review

Cobra (1986) movie review

 
‘Cobra’ poster, 1986

‘Cobra’ poster, 1986

 
A tough-on-crime street cop must protect the only surviving witness to a strange murderous cult with far reaching plans.
— imdb
 

In 1980s Sylvester Stallone was arguably the biggest star in Hollywood at the time. After a string of box office successes he appeared to have the Midas touch. Signed to originally star in the Beverly Hills cop movie, Stallone utilising a clause in his contract rewrote the screenplay making it more action orientated and changing the main character’s last name to Cobretti. Stallone would later leave the project after Paramount Pictures balked at the increase in budget from Stallone’s rewrite.

Based loosely upon Paula Gosling’s Novel ‘A running Duck’ Stallone wrote ‘Cobra’ about a nihilistic cop who will do anything to take down the bad guys. Directed by George P. Cosmatos, who collaborated with Stallone on ‘Rambo first blood part two’. It is worth noting here that it is rumoured that Stallone ghost directed ‘Cobra’ and ‘Rambo first blood part two’. It would later emerge that ‘Cosmatos’ next picture ‘Tombstone’ was ghost directed by Kurt Russel. Cosmatos being known as a guy who could be used for these services Kurt Russel would later say (about Tombstone) ‘I’d go to George’s room, give him the shot list for the next day, that was the deal. While you’re alive George, I won’t say a goddamn thing.’

‘Cobra’ was green lit with a budget of twenty five million dollars. Produced by Golan and Globus who in the 80s and 90s would shoot out lots of low budget B-movies with varying degrees of success.

Cobra setting is a seedy nihilistic Los Angeles where a ‘new world order’ biker gang is terrorising the general public. The ‘night slasher’, a sadistic serial killer trawls the streets in search of his next quarry. When we join the movie he is about to murder his sixteenth victim, mutilating her body using a razor sharp knife. Cue ‘Cobra’ a tough detective heading the ‘Zombie squad’, an extreme splinter group of the LAPD who shoot first and ask questions later, is tasked with finding and eliminating the ‘night slasher’.

When Ingrid played by Brigitte Nielsen is brutally attacked on her way home from a fashion shoot she comes under the protective watch of ‘Cobra’. That is essentially the movie plot wise.

Viewed now over thirty years later, Cobra is extremely dated. Filled with cheesy one-liners and choppy editing. It is, however, fast paced coming in at a lean 87 minutes. There is a great performance by Brian Thompson who plays the ‘night slasher’. He is a sadistic and menacing presence. The attack on ‘Ingrid’ in an LA hospital a particular highlight.

The original cut of the movie was rumored to be two hours ten minutes long featuring lots of bloody violence. Cut down to a more reasonable 90 minutes and the MPAA insisted that more cuts happen to secure a coveted ‘R’ rating and not the proposed ‘X’ rating. It is definitely a movie that suffers badly from being overly edited. Scenes are haphazardly put together with a lot of sudden cuts when anything violent appears on screen. Continuity errors are frequent and puzzling. Coherency sabotaged for run-time and the misguided belief that being an hour and a half will ensure more cinema viewings.

Some of the action scenes were interesting but again they suffer from poor editing decisions, haphazardly chopping away at any potential coherency and tension. Which is a shame as it could have been another type of ‘Mad max’. You can easily see that movie as being an inspiration for the finale and the subsequent biker gang chase.

In the end it becomes rinse and repeat with biker gangs dying theatrical deaths in very similar ways. ‘Cobra’ using his ‘Jeti-Mati’ automatic weapon slicing down one gang member after the next. I would argue that a cut with more of the violence intact would have made for a better viewing experience. As it stands the movie is part slasher movie part action movie with a tiny bit of romance tacked on to it.

Stallone for the most part revels in this persona delivering a cool, cold performance. It is clearly his movie, front and centre like Dirty Harry. Every other character is thrown into the background, which given some of the poor dialogue isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s a shame Warner Brothers didn’t accept the b-Grade aesthetics and embrace more of the violent, sleazy elements.

Still, for a movie which garnered six Razzie awards it did quite well taking in an estimated $160 million at the box office. For a while a sequel was planned but this was abandoned. Stallone recently hinted at a reemergence so maybe an older ‘Cobra’ may eventually hits the screens in future.

 
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We need to talk about Kevin movie review

 
we_need_to_talk_about_kevin.jpg
 

Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly dangerous things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.
— Imdb

We need to talk about Kevin is a strange movie. At times engaging, effective and dramatic and others drifting aimlessly almost dream-like in structure. How far you are willing to suspend your disbelief will ultimately determine what you get out of the movie. There was a poignant, moving story to be told which is only partially delivered.

Directed by Lynne Ramsey (you were never really here) in a split time narrative, choosing to dole out what in real terms is a very straight forward simplistic plot line in bite sized chunks spanning 18 years. This fractured timeline hops into random slots of time deliberately trying to add weight to the story. This approach doesn't always work, favouring lingering looks into the drawn face of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a (apparently) famous travel writer and stressed mother of Kevin who really didn't want him in the first place. His presence a burden to her life, she tries desperately to cling to the past refusing to properly engage with her infant. Brilliantly illustrated by the scene where Eva walks to a construction site to try to mask her son's incessant crying with Jack hammers and drilling.

She senses, as does the audience, that there is something very wrong with Kevin. Only when he gets older do we realise by how much. It’s obvious that Kevin is intelligent, manipulative even. A willful little child who deliberately refuses potty training insisting on nappies until he is nearly six or seven (It is never expressly said in the movie). Understandably this would ware on any parent. Eva cracks and throws her child against a wall, breaking his arm. At this point you could easily start to disbelieve that any parent would allow a child to manipulate them in this way without seeking help from professional services.

There is a sense sometimes of the movie being more style over substance. The deliberate use of red and yellow. There is barely a scene in the movie that doesn’t feature either colour prominently or as a feature within the frame. Some instances are very in your face. when Eva - in the present time before the incident - is shopping and she sees a parent that she doesn’t want to see her she scurries around an aisle standing fearful in front of endless rows of red labelled Campbell soup. It is a mechanism to suggest death and foreboding of things to come. Indeed the opening sequence features Eva surrounded by a sea of red, writhing bodies while on one of her ‘adventures’.

It is a little bit of subterfuge as there is scant meat on the bones, only scratching at the surface implying lots but saying very little. There was plenty of opportunities to delve into the mindset of Eva or Kevin but we only get surface details. Indeed it is perhaps missing a scene that the title suggests ‘we need to talk about Kevin’ which never happens not even between Eva and her feckless Husband Franklin (John C Reilly). The surrounding characters are there just to fill a scene or react to Eva’s machinations about Kevin.

In this regard the reactions of both parents are reckless and misjudged. No more fitting than when Kevin buys twenty bike locks ‘online’. Not once did they question it. Not even the cynical Eva. Which plays absurdly unrealistic given what had occurred previously - her second child losses an eye and the hamster squeezed into a trash compacter at the hands of Kevin. As played in the movie, Eva is a very hard character to be sympathetic to even though she is a tragic character; the steely androgenic gaze off putting and stern. Her actions personifying that not all people should be parents.

When the final tragic incident occurs it is shown off-screen - indeed the director has opted to not show any violence onscreen - I would argue that the scene would have been more powerful had we witnessed this in greater detail as it stands it is shown in muted flashback as Kevin draws his arrows to fire.

While an interesting subject matter, ultimately the movie is more concerned in delivering pretentious notions than hard hitting drama. It could have been a sucker punch to the gut. In the end it only slightly delivers on that score.

*** out of *****

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Ad Astra movie review

 
Ad astra poster.jpg
 

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
— Imdb
 

Where do I begin with reviewing the movie Ad Astra? In terms of plot it is quite simplistic. Roy Mc Bride (Brad Pitt), a troubled yet stern Astronaut must embark on a mission to find his father, who thirty years previously, set out into space to find other sources of life on distant planets. The ‘Lima Project’, a top secret mission pioneered by H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), the golden boy of the space programme, long thought to be dead until mysterious energy fields begin destroying life on earth.

It’s an interesting premise hampered somewhat by unnecessary ‘on point’ voice over, messy plot contrivances and an unconvincing world. Undoubtedly the core underlying meaning of the movie is about the damaged son chasing after the neglectful father in the hopes that they can reunite after thirty years of absence, to seek answers from him to why he chose to abandon him. In this you also see that the son is doomed to repeat the mistakes of his father if he continues down this road. The other being the chase for something better ‘out there’ and in the process taking everything for granted including our loved ones at the cost of our humanity. It is a nice sentiment and one the world definitely needs right now.

But it is hidden within a messy plot where you never really get on board with what’s happening on screen or fully grasp the world created. It’s intentionally sterile to the point where it literally sucks the tension out of the movie. There was potential for the movie to be exciting and engaging as well as tell a meaningful story. But it misses the mark. Personally, I felt the voice over for the most part didn’t work. It was very on point telling you, the audience, what exactly was happening on screen. In one instance Brad Pitt actually says ‘I’m on my way to Jupiter’ just in case you missed that plot point. Not that Brad Pitt is bad in it, far from it, he is excellent. A really understated performance. But he is really the only character that stands out, the supporting cast is completely secondary coming across as one dimensional ciphers just so Pitt has ‘something’ to react to.

The other niggling aspect was some of Brad Pitts dialogue which hammered home, quite literally, how the character was feeling telling us at one point, travelling for 80 plus days to reach Jupiter ‘I’m so alone’ - just in case the subtext was lost on the viewer his chosen hermetic workaholic lifestyle has created a ‘loner’ separating himself from his loved ones - it is reinforced with flashbacks to him and his wife drifting apart. I would argue the audience would have gotten that idea without the inclusion of this clunky dialogue.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the trip to the moon and the fact that there is a ‘war’ raging on it where Pirates are ravaging resources for their own personal gain. This is never really explored at all which is a shame as it was one of the more fascinating ideas in the movie. Not to say that it fits into the story. It doesn’t. Sticking out like most of the action scenes. Perhaps studio interference responsible to try to punch up the story.

It is probably worth mentioning about the messy/implausible physics displayed in most of the movie. I could get on board with most of it bar three glaringly bad scenes: 1. The race to catch a rocket to Jupiter where Brad Pitt with ten seconds to launch manages to climb onto the rocket and somehow hold on as the rocket is propelled at 18,000 miles per hour climbing into a hatch at the base of the rocket. 2. Brad Pitt ‘surfing’ on a piece of metal trying to get back to his rocket near the end of the movie blasting through a debris field of rocks without being thrown off trajectory in the slightest. 3. Stopping for SOS call in space. Again the rocket was traveling at a tremendous speed so stopping without any reference on a whim seems very unrealistic. It’s worth pointing out that the rockets seemed like they we’re from our time and not in any way modernised/updated.

It is these implausible plot points that really let the movie down such as Tommy Lee Jones who is a very fine actor but I could never, not for one instant, believe he would be capable of surviving space flight - he looked old in his thirties never mind now in his seventies. Not withstanding that the movie is in long stretches actually quite boring. There was potential there but it is sterile, working in service of pretentious notions in love with the idea of meaning, to the detriment of story, character and an engaging plot.

Overall it was disappointing, I really wanted to like the movie and I could see the potential in it but it fell short.

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

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Hustlers movie review

 
hustlers poster.jpg
 
Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.
— imdb

Inspired by real life events of a group of strippers who during the crash embark on a spree of mass drugging and larceny of their male clients. Constance Wu plays ‘Destiny’ a down on her luck girl who must work endlessly to pay her bills and look after her grandmother. When Ramona played by Jennifer Lopez takes her under her wing they concoct a scheme to rob sleazy bankers of money. In a nut shell that’s the entire movie. It is primarily set in the sordid confines of a strip club called ‘Moves’ where every male character, bar one perhaps (maybe, at a stretch), are depicted as degenerate scumbags ripe for manipulation by these female ‘hustlers’ who despite working hard are treated abysmally by the system. But that doesn’t entirely ring true.

Framed as a type of female ‘Robin hood’ stealing from the rich, ‘Hustlers’ is an odd choice for critics to tout as empowering to women. With Robin hood stealing from the rich to give to the poor you at least got the sense that his actions where for the benefit of all which showed a moral compass of sorts. In this the ladies are hardly morally right desperately playing out one con after the next to feed a need for material wealth.

The movie has a very rinse and repeat formula. Once you’ve seen one ‘hustle’ you’ve seen them all. Despite some nice photography there is a sense of over glamorising something that isn’t all that glamorous. It’s gritty and dirty, a chance to be a voyeur in the detritus. Adding a touch of ‘Goodfellas’ copying to the mix that feels a slight reach too far.

Constance Wu’s acting was a little weak especially the start of the movie. She just didn’t seem comfortable in the role as stripper. The fast cut editing and sloppy dialogue did her no favours either.

In the simplest terms It’s a female friendship movie that we have seen countless times before wrapped loosely in a heist aesthetic. To say its complex isn’t accurate, I would say the characters are very one dimensional. We never really get to know Ramona. Destiny played by Wu fairs a little better but it’s still all surface. We have a climax that feels somewhat anticlimactic. It was missing that bite that it very much needed. An ending that warranted the the two hour run time. But we don’t get that, the movie drips to a lazy conclusion. In the end I was confused about what movie critics actually watched. It seems like they we’re more interested in progressing some political agenda than actually critiquing the movie. The same could be said about the filmmakers themselves. Which is a shame as story and character should be king.

The hustlers are depicted as glamorous almost enticing, something you should aspire to and never really treated in a negative light. There are shades of grey but these are mostly discarded in favour of a view of positivity and supposed female power. At the end of the day they we’re con artists and thieves definitely no better than the bankers they stole from yet the filmmakers want you to love them - their actions were abhorrent; perhaps even willing to kill for one more chance to make it rain under the guise of feminism and revenge. This revelation is treated so lightly for fear you may actually start to hate these women. It would have been far braver of the filmmakers to cast them in a negative light then you would have had balance. As it stands there is no balance, instead they are shown positively. Two wrongs apparently make a right in this skewed version of the world. ‘Man hating’ in vogue now as the new form of feminism.

In the end there was no tension each ‘con’ the same as the last - treated lightly in montage for fear the audience may ask moralistic questions of the protagonists. They did a bad deed, were caught: the end. What could have been tension driven ended flat and disjointed.

When all is said and done ‘Hustlers’ isn’t a good movie.

** out of *****

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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 *****

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'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 *****

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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 *****

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'The silence' movie review

 
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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 *****

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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 *****

 

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 ***** 

 

 

Alien: Covenant review

 
 

Synopsis

 
The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
— imdb
 

As one of those people who grew up watching - and enjoying - the first two of the Alien movies (The third I really enjoyed visually with its grimy, grungy atmosphere but it lacked some aspects in story which where somewhat fixed by the release of the 'assembly cut' which made it a better iteration but still not perfect. The fourth movie lets just say it was very 'meh'.) I could appreciate the opening title sequence for what it was. A resetting of tone back to the traditional roots of the 'Alien' movies with its riff on Jerry Goldsmiths opening title score for 'Alien'.

However, after this brief interlude we appear back into 'Prometheus' territory with its sterile white backgrounds and talk of 'god' and 'creation' with a very appealing turn by Michael Fassbender as the android with aspirations of being a type of 'creationist' himself as he talks with his 'Father' played with intensity by Guy Pearce. It is the 'setting up' of David as a villain if we didn't already gleam that from the first movie 'Prometheus'.

 
 

I seem to be in a minority of those that quite enjoyed 'Prometheus' upon its release. While far from a perfect film it did, however, offer a visual feast for the eyes that carries on into 'Alien: Covenent'. Even though the story was lacking it did at least offer a somewhat different approach to the material.

We are firmly back in 'Alien' territory with bulkheads and long corridors, moody lighting and an ensemble cast of characters. It is these characters - mostly one dimensional - that join us on our journey to Origae-6 a habitable planet that has been ear marked for a settlement of colonists aboard the ship. A tragedy strikes aboard the ship and 'mother' is forced to wake the weary crew seven years before arriving to Origae-6. In a blink and you miss it cameo James Franco's character dies horribly in stasis setting forth the angst that Karen Waterston's character portrays for most of the running time.

The crew intercepts a transmission from another habitable planet which is closer to them so the newly appointed captain - played by Billy crudup, not relishing seven more years in stasis - sends a landing party to take surface samples and to survey it as an alternative colonising site for their mission.

 
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From here the atmosphere builds with a terrific looking setting as a back drop. The inevitable infection happens which sets in motion a tense sequence involving small alien hybrids that are menacing in their intensity and blood letting. The culmination of which sees the crew stranded from the mother ship with only the android 'David' for company who may have sinister intentions for them.

 
 

It is here that the movie will either lose momentum for you or have you intrigued. We spend a long time in cinematic terms visiting with 'David' as he proceeds to teach 'Walter' the new upgraded version of himself to play the flute - played admiringly with menace by Fassbender - who makes playing both roles seem effortless.

When the inevevitable set up happens and David's plan is revealed (Spoiled bizarrely by the teaser prologue released a week before the film opened) there is a race against time to abandon the planet and regroup with the mother ship.

 
 

The tension rises again when the full 'Alien' finally reveals itself and tries with all of its prowess and skill to thwart the escape. It is a skilled sequence that was somewhat sullied by showing a portion of it in the official trailer. I don't quite understand the necessity to do that. It seems to be a current trend in the marketing departments for big tent pole movies.

In essence Alien: Covenant is a hybrid movie not quite a full 'Alien' movie nor 'Prometheus'. It is a bastard child that tries to mesh the best of both movies and doesn't quite succeed. However, where it does succeed it does so quite well. In other areas you may feel slightly aggrieved as it plays as a 'best of' compilation from other 'Alien' movies without adding enough new things to the mix to make it truly great. For instants, I would say that the movie isn't scary. Gone are the long lingering build up of tension scenes. Instead there is fast cuts and quick kills purely for shock value. Ultimately, you need to build tension in order for these shock kills to really hit home. Without that its just some quick blood letting without context.

There seemed to be a few odd editing choices, ending scenes abruptly either for rating or time - the shower scene immediately springs to mind as one scene which does this - to the detriment of the movie for me. I will be interested to see if a directors cut of the movie improves on some of these scenes. 

 
 

There is hope for the franchise as the end coda does potentially set in motion an interesting story for the next installment. I am hopeful that Ridley Scott may build on this and hopefully try to create tension aswell as spectacle as I don't believe they are mutually exclusive.  

Ultimately like Prometheus before it Alien: Covenant is not perfect but it is very worthy of viewing on the big screen and does offer some interesting sequences. Good but had potential to be great.

Trailer below:

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Suicide Squad movie review

 
A secret government agency recruits a group of imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency, which inevitably leads to chaos.
— Imdb synopsis

REVIEW

Initially, as I watched the trailer for Suicide Squad with it's vibrant graphics and edgy, dark tone, I thought that DC had finally taken a chance and decided to deliver a comic book movie that was, at least, a little different. If the marketing was to be believed you were being treated to a humorous dirty dozen movie where the bad guys take on even badder guys in a battle to save mankind.

In reality that's only partially correct. When the movie is set up we think its going to be like the dirty dozen as it follows a similar setup but with one vital difference. And this is crucial: the setup is very disjointed, showing a series of flashbacks which introduce characters, some interesting, others not so. While trying to set up the plot, such as it is, featuring a round table of big wigs discussing the 'Suicide Squad' and the 'plot'.

Admitedly, the first forty minutes had me interested and hoping when we finally get to the main thrust of the plot that it builds on the beginning. Sadly, that was not the case. The rest of the movie is incoherent, with disjointed poorly edited scenes that look like they have been twisted and turned inside out hoping to find a movie in the process.

I did read that the director was 'Locked out' of the edit by Warner Brothers which may or may not have contributed to the scenes being delivered so poorly. This movie is a pale shadow to the enjoyable 'Fury' movie the director did last. Roumers where floating around the internet that there was 30 million dollars worth of reshoots. Now wheter or not this was forced reshoots by the studio trying to salvage a very expensive summer blockbuster or a director trying desparately to fix holes remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it still remains somewhat of a mess. But was it an enjoyable mess at least?

 
 

Well yes and no. I quite enjoyed whenever the Joker appeared on screen. He added a much needed lift to proceedings and Jared Leto's performances was suitably menacing and intense. But the biggest problem was that he was hardly in the movie at all. He merely drifts in and out of the picture and when he isn't in it, the movie begins to travel in a downward spiral. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn adds a quirky, comic touch to proceedings and outshines everyone else around her.

 
 

The segmented editing style meant that the characters ended up being uninteresting, trading one liners over character. The biggest loser of this was Jai Courtney as boomerang, given nothing to do except try to be an Australian who says stupid things and robs banks. Its a nothing role for him and you wouldn't have lost anything plot wise if he wasn't in the movie at all. They didn't even bother giving Slingshot a proper introduction scene as one of the squad because less than ten minutes later he gets his head blown off in a scene that plays comically rather than serious.

As an ensamble piece it doesn't quite work. Some of the Suicide squad characters are interesting, others are just there for filler and serve no purpose at all. Arguably, it would have been a better movie without so many characters there to fill screen time and to have their 'bit'. If they are not contributing to the plot or building tension or obstacles then they shouldn't really be there in the first place. But therein lies the problem with ensemble pieces. Trying to give the requisite amount of time to each character. This is where suicide squad fails biggest, becoming a choppily edited piece trying to fit every scene together, rushing to the next to the detriment of story and continuity.

 
 

Finally, we have the main villain of the piece Enchantress. It would be fair to say that her scenes where misjudged, playing silly, at times, and others unintentionally comical. As a driving force for getting the suicide squad together she fails to elicit real interest and is quite incoherent. We get snippets of her ranting about building a 'machine' but we really get to know nothing else. And as a result the ending fails. Whether this is down to editing choices or a poorly written script is anyone's guess. This just adds to a series of choices that unfortunately didn't work out.

The movie did have potential which is the biggest loss. I can see where they were headed with it but through whatever reason it just didn't come together and no amount of pretty graphics or special effects or clever marketing will gloss over that fact. (Having said that I can easily see a special edition of the movie being released that is much longer in run time which may or may not help filling in plot points.)

In the end we were left with a movie that wasn't finished and didn't quite work. 

** out of 5

 

GhostBusters 2016 review

 

GHOSTBUSTERS 2016 REVIEW

Ghostbusters 2016 teaser logo

Ghostbusters 2016 teaser logo

 
I ain’t afraid of no ghost
— Ray Parker Jr
‘Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.’  
— imdb
 

 

                                   

When I first read about the 'Reboot' to the 1980s movie 'Ghostbusters' I was more than a little apprehensive. To say that I'd had my fill of uninspired reboots would be an understatement.

When they released the first pictures for the main cast of the all female lead ghost busters, I at least thought maybe it might be funny. With the talent assembled here there was at least potential for comedy.

 
 

Then I watched the movie. Very few laughs were to be had. It felt more like 'throw as many jokes at the screen as possible and see what sticks' formula. And unfortunately not many did.

The movie follows a very similar set up of the original 'Ghostbusters', only deviating very slightly in story and set up. It should work. There should be moments of laugh out loud comedy but there isn't. There's a strain of comedy on display that, to me at least, isn't very funny. It seems the magic improvising potion got lost in translation resulting in a flat rendition of one liners that just don't really hit.

The actors themselves didn't seem to really know how to play with the characters and instead clutch at comedy straws that aren't really based upon character, instead wholly on props. A recurring 'joke' about wantons falls flat every time its used and its used a lot.

I'm not saying the original Ghostbusters movie was perfect, its not. But what it did get right was character. I engaged with them. I found them annoyingly like-able. And for the most part the comedy worked. 

So apart from the comedy was it an interesting movie to watch? Well, yes and no. I thought visually the hyper colourful images were very nice and the renders of the ghosts were nicely captured. At times, though, the actors seemed to be slightly confused in the CGI environment especially in the beginning of the movie at the haunted house.

Chris Hemsworth was probably the funniest actor in the movie, he plays an engagingly stupid receptionist called Kevin. You could tell he had fun with the role and the other actors bounced off him including Wiig who unashamedly undresses him with her eyes at every opportunity.

 
 

Kate Mc kinnon plays scientist Jillian Holtzman as an Egon lite character with a crazy edge. Her brand of humour didn't hit for me. Her one-liners falling flat and missing nearly every time. The expectation was clearly high as they cut to her character repeatedly for a one line zinger that doesn't quite work for the scene.

Which brings us nicely onto the movies Cameos featuring some of the original cast members. This and the constant call backs to the original movie were one of the movies biggest weaknesses. For me, they felt lazy, shoe horned into the movie without thought or conviction. Bill Murray sleep walks through his cameo seemingly uninterested in what's happening. And how he ends.. ahem spoiler alert is quite badly put together almost like the editor ran out of usable footage to complete the scene properly. One of a number of strange edit decisions in the movie. This admittedly, could be the result of scenes which were ad-libbed for comedy. 

When the finale rolls around, it becomes a CGI rampage with Ghouls and ghosts circulating downtown Manhattan. There is a big call back of sorts to the stay puff marsh mellow man from the original which did get a chuckle but ultimately the ending just came and went. It was a forgettable piece that wasn't really satisfying and deserved better. You could say that for most of the action scenes in the movie. They were nothing memorable and just ok. This seems to be the calling card of this movie and its lasting impression: nothing memorable.

1 and 1/2 * out of 5*

 

 

'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

 

 

 

Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice Review

 
BvS logo

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

 

 

Death wish 3 review

 

For the last little while I've been taking a trip back down 80s nostalgia filmwise watching a few classics and not so classics and ones that are so bad they're almost entertaining. Almost. I think death wish 3 falls into this category.

As with the other death wish movies Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey architect cum vigilante who says very little and let's his gun do the talking for him.

 
Death wish 3 poster

Death wish 3 poster

 

As with with the other death wish movies the setup is similar. Kersey comes to town to visit an old buddy but low and behold there is a gang who controls the streets and promptly does away with kersey's buddy just before he arrives. Less than two seconds later (literally) he is arrested by a detective 'dude' ( we never get to know his name as far as I remember ) and despatched to jail for his friends murder. Huh? With that type of service the cops would have the streets cleaned up in no time. But I digress. After being jailed and having an impromptu fight with a gang member in the jail cell where he pushes his head through the jail cell bars, he is set loose by detective 'dude' to do his vigilante thing.

Cue kersey's revenge Replete with bazookas through the mail and a Hand cannon dirty Harry would be proud of. In fact they make a joke about that one. The film is a funny mix of dark material and tongue in cheek action. Bronson was reportedly not impressed with the movie at the time and vowed never to work with the director again.

But the question remains is this movie any good? Even as I type this I can't quite decide whether it's nostalgia or plain lunacy but in a twisted way the movie is strangely entertaining. Now I'm not saying its good, it's not its really bad, but it's entertaining as in entertaining to see how badly constructed it is and how much the film maker doesn't seem to care. They seemingly make no effort to mask it. It's like saying 'in for a penny in for a pound'. 

 
Right on!

Right on!

 

The film is funny in a not intentional way. The scenes are played completely serious and earnest which makes it that much more fun. The acting is really bad at times but it moves quickly, shifting from one stilted 'acting' scene to the next eager to get to the action which is the real heart of the movie anyway. These small filler scenes seem to be there just to fill a cinematic convention that there must be a 'story' to break the action. I may be wrong but I think this is the least amount of dialogue that Charles Bronson speaks in any movie. It's somehow awkward when he does, however, so maybe that was a wise choice.

There are lots of moments of nihilistic action. It's completely over the top. The traps that kersey uses to lure the gang members out so that he can gun them down mercilessly are unintentionally hilarious. He buys a new car (wtf?), gang member tries to rob it, one badly scripted and stilted dialogue exchange and the gang members are blown away. Kersey goes back to his dinner. Kersey goes to buy ice cream with a brand new camera only to be robbed by 'the Giggler' (seriously!) a gang member with a permanent laughing disorder. Mr giggles eats pavement with a big hole in his chest. The whole neighbourhood celebrates. The gang members stew crying awkward crocodile tears 'they killed the Giggler!'.

 
The Giggler in action

The Giggler in action

 

A women we have only briefly met for one or two short scenes is brutally attacked by some gang members and ends up in hospital. The ending to this is a phone call to say that this unfortunate women has suffered a broken arm and will be fine. Cut to: visiting her in the hospital and kersey is informed by the medical team that she has 'expired'. Huh? A moment ago she had a broken arm? Yes, but apparently there was a complication with trying to fix her arm and she died. Don't cut your finger in this town you might just keel over and die from 'complications'. It's a device if one was needed for full on revenge and carnage on the streets.

 
Gatling gun carnage

Gatling gun carnage

 

The final twenty minutes or so is summed up simply by stating that kersey becomes a one man army, taking on an endless supply of gang members who die theatrical deaths at the business end of a gatling gun. The perpetrators die doing somersaults through the air that Spider-Man would be proud of. No one just simply dies. Its even more comic book than the avengers. Add to the fact that 'the neighbourhood people' join in on the killing spree randomly gunning down anyone they see, gleefully celebrating like they'd won the euro millions and you have the nihilistic, generally funny picture. You can't take this movie seriously. At all. Ever. 

 
No weapon props left? No problem! A plunger will do!

No weapon props left? No problem! A plunger will do!

 

Without doubt it is in the category of 'so bad its almost entertaining' with the emphasis heavily on 'Bad'. Enjoy!

 

 

Leterboxd review of Mad Max: Fury Road

 
 

★★★★ Watched 16 May, 2015

A tour de force of action with some spectacular practical effects enhanced by some digital trickery at times.

I would say though that Tom Hardy plays second fiddle to Charlize Theron, in fact she often has more 'presence' on screen. For a mad max themed film I felt a little cheated. But this is a minor quibble, when the action kicks in full tilt you can't help but be drawn into it for the spectacle and the sheer mayhem on camera. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that its mostly all practical. There are moments of 'how exactly did they film that?' about it which only adds to the intrigue for me.

The plot itself is quite simplistic so if you are looking for deep characters and existential pondering then this film is most definitely not for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy a well shot action movie you should check it out. Setting aside the fact that there are some holes in the plot and questionable logic of characters there is still nihilistic fun to be had. Although it must be said that this film isn't quite as violent as the others in the series, even though it borrows heavily from The Road Warrior and Thunderdome. I did feel that the very first action set piece set inside a violent sand storm would have been a more thrilling conclusion to the movie as it was hard to up the ante in subsequent action scenes. In fact you could say that they fell a little short of hitting that high again.

Having seen it in 3D I can only assume that the movie would be even better in 2d. For me it suffered from horrible 'Double vision' on screen at times to a level that was very distracting and the only true 3d (Ie object coming out of screen rather than purely depth) seemingly on display was an explosion near the end of the movie where a steering wheel and other items fly into your face. I may be biased but I find 3D mostly a waste of viewing time and try to avoid it if I can as it darkens the picture quite a bit for me it's rather like watching tv at home wearing a pair of Ray Bans. Cool they may be but watching a movie through them doesn't aid with pleasure. And if the 3D is lost in the mix and suffering with the awful 'double vision' phenomenon then you have a recipe for disaster. Ok maybe not disaster but limited enjoyment. The only saving grace with this movie is the fact that practically all the scenes are brightly lit even the night scenes.

So a conclusion, if a conclusion where to be drawn from this, is avoid 3D and go with 2D. But having said that that's a personal preference and up to the individual viewer.

The film is well worth a view. Kick back relax and enjoy a colourful scorched palette and great action set pieces.

 

LETTERBOXD REVIEW OF NIGHTCRAWLER

LETTERBOXD REVIEW OF NIGHTCRAWLER

short review of Nightcrawler on letterboxd. Checkit out and like it if you like it.. or else ;-)