Godzilla: King of Monsters ★★☆☆☆

5 years after the underwhelming Godzilla, can the sequel make amends and set up the upcoming Godzilla v King King monster showdown? This time around, Godzilla is joined by  more of his monster friends……….

Directed by Michael Dougherty

Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Charles Dance, Zhang Ziyi


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Dark Phoenix ★★☆☆☆

It’s been a long and ardours journey, but the latest instalment of the X-men saga has arrived. With the Disney merging fast approaching, can the franchise sign off in blaze of glory? Picking up 10 years after the events of Apocalypse our heroes find out there’s a threat much closer to home than they expected.

Directed by Simon Kinberg

Starring Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender,Nicholas Hoult


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Star Wars: Never tell me the spoilers!

Beware!!!

Stay away if you do not want to read spoilers.

See our spoiler-free review if you have not seen this film!!

(Though if you haven’t seen it by now, come on, what are you doing?)

Be sure to comment any points I may have left out.

So it is the long awaited arrival of the second installment of the new Star Wars Trilogy. There has been a large amount of hype for The Last Jedi and unfortunately for me I allowed myself to be dragged into the chaotic chorus of high expectations. After a nostalgic and interesting setup in The Force Awakens, an unrelated yet enjoyable Rogue One, and a tasty exhilarating trailer (with Porg goodness) I think we can all agree we were expecting good things. I, however, was less than fulfilled and found myself severely disappointed and close to anger on leaving the cinema. Probably not helped by the fact that my friends and I had been to the double-bill feature and had left the cinema at 3am after being there since 9pm!

Before I get into a laboured account of the negatives let’s start with something positive…

THE PORGS

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A Porg stows away on the Millennium Falcon

Yes they may be unnecessary and not at all relevant but it was an inventive solution to a problem and a creative reflection of the true location. Ahch-To, aka Skellig Michael, is just off the Southern Coast of Ireland and was the perfect location for the remote Jedi monasteries, what with the abandoned monasteries already present on the Island that were once home to Christian monks some 700-800 years ago.

Also present on the Island at certain times of year were PUFFINS! As the Island is a nature reserve, it would be wrong to remove the vast number of birds (not to mention logistically incredibly difficult), and to digitally erase the native birds would be hugely time consuming; so it was decided that they would have to roll with it and create a new indigenous species. Just like on the island, these birds get EVERYWHERE in the film (but thankfully not to an annoyingly obnoxious level) and even have an actually funny interaction with Chewbacca when he tries to eat one of them.

REY AND KYLO

This storyline was genuinely intriguing as you have a bridge between two characters who are still unsure of their paths and roles in the upcoming story (aren’t we all).

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Friends or Foes?

Each is trying to win the other to their side, while being slightly confused as to whether they are light or dark themselves. A mind bridge is created between the two characters by Supreme Leader Snoke, an ingenious plot to lead Rey to them and turn her to the dark side. Rey falls for this and seeks Kylo out as she still sees good in him. This plan back fires on Snoke, resulting in his death and an impressive fight scene between Kylo and Rey, and the Praetorian Guards. I personally enjoyed this fight, the style being a favourite of mine, mainly because of the way Rey and Kylo interact and fight alongside one another against the guards (however tentative the link between the two and how little they know of each other’s fighting style). Ultimately, they go their separate ways and leave the arc open to perhaps continue in Episode IX

YODA

I liked it! Some people said he looked weird but I was glad to see him, being my favourite Star Wars character. Not only that, he is still schooling Luke even after being “dead” for decades and pushes him past this nihilistic stage of his life. Still the most subtle and natural laughs in the film and humbly awesome.

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Forever the Master

Well that’s me being nice…moving on!

SUPERMAN/MARY POPPINS/LEIA ORGANA

Right, I get she is force sensitive and there may be precedent for this scene in other obscure pieces of lore, games or series. But COME ON? Really? Also, I get this was filmed before she passed away (RIP, love and respect) but I really thought this was going to be it for Leia in the film. And it could have been so beautiful! I could feel myself tearing up as she gracefully floated through space in a dignified end to a powerful and forever rebellious character. But then she reached out her hand and force pulled herself back?!!? To a door that was not an airlock!! Which did not seem to bother anyone?! Except shields blah blah. NO! Some may say that it was an interesting twist and wasn’t expected but I believe it was just Disney rubbish and I wholeheartedly disagree with this scene. Not only that, now Leia’s death will either be reduced to a minor mention in the opening scrolling text, or some hurried and heavily CGI’d scene in Episode IX. I just can’t…

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I know Carrie, I know

SLOWEST. CHASE. EVER

I think this was just a plot device whose sole purpose was to legitimise a pointless, convoluted and bloated sub-plot. I’ll get to this. A very long and drawn out plot device. Which also included an unnecessary deception from Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) again, purely a device to allow Finn and Rose to go on their redundant side-mission. They could have evacuated the ship and headed to Crait while the Vice-Admiral light-speed destroyed the First Order fleet, giving more time for a battle on the surface of Crait. This could have allowed more speeder vs. AT-AT battle, a ground siege of the base, and a more interesting utilisation of Phasma. Again, I’ll get to this. 

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Laura Dern does look stunning though!

I suppose Holdo’s light-speed attack came as a last minute realisation moment to save the fleet, and I will also submit that it was a visually impressive and made for an emotional scene. BUT even the prospect of an 18 hour snail-paced space chase when it was first mentioned made many people in the audience groan. It drew the pace of the film to a grinding halt and just seemed to me like a bit of a half-baked idea in order to give Finn a quest of his own. Speaking of which…

CANTO BIGHT SUB-PLOT

During the slowest chase in history Poe, Finn and Rose formulate a plan to find an individual named the Code-Breaker, stow aboard the First Order ship and destroy the tracking device inhibiting the Resistance fleet’s escape. Finn and Rose travel to Canto Bight for what turns out to be more of moral journey for Finn; as well as a display of the subtle effects of living under a fascist First Order and how easy it is to spread hope through the galaxy. I do understand the relevance of this scene and when Finn does take a closer look at his extravagant surroundings to the injustice lingering just beneath the surface it does pluck on a few heart strings. However, the execution felt forced, the message rushed and probably did not require as much dialogue as we were given, which collectively dampens the intended impact.

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Look closer

After exploring the casino settlement for a while, they manage to get themselves arrested ultimately due to a parking violation. In their cell they meet DJ (Benicio Del Toro) who they dismiss as some hack criminal. They escape with the help of children, fathiers (space horses), BB-8 and DJ who they then decide to bring along in place of the Code-Breaker. This backfires when DJ betrays them to the First Order, teaching them a valuable lesson about a) trusting strangers they meet in prison cells, and b) about the people who play both sides in war. The First Order Dreadnought is fortuitously destroyed seconds before Finn and Rose are to be executed, allowing a short face-off between Finn and Phasma. This is a gross misuse of both Benicio Del Toro and Phasma; who, although we were promised a grander role for this bad-ass Storm Trooper captain, was barely used and swiftly removed.

FINN AND ROSE

They had ZERO chemistry! And yet she decides to save Finn’s life and confess her love to him? No. Just no. He started out as a deserter and has a change of heart, wait…doesn’t that sort of happen in The Force Awakens? No, it’s all for Rey, always. Could we have a little character development please? The justification for most of his heroic actions is so that Rey is able to return to a safe and protected rebellion. Up until he calls himself “rebel scum”. I must admit I chuckled. Regardless, none of this explains why Rose would inexplicably fall in love with him. They never show anything resembling attraction to one another and yet she sacrifices herself to stop him from sacrificing himself. It felt forced and like so much of their storyline, unnecessary.

WASTED TALENT AND CHARACTERS 

I have touched upon a couple of these points already but I think I should re-visit them in a little more detail. As the sub-title suggests, this film has failed to utilise both actors and characters that were presented to it. Top of the list for me, personally, was Supreme Leader Snoke. He could have been an immensely superior bad guy, resembling the Palpatine/Darth Sidious kind of presence; and yet, we learned nothing of his history, back-story or motivations. What makes this even more disappointing is that Andy Serkis gives a great performance, typical for his calibre. The scene where he finally meets Rey is interesting, he was at least given the chance to display some of his own power and I liked that he had orchestrated the mind bridge between Kylo and Rey. He’s a more stable villain than Kylo Ren and is way more sinister in my opinion. But he is killed-off in an instant in a way that an all powerful being should have seen. No matter how sneaky Kylo was being. 

Speaking of Kylo Ren, I believe this character has so much potential but in both episodes VII and VIII he is a little whiny for my taste. I understand that he is conflicted about whether he is light or dark, but he could be played as a little less emo-teenager; having tantrums and hissy fits doth not make a Supreme Leader. I also understand that this is likely down to script and direction rather than Adam Driver’s portrayal, which is very good given the material he has received.

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Captain of Chrome

Another First Order character to lose out in this film was Captain Phasma, Rian Johnson has inexplicably risen her from the jaws of trash compactor only to give her an insufficient amount of screen time and a second apparent death. The new films are quite saturated with antagonists, what with Snoke (Darth Sidious), Kylo Ren (Darth Vader), General Hux (Grand Moff Tarkin), Phasma (Boba Fett?) is more in the background but then why hype up the character so much? Why put a prominent actress under the mask? And not just for the lulz like with the Princes and Daniel Craig. It was just a waste of quite a sinister, mysterious character, a great actress, and a waste of bringing her back.

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Still more screen time than in the movie

Moving swiftly through to the next underused talent, Benicio Del Toro as “DJ”. Firstly, DJ isn’t even the “Codebreaker” Finn and Rose were sent to find, they decide that it would be a GREAT idea to recruit a man they meet in a prison cell and are then SHOCKED when he eventually betrays them to the First Order. Showing once and for all that War is an endless cycle with an area of grey between the opposing sides full of indifferent people profiting from the spoils. Although this is a great a message and something we haven’t seen before in the Star Wars movies, the creators could have focused more on the character’s back-story, motivations and given Del Toro more room to actually perform, rather than the over-edited scenes of Canto Bight we were actually exposed to. Again, I get the relevance of Canto Bight in Finn’s development from “I must help Rey” to “Rebel Scum”; but this could have been done using DJ as the “Codebreaker” to perhaps further delve into the deference, corruption and greed seen in that Casino town. But then where would we fit in space-horse racing?

CONTINUITY DOES NOT EXIST

J. J. Abrams gave us a nostalgic return to the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens in 2015; although many people criticised it due to it’s uncanny resemblance to the Episode IV plot (doesn’t seem so bad now does it?), I very much enjoyed this instalment and many times found myself squealing and fan-girling in my seat. Unfortunately, Rian Johnson has decided to ignore most of what the previous film gave us and almost create a stand-alone movie.

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First Order be like… “Meh, didn’t like that base anymore anyway. Just gonna bring up this mega-fleet and Dreadnoughts we never mentioned”.

The fact that the Resistance destroyed the Star-Killer Base in The Force Awakens seems to be of little consequence to the First Order, as they are now chasing the Resistance to the ends of the galaxy. This is a recurring theme even within The Last Jedi, even though Holdo destroys much of the First Order fleet with her light-speed attack, the First Order still have an army with which they can launch a ground assault on Crait. Furthermore, we still aren’t really sure where the First Order have come from and why they arose. Sure we have the maniacal ramblings and speeches from General Hux in both films, and the Opening Crawl text describes them as “risen from the ashes of the Empire”, but no real explanation as to where they came from and how they have amassed apparently infinite numbers of followers in just 30 years since the Empire was destroyed. If you read a little bit deeper in to the story outside the movies, you find out that Hux’s father was part of the previous Imperial movement as an overseeing officer at Arkanis Academy. But you need to look online or watch the Star Wars Rebels series to find out any of this.

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It’s OK Rey, we’re sad too

This sort of comes under both continuity and characters but I decided to put it here as it’s another example of Rian Johnson’s complete disregard for the events of The Force Awakens. Rey’s parents. Her family was introduced as a mysterious enigma, a premise that had the fan theories going wild all over the internet. Is she a Solo? Is she a Skywalker? Is it going to be another obscure character from the numerous films, literature, games, or series? Nope. They’re nobody. But we all knew that in our hearts, right? I, like so many other people, hope that Kylo was lying so that he might destabilise her and draw her to his side. Please J. J. Abrams??

 

I wanna just circle back to Phasma for one second. A trash compactor?! But it’s OK! She’s fine! The chrome suit is just that strong! It will probably save from that fire too…

DO YOU REMEMBER EPISODES IV, V AND VI? DO YOU? DO YOU?!

There are quite a few of these so I’m going to bullet points these:

  • Rebels have been found by first order and are escaping their base aka Hoth
  • Ahch-Too aka Degoba
  • Black hole on Ahch-Too aka dark tree on Degoba
    • Rey sees her reflection, Luke sees himself in Vader
  • “I feel the good in you” spoken by Luke to Vader and Rey to Kylo
  • Obi-Wan, A New Hope – “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”. Luke, The Last Jedi – Pretty much the same thing
  • The Emperor, Return of the Jedi – “Come, boy, see for yourself. From here, you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance and the end of your insignificant rebellion”. Pretty much the same as Snoke’s scene with Rey where he tells her to watch the destruction of the Resistance.

LUKE

Over the last few weeks we’ve heard a lot about whether Mark Hamill loved or hated the film. Also seen a couple of “Not my Luke Skywalker” posts.

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“What the hell did I just read?”

I didn’t hate the character entirely, again these points go across sections so I made a special section, but I didn’t appreciate the injection of comedy and the very uncomfortable space-cow scene. It also seems strange to me that he can be so trusting and sure of the good in Vader during the original trilogy, but toys with murdering Ben Solo (before Kylo) because he’s sees a little darkness. The real issue we’ve had is the inconsistency; in The Force Awakens, we are told that Luke left a map behind so that the Resistance can find him if they find themselves in great need. But now he acts stubborn and obstructive when he is found by Rey. I understand why he would be reluctant to train Rey (at this point I turned to my friend and said “Too old, yes, too old to begin the training” nearly right) but he should be more supportive of the Resistance. I see the shift from Hero to Hope they are going for in this film, but it doesn’t quite match up with The Force Awakens, and will it progress into Episode IX?

Last but not least SPOILER Luke’s death. It was very creative the way they hinted at his projection by not leaving the red indentations on the planet Crait; however, would it have been cooler if Luke had actually been there? Sure there might be a timing issue (how’d he get there so fast?! A la Batman in Dark Knight Rises) but if he’d have actually deflected that attack it would have been an incredible display of power! Or, if he’d had projected himself, then NOT died, that would also have been good. I think him allowing Kylo Ren to defeat him would have been way too similar to Obi-Wan in A New Hope.

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Overall, I guess you could say I was disappointed. The Last Jedi looks and feels like a Star Wars movie but lacks conviction, continuity and emotion.

Looking forward to the next movie, in the immortal words of Master Yoda: Failure is our greatest teacher.

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Porgs story: Star Wars’ Official Site

 

Thor Ragna-rocks!

The Thor franchise has been a mixed bag, the original movie, back in 2011 wasn’t the most entralling film, rather just a set up to bring Loki into the fold for The Avengers. While The Dark World a few years later was an improvement,  it never really felt like a vital part of the MCU , with an utterly forgettable villain.  Ragnarok, the final part of the trilogy has been by far the most captivating Thor adventure yet, with the trailers building up to a far more essential chapter of the story, with an ever so vibrant cast and aesthetic.

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Ragnarok picks up a few years after Age of Ultron. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is on the search for the infinity stones, to prevent the apocalyptic visions in his dreams, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), after leaving the scene following AoU, has ended up on an alien planet, and Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) now resides as King of Asgard (be it under disguise!). Things are cranked up several notches with the appearance of the omnipotent Hela (Cate Blanchett) , who’s return signifies the arrival of Ragnarok,  the  prophecy that states the destruction of Asgard.

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Thor Ragnarok has received massive critical acclaim, currently standing at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s well deserved.  Taika Waititi has woven a wonderful tale filled with humour, colour, action & drama.  Ragnarok, of all things, is one of the funniest movies of the year so far. Up there with Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of laughs per minute ! Be it Thor’s bickering with Loki or Hulk, Loki’s nervous behavior around Hulk or Hela’s disdain to pretty much everything, the film knocks out jokes throughout it’s entire run time. The supporting cast all have their moments too, but the star of the under-card has to be Korg (played by Waititi himself!), the alien guardian of Thor’s gladiatorial prison, whose non-nonchalant one liners will have the audience in stitches. Jeff Golblum is also absurdly entertaining as the peculiar Grandmaster.

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The humour aside, Ragnarok still possesses a story line that has vast consequences on the rest of the MCU. The threat is very much real, a threat which is perfectly captured by the introduction of Hela.  One of the biggest criticisms of the Marvel movies are it’s lack of villains,  but here, Hela is one of the most foreboding villains introduced so far. Being able to easily handle both Thor & Loki, and making small work of the Asgardian army.  With the gradual turn of Loki towards the side of good, it was vital to replace him with a suitable antagonist. The removal of Jane Foster, who fans never really cared for, being replaced by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson),  was a good move. Matching Thor up with someone who feels more suitable to his personality.

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Visually, Ragnarok is gorgeous to look at.  It’s simply vivid. The promotional artwork has displayed this change of direction, but the film looks so energetic. Saarkar, the planet is which our hero is stranded on, makes up a fair portion of the movie. A planet with is full of buzz and activity.  It’s colour palette is one similar to the zesty displays of Guardians franchise. Compare is to the previous 2 films, and it feels like a totally different franchise!

Though Ragnarok can be criticized for leaning on the side of comedy a bit too much, at times, all the jokes do feel overwhelming. It’s fair to say the character of Thor is seen  pretty much as a skull headed joke to everyone.  Thor seems to be the butt of most of everyone jokes, even random strangers on the street has a dig at him! Thor has always been one of the more light hearted characters, but it does go a bit too far from time to time.

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Ragnarok is certainly one of the most fun films of the year so far,  with the addition of new characters like the impressive Valkyrie & Korg, combined with the stellar cast, constant gags (”What are you, the God of Hammers?”), entertaining cameos, and a mighty villain. This may be one of the best Marvel movies yet.

 

Deathnote – A Neon Mess

Following the underwhelming remake of Ghost in a Shell earlier in the year, the news that Netflix will be giving the popular manga & anime series Deathnote the western treatment was met with concern from many fans. But given Netflix, and their track record for strong TV shows,  fans were willing to give it a chance.

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Deathnote on Netflix takes the story from Tokyo, to Seattle. A change of setting makes sense,  to adapt it to a another market. But more crucially, it also borrows the same characters from the original show,  rather than making its own spin-off.  This is biggest mistake Netflix made here, and essentially destroyed what could have been a fascinating entry to the Deathnote franchise.

The Deathnote series is built upon the battle of wits between our two rivals, Light & L. Each with their own view upon what Justice really is. This duel of intelligence and deduction was the foundation of Deathnote, and what made it such a enthralling show to all of its fans.  Netflix was never going to condense all of the shows drama into a single feature length film,  but instead of focusing of the cerebral nature of the show, what we end up with is a one dimensional, dim, cheap Final Destination rip off.  With more emphasis on how gory the film can be, rather than building amazing characters the source material provided.

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NEON!!

So here, we follow Light Turner, a student who stumbles across the Deathnote, a mystical notepad, in which whoever’s name is written within it, leads to their death.  He teams up with fellow student Mia Sutton, in order to rid the world of evil, taking up the name Kira. It’s not long before his actions get him on the radar of the law, and on his trial, is the legendary detective, L, a mysterious figure, who vows to catch Ligth, no matter what.

If Netflix made their own film, using the concept of the Deathnote,  taking place in the US, it could have done a decent job. Instead, it takes all the characters, and removes everything that made them so charming.  It’s just easier to list the flaws, so here goes!

Light (Nat Wolff)- In the anime, he is depicted as an intellectual, top of his class, popular, yet sick of life, and how crime still continues to live in this so called just society. He is also very calculating, always in control, rarely losing him composure. He does not use the Deathnote for his own personal gain, but his god-complex makes him believe that he is genuinely doing this to create a better world for everyone . In the show, Light is initially uncomfortable with the idea of using the Deathnote, but ends up using it to stop a sexual assault, Turner, uses it because a bully punched him.  Light Turner screams, panics, gets pushed around at school, and most importantly, is not smart.  He is never in control at any point, and is manipulated by everyone. Also, the Deathnote is simply used as a way for him to get a girlfriend. Great plot. Then there’s his now infamous screaming scene, which pretty much encapsulates the entire movie in 20 seconds. Wolff simply was miscast, and had next to zero charisma or personality for the role of Light. (Then again, it was the role he was given, so blame does also lie elsewhere!)

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More neon!!

Mia (Margaret Qualley) – Although in the anime, she is madly infatuated with Light, it’s explained that his actions as Kira, had a consequence of her own life, hence her blind loyalty. Here, she is just the crush of Light, and frankly, is far more interesting as a protagonist! She easily manipulates Light to do whatever she wants, and she is sinply put, a sociopath. She just wants power, and will do anything to get it. It never is explained why shes so deranged, or what lead her to become like this, but hey, she smokes at school, edgy!

Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) – Ryuk is a vital figure, although he is the guardian of the Deathnote, most importantly, he never gets involved with Light, or whatever else is happening. He is simply bored and here to see how everything unfolds. Here, Netflix, seem to be afraid of making Light a true villain, and use Ryuk as the puppet master, who forces Light into all these situations. He is unnecessarily cast as the villain, for no reason. As great as Willem Defoe is in this role, (his motion capture work here is on point!) the character of Ryuk is totally shattered. But at least he eats apples. So that’s something they got right.

L (Lakeith Stanfield) – Probably the character that got the best treatment, but still no means, perfect.  Yes L here still possess his eccentric mannerisms and deductive skills, but he is wildly ruled by his emotions here, following a sequence of events in the film, he totally loses it, and goes on a foot chase waving a gun on the streets.  L, the master sleuth that he is, should have all possibilities covered, and have a back up for it. Not lose his mind and go crazy. He also reveals his face to the public, which seems a very unwise move, even if he keeps the bottom of it covered, in the show, L only revealed himself as a final gambit.

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Our calculating mastermind….

The characters aside, the film is a mess with its pacing. The cat and mouse nature of the chase between Ligth and L was one of the most capturing parts of the show, here, there is hardly any build up, suspense, anticipation.  Instead, L just finds him, reveals his identity almost immediately,  chase over. Now we can focus on all the over the top gore and overblown finale! 

The relationship between Light and Mia is centre screen here, which is what many feared. We have countless scenes at school, we even have the oh so cliched prom scene. Yes Light went to high school, but that never was the main feature, rather his exploits outside of it. We’re forced into watching a pointless love story in a film that really isn’t made for it. 

Deathnote was never really about the deaths of the criminals. In the show, it was a simple heart attack, quick, decisive. Unless Light’s plan suggested otherwise, that was his MO. Here, every death is gratuitously bloody. The deaths occur is wildly hilarious methods, which involve a chain of events, that eventually lead to the demise of the victim. In Final Destination, it worked, here, nope! Director Adam Wingard is much more well known for his work in the Horror genre,  which made it a curious choice, for a series that isn’t exactly a horror, more supernatural thriller. This give the entire movie a far more cheesier feel to it, than the perilous, tone of the show.

There’s the 80s Synth-pop soundtrack,  even though there’s no sign it’s set in that time, the shows original Gothic tone was perfect for its theme, but here, I guess Stranger Things is a huge thing right now? We see them use the Internet to find the identity of people (very lazy story writing!), so clearly it’s set in modern times! It also focuses on Neon an awful lot, making it look more like Atomic Blonde at times! (Actually maybe Atomic Blonde used less neon….)

All that being said, is there anything to redeem this? Well if you go into this without any prior knowledge of the source, then you’ll enjoy a somewhat cheesy, straight to DVD, horror with cheap thrills. If your a fan, then there is frankly very little to say in regards to positivity. Ryuk (from an aesthetic point) and L are decent. But Light is so eviscerated as a character, it reaches a point where Mia would have been more interesting to follow. Maybe in hindsight it would have been better to create this as a 10 episode show, then again, it may have just been 10 episodes of this! 

 

American Made: It’s Just Fine

Sure it’s based on a true story which sets some limits, but a change of pace here and there would have been much appreciated.

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This is the story of Barry Seal (played by Tom Cruise), a tired TWA pilot recruited by CIA agent ‘Schafer’ (Domhnall Gleeson) to run reconnaissance flights in Central and South America. Over the course of the movie Seal evolves into gun runner, drug smuggler for the Medellin cartel, and informant for the DEA. Through all this Barry and his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) raise a family and contribute to their community. As you can imagine, juggling so many jobs, things start to fall apart.

You’d hope that a film starring Tom Cruise and directed by Doug Liman (responsible for such action-packed flicks like The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow) would have some excitement and good action. Especially if that movie is about a guy simultaneously working for the CIA, DEA and Escobar. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there was a lot lacking in terms of pace, excitement and much emotion of any kind. I left the cinema not really filming anything, but not quite feeling like it had been a waste of time.

The story is an interesting one and the actors play the characters well, there’s even a few decent laughs thrown in; but the film itself had no dynamics, it seemed to sit at the same level throughout. I can’t fault the actors for their portrayal, they were smart and most importantly believable; especially Sarah Wright as the wife, she was often skeptical of her husbands behaviour and was pretty vocal about it until he told her the truth.

More than likely it’s the script that has no flavour and lacks the changes in pace to make this film a little more intriguing. Unfortunately, in this case the story of Barry Seal has been narrated, but not really told.

Still better than The Mummy though….

Valerian, Got Style, Needed Substance

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planet is based off Valérian and Laureline, the long running French Sci-Fi comic series, that ran from 1967 to 2010. Director Luc Besson has been a fan of this franchise since his youth, and has long dreamed to bring the characters alive on the big screen. In a summer full of remakes and reboots, Valerian at least offers audiences something original. Will it be a breath of fresh air?

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is a Major within the Alpha space station. An enormous structure which has built up exponentially, since its early years as the International Space Station. Alpha is now a sprawling galactic community containing thousands of alien races and over a million different languages. Valerian is tasked to keep the peace and well-being of the citizens, along with his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevinge). It’s soon revealed there is an imminent threat building up within the core of the colony and our heroes will need to find out what’s causing it & prevent the downfall off Alpha.

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Cara Delevingne stars in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS Photo courtesy of STX Films and Europacorp

It’s always a gamble using source material that the general public are unaware off.  But Guardians of the Galaxy has proved if you do it right, it can work like a dream. Unfortunately, Valerian simply lacks any charm or charisma that made Guardians a huge hit. This is down to the two leads, who are vastly unlikable, nor do you really care about their journey. Neither DeHaan or Delavigne have the personality or gravitas to carry a franchise like this on their own. There is no real character growth, and their arcs are no cause for any interest. Considering the budget on this film, near $200m, the highest ever for a French movie, it’s a curious decision for the movie to cast these two to headline the film.

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Off the bat in Guardians, the audience immediately adore Starlord following the opening credits! Here, even after 2 hours, you still don’t care! We never get any background into the heroes, how long were they in the force for? What about their backstory? How long have they been a couple for? Their romance is put front and center of the movie, when it should have been a secondary plot. Why should we care about their relationship, when we hardly know who they are! Both characters have pretty much equal screen time, so it is a curious decision to remove Laureline from the movie’s title.

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While the leads may not be the most enthralling, Besson has created a visually stunning movie. It’s clear to see how much The Fifth Element, which he also directed, had an influence here! It’s obvious to see that he was a big fan of the comics, and he does his best to recreate the vibe of something he is a huge fan of.  From the bustling metropolis of Alpha, to the paradise beaches of Planet Mul, the movie is overflowing with gorgeous visuals. The entire Pearl’s species were a nice distraction from the grim space urban jungle the rest of the film is set in.  A lot of effort has been put in to make the comics come to life, and for that, praise has to go to the director. The scene involving Valerian breaking through walls and traversing several different landscapes of Alpha while in pursuit is a riveting scene. The movie has several concepts that could have been explored in more detail. Such as the alternate dimension that seems to exist, the vast collection of aliens and locations we could explore. But the film does not stray too far for its comfort zone. If there is a second film, they have so much to work with!

But we never see more of this fascinating world; instead we have to sit through a bickering couple and various side quests.

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The film suffers from random detours, which seem to solely exist to add to the films runtime. If its not randomly chasing a psychic jellyfish. It’s having to obtain a disguise to break into enemy territory. (When being a government official should be enough!). Though this is how we meet the most interesting character by far, Bubbles, the shape shifter played by Rihanna! In 10 minutes, her character gives us more reason to care about her story than our leading duo. The movie dropped the ball by not giving that character more screen time, rather than a side character. Ethan Hawke also has a blast as the ridiculously extravagant owner of one of the strip clubs Valerian finds himself in. The villain of the piece is Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), his actions are made clear early on, so it’s no surprise when the film reveals his history. His isn’t a truly evil person, more someone who sticks strictly to his military code. His revelation is not as shocking as they could have made it, and the final reveal is very underwhelming.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planet is not a bad movie, if you love Sci-Fi, then you should consider giving this a watch. The film does offer something original, so you have to give it credit for that. That said, the film never reaches its full potential, with the miscast heroes, the lack of character development and a plot that drags on for way too long, it fades away into a generic but beautiful summer release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atomic Blonde goes Nuclear

Atomic Blonde has the espionage of Bond and the action of John Wick; with Charlize Theron portraying the stone cold, cool-as-ice, and stunningly sexy agent Lorraine Broughton.

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Set during the fall of the Berlin War in 1989, though not related to this historic event whatsoever, we follow MI6 Agent Lorraine Broughton in her journey to Berlin to investigate the murder of fellow agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) and to locate “The List”. As in many Cold War spy thrillers, “The List” is a piece of microfilm containing the names of all allied field agents active in the Soviet Union and, in true Bond style, the microfilm is hidden in a wristwatch. Unfortunately, things start going wrong for Lorraine as soon as the her killer heels touch the ground, but people soon find out she is a force to be reckoned with. Lorraine’s contact in Berlin is MI6 agent and station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) who seems to have adapted to his environment a little too well, being described in the film as “feral”, and has his own rules and motives.

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Friend or foe?

The narrative is a re-telling of the events that took place in Berlin by Lorraine in an debriefing led by MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Throughout the film we are thrown, both seamlessly and abruptly, between Berlin and the London interrogation room, the questions posed to Lorraine driving the story forward and building doubt and suspicion regarding everyone’s intentions.

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In stark contrast to the seriousness of other cold war and general spy thrillers, and even the background and plot of this film, David Leitch has used a combination of very stylistic components to create an entertaining, anarchistic and glam rock atmosphere. The garish neon lights, spray paint screen annotations, breaking the fourth wall, a steamy lesbian affair, a new wave score, and bold outfits give a lighter edge to this violent and bloody thriller. This style is reminiscent of films made in the ’90s depicting anarchy, disregard for rules or an anti-establishment message.

The contrast extends down to the counterculture depicted on both sides of the Berlin wall. In the West, everyone is free to dress and drink as they please, whereas, in the East, we see youths being punished for partying, the inevitable rebellion and revolution. This is reflected in Lorraine’s image as well as the atmosphere; in the West her dress and make-up is bold, provocative and punk, in the East she switches the sheer blonde for brunette and dresses plainly with minimal make-up.

The soundtrack is as killer as Theron; tracks from the likes of David Bowie, Kanye West, The Clash, Queen, Public Enemy, Health and New Order give the film power and emotion. What is particularly interesting is the use of the original song, plus a reprisal using a cover in a later scene with a very different mood. At some points this reinforced the direction of the plot, descents into chaos, loss of control and stings of emotion. With the help of composer and music supervisor Tyler Bates (composer for John Wick), Leitch has put together a playlist that compliments the non-verbal storytelling occurring in much of the film and reflects the environment and rebellion of the period.

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Yes, that’s a hose and a saucepan

As well as a killer soundtrack, this film has absolutely brutal action sequences. David Leitch’s stunt background explains the satisfaction I got from watching those scenes; he has been stunt man, double, coordinator and co-director for a number of action-heavy films (Fight Club, 300, Bourne films, Matrix films, John Wick, and the upcoming Deadpool 2). The realism Leitch has injected here is impressive and effective; Theron insisted that she do as many of the stunts as legally permitted, training for months on her strength, wrestling and Muay Thai, and even getting a couple of sparring sessions in with Keanu Reeves!! Her style is what you would expect for a woman fighting men two to three times her size, the participants get tired as you would expect when you’re getting your ass kicked that hard, and people get horrific injuries, including Lorraine. We even see her emerge from an ice bath, battered, bloody and bruised, and no make-up to hide the swollen, blackened eye she received during the course of her Berlin antics. These are the consequences of her profession and entering heavy hand-to-hand combat. One of these scenes is around 7 minutes long and actually shot in continuity, this means no time to alter make-up, re-adjust wigs, or apply any extra effects, which is why I expect the characters look so exhausted and a complete mess by the end; but all this just augments the realism of the scene.

The supporting roles around Lorraine help to reveal distinct attributes of her character; with Gray, Kurzfeld and Percival she is cold and steely, she does not trust anyone and does not play nice. Even with the stasi officer, code name “Spyglass” (Eddie Marsan), Lorraine has to protect and escort out East Berlin, she remains icy and emotionless in order to properly do her job. Conversely, the young and innocent French intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) brings out a more honest vulnerable side to Lorraine. Originally, the french agent was male in the graphic novel “The Coldest City” that Atomic Blonde is based on, Leitch agreed that the gender flip was a good move and makes the story a little more provocative which he describes as integral for his vision for his solo directorial debut.

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Still gorgeous

Overall this movie is a hit for me; with exciting action, bold fashion and music, great comedic timing and funny quips. It’s true that the storyline is a little generic and you do have to pay attention to make sure you understand what is going on and who’s betraying who, but it’s clear that Leitch’s focus was the style of the retelling. In his own words, he wanted to be fresh, provocative and reinvent the “stuffy” cold war spy movie. It sounds like Theron really enjoyed this role, saying that it was her perfect female protagonist, regardless of how many times she puked in training or how many teeth she cracked. She owned this part and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her kick-ass.

And as Theron’s costume designer Cindy Evans rightly said: “Yeah, because Bond could never do it—so you have to”.

Caesar Reigns in Planet of The Apes

This summer has been pretty low-key in regards to well acclaimed blockbusters, can War for the Planet of the Apes (let’s just call it War from here on!) succeed where films such as The Mummy, Transformers & Baywatch stumbled?

War is the final chapter of the newly rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, which started with Rise in 2011 and Dawn in 2014, both movies were well received by both fans and critics, so hopes were high for War.

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The final chapter sees our main protagonist, Caesar (Andy Serkis) once again lead his colony of apes, as they look to escape to terrains new, and save his people (apes!) from the ruthless clutches of Colonel (Woody Harrelson).  With the help of his close allies, Caesar puts it all on the line, to once and for all,  put an end to the plight his colonyface.

War is an enthralling adventure, and it’s a movie you can enjoy as a standalone, without having much knowledge of the prior 2 movies. I haven’t had the chance to watch either Rise or Dawn, and did worry things may not make much sense! But the movie does a great job in dropping in details of prior movies without breaking the flow of the movie, there were reference to prior characters and events, but even as someone watching without knowing the lore, you can still piece it all together.  Not seeing the other two will not affect your enjoyment in any huge way.

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By far the most fantastic aspect of the movie is the motion capture, it is frankly stunning. This series has done wonders in giving actors in motion capture the recognition they deserve. Andy Serkis has been widely praised for his performances in the Apes movies, and rightly so. It cannot be easy to act in total green screen, while moving and acting in the ways an ape would.  If you have the time, do go and look at the behind the scenes footage, to see how much work is put into motion capture! It’s also the sheer detail of the apes that is amazing. There are several close ups throughout the movie that flaunt how much attention to detail was put it, especially with Maurice. The snowy settings up in the mountains really do provide a gorgeous backdrop the the film. It really is a great to look at.

Caesar’s story arc is one of revenge, which seems him go on a mission to take down the sinister Colonel, but he is joined by a group of his closest allies. Maurice (Karin Konoval), the Orangutan, who is Caesars top adviser, and one of the more heart warming characters in a somber movie.  Luca (Micael Adamthwaite) the Gorilla, and Rocket (Terry Notary) the Chimpanzee lend the muscle, as they also join our hero on his mission. Along the way, they meet a mute girl, Nova (Amiah Miller), who a reluctant Caesar brings along, due to the protestations of Maurice. They also meet Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the token comic relief, and a  runaway chimp who suffered after his time imprisoned at a Zoo.  Bad Ape could have gone awry,  but his fragile mentality was a good method to make him say what he does in these grim situations.

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War is an emotional ride, as several characters meet their demise, and director Matt Reeves manages to make us care and feel the struggle of a group on non human characters, which alone could have been hard to do. While there are huge epic set pieces in the film, at it’s heart, it’s a sober tale of war and suffering. You believe any one of our characters could meet their end at any moment.

The plot is rather straightforward to follow,  it’s nothing groundbreaking. But it’s the tone and execution of the film that makes it wonderful to watch. Be it the sheer panic of the battle scenes, the desperation of the prison camps or the grit shown by Caeser in the face of torture and oppression. The story weaves it all in one engrossing adventure. Be prepared to be reading loads of subtitles though, apart from Caesar, Bad Ape and the humans, the rest interact in their own language. So if you are not a fan of subtitles, you have been warned!

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Woody Harrelson does fine as our antagonist, the film gives us a reason to hate him, and his treatment of the imprisoned apes are barbaric. But, he just feels slightly rushed through. His character did not appear in any prior movies, so feels pretty dispensable. Is this guy really the one who the 3 movies lead up to?  You would think the final part of trilogy would have the long standing enemy at its core. Also, his grand plan really made no sense. Which was to build a frankly useless wall! Yes he was evil, but not really the smartest of villains,  I would have preferred a far more calculating villain, to match the astute Caesar.

The running time of almost 2:30 hours is vastly inflated. The film could have been told in a much shorter amount of time, and you do feel like it is dragging on as the film approaches its finale.

War deserves all the plaudits it’s receiving, and it provides a suitable ending to the trilogy. You really root for our heroes to succeed,  and want to rally behind them. You really grow to despise the Army, and that ticks all the boxes even at the very basic levels of story telling. The action and battle scenes are intense, and surprisingly violent! Combined with the gorgeous visuals , War is one of the films of this Summer! Apes Together Strong…….

 

 

 

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