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 *****

Avengers:endgame review

SPOILER ALERT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* 1/2 out of *****

'The silence' movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** out of *****

Creed 2 movie review

Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago.
— imdb
creed 2 poster.jpg

Having grown up watching Rocky movies from a very young age I looked forward to the new incarnation of the series through the brash and often times obstinate Adonis Creed, son to the famous boxer Apollo Creed. Very much the product of his father, a son who wishes to be nothing like him yet echoes every move in a vicious circle, doomed to repeat the same mistakes of his father.

Under the wise tutelage of Rocky, Creed now champion will face off against an old adversary in the form of Victor Drago, a man mountain who is very much the carbon copy of his father Ivan Drago.

We open on a disgraced Ivan Drago, who has no country, respect or honour pushing his son to the limits of endurance in the hopes that he will regain their life back and the finery that this implies. When Victor beats an opponent quickly in an underground boxing match he falls into the watchful gaze of sleazy boxing promotor Buddy Marcelle played by Russell Hornsby. This sets Victor on a collision course with Adonis Creed for the title belt and revenge.

‘Creed 2’ follows a very similar path to ‘Creed’ once again it is about growing up in the shadow of a famous father and wanting to avenge his father’s death. Creed has seen really very little growth since the first movie, retreading old ground and his story arc suffers for it. Rocky as a character is pushed further into the background - he is now the wisened old boxer giving life lessons to his protege even though he refuses to listen.

To me the most interesting story line was Ivan Drago’s who has fallen on hard times as result of his loss to Rocky Balboa many years before. Once his name was synonymous with power and prestige but now he is outcast, dishevelled and bitter forcing his son to walk in his fathers footsteps to regain what was lost and in the process rebuild both their lives. It is a far more interesting dynamic and a story I was more interesting in seeing.

That’s not to say that Adonis’ story isn’t engaging, it is, I just felt it replayed the same hits again as the first movie. As a result the movie wasn’t quite strong enough in that area. The secondary players were given very little to work with this time, Bianca played by Tessa Thompson is somewhat relegated to a bit part player who only appears when a musical interlude is required.

Usually one of the best parts of a Rocky movie is the training montage set to a blistering soundtrack they make you root for the main character and engage in an emotional sense as he overcomes adversity to rise to the top. With Creed 2 the training montage felt a little flat and subdued. It wasn’t quite as engaging as previous montages before it.

When the boxing match plays out between Drago and Creed it is suitably bombastic, filmed nicely and echoes the previous Rocky movies for intensity. The ending is a passing of the torch, where Rocky will slink into the shadows allowing Creed to tell his own story anew. Detailing clearly where the franchise is heading. Sylvester Stallone announced he is no longer playing the Rocky Character going forward. Creed will be left to his own devices but the question is whether Adonis Creed is an interesting enough character to hold an entire movie together on his own.

Overall the movie is enjoyable despite repeating itself then again I guess you don’t go into a Rocky or Creed movie expecting any different do you?

***1/2 out of 5

Upgrade movie review

 
Upgrade poster - imdb

Upgrade poster - imdb

 
Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.
— imdb

***Spoilers ahead***

The writer of 'Saw' Leigh Whannell slides into the director's chair after his debut movie 'Insidious: chapter 3' this time taking on a sci-fi revenge story called 'Upgrade'. Starring Logan Marshall-Green as 'Grey' a Tom Hardy look-a-like (certainly in this movie) who shuns technology and prefers the analogue more tangible world of cars and engine grease over anything 'advanced'.

When his life unexpectedly changes after he and his wife are viciously slain by 'Tech enhanced' humans Grey must turn to technology to reverse his spinal paralysis inserting an experimental chip call Stem' into his central nervous system. Together they form an unlikely allience to seek revenge against him and his wife's attackers.

Reportedly made for just over 5 Million dollars under the Blumhouse banner 'Upgrade' does make good use of its budget even though at times you can tell that the budget was a little tight for the type of story they were trying to tell. I often felt that it needed a bigger budget to fully realise the world and as a result it was lacking in some areas. That's not to say that the world isn't realised no, just not realised to its fullest potential. 

 
 

It felt like a smaller movie masquerading as something bigger and sometimes the production design suffers as a result. In the empire podcast(Embedded below) Leigh alludes to the fact that he had written a much bigger budgeted screenplay and slowly whittled it down to its current incarnation. With a budget so tight they do a great job of the physical special effects. They are at times violent and bloody and suitably macabre. The movie is well shot and the action scenes have a nice energy to them. What lets the movie down a little is the one dimensional characters - we've seen them before perhaps done better - Grey is the only character with some depth to him if only surface.

It is an action movie which tries to replicate the tech noir gritty stylings of 'Robocop' and 'The terminator'. In this regard it doesn't entirely succeed. Those movies still superior despite being made over twenty-five years ago. When the plot is so simple getting that aspect right perhaps should have been a priority. 

When Stem interacts with Grey their exchanges are fun and there is sense that not all is as it seems when 'Stem' requests that protection barriers be stripped away from its operating code. We are party to a twist that isn't quite a twist if you pay attention closely to the movie. Suffice to say that 'Stem' has other plans for Grey and they don't include being in a symbiotic relationship together.

When the finale rolls around, the tone of the movie shifts slightly to the familiar theme of being weary of technology. Perhaps we should be scared that the ghost in the machine may be looking back us waiting for a day when 'it' can take over. In a very real sense that day be sooner than we think with more advanced AI being produced daily. But that's another discussion entirely. Suffice to say that the ending of 'Upgrade' is appropriate but not entirely satisfying.

*** out of *****

Find below the Empire podcast featuring an interview with the director of 'Upgrade' Leigh Whannell.  Enjoy!

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 **** 

Solo: A Star wars story movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** out of *****

Avengers: Infinity war movie review

 

Avengers infinity war poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TITAN.jpg

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

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

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

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

*** out of *****

 

 

 

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 *****