Thursday, May 24, 2018

Film Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story is the newest Star Wars movie directed by Ron Howard who took over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who were fired from the film with 3 weeks remaining on their schedule.

The story here concerns young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his upbringing on Correlia, his meeting Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and how he got the Millennium Falcon and going on a big heist for a local Gangster (Paul Bettany.)

Solo is a fun ride and Howard is clearly having a great time getting to direct a Star Wars film (he directed Willow for George Lucas in 1988 and was in American Graffitti for George) and he brings an energetic sense of direction to the scenes and crafts some fun action along the way plus there is some really beautiful cinematography by Bradford Young with its many wide shots and landscapes Young is definitely one of the most underappreciated cinematographers working today.

And the performances for the most part are good Ehrenreich is solid as Han even if at times I just kept thinking of Harrison Ford Glover does a brilliant mimic of Billy Dee Williams’s Lando from Empire and Jedi but gets so little screen time he doesn’t get a chance to shine all that much, Emilia Clarke is okay as Qi’ra but doesn’t really stand out in the role and both Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany are wasted in their roles Harrelson just comes across as grumpy and out of place while Bettany again gets so little to do it feels like a cameo.

And this is where the movie falls way short: Its screenplay frankly it isn’t much of one and as much fun as it is to see young Han and young Lando and their backstory it doesn’t feel special it just feels like 2 hour fan fiction like Rogue One in 2016 did “Here’s all this stuff in a movie that you’ve imagined in your minds for 40 years” and when you see it on film executed in a way that it feels very bland it takes some of the mystery away and it also doesn’t help that many of the new characters here are so boring and generic that you don’t really care that much about them.

And also what is missing is the character of Jabba the Hutt who was so memorable in Return of the Jedi after being teased so well in Star Wars and Empire having him in this movie could have solved the problem of not having a major villain ala Terry Benedict in Oceans Eleven to help anchor the story plus it would have given far more dramatic weight to the storytelling because we have that investment in Jabba and his gang of Bounty Hunters (“We don’t need that Scum”) and would believe they could have Han and Chewie on the run but we didn’t get that and the film suffers as a result.

And so that was Solo: A Star Wars Story a very disappointing Star Wars movie that hurts because a Star Wars movie like an Avengers movie should be something special and in a year when Infinity War made an Avengers movie special again this kind of warmed up second rate leftovers just isn’t good enough in a franchise where its original 3 movies redefined movie history and say what people will about the Last Jedi and Rian Johnson’s work on it at least he did take some risks even if he didn’t execute them as well as he could have, 1.5 out of 5.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Film Review - Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 continues on from the first Deadpool but this time David Leitch steps into the directors chair replacing Tim Miller Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself back in trouble once again as a young boy named Russell (Julian Dennison) is targeted by a time traveller named Cable (Josh Brolin) so the chase is on and the quips are not too far behind.

Deadpool 2 is sadly not a very good sequel at all and the comparison I would make is Robocop 2 from 1990 where it had a different and more serious direction but the tone of the film feels very off and at times it becomes very nasty and young Mr Dennison is the biggest reminder of that comparison for me his performance here feels so fowl mouthed and so nasty at times that I hated watching him in the movie and I did think of Hob (Gabriel Damon) in Robocop 2.

This ties into my second biggest problem and that is the storytelling here is a big mess with Deadpool and the X-Force, the storyline with Russell and the storyline with Cable being big storylines in their own right and not one of them comes together in either a satisfying or cohesive way as it feels like 2 separate scripts (one being about X-Force and the other about Cable/Russell) being smashed together in a printer and neither of them is explored well enough to make work and again Robocop 2 had this problem of a messy storyline.

And this last point again like Robocop 2 (I know I know its getting a bit much but I’ll stop here) the more straight laced and serious minded tone makes the action sequences feel more violent than they did in the first Deadpool film and after a while I just got sick of it and at least Robocop 2 had a great end battle sequence with the two robots whereas here the action just became a jumbled mess that without a story hook to make me care just left me bored.

But the biggest problem I had above all else with this movie was Ryan Reynolds now I liked him a fair amount in the first Deadpool film but Tim Miller was smart enough to know when to reel him in and moderate his improvising whereas here he endlessly mugs for the camera the entire film and talks so much that he sounds more like a bad knockoff of Iago from Aladdin and after a while I just said to myself “WILL YOU PLEASE JUST SHUT UP” and it just felt like a trip down the time tunnel to the bad old days of these films where they became little more than glorified star vehicles.

As for Mr Brolin as Cable well I was very disappointed here probably most of all because he gets such little screen time and so few scenes of dialogue now maybe this is due to his Thanos schedule but I wish he was in it more and lastly the comedy just didn’t make me laugh this time the gags were too on the nose and the references got a little tiresome.

And so that was Deadpool 2 a sequel that I hated frankly and it feels worse when a bad sequel comes after we get a great one like Paddington 2 but if you’re a fan of the first film I still feel you should go and see it and make up your own mind, 1 out of 5.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Film Review - Breath (2018)

Breath is based off of the novel by Tim Winton who also helped write this screenplay adaptation and Simon Baker co writes, stars and directs this adaptation as Sando a surfer in 1970’s Australia who ends up befriending 2 young boys with a keen eye for adventure (Brock Fitzgerald and Ben Spence) but Sando’s wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) is not so keen for these young boys to be around so much.

Breath is a bit of a mixed bag that overall I found to be a pretty meh movie the more I began to think about it but in terms of the positives I did like of the scenic direction Mr Baker did with those big swelling waves, windy beaches and shots of under water swells those scenes had a slightly lyrical and strangely compelling feel to them.

Mainly because they had very little dialogue and that’s where this movie goes wrong the screenplay is all over the place bouncing from one storyline to the next in a very scrappy way at one point Simon Baker’s character is teaching them to surf then he disappears for a big chunk of the film one of the boys gets into surfing then doesn’t and after a while the film started to bore me a little bit as I didn’t find myself all that interested in any of the characters or the overall storytelling.

The best thing about this movie by far is Elizabeth Debicki who once again exudes sexiness as this late 60s early 70s flower child who also hides a terrible tragic incident and her sense of isolation and loneliness comes through in every scene she has she really does a lot to lift those scenes into something engaging and worthwhile and I was reminded of what an utterly captivating and charismatic actress she can be when given something to work with as she felt wasted in Guardians Volume 2 and the Man from UNCLE.

And so that was Breath which has a great performance by Ms Debicki and some nice scenery but a scattershot screenplay with boring characters, 2 out of 5.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From Zero to Hero

Recently I rewatched Disney’s Aladdin from 1992/93 a film that save for the Star Wars Trilogy has probably done the most to shape my love of movies in the way that I have it now.

Needless to say that I fell in love with the film all over again and its my favorite Disney film as I feel it blends all the elements that Disney is so well known for:

- Its memorable villains (and how ironic it is that Marvel Studios ends up with this particular studio which is so well known for its villains and yet Marvel has consistently dropped the ball in that regard)

- Great songs (this movie was sadly the last film to have involvement from Howard Ashman who passed away during the development of the film and his loss is still so sad to this day as he was a gifted lyricist and storyteller who understood how Disney worked and how musicals worked and how to blend the two seamlessly a blend that when he was gone just didn’t work as well)

- Fun side characters (Iago came to mind when I, Tonya came up recently during its awards run)

And finally Robin Williams giving us probably his signature role as well as one of the best supporting acts in any movie as the Genie of the Lamp.

But when thinking about that film I also began to think about the other films in that period of Disney animation in the 1990s and from 1989 to 1995 there was this incredible resurgence of animation as a genre with not only Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the Lion King but also the Simpsons and Batman the Animated Series on TV these projects above all doing so much to destroy the sentiment from the 80s that animation was little more than a kids genre and what programs there were most likely just glorified advertisements for the toy lines that came with it.

But there is one film now with all of that out of the way that I want to talk about a film in this group that I feel is underrated and deserves a bit more attention and that film is 1997’s Hercules.

This was the third directorial effort from John Musker and Ron Clements following their huge hits Aladdin and the Little Mermaid and arguably these were the guys that did a lot to make that animation renaissance happen along with Ashman and Alan Menken and like those films there is a great use of music by Alan Menken and a light hearted and breezy tone where humour is well utilised unlike Pocahontas and Hunchback of Notre Dame where the comedy felt like it got in the way of the more serious storytelling those 2 films tried to tell.

But there are 2 main reasons I feel this film is overlooked:

- Firstly this was Musker and Clements using Greek mythology to basically do a Superhero movie and there is a very strong influence of Richard Donner’s Superman work all throughout the film in that:

-- Hercules is cast out of his home and must give the people of his adopted home a light to show them the way

-- Hercules communicates with his real father via other means

-- The Titans who were banished into a mysterious zone is very similar to General Zod and his allies being banished into the Phantom Zone

-- Megara is very Lois Lane like with the sarcastic attitude concealing a more sympathetic centre

-- And lastly Hercules’s love for Meg much like Superman’s love for Lois causes him to lose it against the villain

- And secondly there is simply fantastic voice work by James Woods as Hades and he is the main reason I rate this movie as highly as I do because every scene he is in in this movie he lifts the whole thing up to a 15 with his inspired vocal performance.

And you can tell while watching him in the role that he is having the time of his life performing it with this manic energy that changes gears on a dime to sleazy and smarmy to serious and angry and the characters animation by Nik Ranieri who also did Lumiere on Beauty and the Beast nicely matches the vocal work with the fire in the characters design changing according to his mood and while Woods has done a lot of stuff over the years to me he will always be Hades.

This movie was also for me personally one I had to wait quite a while to see as its release year 1997 was one where a lot happened and any chance to see it in cinemas never came to pass but when I heard on the Radio in January 1998 that it was coming soon to Video I got really excited and I can still remember that day.

The day where I had that tape in my hot little hands and I couldn’t wait to finally watch it and I more or less sequestered myself off to a room with a VCR and watched it in peace.

And so that was my column on not only Hercules but also my thinking about that period of Disney Animation in the 1990s which was not the original intent but the two managed to come together really well so I did it that way.

Film Review - All the Presidents Men (1976)

All the Presidents Men is based off of the true story and book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein played here by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman who are assigned to investigate the Watergate break in and it could possibly lead to President Richard Nixon but they will soon know how deep that story goes.

I was inspired to check out this movie after watching the Post by Steven Spielberg earlier this year and I really responded to that film for its story and for making me think of the period I spent with ABC South East SA doing reviews for them that coming to an end a month earlier so with that I kept learning about All the Presidents Men and my desire for a great journalistic movie pretty much led me to here.

And I was not disappointed in the slightest about it as its terrific director Alan Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman approach this story which is very familiar to most given we know how it ends but the way they do is that its like a murder mystery and a detective story combined with the journalism side where those offices act like the police station at times and again like the Post at times I did think of my wonderful Radio friends.

The film also has 2 dynamic performances at the centre of it all as well Redford and Hoffman have incredible chemistry and at times I thought that they might have improvised some of their riffs together and though at times Hoffman talks a little too fast to understand him you find yourself completely engrossed in their investigation and where it will lead.

Oh and there are some fun cameos to be had as well.

And so that was my review of All the Presidents Men a film that I really responded to and is pretty much the gold standard of journalistic films though given who sits in the WH at the moment they’ll be making similar films about this time period and it could well be challenged, 4 and a half out of 5.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Film Review - Avengers Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War is the 19th Marvel Studios film and this time the focus switches to the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) who is on a mission throughout the cosmos to recover the 6 Infinity Stones for wielding all 6 could give him the power to rebalance the universe by killing half of all life that exists within it but both The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy some of whom have history with Thanos will have to do all they can to stop him.

This was easily my most anticipated movie of 2018 and that is mainly due to Thanos himself as I have been patiently waiting for him to leave his mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the last few movies now but Marvel Studios for all their success has not had the best track record in regards to their villains but this was one that they could not afford to let fail so could this movie possibly deliver the goods or just become another example of fun being something one considers even when wanting to rebalance the universe.

Happily most happily this is everything you dream of yet nothing you expect and also this is Marvel Studios finest hour in this universe for these reasons:

- Firstly the characters are all perfectly balanced as they should be with all of them getting a real moment to shine be it through a fun gag or an action beat or some fun story points and it is terrific fun to see the likes of Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, Peter Parker and Star Lord interacting with each other as well as Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

A lot of these interactions got great laughs at my screening and having had so many of these movies where these characters have had their major arcs and their introductions and their histories fully fleshed out they can now be used in a more supporting manner even if their name is in the banner headline and there is a lot of fun to be had.

- Secondly the action sequences are remarkable a lot of the heroes really get to strut their stuff in these big scale clashes and it is a real treat to behold as it finally feels like more money has been spent on the visual effects of the powers and they have a real weight to them that has not been as present in some of the previous Marvel Studios films especially during the Pearlmutter years.

And also the editing of these scenes is just fantastic with many high quality angles no real reliance on shaky cam and a exhilarating feel to them that made them feel terrific.

- But lastly Josh Brolin is excellent as Thanos here finally Marvel Studios gets to let this character off the leash and it is what I have wanted from this franchise for so long a powerful villain to challenge Earth’s mightiest heroes.

And challenge them he does along with his Black Order all 5 of them really bring the fight to the heroes and it is wonderful to behold as having a great threat makes the investment in the heroes to beat them all the more satisfying and their action beats have that much more weight to them.

And lastly Brolin himself really lifts this movie in every scene he’s in and this is very much Thanos’s movie and his development as a villain is really well realised and his voice has such a calm serenity to it that it feels even more frightening that he wants to effectively cull half the life in the universe but to him it makes sense sometimes to save something beautiful you have to destroy parts of it for the greater good and hope those left remember you.

And so that was my review of Avengers Infinity War a film well worth the wait despite some dizzying editing at times but this a film worth seeing more than once on the big screen and with a packed crowd as it makes for a terrific cinema going experience, 4 and a half out of 5.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Film Review - Rampage (2018)

Rampage is based off of the video game and stars Dwayne Johnson as Davis a former US Special Forces officer who now works with animals in the San Diego Zoo one of them being a albino gorilla named George but when a corporate experiment goes wrong and sees not only George but also a Wolf and a Crocodile well they go on a Rampage and Davis has to do all he can to stop them.

Rampage is very much the kind of film that it says it is on the box and that is a monster movie with big special effects and a basic story and all it wants to do is be fun on the bun and it is fun to watch but mainly from a visual effects standpoint and those scenes of the monsters tearing up Chicago were for me great fun to watch as all the buildings came down and the helicopters and tanks got smashed and people got gobbled up like chocolate snacks for the monsters it is a great example of that kind of fun at least for me.

As for the performances well they are fine and capable but no one really stands out in that same way that Idris Elba or Rinko Kikuchi did in Pacific Rim Mr Johnson is his usual charismatic affable self while Naomie Harris was fine and Joe Manganiello was okay but the show stealer was Jeffrey Dean Morgan as suited officer he had this smarmy tone to his character and it made it fun to watch him in the movie.

As for the overall story it was fine but I didn’t mind too much as I really only came to watch giant monsters wreck stuff and the Rock sometimes you don’t want a film to do too much just be a bit of mindless fun and this did it even if I wasn’t overly blown away by it like I was Pacific Rim.

And so that was Rampage a fun if slightly forgettable film that will do what it promises on the box, 2 out of 5.