movie

Midsommar movie review

midsommer poster.jpg
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
— imdb

Midsommer is the follow up feature film from writer/director Ari Astor who directed the chilling ‘Hereditory’ last year. Dani (Florence Pugh in a brilliant performance) is a troubled young women, trapped into a cycle of mental abuse by her sister with Bipolar who constantly threatens to end her life via e-mail and text message.

When she actually follows through with her latest threat, taking Dani’s parents along with her in a shocking scene, Dani’s world threatens to fall apart. Relying on an unsympathetic boyfriend Christian played astutely by Jack Reynor, who secretly really just wants to dump her but doesn’t have the heart to do so, to help put her back together. Dani invites herself onto a trip to Sweden that Christian didn’t tell her about to visit a remote village for a few weeks of relaxation and to take her mind off of her woes.

Shot in a very bright and distancing fashion, it Cooley contrasts the vibrant photography to create a quietly unsettling tone. Echoing movies like ‘The wicker man’ we are dropped into a remote cult whose practices are weird and distorted. For a while we are visitors casually witnessing a gradual deception take place. This slow pace could easily polarize viewers. I would say if you prefer your movie going experience to be constantly in your face then this movie isn’t for you. If, however you prefer a slow burn there are weirdly enjoyable moments to be had. The fact that there are genuine scenes of macabre laughter along the way helps a great deal.

Not scary in the slightest, ‘Midsommar’ prefers to play out in a vibrantly unsettling manner. Utilizing a bright summer colour palette of greens and yellows glossing over the darkness hidden within. Its a clever conceit which does hold your attention. I did however feel that most of the characters where disposable, reacting somewhat unrealistically when some of their fellow travel companions begin to disappear. The explanations given by the elder inhabitants are at best suspicious. But maybe that is the point of their characters: selfishness. Certainly I would agree when it comes to the character of Christian who is somewhat self centred and a little devious. The other disappointing aspect is the plot which follows a very predicable line. It left a little feeling of ‘its very pretty to look at but where are the surprises in the plot?’.

Near the end a scene involving a coerced sexual ritual is played for weirdness and laughter. It is a darkly comical scene that had the audience in my screening in fits of laughter. It could have so easily fallen apart but Jack Reynor plays it perfectly, his facial expressions comic gold. I must admit I wasn’t expecting the movie to have any humour in it but I’m happy to say it did.

In the end ‘Midsommar’ isn’t perfect but it is enjoyable. Not for everyone like his previous movie ‘Hereditory’. There are some unexplained details that might confuse some. Taken as a whole it was a little on the long side. If you find slow burn movies a slog then you wont find this movie any different. However, if you enjoy weird goings on with a touch of ‘The wicker man’ then you might enjoy this. I would, however, say don’t expect it to break the mold and necessarily add anything new to that movie trope.

***1/2 out of *****

'The Hallow' movie review

hallow poster.jpg
A family who moved into a remote mill house in Ireland finds themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.
— imdb synopsis

Set in contemporary rural ireland, a young couple Adam and Claire move into a disused mill house in the centre of an ancient forest, where Adam (A british conservationist)has been tasked with selecting trees to be felled by a logging company.

During his innitial survey (as a viewer we later discover it’s his third visit) Adam selects trees for felling and stumbles upon an abandoned house where he enters with his infant son strapped to his back. Once inside he happens upon a deer which has been murdered and propped by a wall. Upon closer inspection Adam notices black fungus growths eminating from the skull of the deer and proceeds to take a sample of it. He brings it home and we witness that this fungus seems quite violent in nature.

At this point is where I began to have problems with the movie. Would you bring your infant son near a dead animal which could have died any number of ways and expose him to potential danger? Indeed having seen this fungus dribble down from the ceiling into the babies cot they do nothing about it. This set the scene for any number of idiotic decisions by the parents to randomly leave their child when a hint of danger was called for in the script.

To say that the main protagonists where characters is being generous. As the setup goes you have to guess that Adam is there working for a logging company it is only briefly hinted at and then confirmed in the very last scene of the movie as the credits roll over top of it. It’s difficult to keep your interest when the world of the story isn’t exactly explained clearly.

I can understand the need for mystery and having an ambigious beginning can work but when characters are as wafer thin as these I felt you needed to clarify the world so at least we care enough to watch.

Which is its biggest problem. I just didn’t care. The characters don’t have to be likeable to be watcheable they just have to have ‘character’. Adam is perhaps the worst of the pair, given the most screen time and guilty of being pig headed to the detriment of his own child. That setup would have been interesting if it indeed had have been setup as his character from the get go. As it stands it just comes across as stupidity and totally throws you out of the movie.

When we join them they are in a battle with the strange neighbour who wishes to warn them about the dangers lurking in the forest telling them to ‘stay away’. If the danger was so great why didn’t he say more? Why does he just need to speak to Adam, he could have easily given his warning to Claire. Indeed later on in the movie he presents her with a very elaborate book on the forest including its dangers (Designed very similarily to the book out of the evil dead). And this is after they have been attacked. Surely you would just up sticks and leave. Especially as there isn’t any compelling case given for them to stay.

Very little makes sense in the world of the movie. Light at one point frightens the creatures away when it is used again they don’t fear it, then at the end daylight kills them. Consistency of its own rules is a problem. The other is the fact that we aren’t exactly told what the creatures are. I’m guessing they are a type of demonic faery when Adam mentions that his own son is a ‘changling’ but that isn’t entirely clear.

The creatures design themselves are quite good. I really liked the fact that most of the effects involving them where practical which made them tangeable and real. The forest location is great and the lighting is suitiably errie. The special effects are quite good too. There are a number of effective set pieces with the creatures so that’s a plus. So the only real flaw is the script.

In the end I just didn’t care. I felt myself bored with the movie as there wasn’t enough there to invest fully in it. Forgiving the familiarity of certain shots borrowed from other better movies, I just couldn’t forgive the motivations of the characters and that alone hurt my enjoyment of it.

** out of *****

Avengers:endgame review

SPOILER ALERT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Where do I begin with Avengers:endgame? In a mind numbing(and ass numbing) whopping three hour run time Avengers fails as a thrilling finale (of sorts) to a 22 movie run. I have to admit I found myself more than a little bored with this instalment having enjoyed the previous outing a lot more than this. With stilted dialogue abound and dramatic scenes that aren't entirely earned it quickly becomes a chore to watch. There is a distinct feeling that ‘we’ve see this already before’ about the movie.

Not to say that it’s entirely bad, it’s not. There are some entertaining scenes and Robert Downey junior puts in a good performance since he is given a script that’s a little more weighty than anything in the franchise before. The effects for the most part are really good, although I’m still not entirely convinced about the backgrounds of some of the planets they have a very distinct ‘Green screen’ feel to them that is a little off putting and for a reported 200 million budget should be flawless. But I digress: the good if you are a Marvel fan then you will most probably like the fact that Thor has become an overweight mess who has taken on a look of ‘The dude’ from the big lebowski. Having failed to kill Thanos in the previous instalment of the franchise.

This will lead us neatly onto what is less good about the movie: The ‘one liners’ that fall like a brick in the ocean. Why was there ships parked around the statue of liberty five years after 50% of the population disappeared? Like there is a shortage of housing suddenly. No one about to moor these boats. Doesn’t really make sense and is there just to create a false atmosphere.

A lot of the plot since it doesn’t seem to make much sense arbitrarily setting up a strict time travel narrative and then simply discarding it when an action scene is called for. The returning of the ‘stones’ in said same time travel narrative. The fact that nothing essentially changes when they ‘bring everyone back’ they have knowledge which they wouldn’t have when five years have passed. When the ‘stones’ magically meld with Tony Stark’s suit so that he can use them. The fact that everyone turns up at the end to have a battle with Thanos on earth: How would they know being essentially dead for the past five years? Surely they would be brought back to the original place they died in?

The obligatory eye rolling ‘all female’ super hero moment that includes Pepper Potts as a hero - not that I don’t believe women should have their moment far from it, it just feels like pandering for political reasons rather than built from story it would have been perfectly fine if the women actually had anything to do in the rest of the movie but they don’t - it is a fleeting moment that is tacked on to the end in a last ditch effort for inclusion. Captain Marvel - what was the point of her character? To turn up and destroy Thano’s ship and then be beaten. While we’re on the subject of Thanos in the final battle without the stones he is nigh on invincible taking on all of the avengers and still coming out on top. Yet he was easily taken out at the start of the movie with only three avengers on hand. Again the contrivance to suit the narrative. There is no rules accept those that suit whatever scene comes next. And last but not least we have returning the lost soul stone which required a sacrifice to get in the first place surely that applies to return it? The list goes on and on..

It is the convenience of ‘fitting the narrative’ to suit the situation that is what hurts the movie and makes it less interesting and simply lazy screenwriting. These are all questionable plot holes that are glossed over in deference to an action scene or when something needs to happen.

I’m increasingly surprised (or maybe I shouldn’t) at the critical reviews of these movies. Last year we had Star Wars: The last Jedi which was an abomination of plot contrivances with more plot holes than the average block of Swiss cheese yet it received glowing reviews from most critics stating that the movie ‘subverted expectations’ like this was a good thing yet they glossed over the fact that these ‘subverted expectations’ we’re simply bad writing. They are seemingly afraid to be critical of the Behemoth that is Disney instead opting to review these movies with ‘rose tinted glasses’ glossing over their flaws. Yet these same critics hammer other movies for less egregious errors. It is this inconsistency that paints certain reviewers in a less than pleasing light. No-one is perfect but even the casual viewer has to admit that these movies are far from perfect.

With a reported box office of over two billion, nearly beating Avatar’s world record have the general movie going public succumbed to the fact that these big tent pole movies no longer need to make sense plot wise instead if they contain enough pretty images and explosions they will let anything slide? This is a worrying trend in movies that are making huge amounts in box office receipts. I see lost opportunities for the reported 200 million budget that could have made four 50 million dollar movies that try to tell a cohesive story. These type of movies are increasingly being squeezed out in favour of big tent pole movies. Which is a shame as there should be room for both.

At the end of it all the plot contains too many questions and no real answers instead opting for glossy explosions and a false sense of drama.

* 1/2 out of *****

'The silence' movie review

the silence poster.jpg
When the world is under attack from terrifying creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, 16-year old Ally Andrews (Kiernan Shipka), who lost her hearing at 13, and her family seek refuge in a remote haven.
— imdb

Recently netflix have been doing more and more original content. With varying degrees of success, some better than others but all, at least, with an emphasis on content that you wouldn’t see a major movie studio investing money, especially not in this climate of comic book movie overkill. Its a least refreshing to see a studio investing in other material that isn’t cartoony comic book superhero extravaganza. An adult orientated adventure where there could be genuine stakes and not a falseness primed on the possibility of a ‘reboot’ if they don’t hit the ‘right demographic’.

In truth, their brave decisions don’t always work out. And this is the case with ‘The Silence’. An intriguing premise that actually pre-dates the far superior ‘A quiet place’. Some have said that netflix have copied a format that worked when in reality they were working from a book by Tim Lebbon called ‘the silence’ Released in 2015. So it begs the question of who was copying who here. The setup almost identical even down to a girl who is deaf and a family in jeopardy from blind creatures that hunt by hearing alone.

Without trying to spoil anything I will say that there are some effective scenes namely one where a car is parked on a side road. But the main problem here seems to be the fact that Director John R. Leonetti hasn’t embraced the material. A potential for scares and tension that ‘ A quiet place’ mastered. It didn’t help that the creatures in ‘The silence’ where a type of hybrid bat that wasn’t set up in a frightening way. They seemed far too simple to kill. Setting aside the obvious plot holes or the fact that we didn’t really get to know the main protagonists aside from their limited family dynamic, the plot just didn’t really engage.

The start had potential and they could have gone in a number of different directions (I haven’t read the book so I can’t say whether this closely mirrors the plot of the source material) instead taking it down a tired path that held very little tension. With, at times, some very shoddy CGI creatures and potential setup that didn’t result in a satisfying conclusion we have a feature film that has potential but falls flat and lifeless.

The ending where they meet a group of religious fanatics, again had potential but how that concludes was just as unsatisfying and worst still irritating because it just.. well ends on a weird abrupt note. Three or so minutes later and we have an epilogue that feels rushed and out of place. Either they ran out of money or the screenwriter had sequel squarely in his mind. Either way potential ruined. There could have been hints of ‘The road’, a harsh climate where having a family is dangerous in itself.

But that isn’t the case we are instead delivered a type of B movie with quite large plot holes. Not that ‘A quiet place’ didn’t have plot holes either, it did. There was just enough ingenuity and tension to suspend your disbelief so you could get on board with the story. It also help immensely that you actually got to know the family in the movie. In this, the criminally under utilised Stanley Tucci is hand cuffed into a nothing role where he is given very little bar a few minor scenes to play with.

In the end ‘The Silence’ is a pale photocopy of ‘A quiet place’ where the original stands head and shoulders above it in execution. Which is a shame really as the story had potential.

** out of *****

'WIDOWS' MOVIE REVIEW

Widows poster - imdb

Widows poster - imdb

Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
— imdb synopsis

I’ve been a fan of Steve Mc Queen’s movies since his debut feature film ‘Hunger’, a haunting vision of Irish republican hunger striker Bobby Sands. His movies are quietly powerful with assured, confident direction and emotional performances from his central leads.

With his latest movie ‘Widows’ we are drawn into the seedy world of Robbers and a political landscape that embraces this lifestyle secretly while openly admonishing it. We open onto a botched robbery where Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) a career criminal with over thirty successful years of armed robbery under his belt seemingly makes a mistake in the planning and all of the robbers are executed at the hands of a zealous swat team who decimate the group in a hail of bullets.

With a debt owed to a nefarious criminal Jamal Mannings (Brian Tyree Henry) - who also happens to be running against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) for alderman of the 19th ward, four ‘Widows’ must conspire to forge a future on their own terms and take on a heist that will free themselves from debt and perhaps a new life free from crime.

Taken as a remake of sorts to the 1983 series by Lynda La Plant, there is a lot of story strands that have to be hit in a two hour movie. You would think that this would keep the story interesting and fresh but in reality I felt it dragged at times and we lost the central premise of four women attempting to carry off a robbery with no experience. The other scenes involving political machinations felt forced even though there are some great turns by Colin Farrell and his brow beating, overbearing father played by Robert Duval. Daniel Kaluuya’s performance felt a little off neither over the top evil or clever… just well a little generic. The same could be said for Liam Neeson’s character Harry Rawlings - we never really get to know any of them. They are stock one dimensional characters. In truth there is just too many characters to juggle and have any of them feel grounded.

The subplot of Viola Davis losing her son through a police shooting lost some of its power as it wasn’t really at the centre of the movie. It is the motivator for the plot of the movie which for obvious spoiler reasons I wont say anything more suffice to say that I felt it needed to be given more weight and not have it be a precursor to a ‘twist’ that didn’t necessarily work effectively enough.

In truth the plot by screenwriter Gillian Flynn felt muddled with too many characters vying for screen time that they lost their impact. The central premise for the movie involving the four women was less impactful and relegated to snippets where you lost their character. Truly the only real character was Veronica played by Viola Davis. Trying to touch on so many themes all at once made for a disjointed viewing. We have sleazy politics, sex work, Racism, loss, remorse, revenge, regret and hope all intertwined so that very little hits home and you lose a lot of the power in those themes even though they are very relevant in today’s society.

This is not to say the movie is bad its not. It has very assured direction and the performances are all very good. I felt perhaps that one less subplot would have made for a better viewing experience and given the central premise more weight.

Overall worth watching ***1/2 out of *****

The Meg movie review

After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.
— imdb
the meg poster.jpg

Where do I being with the review for 'The Meg'? I think it might be appropriate to start with a quote from Jason Statham himself when he was interviewed about the project:

"The film changed a lot. The script was totally different. There was so many different ... sometimes you just go: How did it happen? How did it go from this to this to this to that? I guess if you have the control to keep it a certain way you would, but you don't. They have so many people deciding on what action stays and what scenes stay. How the characters ... In the end they want to put something at the beginning. The whole thing at the beginning where I *spoiler* do a rescue on a sub? That was not in the script that I read. That was all brand new stuff. Good or bad, I'm just letting you know"

I think in a way that quote sort of encapsulates what is wrong with the movie. I remember reading the book 'MEG' in the early 90s, it was a far fetched 'Jaws' knock off but also strangely captivating and filled with tension. Tension is the keyword here or the lack thereof in the movie. It seems that a committee has decided to make the movie a 12s friendly affair when it should have been R-rated and filled with gorey deaths. When nearly every death happens off screen it becomes very disappointing. After all we're coming to see a monster movie, a predator that is stalking innocent people to their deaths. Also if you like your movies to follow basic real world truths this isn't really for you. At one point they make a dive beyond 10,000 feet and not one person suffers from the bends or decompresses when they come to the surface - so in other words not realistic whatsoever.

Not that I'm saying its all bad, its not. There are some interesting scenes there its just a shame that the whole movie couldn't have been that way. Its fairly obvious that the movie went through a number of changes in edit. Scenes seem to be cobbled together at times and it makes for an unruly watch.

The conversation pieces between characters are quite badly handled highlighting the fact that there was no chemistry between the leads and/or poor acting on display or sometimes a combination of both.  Statham comes off quite badly at times especially in the opening scenes - Which is a shame as I think he could offer so much more than he is currently showing.

Then again that could be down to the script which falters, chugging out cliched conversations and jokes that don't really hit. Harrison Ford once said about Star Wars 'George, you can write this shit but I can't say it'. I'm paraphrasing here but you get the idea. It makes for some cringe worthy scenes. The movie is at its best when they are fleeing the prehistoric monster or trying to destroy it. Tension is what was called for and we didn't really get it.

There was plenty of scope for tension in the movie but it never really quite works which is a shame as I think it had potential. Given the fact that 'The Meg' has had a troubled production history - multiple directors and screenwriters for over 25 years have tried to bring it to screen - its little surprise that the final product isn't everything that it could have been. But that shouldn't excuse delivering something below par. With that much time to prepare and polish a script should we not have expected more?

** out of *****

Mission Impossible: Fallout review

mission impossible poster.jpg
Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.
— imdb

***SPOILERS AHEAD ***

Opening with a familiar setup that is now a firm part of the mission impossible structure, Ethan Hunt must try to rescue stolen plutonium from an arms dealer hell bent on selling it on to a militant splinter group which has parted ways with 'the syndicate'. The mission goes wrong and Ethan Hunt must try to recover the stolen plutonium, risking the lives of his IMF crew and his ex wife.

Filled with spectacular action from the word go it is a roller coaster ride of thrills and action. Darker in tone and cinematography than the previous instalments it relies on the central premise that Ethan Hunt would happily sacrifice the world to save a person close to him. With this firmly in place Filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie sets up obstacle after obstacle with this very purpose in mind.

Its a clever premise but ironically I found the writing to be the weakest part of the storytelling. At times the plot is sacrificed in pursuit of an action sequence. Then again why are we watching these movies if not for the action and the spectacle? When the action beats rise and are handled with such fervour the plot becomes secondary anyway so maybe its best not to complain too much. But I personally felt that there was something missing. With all the explosive bravura on display do we really care about any of the characters and is that even necessary anymore?

But I digress, having the longest run time of all of the mission movies I did feel it went on a little to long. No to say that it was boring. No it was never boring. It just lacked a little pizzazz when they slow down enough to have a conversation with each other. But this is a very minor complaint. All in all the setup is interesting enough to pull you along for the ride.

At first I found Henry Cavill's character August Walker a nice introduction, he is introduced as the 'tip of the spear' someone who will get the job done no matter the cost - but as the movie went on he became a less interesting character and ultimately villain. The finale where two helicopters hang precariously over a cliff edge does echo a movie like 'Cliffhanger' where the hero and villain battle inside as the helicopter slips further and further down to the rocky depths below. Then again you are always going to have comparisons to other movies and it is still an enjoyable action sequence nevertheless.

I will, however, urge you not to look at the trailer. I felt that it gives away the twist in the movie. But having said that the twist is pretty obvious from the get go so maybe that doesn't matter too much. The marketing is selling the movie based upon the action quota and very little about the plot as they clearly paint Henry Cavill as the villain in them. 

All in all Mission impossible: Fallout is an enjoyable movie best viewed in a cinema with the largest screen to fully appreciate the scale of the action.

**** out of **** 

Annihilation

ANNIHILATION-POSTER-SMALL.jpg
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 you 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!