de-aged CGI Kurt Russell, something we've seen before and is becoming more popular. Gotta be honest, this looked very impressive. Twas impressive with Michael Douglas in 'Ant-Man' and its impressive here with Russell. From there we zip straight over to the opening credits which roll whilst the Guardians are fighting a big alien monster. Amidst the chaos Groot plays and jigs to 'Mr Blue Sky' by ELO via Star-Lord's walkman. Its a quirky intro and certainly enjoyable...except for the choice of song, but that's just me.

So as I said the basic plot involves Quill finding his father who turns out to be a God-like celestial called Ego (Kurt Russell). Naturally Ego would like to rule the universe with his son at his side, and Quill is curious, but sharply declines after discovering Ego's dark secrets (he killed Quill's mum). Of course whilst all this is going on the other characters have their own little subplots. Gamora is fighting off her sister Nebula once again. Yondu has been hired to capture the Guardians by the Sovereign race because Rocket nicked some precious batteries from them. This causes Yondu internal conflict which results in a mutiny by some of his men. Groot is still slowly growing up, and Drax starts a slow burning romance with Ego's assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Oh and Rocket is still a wise-ass.

I think the main thing I noticed with this sequel was the increase in comedy...silly comedy. Its a little bit too obvious that Gunn is trying a little bit too hard with the gags, but anyway. In the first major space battle Quill and Rocket are arguing about who is the better pilot. Rocket remarks that later later on he will put a turd in Quill's bed. But not one of his turds, one of Drax's turds. Drax immediately laughs out loud and proclaims 'I have famously large turds'. Its at this point that I asked myself, are they actually throwing out dialog about poo? Putting poo in each others school kids would say? By jove they are! I also noted a few other scenes that did make me smile such as Drax ripping on Quill's secret crush on Gamora (unceremoniously revealed by Mantis who can read people's feelings).

There is a great little sequence where Groot must find Yondu's head fin so both he and Rocket can escape from his traitorous men. Groot takes about six attempts to find said item as he doesn't really understand and keeps coming back with all manner of things. A tad predictable but nicely done. Quill calling Rocket a trash panda was a good one although the following dialog was a bit laboured. Rocket trying to explain to Groot about which button (the death button that needed to be covered with tape) to press on the bomb to kill Ego etc...OK lets just say that most of the good stuff comes from Rocket when he verbally clashes with the others.

As for the main crux of the story which was Peter and his father Ego, was fine but nothing special in my opinion. In all honesty I don't really think they could of done anything drastically original here and what they did was perfectly fine. But the main problem simply was it was all completely predictable fluff that's been done before. Each step of the way, each beat was wholly formulaic frankly. Peter and Ego get along fine at first as Peter wants to learn more out of curiosity. Ego teaches Peter the basics of his God-like powers. As the subplots all start to come together Ego finally reveals what he's been up to (again its no real surprise) and Peter understands what he and the Guardians must do. Then after a long finale battle with the good guys on the brink of losing, unsurprisingly Peter suddenly conquers his own internal God-like powers and uses them to hold off Ego just long enough for the others to do their bit.

That's not to say there is anything wrong with all this per say, it works here, but I can't not mention how utterly corny and conventional it all is. Again in all honesty I also thought the ending was so so very soppy that it almost spoilt the movie. Sure the Guardians have now become a proper family so to speak (ugh! the whole family thing again?) and all the various plots are tied together nicely, but boy do they pile on the schmaltz. I did also found it quite bizarre how the Sovereign are so obsessed with wanting to kill the Guardians because Rocket stole their batteries, Especially as it looks like we'll be seeing more of the same in the next movie from these guys. Its also kinda funny how the makeup for this alien race consists entirely of gold body paint, literally just painting all the actors gold and that's it. Just seems so...made for TV-ish. Odd for such a big blockbuster.

Anyway, despite this essentially being more of the same from the first movie, I did enjoy this. I personally found the entire movie to be much tighter with better dialog, better action and a better array of characters. Ego being a surprise decent villain...clearly helped along by casting Russell. Also the combination of Drax and Mantis being a decent surprise double act. Whilst both movies do still feel very cliched and unoriginal, borrowing many elements from many sci-fi movies, for me its the quirky roster of heroes that sells the flick. I can't deny that Rocket is fast becoming a firm favourite of mine. Naturally everything looked slick and shiny, plenty of comicbook nods dotted around, and another retro soundtrack which I didn't really like this time truth be told. I actually thought many of the songs were completely out of place with some of the scenes, but that's just me (dunno what the kids think of these old tunes, do they even know what a walkman is?).

Yes I found this movie more enjoyable than the first (which I think was somewhat overhyped). Even though they are clearly trying a bit too hard with the goofy comedy and visual retro love letters to the 80's (although I do appreciate the retro goodness), generally I think Gunn and co have perfected this particular team of space cowboys. What they must not do now is push it too far and spoil it. But I will finish by asking, why am I not seeing a (preferably adult) Howard the Duck reboot yet? Surely I can't be the only one who thinks a Rocket and Howard team up needs to happen?


Thursday, 25 January 2018

Killing Gunther (2017)

So this movie came outta nowhere for me. Apparently it was released straight to video on demand, and later got a limited theatrical release. Heck even the films poster looks like a fan job. Little bit misleading too I think, seeing as the titular Schwarzenegger isn't really in the film until the very end.

So what we have here is essentially an action comedy but with a mockumentary twist. A group of assassins led by Blake (Taran Killam) wants to eliminate the top assassin in the business, Gunther (Schwarzenegger). Each assassin has their own reasons for this but Blake simply wants to be the top assassin in the biz. Because Blake is somewhat eccentric and narcissistic he hires a documentary team to follow and document his team in their mission to kill Gunther. Put plainly, in my humble view, this is 'What We Do in the Shadows' but with assassins instead of vampires, concept wise. Although there is a musical score playing throughout, which makes no sense but whatever.

Admittedly at first I was getting a bit sceptical about the whole idea mainly because it instantly comes across like a clone of said New Zealand horror comedy. But the introduction of the over the top, stereotypical characters won me over. Firstly the leader Blake is the Bond-esque/Kingsman-esque gentleman type who dresses in a suit with a dapper hairstyle. Next is Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), an over enthusiastic, overweight, bumbling all-American trying his best to showcase himself as a good assassin. He often mugs to the camera. Next we have the token sexy femme fatale of the group, Sanaa (Hannah Simone). The daughter of a legendary Muslim assassin who is possibly the most skilled team member, but can't shake off her overprotective father.

Yong (Aaron Yoo) is a Chinese (I think) assassin with a penchant for poisons, but not guns or blood. Gabe (Paul Brittain) is the youngest on the team, merely a teenager by the looks of it. He is the tech expert, anything computers, or so he says. Izzat (Amir Talai) used to be an Islamic extremist but has since moved away from that and is now wanting to earn a reputation as an assassin. His other specialty is the fact he has a robotic arm that can crush pretty much anything. He lost it helping another extremist with his suicide bomb. And lastly Mia and Barold (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul), Russian siblings and thugs.

Now despite the mockumentary premise being old hat these days, it never fails to raise a smile (I think). If you think of all mockumentaries, in general they're all pretty good, if not classics. So essentially you kinda know what to expect comedy wise from the outset, but its still admittedly funny. Obviously with this movie its all gonna be send-ups of the espionage/action genre. I'm sure you know what movies I'm referring to.

Whilst all the humour isn't brilliant there are some nuggets of goodness to be found. After an encounter with Gunther the team review the footage that was captured by Blake's documentary team (yes the documentary team are also involved in this). Gabe the tech guy hooks it all up and they scan the footage. They find a shot of Gunther and pause it, Blake orders Gabe to enhance the image. Gabe looks at Blake puzzled and says he can't do that, computers don't do that. What follows is an argument about how everyone has seen that done on TV and in films so it must be a thing.

When the team goes to collect weapons from a secret arms dealer, the guy turns out to be this really nice, almost camp chap who just happens to look like a butch biker. Cliched and unoriginal but the whole scene works nicely. Then there are lots of little moments such as watching Donnie trying to slide over the top of a cars bonnet only to fall on his face. 'Just erase that' he says to the camera after climbing off the car. Donnie is probably the funniest guy in the film for me with his physique and mannerisms. He's always trying to be cool, like a character from an action movie. When he's gonna flick the switch to blow some dynamite he looks into the camera and says 'boom goes the dynamite' with a smug wink and grin. Of course the bomb fails to go off. Then you've also got Yong who carries tiny bottles of poison around with him...and throws them at gun fights.

This actually felt more like I was watching an action packed episode of 'The Office' more than anything. The movie has all those exact beats, tropes and cliches. The movie does have a nice twist of sorts in the latter half as we find out that Gunther is doing exactly the same thing as Blake (with a documentary team); but he's doing it to expose how inept Blake and his team are. Everything that happened during the movie was all setup by Gunther; although much suspension of disbelief is required for that. Nothing is genuinely explained properly, its all very tongue and cheek. Just run with it, type of thing.

I think the movies biggest issue is the fact that there are too many characters and not all get enough time to shine. You could of easily left out a few of them, like the Russian siblings. The other issue is none of them grow as characters, they all remain the same stereotypical doofuses as they started out. Although I thought Donnie having to convert to Islam in order to marry Sanaa (under threat of death from her overprotective father) was quite funny. But by the end the plot gets more contrived and stupid as they quickly try to wrap things up neatly. The fact that Gunther apparently doesn't die is also something of an ugh! moment.

I liked the found footage style of the movie, I think its works surprisingly well here. Its not the best mockumentary there is but I thought it was a solid comedy with much to offer. Certainly a much appreciated slightly new angle for the now overcrowded espionage genre. Yes its all very dumb, not very sophisticated, hardly subtle, and very meta. But after a slow and uncertain start, I got into this.


Monday, 22 January 2018

Baby Driver (2017)

Stupid name for a heist movie, unless that movie is a kids comedy all about a bloke having to drive babies around during a heist. Or maybe an adult who drives like a baby or some shit like that. Why hasn't anyone made a comedy about learner drivers yet? You could call it 'Learner Driver', hey that's not a bad idea (copyrighted).

So this is a heist movie. In this movie a mysterious kingpin (?) called Doc (Kevin Spacey) uses various people to pull off various daring jobs, but he always uses the same driver. This driver is a young man called Baby or Miles (Ansel Elgort). Apparently Doc caught Baby breaking into his car many years prior and was so impressed with his skills that he decided to use him for his heists. Naturally Baby had to comply or face the obvious consequences. Now for a long time every heist has gone well for Doc, but clearly that doesn't last and that's the main crux here.

So straight away there are various questions here. Firstly, who is Doc exactly? What is this guys deal? Where does he come from? How is he so powerful? What does he do? Nothing is explained about this character and its kinda frustrating because he simply doesn't come across like a bad guy (especially with Spacey's performance). The fact he also makes such glaring mistakes with his decisions also raises questions about how he's managed to gain so much power. Doc uses Baby as a getaway driver despite the fact he's literally only a teenager, or at least in his early 20's. Yeah OK Baby is a good driver, but is that still a good decision? To use such a young person as your heist getaway driver?? I can think of many problems that might arise with that.

Doc also claims to never use the same people for each heist, but he does! He also uses Baby for every heist so what is he talking about. Then at one point when the gang suspects Baby of being an informant, and the fact he's being telling his foster father all about their deeds; Doc and co still allow him to carry on being their getaway driver! These are what you call eye rolling movie decisions.

Now lets look at Baby, why is he called Baby? Dunno. This young man has tinnitus from an accident as a child (which killed his parents). Since then he's been raised by a black man who is deaf. Is it me or does that sound both unnecessarily pc and kinda counter productive? Would a deaf (apparently single?) man be the right choice to raise a child with tinnitus? I honesty don't know, it just seems like an odd decision, but hey what do I know. So Baby is a good driver, again we don't know how this is, it just is. He's a good driver don't question it. Baby is also very much into his music, mainly because of the tinnitus. He listens to music virtually all the time and uses it to help him concentrate, even on heist jobs. The weird part is he often records people (without consent) and uses snippets of their speech to make mix tapes. Its a very odd part of his character and really doesn't make any sense, or it didn't to me.

So things all go wrong for Doc when he uses a team consisting of a couple of crooks who are in love, Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), and the violent Bats (Jamie Foxx). Of course the highly predictable outcomes are all a result of the highly predictable out of control character Bats. Because a trigger-happy, tattooed, ghetto lunatic is what you need in your specialised heist team, what could go wrong? The other two don't really do much other than smooch, although Buddy does stick up for Baby at times leading you to think he's a good guy. All the while Doc is supposed to be intimidating...but really isn't.

What follows is a bog standard turn of events that see the plot holes get bigger and bigger. At one point after discovering one of Baby's mix tapes Bats and Buddy decide to go back to his place to get the rest of his stash, and question his foster father. Bats proceeds to knock Baby out...but how did they then manage to find Baby's place?? When the heist goes wrong and the police react, I don't believe any of the cops actually saw Baby involved in any way. Yet Baby runs off, and continues running even when in the clear, which would obviously cause the police to follow out of suspicion (as they would in reality, if you run you've got something to hide). Baby continues to escape by then carjacking and driving like a lunatic...which again will always make you stick out like a sore thumb. Why do characters in movies never get this?? You wanna blend into a crowd of people or traffic, act or drive normally, don't run or drive like a nut.

Anywho the movie is formulaic right down to the last moment where Buddy keeps popping up despite Baby shooting him point blank (in the shoulder?? How did he fuck that up??). The only thing that got me was the fact Baby didn't go down in a blaze of glory, or escape fully. But then we get this dreadful soppy ending which is even worse so...I find myself baffled by the reaction to this movie, once again I just don't get it. It didn't offer anything much in terms of originality, except for the main protagonist having hearing issues; and everything action wise was terribly average. I think the thing that disappointed me the most was the trailer giving me the impression that Baby drove a Subaru Impreza for the whole movie, which he didn't.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (FR, 2017)

Awesome name right, flippin' awesome. This attractively titled movie is based on the French comicbook series Valérian and Laureline. I've never heard of this comicbook series but apparently its one of the biggest Franco-Belgian titles around. There is also an animated series of this comic too, who'd of thought it.

I really liked the basic setup for this movie. Via flashbacks in the opening credits we are told the story of the International Space Station (ISS). It starts off historically accurate showcasing the station being placed into Earth's orbit, and then slowly over the years sections being added and different countries joining the crew. But as we progress further into the future things obviously become more fictional with the station growing larger and larger and eventually alien creatures greeting humans on-board in diplomatic, historical events. It gets to a point where ISS is so big it becomes a danger to Earth, so its moved off into deep space and renamed 'Alpha'. And thus we have the massive space city of a thousand planets (referring to all the alien species that live within the city).

This one concept is fantastic, love it. The rest of the films plot not so much. Essentially what we have is yet another Avatar-esque story surrounding a primitive race of aliens that have their home planet unceremoniously wiped out by nasty humans. It wasn't an intentional act mind you but whatever. These aliens infiltrate the massive Alpha city to assimilate human knowledge in order to build a new ship that can recreate their home world (I didn't understand this part). This also involved finding a couple mcguffins and some kidnapping hijinks, which in turn brings in our human protagonists, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to solve the case.

Right lets look at the best part of this movie, in fact its the only good thing in this movie. So Valerian and Laureline have been tasked with finding the 'Mül converter', a creature that can clone anything it eats, and it can apparently eat anything? This meant going to a vast open desert which is the location of an extra-dimensional market place, and tourist attraction. Within the extra-dimensional marketplace they must infiltrate an alien gangsters lair to steal said converter.

So basically what this means is, somewhere else in the universe (and in another dimension) there is this huge Tatooine-esque town and market. But the only way to reach or visit it is via special attire that allows the user to cross space and time in an instant. The user is basically a projected hologram in the distant extra-dimensional market place; whilst back in the desert the user walks around almost like they're using a virtual reality headset.

At the same time Valerian is able to use smaller versions of this technology in the form of a simple cube device. This allows him to simply put his hand into the cube which contains a portal of sorts. So on one side of the cube his hand is in the extra-dimensional market place, like a dismembered floating hand; whilst the rest of him is still in the desert in relative safety. It all sounds quite complex and its hard to explain in writing, but trust me its a fantastic bit of futuristic visual fantasy.

In short what we get for the first half of this movie (after a rather soppy beginning involving the primitive alien race) is a superb slice of science fiction that encapsulates amazing imagination, mind boggling futuristic technology, wonderfully designed alien beings, an atmospheric setting, and a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride. Admittedly its not all perfectly original as we've all seen sandy alien marketplaces before...ahem, but that's being picky.

But here lies the problem with this movie. After this mesmerising sequence of innovative action the entire movie literally falls to pieces, its crumbles under its own weight. For a start it won't have escaped your attention that the two protagonists are utterly terrible and miscast. Both DeHaan and Delevingne come across like emotionless robots with glazed over eyes. The duo don't gel together romantically or when the action kicks in. Its actually quite remarkable really, both come across like CGI characters devoid of any real human characteristics, its like they were both grown in a lab by Hollywood. DeHaan looks like a younger DiCaprio but with none of the talent; whilst Delevingne has one default facial expression she obviously learnt from her fashion modelling days.

These main character issues obviously affect other parts of the movie. Naturally you as the viewer don't care about either of them; you know neither will die anyway but you couldn't care a less because they're so robotic. When we are first introduced to both Valerian and Laureline, Valerian proposes to Laureline, but she says no. This is supposed to make us feel emotion for Valerian, but because they are both so zombie-like in performance and we know nothing about them, its falls completely flat. In the fantastic marketplace action sequence the duo actually infiltrate said marketplace with a team of other elite police officers. All these guys get killed...but who cares? Well clearly Valerian and Laureline don't, just another day at the office.

On space station Alpha during an important summit meeting to discuss the mysterious toxic zone at the centre of the station, the primitive aliens break in and kidnap Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen). This really made no sense because we are led to believe that technology is so advanced in this age that the sheer notion of anyone being able to sneak into an important area in the station and actually take out all the security...would be nigh on impossible. Yet the so called primitive race manage just this and kidnap the commander. They also managed to land their craft nearby, and no one detected this? The fact these primitive aliens also seem to be so very environmentally friendly, passive and perfect makes this political move even more unbelievable really. We're talking about half naked aliens covered in seashell jewellery here people.

This leads to a large chase sequence where Valerian suits up in some other super hi-tech suit thing which enables him to smash through any and all walls. This gives us a brilliant sequence showcasing all the various environments within Alpha. Problem is these different environments include underwater sections and areas which are clearly finely balanced for their alien inhabitants. But none of that matters because Valerian smashes through walls, seemingly obliterating balanced environments yet not causing any major catastrophes such as huge leaks from the underwater areas.

Things go from bad to worse as we are introduced to the three exposition aliens that try to simplify the plot for us when things get too ridiculous. There's an entire underwater sequence with a Captain Nemo type character that is completely pointless. There's the casting of Rihanna as a shapeshifting alien dancer called Bubble (pretty awful CGI effects). Much like the Captain Nemo character Bubble is also pretty pointless and could have quite easily been removed. Obviously Besson wanted Rihanna in for the star power. Speaking of wanting star power, there's also Ethan Hawke as Bubble's pimp, again pointless. There are jellyfish type creatures that can read your brain and show you pretty much everything that's ever popped in there, including dreams and visions. Huge sea creatures live in sections of Alpha apparently. And there are also entire undiscovered civilisations within Alpha, that's how big it is.

There is so much I could write about this movie both good and bad. The reason being there is so much in-depth detail and world building in this movie, its quite an achievement really. Luc Besson has outdone himself here and easily bettered his other famous sci-fi 'The Fifth Element' in my opinion. Although I have no idea how accurate this is to the original source material. But the one huge sticky problem is...the movie just can't sustain itself and just collapses. It goes from being a reasonably intelligent, exciting and unique space opera into a formulaic, messy, incoherent, unoriginal snooze fest. Don't get me wrong, the movie looks incredible with its lavish other-worldly designs and vivid aliens, but talk about an anti-climax. So kudos for nearly everything, but maybe they should have focused the movie around that first marketplace location. Really wanted to love this but in the end I can't help but feel disappointed.