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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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'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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'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 *****

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'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 *****

 

Hereditery movie review

 
Hereditary movie poster - imdb

Hereditary movie poster - imdb

 
After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
— imdb
 

**Warning there will be spoilers**

From the very first opening minute there is a creepy atmosphere to the psychological horror 'Hereditary'. We are introduced to Annie played with great conviction by Toni Collette who is just about to bury her mother. We get the distinct feeling that Annie didn't particularly see eye to eye with her and is struggling to grieve for her loss.

Through the course of this we get introduced to her slightly strained family. With her put upon husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and her estranged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and Strange daughter Charlie (The underutilised Milly Shapiro). The creepy conotations build slowly - this movie is definitely a slow burn so if you like your horror fast paced it might not be for you - where we witness Annie creating life like miniature dioramas replete with tiny people and furniture. A production design that is used again and again in both setting and cinematography. At times it appears the characters are living in a real life doll house and we are viewing them first hand. Its a clever and weird device.

The movie is quite atmospheric and tension slowly builds. At first you aren't sure where the movie is going, building up the supernatural elements slowly. Only when Charlie is horrifically decapitated by her brother Peter by accident - a scene that's brilliantly handled - does the movie show any real momentum. From here there is some terrific scenes with Annie as her downward spiral where it is heavily implied that she had a breakdown of some sort and has never quite recovered all of her mental capacity. In one shocking revelation she admits to her son Peter that she never wanted him as a child in fact she tried to abort him on numerous occasions but failed primarily because her overbearing mother wanted him and not her herself.

As tensions rise and the family unit deteriorates old secrets rise to the surface and home truths that are pushed from the surface come back to haunt you and that trust that was once there suddenly evaporates and you can never really get it back. To say any more would spoil the movie.

I would say that Hereditory is two thirds of a great movie with the final third the least satisfying. When you learn the 'truth' of why the supernatural occurrences are happening it deteriorates ever so slightly into parody. Not to say that its bad, its not it just didn't have the same level of tension and the final reveal is a little bit on the silly side which might raise a few titters more than shock.

But still there is much to be enjoyed about Hereditary if, of course, you enjoy slow burning psychological horror. From a purely performance stand point Toni Collette is terrific and gives a powerful performance. All in all I quite enjoyed 'Hereditary' while not perfect it is worth watching.

**** 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 ****