Solo: A Star wars story movie review

Solo-A-Star-Wars-small.jpg
During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.
— imdb

With a short turnaround now a mere 6 months between the last Star Wars movie we get Solo: A star wars story. Having mostly enjoyed Rogue one I thought at least the spin off stories would perhaps be an entertaining diversion albeit not particularly necessary. It was true for 'Rogue one' and the same sentiment applies to a certain degree with 'Solo' as well. It's an entertaining diversion which answers certain questions that fans may or may not have had.

The movie follows the young plucky 'Han Solo' from a young age right up to just before he makes contact with the rebellion. The movie flies at a cracking pace never leaving you time to think about anything. For the first 45 minutes I would say that the movie is actually quite good, bar a few scenes that came across a little flat and lifeless. To be fair considering the alleged mess that the movie was in before Ron Howard assumed Director duties, he has managed to create a cohesive story that holds together quite well. With a reported 70% reshoot we do, at least, seem to get what Ron Howard intended. And to be fair you couldn't really see where the issues might have been. 

This is not to say that Solo: A Star Wars story is perfect. It's not. There are a number of areas that I thought were a little flat. At times the dialogue exchanges lacked polish and crackle. It also lacked a little in action and jeopardy. The finale is a prime example of this: at no point did I feel any jeopardy for Solo. Which is a big problem with these stand alone 'Star Wars' stories we already essentially know the outcome. So the only interest that remains is how the character gets there. Which, depending upon your viewpoint, could either be interesting or two hours and fifteen minutes of boredom.

The early reports from set seemed to paint a very bad picture of Alden Ehrenreich who plays Han Solo. But for the most part I think he actually plays the part quite well and I buy him in the role. Despite positive reviews of Donald Glover who plays Lando Calrissian I felt at times he veered into a slight parody rather than authenticity. That's not to say his acting is bad, it's not. I feel its down to the change in tone of the character giving him a more campy edge that wasn't present before. I believe this is also what has certain Star Wars fans up in arms. After a bombardment of questions to writer Johnathan Kasdan over twitter he intimated that Lando is now pan sexual. There is clearly a hint that Lando holds more than friendship in mind with L3-37 (Played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) indeed at one point L3-37 infers that they would be more if only she wasn't a robot.

It seems a strange turn for Star Wars. Indeed with The last Jedi movie there was sexual politics involving men and women with a slightly sexist viewpoint - to the detriment of story and quality - just to fulfil some type of agenda. Which is a strange stance that Kathleen Kennedy has taken considering she is in charge of a franchise which champions the theme of 'Hope'. Under her stewardship the star Wars story lines seemed to have deteriorated with a noticeable decline in quality of writing usually sacrificing story for a political viewpoint rather than creating quality entertainment. 

But I digress, back to Solo I think it's an entertaining diversion that has some interesting aspects. Setting aside some weaker parts it at least tells a cohesive story unlike the predessor The last Jedi. But when push comes to shove the ending is a little underwhelming with the movie coming to a close with a whimper rather than a roar. Paul Bettany's Drydon Vos falling foul of the cliched evil villain mantle by simply being underwhelming and under written.

*** out of *****

Avengers: Infinity war movie review

 

Avengers infinity war poster

The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
— imdb synopsis

**SPOILER ALERT - THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

Lets get this out of the way first. I wouldn't really be a fan of the marvel universe as a whole. I know I said it but lets get past that. Even though the movies are well produced they all fall neatly into line with the tagline 'seen it all before'. As a company line I often wondered how many movies Marvel could produce with minimal jeopardy for any heroes before they felt the need to reset the franchise.

With their tenth year of producing movies - sometimes two in a year - there is definitely a case of 'can we get this over with please' syndrome. It seems every time you look at a trailer its for a new superhero movie. In fact most of the tent pole movies every year seem to be either 'Marvel' or 'Star wars'. Don't get me wrong I love a good fantasy and SCI-FI movie. I would just prefer a little variety every now and then. At this juncture I feel they have reached their saturation point. Eighteen movies in and jet-lag has definitely hit.

But I digress - is Avengers: Infinity war any good? well, yes and no. Let me explain. I'll start with the no part first. Characters. There's far too many at this point all clamouring to get their little piece of the pie that there is literally no room for anyone. Most are relegated to throwaway lines that are essentially a regurgitation of the plot or stating the obvious jeopardy that lays ahead. Its especially noticeable in Mark Ruffalo's performance whose acting is the worst I've ever seen from him. I often thought it would be a better movie if we actually got to know any of them beyond their superficial personas. But who has time when there is a special effect explosion to get to.

And that's one of the biggest problems I had: I didn't really care about any of them. With the stakes so high in this movie it should be at a point where you feel something. But perhaps Marvel has pressed that reset button too often now that cynicism has begun to set in. In truth when the finale rolls around and most hero's are fizzled to the ether it was met with a stunted 'Oh'. There's always a catch and a way out. I don't think its going to be any different with this one. But for a momentary instant it does work and at least, even temporarily, there could be an interesting ending. But therein lies the ever present potential reset

For the most part the special effects where good with the notable exception of the exposition scenes on 'Titan' which had some really quite badly handled green screen removal. The action scenes on wikanda where quite generic, however. A mishmash of chaotic CGI and quick cuts with very little in the way ingenuity or for that matter tension. You only have to look at the recent movie ' A quiet place' which oozed tension to realise how how far apart they both are in terms of this. Its chalk and cheese. But really are we going to a Marvel movie for that or just the spectacle of things being blown up? I think we should expect both. Tension and spectacle. Sadly we don't get both.

TITAN.jpg

Now to the good. Josh Brolin as Thanos is quite compelling. I felt he was a quietly threatening presence, obviously mad and intent on carrying out an Armageddon plan to wipe out half of the universe to solve the galaxies ills. While not perfect its still a good turn. The guardians of the galaxy give a much needed burst of laughter. Their scenes are easily some of the best in the movie. The movie spins at a great pace never staying still for very long, sliding across the cosmos fulfilling various sub-plots.

And finally we come to the ending. For the first time in a Marvel movie someone dies. And it appears that some may not come back again (Except perhaps in a reboot/reset) which is somewhat refreshing and at least a decade coming. While it is an interesting ending there is an inbuilt get out clause that undermines this heavily. If Marvel uses it, which they may well do, it will erode what has come before it.

With all of the hype surrounding the movie is it justified? Well yes and no. The movie is at the very least a distracting 2 hours+ but also at the same time too long. Some characters have very little to do and are only there to see a familiar face. It suffers from Harry potteritis where the ending is split into two for convenience and the money making potential that that implies.

So should you watch it? Well if you are a die hard Marvel fan then you have probably already seen it if not then don't go in expecting anything different. Some flaws have been lessened and others created. Not perfect but not bad either. You'll already know what to expect: Big explosions and lots of colourful effects with a smattering of funny lines thrown in. It definitely doesn't break the mold in fact it only very slightly modifies it. And that modification is probably only temporary.

*** out of *****

 

 

 

Pray for Death movie review

After a peace loving Japanese immigrant and his family become victims of a crime syndicate, a master ninja emerges.
— imdb

Recently I've been on an 80s nostagia trip re-watching movies from the era. Some bad and some good and some just weird. Its funny how your memories can colour what you thought of a movie. When I was a kid I was fascinated by ninjitsu, the martial art. I think I watched every movie ever made involving ninjas - yes even that one where all the ninjas wore neon coloured camouflage outfits. So in my mind Pray for death was a good movie. But what did I know I was only a kid and excited because I was allowed watch something violent. Cut to thirty odd years later and the movie has lost a bit of its luster but still somewhat enjoyable if not silly.

Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi) emigrates with his wife and children to America after he was pushed back for a promotion in his job. Wanting to be in control of his own destiny he plans to open a Japanese restaurant to feed the masses and heal his tortured dark soul after the death of his brother.

Upon arriving in America he visits his new home to find that he has moved into a demilitarized zone full of crack heads, drunks and drug dealers - the ideal place for a restaurant, Obviously.

Shit hole central

Shit hole central

Unbetknownst to Akira, a bunch of crooked cops store stolen goods in the abandoned restaurant - and one rogue cop decides to steel a priceless necklace names the 'Van atta necklace' (Named after the producer of the movie Don Van Atta) and a syndicate comes calling to get their property back headed by their cheif thug and sociopath called Limehouse Willie (Great Character name) played with great intensity by James Booth who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

Limehouse Willie

Limehouse Willie

Cue all manner of Torture inflicted on Akira's Family. Kidnapping of his son, Running his wife over with a Car - Still Akira refuses to fight fire with fire instead he buries it, pushing the dark shadow away until Limehouse Willie Rapes and Murders his wife while she is in the hospital bed recovering.

Its a pretty nasty little scene and I believe that it was cut or at least trimmed from the DVD release in the USA and UK when it first came out. In fact I believe there was at least 7 minutes of cuts from the original movie which showed blood letting from attacks which were missing also. This would have made a viewing experience quite maddening - the editing is quite choppy in points to begin with so having frames lifted from the end of shots would have made it worse.

preparing for battle

preparing for battle

Akira vows to make the perpetrators 'Pray for death' and he unleashes his dark shadow and becomes a ninja once again. I actually quite enjoyed the title song 'Back to the shadow' by Peggy Abernathy It's really catchy and the entire song plays over a montage of Akira making weapons. It's one of my favourite scenes in the movie.

Although not a traditional head piece of a Ninja, a more hollywoodised interpretation but still it is quite iconic looking and when Akira adorns it he is going to battle and bring all that has crossed him to justice in a bloody singular fight of skill versus modern weaponry set in a mansion.

There is fun to be had watching Akira take down the bad guys with Arrows and shurikens. Although the choreography plays a little stilted at times, its still enjoyable for the most part. During the melee Limehouse Willie escapes and the chase is on culminating in a final battle to the death in an abandoned factory full of Maniquins.

I found this to be quite unbelievable as a ninja is essentially a highly trained and skilled assassin they wouldn't be caught by surprise - considering Limehouse Willie looked old and a little ragged it didn't play entirely real for me. But then again this is only a movie and you have to take certain artistic licence and dispel your beliefs.    

The end is nigh

The end is nigh

When the finale does arrive it is a suitably fitting end to Limehouse Willie when he is skewered to piece of lumber sliding head first into a mill saw as he begs Akira to 'Kill him' repeatedly. But there is no salvation.

Pray for death isn't a very well made movie for the most part. It was a part of cannon films trilogy of Ninja movies - which incidentally never followed a continuous story line - from Golan and Globus so they were made on the cheap and rushed out the door for profit.

There's an interesting Documentary about Cannon Films called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films which is worth checking out as it gives you an interesting backstory to the creative forces behind some of these movies in the 80s and 90s. 

Whether 'Pray for death' is for you rests entirely on how far you can suspend your disbelief and if you expect everything to be perfect from the acting to the production on a movie - Sho Kosugi struggled with English and the more dramatic scenes so they tended to be flat and sometimes silly. But hey, you're not watching this type of movie for the thespian like acting. 

Enjoy!

 

'Phage' book review

Disclaimer:The auther sent me his book to read in exchange for a review* I have tried to review the book without giving away plot spoilers as best I could. However if you like to know very little of the plot of books then stop reading*

Phage is a techno-thriller by author and microbiologist Dr Mark Tamplin. Phage tells the story of Doctor Sam Townsend a microbiologist who is caught in the midst of a conspiracy to frame him for criminal acts against the state and the impending release of a biological weapon engineered by a sociopathic USDA microbiologist called Owen designed to strike at the heart of the food chain releasing a deadly mutant bacterium engineered to kill the unsuspecting American public. Set in modern day, it poses an intriguing question: what if someone where to target our food source for a weaponised biological attack?

Indeed this question is what I found the most intriguing in Tamplin's book. It is the heart of the story and what drives the narrative. In a world ravaged by war and uncertainty the one constant, to a certain degree, is the fact that we can put uncontaminated food on our plates. However, if this did happen what would we do to protect ourselves? Or could we even stop it if this actually happened?

In the setup we are given a brief introduction to the protagonist of the story Dr Sam Townsend, a man living with a past who is focused on a world of microbes when the outer world - the world of his own existence - is microscopic like the microbes he spends so much time investigating. One of the problems I have with the story is the fact that we never really get to know Sam and at times I felt his dialogue exchanges with certain Characters were a little contrived and unrealistic. As the hero of the piece I felt we really needed to know him in order to root for him, otherwise we are following a somewhat slender character that we cannot totally engage with. Perhaps that was the authors intention that he be as cold as the microbes he investigates and is holding back some more detail for what, I understand, is a planned trilogy of books involving the same character. To me its important that im along with the character for the ride and not a passive viewer. I want to know something of him and 'intuit' the rest as we go along. Character is king and informs the plot in my view.

Some Other small niggles were some subplot turns that took me out of the main storyline mostly involving the FBI and the search for Sam and his students that didn't play out realistically for me and took away from the main drive of the plot. The students dialogue exchanges, at times, felt unrealistic and didn't quite serve the plot for me. It seemed like one less character in these situations would make for a tighter, more streamlined plot and reading experience overall.

The Antagonist, professor Owen Potter was much more complex character, more deeply drawn and I could tell that Tamplin enjoyed writing his pieces. For me he was the most interesting character in the book. He was somewhat unpredictable with sociopathic tendencies and a bitter self aggrandizing attitude which combined spells disaster for anyone who crosses his path. His delusions about his mother where very reminiscent of Norman Bates, their relationship seemingly on a similar plane. His plot to contaminate food was frightening with potentially catastrophic effects on a world scale.

I Really enjoyed the opening of the book and found the build up, contamination and subsequent clean up explaining the technical scientific aspects of a 'phage' intriguing. It is very crichtonesque. I felt it got the balance right without overwhelming the reader. *On a personal note, I would probably have wanted more technical information as the subject matter itself fascinates me.

Overall, it is a fast paced thriller with a very interesting plot. If you enjoy science-based technical thrillers then I think you might enjoy reading 'Phage'. Putting aside certain plot and dialogue niggles overall it was an enjoyable read and I thank Mark Tamplin for reaching out and asking me to read his book.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5

Below are a link to buy his book on Amazon.  

https://www.amazon.com/Phage-Mark-Tamplin-ebook/dp/B015AUR1YM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468344720&sr=1-1&keywords=phage