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.

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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 *****

 

 

 

Annihilation

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A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.
— imdb

Warning possible spoilers ahead *

Having been a fan of Alex Garland I eagerly anticipated the release of 'Annihilation'. From the trailer I was expecting a slightly colorful and intriguing intellectual 'Aliens' mashup. Although taking trailers at face value will usually guarantee disappointment and with this trailer, to a certain degree, that rationale applies here.

This is not to say that the movie is bad per se just more intellectual and slow moving than anticipated which isn't necessarily a bad thing either. But having said that I can see that there's a lot of plot holes in the movie some involving setup and others motivation.

From the outset we witness a character in turmoil, Lena, played by Natalie Portman - a very talented actress - who is missing her husband after he sets off on a top secret mission into 'the shimmer'. 12 months later he reappears, walking back into Lena's life, who has misplaced her grief putting everything into her job with very little of herself remaining to 'live'.

Kane, Lena's husband is a ghost of his former self, apparently traumatized from his ordeal in 'the shimmer'. This is when he rapidly becomes sick, coughing up blood and is rushed to hospital. En-route the ambulance is intercepted and Lena et al are taken to a top secret facility across from the shimmer. So far so good.

From here the plot begins to get a little bit sketchy for me. Here she meets Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who interrogates her about her husband and what he has told her about his experiences in the shimmer. Dr. Ventress appears to be the controller of this operation, a psychologist by trade, who informs Lena that they are about to embark on another operation into the shimmer despite all other operations failing including sending in drones. In other words they have all previously failed and people have died along the way.

What follows next doesn't really make much sense to me. This 'death' mission is headed by a rag tag group of women with varying occupations: biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist (The last occupation I gleaned from Imdb as I never heard it in the movie itself). They enter the shimmer, armed with weapons (Even though most of them are academics with no military training) and seemingly very little else to investigate the shimmer.

From this point I wondered why they never wore any sort of 'hasmat' type suits. They are going into an unknown area possibly of alien origin without any idea of what the air quality would be like. We were already informed no drone made it back through the shimmer and all communication ceases once inside.

They appear, as a group, not to be too concerned even when strange happenings appear around them. They are attacked at one point by a rabid crocodile, the next scene they suggest someone should 'stand guard'. Strangely this means the guard is stationed over 2oo meters away on the ground when everyone else is high and dry up on a look out platform (?!). This set up just appears to be there to create a false sense of tension and a set up for another attack.

The hybrid animals are interesting but the cinematography lets this down for me. It appears muddy with blown out highlights that are very distracting at times. Aesthetically I found the production design good for the most part up until the ending which we will get to later. 

Very little actual scientific detecting is done with in the shimmer. It appears whomever packed their backpacks decided to leave major equipment behind like night vision goggles and rubber gloves. At no point is there a concern for 'cross contamination'. With the stakes so high for humanity you would think they would have all the equipment necessary at their disposal. Which brings up another question who exactly is running this operation? It appears that Dr. Ventress is in charge, a psychologist who wouldn't know a mutated cell if one punched her in the face. With a big military presence we assume this operation is run by them. So strangely they are not accompanied by any army. It seemed like a setup to have an all female cast at the center of the story without any regard for 'story'.

Not that an all female cast makes a difference. It doesn't. They could have easily included a few female military personelle  and dropped one or two of the existing characters as they added very little to the movie at all. They just appeared there to make up the numbers and scream occasionally or bicker amongst themselves. The biggest disappointment for me is the characters. They are incredibly one dimensional. At times it appeared that the actresses were struggling to add 'life' to them. As portrayed Dr. Ventress appeared to be depressed half the time. It didn't help that they seemed to be given the direction to be stilted with their responses to each other.

When we do get to the finale we witness an area very much like 'Alien' with its chitinous living interior. Having spent so much time giving us colourful highlights to be subjected to an Alien hive felt like a misstep. Not that it looked bad, it didn't. It just felt like very lazy production design.

Some will be very disappointed by the ending and what happens after. To me it was at least interesting. I can't say that it was entirely successful, however. There seems to be a jump in logic where the final image will have you wondering why this should end in a cosy embrace. 

Overall there are some interesting ideas if you can get past the obvious flaws there may be some enjoyment. However, if you don't enjoy slow moving sci-fi movies you wont enjoy this either.

** & a half out of *****

Star Wars: the last Jedi review

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SYNOPSIS

Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
— Imdb

Warning spoilers ahead:

As we open on Domhnall Gleason's General Hux sneary scowl dolling out lines like an evil villain from a Christmas panto play I couldn't help but think there was somehow a mistake - someone in the projectionist booth had keyed up a funny behind the scenes outtake instead of the actual feature film by accident Surely this couldn't be the actually movie, could it? I sank deeper into my seat and tried my best to focus on the positives but it continued to shock with its failed attempt at 'dropped telephone connection' humour between Rebelion hotshot pilot Poe Dameron and general Hux . To say that this exchange was more akin to a part of Space Balls: the movie than Star wars would be an understatement. Having glossed over some reviews they lead you to believe that this installment was closer in tone to the Empire strikes back while in reality it was more akin to an unintentional comedy than a space opera. I sat there and wondered where they watching the same movie as me.

This weird structure was to continue with humour that failed seemingly every time it was attempted. Gone was the laconic smart ass-ness of Han Solo being replaced by a slap stick humour that just wasn't funny. We have a scene involving Princess Leia that was quite simply silly - it would have been better served for her to simply die at that point at least it would have created some gravitas as it stands she comes across as some sort of super hero who cannot be killed.

Minor plot holes I can forgive but a blatantly poorly written plot I cannot. What ensues for most of the movie is a slow motion chase across space that makes literally no sense. The rag tag rebellion fleet is quickly running out of fuel and has only enough to make one more light jump but the only snag is that the 'First Order' can track them through the 'light jump' and remain on their tails. This begs the question: why didn't the first order simply surround them and obliterate their ships into tiny particles? In the original movies the star destroyers where incredibly fast moving. In this they are hulking beasts travelling at a snails pace while the rebellion ships have shields that can continuously repel bombardment for hours on end. The logic here is simply bad and just an excuse to create a subplot for Finn to go to attempt to rescue the ship. Which, by the way, is another major misstep. An OTT CGI mess where Horse creatures are seemingly more important than human children. Why would you free race horses and not the slave children? Yeah, exactly that doesn't make any sense either... anywhoo...  

The muddled plot continues when we visit Luke Skywalker and Rey. She wishes to try to bring Luke Skywalker back with her to balance the force and rebuild hope in the rebellion which is fine. I can even get on board with the fact that Luke is now a loner and doesn't want anything to do with the rebellion, having made drastic mistakes training the future Jedi knights. But the motivations of Rey and her temptation at the hands of the dark side of the force seem laboured and without character. It is just a matter of convenience to try to bring Rey and Kylo Ren back together again. Luke Skywalker as a character is now wasted and what was considered by many to be an iconic screen hero is reduced to a bumbling old man who has divorced himself from the force in favour of living a life as a hermit.

He was one of the most optimistic characters in Star Wars universe and in this movie his character is treated abysmally by a writer who seems to think more about fashionable concepts and ‘winging it’ than actually writing a good story-line. When we eventually clunk into the finale ragged and beaten by the poor choices we are treated to a scene that is supposed to illicit compassion and sadness where Luke has sacrificed himself to save the rebellion. But this sacrifice hasn’t been earned nor has the ‘sadness’. It plays as one more contrivance in a movie riddle by them. There was a lot of experienced reviewers saying that these type of scenes and the movie itself is a vehicle to ‘subvert expectations’ like this concept in its current incarnation is something the average cinema-goer should be wowed by but in reality this just reeks of incoherent storytelling. Add to the fact that very few of them seemed to pay attention to the obvious plot holes on display and you have very inconsistent reviewing especially when other movies of similar ilk get a hammering for the same flaws.

It just makes me wonder how a script like this could be read and not notice all of the plot holes in it. With so much money gambling on a movie as big as this do Disney simply just believe they will make a ton of money no matter what sort of Star Wars movie they cobble together? Ensemble movies are notoriously difficult to get right. The ability to hit the highs while maintaining the tone of the original is incredibly difficult. With the advent of more impressive special effects and the ability to blow up everything into a million impressive pieces we've forgotten the golden rule of cinema: Character. Impressive special effects will never gloss over the fact that a screenplay is poorly written. Motivation is key. Conflict is paramount and character is king.

In Star Wars we have forgotten that sense of wonder where the continuous battle of good versus evil hangs in the balance and love and faith are what holds the universe together, binds us in an ever increasing circle. In this movie we are treated to a collection of contrivances where spectacle has replaced poignancy and motivation and it is a lesser movie because of it.

When all is said and done the worst travesty of the movie is the simple fact that you don't actually care about anything or anyone in it. It's all flash and no substance. Poorly executing a screenplay with more plot holes than the average block of swiss cheese 'if we throw in enough lightsabre's perhaps they wont even notice'. A sleight of hand designed to rob of your wares like a street magician who silently picks your pocket while earnestly looking into your eyes. 

The force is definitely not strong with this one. 

Rating *1/2 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!

 

Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice Review

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BvS logo

'Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.'

Synopsis: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) taken from Imdb.
— http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2975590/

A direct sequel of sorts to 'Man of steel', Zack Snyder is once again in the directors chair of this dark sober tale of fear, demi gods and angst.

In the current run of high profile comic book movies this venture from DC studios and Zack Snyder is a curious mix, often muddled, with both good and bad points.

It is a sober, dark and brooding affair where we once again witness the murder of Batman's Parents in a stylish opening introduction to his character. The titular role of Batman is given to Ben Affleck who plays the role in a very understated fashion. Hard boiled, brooding and angst ridden. One of the more interesting aspects of this incarnation of the character is the fact that he brands the perpetrators he brings to justice. It's strangely dark and nice touch but it is only very briefly touched on in the movie and never really spoken about. It had more potential to add layers to his character.

you can quite evidently see Christopher Nolans influence on the film. Some of the editing choices are clearly from the Nolan playbook. The skips in narration, slightly off kilter, abrupt style in the action sequences are undoubtedly Nolanesque. Its just a question wheter this hinders or helps the storyline.

I felt at times, it made the narrative a bit muddled, trying to add depth to the story that wasn't really there to begin with. If the story beats are broken down you can see the plot is really rather simple. Admittedly, I can see why you would want the epic approach given that its a tent pole summer blockbuster but at the same time I do wish that there was more substance. We never really crawl under the surface. So it feels very scant while attempting depth.

I liked Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne, given the limited material he had to play with he gave the tortured soul of Batman life for the most part. However, I wasn't a fan of the batman voice which to me came across a little silly and unconvincing. Henry Cavill is once again short changed as Superman, left looking stern with no sense of humanity, humility or humour, the type of stoic hallmarks of superman in the original Richard Donner movies and it was sorely lacking. The biggest surprise was the casting of Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthar which was wholly misjudged seemingly acting in an entirely different movie to everyone else. At times his acting style was cringe worthy eliciting a snigger rather than intrigue or interest.

But was the movie any good? That's a good question. To be honest I'm torn. I have to admit that usually I'm not the biggest fan of Zack Snyder's approach to super hero movies generally. They tend to be too over the top for me. Taking 'Man of steel' as a point of reference, I felt the ending was just forty minutes of buildings getting blown apart and needless destruction. It felt more like a video game than a movie. This approach very quickly became boring and I began looking at the clock to see how much time was left to run - something I never do during a movie. Sometimes less is more.

With BVS the premise seemed very silly because ultimately where could you go? An indestructible Alien facing a human with a bat suit fetish seemed like a non-starter for interest. At times it does feel exactly like that. There is quite a lot of build up for a showdown that lasts for maybe five minutes of screen time. And how it concludes is rather abrupt and unintentionally silly. Its the kind of moment where you do a double take.

its not all bad though as the movie had some potential which was squandered under the weight of trying 'to fit it all in' including the obligatory intro to the upcoming Justice league movie. As a result the movie just feels too focused on plot and not on Character. Which is, admittedly, a dichotomy as the plot itself is simplistic. It is filled to the brim with subplots and bit players that don't really add much to the movie. Visually it is quite nicely shot in a hazy sepia tone colour palette and the effects are colourful and overblown, as you'd expect from a Superhero movie. The action for the most part is well done especially involving Batman and hand to hand combat.

 

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Ultimately though the movie felt muddled plotwise and I found it hard to keep my attention for the entirety of its running time. 

** out of 5