Movie Review 16: Blade Runner 2049

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*AS USUAL, HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*

I muted my expectations for Blade Runner: 2049. I was dreading leaving the cinema disappointed, and have been looking forward to this film since the first rumours of a sequel to the original emerged, so kept my hopes low for once. However, there was of course a large part of me that couldn’t help but get butterflies when the lights dropped.

Deckard (Harrison Ford) has gone into hiding after the events of 2019, culminating in Roy Batty’s death and Deckard and Rachel’s escape to the fallout zone in the North. Thirty years in the future, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with hunting the missing Blade Runner down, but learns an even darker secret along the way.

The Good:

Not in probably my whole life have I seen a film that has so stunned me with how good it is. The overwhelming feeling that washed over me as I was lost in the pink neon glare and growling basslines of 2049 was relief. Relief that finally a blockbuster wasn’t pandering to the classic brain-dead Hollywood audience, relief that a writer-director team hadn’t cracked under the pressure and dumbed down the plot in favour of flashy set pieces and cheap gags, relief that for once a classic had been captured so perfectly and expertly, respecting the series’ roots while simultaneously moving forward in a new and innovative direction. Relief that yes indeed, this is Blade Runner.In this vein, the plot twist is that the plot twist you expected isn’t the plot twist, and I can’t come up with a single example of a film which has done this so well. From the first few scenes, me and my girlfriend were sure that K would turn out to be Rachel and Deckard’s kid, but in reality it’s a very minor character that I don’t think anyone would have expected despite what they may say once they know the truth. This is what plots should be like, and it just makes cash-grabbers like Marvel (okay, I understand they’re aimed at kids, but there are plenty of adult fans out there) and especially DC look even more like trash. On top of that, it’s paced so, so well. The fact that scenes can last for minutes at a time with no dialogue, only subtle sound effects or sweeping musical motifs, and are not interrupted by someone making a joke (see every other film review I’ve written this year) is sheer beauty, and so much more satisfying. Case in point: My girlfriend has fallen asleep every single time we’ve been to the cinema together, save for Moana, and she stayed awake for the whole three hours of Blade Runner 2049. Why, you ask? Because it’s so mentally stimulating, and it doesn’t need giant robots and explosions to achieve that. Although, delightfully, there’s no shortage of the latter.

But it’s not just the plot that’s expertly crafted. The neon glow of the Earth we came to love from the original Blade Runner is back in all its glory, with plenty of new environments to satiate our appetite for a deeper look into the setting. Sweeping birds-eye-views of glass-shrouded farmland, towering holographic billboards, rolling oceans, bombed out cities forming gargantuan deserts, these are all so breathtaking to look at and executed wonderfully. Pair this with the positively thunderous bass notes and electronic tones that are such a great callback to Vangelis’ original score that it hurts,  and you have some world-building to be proud of. Hats off.

Speaking of honouring the past while embracing the future, this film does all that and more. A moment where K asks Deckard if his dog is real and the veteran replies “I don’t know, ask him” perfectly respects the key themes of the book (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) that if you can create artificial life that’s so realistic you can’t tell the difference, what is the difference? Furthermore, there are just enough little nods to the first film (an audio snippet of Rachel and Deckard’s first conversation, the towering ziggurat of the evil corporation formerly known as Tyrell, and an interview with an aged Gaff, still making his little origami animals) to satisfy fans but not detract from a new audience’s enjoyment. That said, I would of course still highly recommend seeing the original before you watch 2049. There’s also a cheeky moment where Deckard runs for his signature Spinner, only for an incoming missile to completely obliterate it. Seconds later, a new and improved Spinner, sleek and glistening, flies in and lands. If this isn’t symbolism for doing away with the problems of the original in favour of the innovation of the sequel, I don’t know what is.

To be Improved:

Once more, a film with so few issues means unfortunately that those issues must be examined in depth. That’s just the way I like doing things, because imperfections in a masterpiece stick out like nobody’s business.

Let’s start with the villain. I feel bad for Jared Leto, because once again he has been cast as a character who has about as much screen time as he did in the trailers. We all know which character I’m talking about, and though he plays the sinister Niander Wallace well, he is genuinely in just two scenes, which mainly consist of him monologuing. What’s worse is that to add to how underdeveloped his character is, we are given what I shall be calling Chekhov’s Chips. Wallace’s assistant opens a case and selects one of six or so microchips, which she then inserts behind Wallace’s ear, allowing him to see (he is blind) through the use of small, black, hovering robo-pebbles. A cool concept, but what I’m left wondering is what the other five chips do. Why show us if it’s not going to be explained? It’s not even a subtle shot, but a relatively extreme close-up of the contents of the case. Either way, there’s a ‘P’ word I don’t use often when it comes to this sort of thing, but I’m going to have to say it: Blade Runner 2049 is a movie with a pointless antagonist, and it hurts the narrative.

On a technical aside, Rachel’s cameo, though studios are now getting incredibly close to nailing CGI humans, tipped unfortunately into uncanny valley territory. In fact, I’m sure the only reason the animation held up was because she barely moved save for her walk up to Deckard, during which she was mostly shrouded in shadow anyway.

But to get back to the subject of the overarching narrative, like the original loads of things are left to the imagination and single throwaway lines are used to cover up massive plotholes. After being saved from drowning, Deckards tells K “You should have let me die out there” to which K replies “I did”. A single exchange that in the moment is simply an interesting way to stop Deckard from being hunted, but because it’s just come after the climactic battle you forget that it solves a lot of other unanswered questions. Why Gosling doesn’t carry out his initial plan of killing Deckard, for instance, or why Wallace’s company will now immediately forget about a man they sought out for years. Someone online recently pointed out that the Blade Runner franchise has always favoured themes and imagery over a thorough plot, but in a film where (as discussed earlier) the twists in the story are so well thought through in some places, it’s such a shame that it falls down in others. For instance, a scene where Joi, K’s holographic girlfriend, sort of merges with a real prostitute so that K can properly make love to her given physical form, is impressive insofar as it’s visually interesting, but to me it lasts far too long and simply sets up the prostitute placing a tracker in K’s jacket (a move which will later be ignored and glossed over completely, because she doesn’t work for the villains at all). There are lots of moments like this and they create threads that seem only there to distract from, rather than convey, any useful information.

Overall: 8/10

All my other film ratings are to be ignored, and this is where I particularly find that the rating system falls down. I give films ratings out of ten based on the individual experience, not in comparison to other movies. Lots of this is aided by nostalgia, yes, like my 9.5 awarded to this year’s Ghost in the Shell, arguably a 6/10 if I unclouded my judgement. This is what I’ve tried very hard to do with Blade Runner: 2049.

To give the film a 9/10 would assume that it is near-perfection. As much as I wish it was, this is not the case. It’s incredible, visually, musically and narrative-wise, and there are so many amazing scenes, though as my girlfriend pointed out, the problem is that they only work as standalone moments, not a whole string of consciousness. The film plays more like a series of wonderful, mildly-interlinked shorts than a whole film. Sure, the nearly three hour runtime doesn’t get boring at all, because it’s paced so elegantly. What’s up for debate is how much is crammed into that runtime, and whether or not they pull it off. Honestly? Though I’m still on the fence, I’m leaning towards yes. Let’s give credit where credit is due: It says a lot about how great a film is that I firmly believe it is one of the best I’ve ever seen even with room for improvement… but sadly that also means that it isn’t perfect.

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Movie Review 15: Kingsman – The Golden Circle

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Cutting yourself shaving was a lot worse when trying to shave one’s eyebrows.

*AS USUAL, HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*

I’ve been at university for the past two weeks, how about that? After I’d moved in and met all my flatmates, one of the first things we decided to do before we even knew each other properly was to go to the cinema. I ruled out Stephen King’s IT immediately because, as we’ve learned from my Alien: Covenant review, I despise horror. That sort of only left one more thing we could conceivably see, and that film was Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

This is a direct sequel to the original film (Kingsman: Secret Service) from 2014. One of the recruits from the original agent programme has returned for revenge, working for an insidious drug lord, Poppy (how original), who runs a sinister organisation called the Golden Circle. She injects all her drugs, which are distributed worldwide, with a virus, and after the Kingsmen are all but wiped out they are are forced to activate the Doomsday Protocol and team up with their American cousins, the Statesmen (imaginative, I don’t think) to save the world.

The Good:

There was a lot to be said for the refreshing take on the spy movie offered by the original. The fast pacing, imaginative and multi-layered characters, if a little cliche in places, and overall aesthetic were enjoyable, it must be said. Unfortunately, as with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (*shudders*), this sequel takes all that was good with the first one and runs with it to the extent of over-saturation. But we’re not here to discuss the negatives, at least not yet, so let’s crack on with a few of the things which were actually interesting. There are some lovely scenes with puppies, which were enjoyable to look at. Some of the little nods to the movie’s form, like naming the two robotic guard dogs of a 70s-America recreational villain hideout ‘Benny’ and ‘Jet’. These little details are very clever, and the film is… Not that full of them, at all, and this is in fact the only example I can think of. Moving on, there is a very cool three second shot of a fighter jet called the ‘Silver Pony’ as it soars through the skies. We all know how much I adore the Transformers franchise, so I’m a sucker for moments of military tech glinting in the sunlight. There were also a few cool moments in action scenes which really flowed, like a suitcase folding out into a riot shield. Interesting, but less a silver lining and more a single pinprick of sunlight smothered by dogshit-brown clouds.

To be Improved:

There’s no easy way to do this, and I don’t particularly want a repeat of the huge paragraph of pessimism you had to read in the GotG 2 review, so I shall just list the negative points for easy access:

  • The constant whirling of the camera during fight scenes, which (though it has become the style of the Kingsman movies and is impressive because it is usually all one shot or at least looks like it) is nausea-inducing and looks CGI (translation: fake) as hell.
  • Like Guardians of the Galaxy, the constant ruining of epic moments for a little shot of humour (“That’s the only decent shit I’ve had in three weeks” springs to mind) is infuriating, and as soon as it started happening I knew I was going to hate the film.
  • It’s entirely and utterly predictable.
  • The characters are all uninspired and, for the most part, unlikeable. Besides, Channing Tatum’s ‘Tequila’ (his character was named after one of the liquors, I don’t even remember, give me a break) is put on ice, quite literally, when he is cryogenically frozen so we don’t even really get to know him, making him pointless.
  • The overuse of the song ‘Country Roads’ for almost every establishing shot is ridiculous, and my opinion was not helped by the friendly scouser sitting behind me and singing along every time it played.
  • There was just something dead about the action sequences. Perhaps it was the fact that, as mentioned above, it all looked FAKE AS HELL. But in all seriousness, the climactic fight ended at the same meat grinder that was already used to chop a person up at the beginning of the film, meaning there was no satisfaction whatsoever, and whenever a character entered a room you could tell what was going to happen simply because of what was around them. Eggsy holds a vial of antidote in front of him; it’s obviously going to get smashed. Benny (robotic dog) chases Harry into the salon where the Golden Circle members are given their solid gold tattoos; it’s obvious that molten gold and metal don’t mix. The list goes on, but I’ll spare you the pain.
  • Let’s not even talk about Elton John. His lines were almost as bad as Cogman, the ninja robot butler’s in Transformers: The Last Knight. But nothing could ever be quite as bad as “Move, bitch, get out of my way” in an aristocratic English accent, so Golden Circle earns a few points for… Not being the absolute worst, I guess? Whoopty-do.
  • The plot itself was so… dead-ended. It all came full circle (a golden one, perhaps?) but not in a way that the story was satisfyingly resolved. More in the way that it ended exactly where it started with nothing different than it was at the start. Except Eggsy’s now married to the princess he… did anal with at the end of the first film. Incredible, guys, really.
  • Scenes like the one where a tracker can only be placed on a female victim by putting it directly into her uhm… Well, you can guess, are vile. Look, I’m all for a bit of sexual banter (sort of, in the right context) but when you force me to watch a shot of a tracker implanting itself into literal uterus walls, you’ve done something wrong.

Overall: 2/10

In case those last few points didn’t give a single indication as to what I thought of this film, let me spell it out: it was utterly dire. Watching Golden Circle, I found myself in the same situation I’ve been in for what are now my last three cinema trips. That being the fact that I walk in, sit down incredibly excited to see what promises to be an amazing movie, and enjoy about ten minutes, but then find my expectations shattered by a throwaway line or moment that makes me cringe like (as I think I said in my Last Knight review) I’ve just torn a massive chunk out of a lemon. Cinema truly is dying, and I will now enter every film without watching the trailers and with little to no anticipation lest it be destroyed by computer-generated (as aforementioned: fake) action scenes, appalling plot choices and disgustingly awful writing.

Movie Review 14: Alien – Covenant

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*AS USUAL, HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW, ALTHOUGH THIS REVIEW ADDRESSES MANY MORE THAN MY OTHERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*

First Ghost in the Shell, next, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (though I’m loath to count that), then Transformers: The Last Knight. Now? Alien: Covenant. I have been spoilt rotten by 2017 when it comes to science fiction, my absolute favourite genre, and will continue to be so with the upcoming releases of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, and Blade Runner: 2049 come the end of the year. However, every single one of them is a sequel or a remake (yeah, wow, would you look at that, it really is all of them), and so far they’ve both totally enthralled and utterly disappointed, so from here on out my expectations of these movies will be torn between excitement and unpleasant apprehension.

This was a tough one for me. I absolutely despise horror and jumpscares, much to the chagrin of an American Horror Story-loving girlfriend, but I owed it to myself as a sci-fi fan to push through that fear and see this. I never ended up seeing it in the cinema as for some reason the price never seemed to drop below £12.50, a little too expensive compared to the tenner I’m used to forking out. But that’s probably a good thing, as I don’t think I’d be able to handle boo moments on the big screen, and it’s nice owning the DVD as now I have the whole Alien set. The story follows the crew of Covenant, a ship somewhat similar to Prometheus in design but one which differs in its purpose. This is to be the first ever large-scale colonisation of an extra-solar planet. Naturally, highly-trained military scientists forget to wear their helmets on a strange alien (pun intended in every sense?) world, and disaster strikes in the form of angry, hungry, black-shelled Xenomorphs. Delicious.

The Good:

Some unfairly delicious shots (strange description I know, but I just love sci-fi and they really are gorgeous) are peppered throughout the film. David talking to Walter (basically Michael Fassbender being two androids, one American and shiny and new, the other English and living alone on a planet for decades) is so disjointed and good. Teaching him to play recorder, talking about their creator together, they’re some of the best scenes in the movie, clinical and tense. This is because the new version of the android has had a feature taken out of it; the ability to create. “They made the following models with fewer complications.” It lends both positive and negative credit to the film that these two characters have the most chemistry out of the entire rest of the cast, and they’re both played by the same actor. Although I will confess that some of the other characters have vaguely touching moments, I really can’t stress how good the scenes between the androids are. Case in point: “Why did you sacrifice your hand to save her life? What is that if not love?” asks David. “Duty.” Walter responds. On top of this, the fact that the updates to the system are eventually what allow Walter to defeat the evil David. And seeing Fassbender kill himself (not in the original meaning of that phrase) twice in one film is… odd, but enjoyable? Is it offensive to say that? Perhaps I’m the wrong person to review this sort of thing because the more of this aspect, the more I find myself unable to watch a film; but the tension is definitely there. I had to watch a few scenes on silent simply because I didn’t want to be startled by the Alien obviously standing behind someone. The inevitable facehugger scene is obvious and one of the most horrible in the series yet, of course, so if you’re into this sort of thing the horror is really well done. Seeing the vicious, glistening black xenomorph is amazing, the first time you see it, and I sort of wish there were more moments because it’s truly wasted. It’s death is rushed and haphazard.

To be Improved:

As usual, scientists are effing stupid and make ridiculous decisions resulting in massive crew and equipment loss. It seems unrealistic and is just so lacking of the intrigue and subtlety of the original. The film practically opens with a horrific moment of having to watch someone see their lifelong partner burnt alive mere minutes into the film sets up a tone that is more gratuitously violent than necessarily poignant. Speaking of violence, though Covenant is not among the types of films I normally watch, so my bar isn’t very high, it is without a doubt the most violent film I’ve ever seen in my life. To the point of making me feel physically sick. I wasn’t a happy bunny, I can tell you that, and I’m not really going to factor this point into how good the film is because this is just personal taste. But I think it’s useful to point out how sort of… Unnecessary it is, though it does terrify which I guess was the point. For some reason they’ve made one of Michael Fassbender’s characters (he plays multiple androids) American, even though we all know that his accent, though he does put a lot of effort in, is always overridden by his native one. The writers kill not one but five crew members in one scene, each in a different way, meaning that the effect is sort of lost. Sure, the effect of the violence is not lost, but any emotional impact short of sheer fear is blown out of the scene in the explosions. There’s a really, really weird cut when David is going to be killed by Walter, which sets up for the twist that the opposite has happened and the evil android prevails. But it’s just so weird! You see David reach for a knife then it really does just hard cut to something else. It just leaves you distracted for the rest of the film as you wonder about it until the reveal. I will say, this itself is done astonishingly. The pacing of the film is really odd. I couldn’t tell when the end was gonna happen, and after the sort of ‘climactic battle’ which is more anti-climactic (see above mention of xenomorph death), of course, there’s a sudden tense moment and you’re like oop… Hold on… This doesn’t appear to be the end. It goes on for another twenty all-over-the-place minutes. This just means that it’s jarring, and the rest of the film follows this trend. Finally, the characters, save for the androids, are all incredibly poor. There are literally no heroes to root for, especially when, as already mentioned, they get killed off so quickly.

Overall: 6/10

I think it’s safe to say that, any nostalgia out of the picture, the Alien movies went downhill after the first one. Perhaps a very unpopular opinion, but I believe it to be true. Covenant follows that trend, though is somewhat more enjoyable than Prometheus and isn’t as cheesy in its emotion or as wishy-washy in its story. I mean, damn, despite some odd tonal choices and honestly just as many poor scenes as Prometheus, thank god the story at least actually flows and has a beginning-middle-end. I can’t really tell what’s wrong with it. Perhaps it’s how much is left to the imagination, though a darn sight more is explained when it comes to Covenant, which is a joy. Overall, it’s simply nothing special.

Movie Review 13: Fury

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“Ideals are peaceful… war is violent.”

Fury is one of those films that I always liked the look of when it was on the side of buses, but then never ended up getting a chance to see for whatever reason. It happened with Spider-Man: Homecoming last month, it will probably happen with Thor: Ragnarok when it comes out. But those are superhero movies. This one is about the real heroes. It’s… also the DVD mum got dad for Christmas 2015, so that’s why I watched it in the first place. Whoops!

Fury follows the crew of the eponymous World War 2 Sherman tank, and their new bowel gunner, a totally inexperienced typist who must learn the ropes, and fast, lest he bring down the rest of the tight-knit team who have been together since the start of the war. They move along the German lines, a five-man army taking the country one small town at a time. There isn’t much else to it without major spoilers, but when a film with so simple a synopsis makes it into my top ten, you know you’ve got a gem.

The Good:

I have to start by praising the sound design in its totality. There is no better word for ‘all of it is stupendous’. Every bolt clattering in its housing rattles your bones, every muzzle flare is a blinding crash of light. Don’t even get me started on the tank shells. It’s the slams of punctured metal and the whistling of high velocity shells (which were created by, of all things, taping a whistle to a frisbee and throwing it past a microphone) that really bring Fury to life and make you feel like you’re the one going to war. It’s not just the sound effects that are tremendous but also the soundtrack. Haunting choral movements roll in like fog whenever Nazis are on screen, in stark contrast to the triumphant, almost electronic bass and sweeping piano utilised whenever the ‘Good Guy’ theme pounds across the battlefield. It’s as guttural and just as much of a beast as the tanks themselves, and it all creates that chilling atmosphere of hollow glory, hollow being the operative word, when the tracks (no pun intended… geddit, caterpillar tracks?) are so mournful and full of emotion. It also helped greatly with placing my shoulders somewhere up round my ears during one of the most tense moments I’ve seen in film, being the one-on-one tank combat scene. Fury circles a growling Tiger 1 tank, taking heavy machine gun fire and narrowly avoiding the fearsome shells. The Tiger itself seems impervious to anything our heroes throw at it, and the perspective given from the cold, efficient German crew just adds to the pressure of the scene. When two rounds are put square into the Tiger’s back end, flames erupting from the massive entry wounds, you have to manually pull your nails out of your armrests. Slow as the operation of tanks may be, Fury’s action is pulse-racing and truly a white-knuckle experience. Speaking of the good guys, though, all the characters, I think, are as strong as each other. This makes Fury the odd one out in the ‘Suicide Squad’ genre, and by that I mean a film or game where all but one or often all of the team of main characters are killed off. Some examples being Halo: Reach, Halo 3: ODST, Rogue One, (click on all of those for my reviews of them) and… Well, the DC flop itself. There is not, I believe, a single weak link in the main group in Fury. The cast is great, too, and that helps, of course. This also allow for greater impact when we are offered the symbolism of all four original Fury operators dying inside the tank, forever entombed in the vehicle that became their home for the duration of the war, and will now be their home forever, and Norm, the new recruit, escaping. It is touching and tastefully done, so tastefully in fact that I didn’t notice it during my first watch of the film. While we’re on the subject of subtle emotion, the poignancy of the closing aerial shot hit me lot harder watching it this time round (not to mention the fact that it’s the only time the camera leaves the ground for the whole film, where it spends all of its time boots on the ground with the soldiers), and is a fantastic visual note to finish on given the content and overarching messages of the rest of the film. Visuals throughout are also grogeous, and we all know what a sucker I am for large, chunky engines of war bristling with radio antennae, wires, spare ammunition and, most importantly, loads of guns. The gritty tone and washed-out visuals (done much more effectively than they were in Dunkirk where everything just looked sort of… wet) are punctuated at regular intervals by split-second shots of violence that are just long enough to imprint the flash of blood and guts on the backs of your eyelids for a few moments, after which the film rumbles forward with whatever skirmish is taking place. The gore, much like Fury’s imagery and emotion, is restrained enough to not become dragging, yet somehow intensely satisfying in its discretion.

To be Improved: 

My complaints are mainly little nitpicks, as is often the case with films that make it into my top ten favourites of all time. The first issue I have is one that I don’t even mind that much, but I feel the need to point out that the constant laser-fire, tracer rounds though they may be, becomes a bit too Star Wars at points. Which, in actual fact, we all know is no problem for me, and to be honest it’s good that we actually get to see the bullets flying rather than a few yellow beams every now and again as per Saving Private Ryan and the like. While we’re on the topic of star wars, another problem with Fury is that, like Rogue One, and in fact Halo: Reach, the protagonists do develop a tendency to drop like flies. It makes more sense in Fury, though, because the whole climactic battle is them becoming drastically overwhelmed, pinned down with one of their treads destroyed, unable to move, fighting quite literally to the death. Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, there is a moment in Fury much like the opposite of the fact that Tom Hanks’ character lets a soldier live, and is then killed by the very same man. In Fury, Norm is forced by Sergeant Collier (Pitt) to shoot a German soldier, and is then, when spotted by an SS trooper while hiding under the tank as the film draws to a close, allowed to live. It’s different… But it’s just as cheesy, and it’s really the only moment that doesn’t hold up in terms of poise or subtlety like the rest of the film’s more intense scenes do. Now, the one big issue I have with Fury is the pacing. I guess in war it’s difficult for this not to be the fact, but the film has a choppy-changey attitude when it comes to knowing when to switch from a lull to an action sequence. It’s very obvious whenever someone or something is going to get shot, or an explosion is going to go off, or a enemy trap is about to be sprung, and is jarring when it suddenly grinds to a halt and spends what feels like quarter of an hour (a lot in film-time) on… breakfast? I guess a lot of it is to show the fragility of civilians, the hopelessness of it all, and, during a particularly cryptic anecdote from Micheal Pena’s Garcia, how close-knit Fury’s crew are, purposefully excluding Norm. It’s hard to follow, a little disjointed, and all in all a rather strange point in the film simply due to how suddenly everything quiets down. But, again, this is interrupted all in good time by the Germans shelling the town, obliterating not only the area itself but also whatever messages that scene was trying to convey, and I use the plural because to me it seemed to be around three or four mish-mash morals. It’s unfortunate that they all become a little tangled and are then forgotten about, because it did add another layer to the narrative, if a little too heavy-handed on the characterisation (John Berthnal’s standoffish Gordo licking a terrified German girl’s eggs and bacon, for instance).

Overall: 8/10

Despite the above-mentioned awkwardness of the one scene that tries to cram emotional exposition into a film with such explosive subject matter, it still conjures up some touching subjects to consider. The bond between brothers in arms. The futility of war itself. The despair of it all. However, none of the sentiment delivered in Fury is rammed down your throat, as it is in so many films. There are no downright ‘sad’ scenes, which is why I haven’t used that word until now, yet it still hits home on the poignancy front. It also, luckily, hits home when it comes to the front that is the film’s setting, and the glorious fight scenes complete with a wholly appropriate and satisfying aesthetic, along with the expert sound design and the score’s tone, create a war movie that is as intimate as it is fiercely action-packed. One for the history books (pun well-deserved).

Movie Review 12: Dunkirk

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“There’s no hidin’ from this, son… We have a job to do.”

I was invited to see Dunkirk with two of my three older brothers so we could have a boys’ night out at the pictures. However, much to my surprise, Dunkirk was the only so-called boys’ film that’s come out all year that my girlfriend actually wanted to see. I couldn’t help but indulge her, plus Harry Styles was in it so she had some eye candy if things got really boring. I’m okay with that; I had Cillian Murphy to look at.

It’s rather difficult to write a synopsis of a film based on actual historical events without taking it straight off the Wikipedia page, so I shall do just that in case people don’t know anything about what is arguably one of the most triumphant events in British wartime history: The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940, during World War II. There you have it! Let’s get to the movie.

The Good:

I think most of the things I enjoyed during Dunkirk where due in no small part to Vue Cinemas’ gorgeous surround sound. ‘Scuse my French, but FUCK was the sound good!! Divebombers positively screaming overhead, explosions that made your ears ring, gunshots clattering out that felt like they were impacting all around you. It felt more like a 4D movie than a 2D one, with the seats juddering everytime a Spitfire made a pass. God damn, this is what cinema should sound like, god damn god damn. Ahem. Let me compose myself and talk about some other enjoyable aspects, speaking of the planes. The few times I felt my eyes sting a little during Dunkirk were, besides the moment when all the small vessels arrive (which was actually butchered by Kenneth Branagh’s subsequent line, tut tut) and when the boys arrive home and see the white cliffs of Dorset (I’ve already mentioned my little house there on this blog), were whenever the spitfires flew past. They were actually gorgeous, I can’t lie. I’ve never even had a particular affinity for the engines of war, but I guess a substantial part of me enjoys first person shooter video games and sci-fi war movies, and then on top of that Fury is among my top favourite films of all time, soooo perhaps I’m just trying to hide the fact that I do love a beautiful piece of engineering, and the Spitfire is no exception. Says a lot that I purchased a Lego Republic Fighter Tank in the shopping centre we saw the film in, doesn’t it? The visuals of the film in general were rather nice, if a little washed-out, just like the soldiers, and some particularly stomach-churning aerial shots were enjoyable when your seat was wobbling along with the nose of the plane. The acting throughout the film isn’t half bad, surprising considering it’s mostly American accents that work on the big screen, and I hate to say it but you know it’s never a good sign when I draw my “The Good” section to a close with a comment on something which is expected to be present in any film. To attempt to defend Dunkirk before I get into my criticisms, I will say that I acknowledge the fact maybe the character’s aren’t memorable because they’re not supposed to be, as war is anonymous, and hardly any are individual heroes… but let’s be frank: Nolan probably wasn’t thinking that hard about the symbolism.

To be Improved:

When I had to turn to my girlfriend and explain that yes, we were now on a third separate timeline in terms of the plot, I think we both realised that something was amiss. Cillian Murphy is on the small vessel Moonstone after being rescued, heading back towards Dunkirk; Cillian Murphy is also refusing access to a boat to another of our main characters, who is stuck on the beach (confusing enough already, the only indication that these are different time frames being the time of day); and Tom Hardy flies towards a German bomber about to take out a minesweeper. To add insult to injury, Hardy’s character takes about twenty minutes of screentime to get to the bomber, despite going full throttle and blazing through his Spitfire’s fuel. This is because it keeps jumping back and forth, and then to my intense frustration, Hardy doesn’t even catch up to the bomber before it completely obliterates the minesweeper, killing most on board in one barrage. There are moments like this that aren’t entirely explained, like when some sort of blind man (possibly, again, not explained) touches our hero on the face before giving him a blanket. Also, when Harry Styles’ character (who is the grumpy nadir of the film) does what he does best by being moody on the train ride home through England, there’s this sort of lacklustre reveal, as the other protagonist (though I use that word lightly) reads Churchill’s triumphant Commons’ address in the paper, that “Oh, I guess Harry’s character thought everyone would be angry at them for retreating, but we already… Sort of… Knew that Dunkirk was a triumph rather than a failure so… What?” On top of that, the sheer frustration that Hardy’s character, when he finally does run out of fuel, simply glides to a halt on the beach and, despite that fact that he flies over hundreds of men on the beach being evacuated, is captured by Germans in the film’s closing shots. I guess he didn’t want the Spitfire to fall into enemy hands? It’s all just so vague and confusing, and any emotional impact is lost because we don’t actually spend enough time with any of the characters to really care about them. Plus, and god, now I’m just ranting, the trailer spoils absolutely any moment of tension. My girlfriend got all tense when Styles’ character goes into the belly of a boat, and I just turned and said “Torpedo, I reckon,” and lo and behold, someone shouted “TORPEDO!” and the whole thing was blown to smithereens. Again, when some Englishmen hide in the bottom of a fishing boat which is being used as target practice by some unsuspecting Germans, one is asked to plug the holes or the boat will sink. I covered my ears, and sure enough, only my girlfriend jumped at the next bullet which came through the hull. How did I know all these things, I hear you ask? The trailer, man. The damn trailer. When the next Star Wars one comes out, I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t think I want to watch it, because studios are just spoiling more and more and more with each new film. The artificial tension throughout the film was a cheap way of making the audience on edge, and I started to notice about halfway through that at most quiet moments, some sort of gunshot was about to go off. Nearly one hundred percent of the time, I was right. It still gave me a bloody fright every single time, which was a nice adrenalin kick, but I’d go to a horror movie if I wanted that. And finally, speaking of artificiality, the death scenes that came every quarter of an hour were even less emotional than the jumpscares, and that’s saying something. It wasn’t poignant because, much like a horror movie in fact, characters were just picked off at every opportunity rather than in any sort of moving scene. Sure, as I kind of mentioned in the above section, maybe this is the point, as you can die at the drop of a hat in war, but Nolan’s death scenes were just too formulaic and at intervals far too regular to make me think that was the case.

Overall: 6/10

Dunkirk rumbles moodily along for its duration and for whatever reason manages to make its nearly two-hour runtime feel like half of that, with some great shots and emotional moments, but fails to deliver on any satisfying characters, action or poignancy overall. More like a string of ‘boo’ moments, the film (like many Cillian Murphy stars in, Anthropoid included) is not one that will be remembered, despite its subject matter, mainly due to the frantic (but somehow still dragging) jumping between scenes. I shall simply agree with what my dad, who saw it a few days before me with aforementioned brothers, said when I asked him whether or not Dunkirk was good: “Mmm… It was enjoyable, yeah,” he replied, with a so-so look on his face. And, in stark contrast to the history it was based on, I’ve gotta admit that that’s all Nolan’s Dunkirk is, unfortunately.

 

Movie Review 11: Baby Driver

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‘The moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet.’

Against the wishes of my friends that I attend a house party, I already had tickets booked to see a film I’d been looking forward to since I saw the trailer before Free Fire way back at the beginning of April, three months ago today. That film was Baby Driver, and I was not about to trek twenty stops on the central line when I could take a bus down the road to my local cinema and have a car chase- and rock music-fuelled evening of action.

Baby is a driver (seems simple enough, appropriate title choice) for Kevin Spacey’s Doc, a ruthless mobster who has our titular hero under his thumb for stealing a bunch of his stuff, presumably drugs, in the trunk of a car which he then proceeded to drive round Spaghetti Junction with no headlights or brake lights, managing to evade the police but (again presumably, and we’ll come to this in my biggest gripe with the film) crashing the car and (fucking presumably, because have I made it clear that we are never told) losing the drugs. We don’t see any of this, which is shame, and the film instead follows Baby’s last few jobs as he finally gets straight with Doc. But once your hands are this dirty, you’re probably going to end up curtains trying to get them clean, as we shall see.

The Good:

As with Free Fire and Full Metal Jacket, this is another one of the only good films I’ve reviewed on this blog. I’m not talking about enjoyability, because I gave Ghost in the Shell a 9.5/10 and that was a box office flop, but I’m talking about actual production value and lack of pandering to the rollercoaster-thrillride-loving common denominator. In that vein, the rating for this film should be taken with that in mind, and that a 9/10, for instance, is worth way more than a full 10/10 for a blockbuster. This is where the cracks in rating systems start to peek through, but I hope what I’m trying to sell makes sense. Right, let’s get into this thang.

This. Film. Rocks. Holy SHIT, does it rock. There aren’t many movies I come out of with the memory of turning to whoever I’m seeing it with and excitedly whispering “I think I’m gonna pee!” as I jiggle in place, but that was certainly the case with Baby Driver. There are around four different shootouts and chase scenes that time the gunshots and gear changes with the rumbling drumbeats and blaring electric guitars of such hits as Queen’s Brighton Rock and Tequila by The Champs. I could barely my contain squeals of pleasure as a pistol slide cracked with the hi-hat, or a clutch pedal was slammed down on the kick of the bass drum. God dayum was it a ride! This is so far removed from the bland, achingly over-the-top action and violence of Transformers or X-Men. It is true adrenalin, bursting at the seams, and it feels fucking great. This was a 15 so I’m allowing myself, much like the film, some ‘strong language’, I don’t even care. In terms of individual positives, a scene that stood out to me, above all others, was when Buddy goes crazy after the death of his bride and tracks Baby down in a multi-story car park. Seeing the beefy, glistening black police cruiser, swallowing all colour save for the piercing red and blue of the lights, growling as it patrols the bays like a shark, especially when you overlay Mercury’s vocals and Brighton Rock’s guitar solo, was joy. Pure joy, simple as. Mum and I had to hold hands, we were just bouncing in our seats. The script isn’t bad, either. Mum thought it was a little too on the nose, and claimed it wasn’t very well written, but I thought many of the quips were laugh out loud funny, especially one pertaining to a certain line from Monsters Inc, although I will say that for obvious reasons Spacey is a standout. On top of the ridiculously satisfying action and soundtrack, there were also some lovely moments of symbolism. Case in point: A shot from Baby’s point of view where his gaze flicks from Bats (Jamie Foxx), whose reckless personality not only he but also we the audience can’t pin down, to Buddy, a character who is somewhat of a friend to Baby, who we have just seen listening to music with him. Bats wears the privacy glasses (sunglasses framed with glaring pink LEDs to confuse cameras and shroud your identity, hint hint) that are about to be used in the heist, and Buddy does not. See what they did there? Also, whenever Baby is taking part in the heists or the planning of them, everything that happens around him goes with the beat of the music he is listening to, because it’s the life, or even the rhythm, one might say, that he’s gotten used to. But whenever he’s living his normal life, the life he wants, everything feels disjointed and it took me a moment to realise that it was because everything is out of time. Flat. What he wants, but not what he’s accustomed to anymore. Genius. Finally, and this leads nicely into one of my criticisms, just before Bats is killed, there is a shot of him (in true ‘The Departed’ fashion) through a car window, with the reflection of a lamppost or telegraph wire slashing straight through his image, crossing him off, subtly placing the imagery in the viewer’s brain and adding even more to the sense of unease that something is about to go down.

To be Improved:

As with books that I enjoy to a massive extent, this section is often a little longer when I find a film I love, but that’s because the criticisms are very specific. The biggest one I have with Baby Driver is the fact that the trailer featured many split second shots of nifty car stunts, and I remember saying to my girlfriend on the way to the cinema that I bet there would only be one chase scene at the beginning, then maybe another one a little later on that wouldn’t be as action-packed. How right I was, when, much to me and mum’s disappointment (yes, we saw it with my parents, but it was lovely, shush), the film opened on a car chase. It was the highlight of the film for my parents, who left feeling the rest of it was a bit flat in comparison. I don’t share this opinion, but I do agree that it was a high note which should have been saved for a little further into the narrative or at least matched by another later scene in terms of excitement, which, to be honest, it wasn’t. That’s really my only big issue with the film, so the rest of these are slight cracks which, for me, stuck out a smidgen to much. Firstly, a shot where a girl in a denim jacket and purple headphones goes into the back room of a diner singing ‘B-A-B-Y baby’, followed closely by the eyes of our eponymous protagonist. Then, a second later, a different girl in a waitress outfit appears from a different direction by the tableside, causing our hero to look up from the door his gaze was just fixed on. It’s just the case of a bad series of cuts that make it look like Debbie, who in reality is both women, just after a costume change, is two different people, but it took me at least fifteen minutes to suddenly hit that “OHHHH” moment, which was a little distracting. Second, contrary to my enjoyment of the symbolism before the fact, Jamie Foxx’s death was way too obviously set up. Hitting the audience over the head with not just one but several shots of an incredibly unsubtle stack of poles sticking out the back of a lorry parked in front of the getaway car directly in front of the passenger side was a little too indicative of Edgar Wright’s style, and something that should have stayed in Shaun of the Dead or the disgustingly gratuitous Hot Fuzz (just my opinion, shoot me). Finally, there were just some moments left painfully unexplained or fizzled out. Like a character referred to only as Soldier Boy who suddenly comes out of nowhere during the robbery of a money truck, starts shooting at the getaway vehicle, and is then killed, never to be explained. Seems a bit random and unnecessary, is all. Then, Buddy discharging his pistol beside Baby’s ears, supposedly deafening him, although his hearing returns by the closing shot which seems strange. If it doesn’t return, and he stays deaf, a possibility me and dad discussed, it’s not obvious at all, and that’s a problem in itself, so it’s still a problem. But above all, the most disappointing aspect of the film was a lovely nighttime aerial shot of Spaghetti Junction just before the film’s climax, as this seemed to be setting up a repeat of the scene we heard about but never saw of Baby’s famous police chase, which in my opinion would have been an incredible way to end it, but turned out to only serve as a callback to the backstory. In fact, looking back on it after the rush of seeing the film has passed, a Spaghetti Junction chase should have been how the film ended, because the real ending was lacklustre and ambiguous to say the least. You can tell by the time Baby wakes up in the car beside Debbie, however long after Buddy’s death, that Edgar Wright was running out of ideas. It suffers from LotR syndrome, being that it doesn’t know when to end, meaning that instead of solidly ending, Baby Driver just sort of… peters out.

Overall: 7/10

Some truly great filmmaking has gone into Baby Driver. The soundtrack is insane, and I think I’ll be preordering the vinyl just after this review goes up because it’s certainly gotten me in the mood to listen to it all over again. “That’s some Oscar shit right there!” exclaims Jamie Foxx’s Bats as he applauds, breaking the tension during a sinister moment in the diner. Mmm… Perhaps I wouldn’t go that far, but that’s not to say that Baby Driver isn’t a glorious blend of pink neon, banging tracks, delicious carplay (too little of it, if you ask me) and dazzling firefights. A Winding-Refn’s Drive-esque chase to finish the story where it started and really wrap everything up would have made this my film of the year, possibly my film of the decade, which just means it’s that much more of a letdown that it ended how it did. Sad face, but one that is trying hard to hide its childlike glee.

 

Movie Review 10: Transformers – The Last Knight

 

“For my world to live… Yours must die.”

I’ve got a Transformers tattoo. I saw the first two films in the series back in ’07 and ’09, both with a lifelong best friend. The memories of our super-nerdy childhood and the nostalgia which comes with the Transformers series meant that I just had to get Megatron inked in full colour across my torso, his arms going down mine. I’m totally kidding, of course. My tattoo is five little numbers in cybertronix (the language of the Transformers) on my wrist, representing Barricade’s interrogation of Sam with regards to the eBay item 21153 from the original movie. It’s basically dots and dashes, so no full body giant robots here! But my point is that I’m a massive fan of the series, and pretty dedicated to boot, hence ink, so I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found out about this, the fifth in the series.

Oh, Optimus, it’s been far too long. The Last Knight picks up where Age of Extinction left off way back in 2014. I say “way back” only because, in a time when Disney is successfully pumping out a billion-dollar-grossing Star Wars every year, a three year hiatus for a franchise is a pretty big deal. Either way, the events take place soon after the previous film, in a period where an evil corporation has taken to finishing the now deceased Lockdown’s mission to hunt what remains of the Cybertronian race. The timeline switches between this and the distant, medieval past, where Transformers shed precious metal with the blood of Arthurian knights against a vicious three-headed robodragon.

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“Giant robot? Uhm… Nope, not round these parts, I think I saw one go that way.”

The Good:

Lots of these are specific, I’ll be honest, so let’s just run through them in some semblance of the order in which they appear. Lots of the characters now have throwback designs, like Barricade’s arguably much more cartoony robot form, complete with a child-friendly (as far as evil, murderous robots go) blue paint job and ‘serve/protect’ knuckle dusters. This is a nice nod to the Generation One cartoons from the ’80s even if some of these characters are exclusive to the movie series. Speaking of nods, there are some insanely good callbacks to the original and proceeding cartoons, most of which I’ve seen at least half of, like Bumblebee’s famous “Sting like a bee”, Optimus becoming the evil Nemesis Prime (made me pee a little), Dragonstorm in all his glory, Megatron telling Prime that they were brothers once, Earth being Unicron, and so many more. On top of that, the return of Colonel Lennox is a very welcome one, although I stand with the majority of fans and wish Shia had been present, even in a cameo role (rather than just in a photo ripped straight from the first two films). And speaking of the army, the massive battle sequences complete with military jargon, huge explosions, fighter jets and the human race getting the living shit kicked out of it yet still firing just as much flaming ordinance right back at the ‘bots may not be anywhere near as incredible as the Strike Package Bravo and Operation Firestorm scenes from the first two movies, but there are plenty of epic moments and some gorgeous shots for sure. The climactic battle, though there are hardly any proper one on one fisticuffs, so none of the transformers get to show off their moves in all their glory, contains some amazing moments, like Optimus Prime asking six oncoming Insecticons “Did you forget who I am?” before launching into a sword swing which beheads each and every one of them in one go which he follows with “I… Am Optimus Prime”. Chills. Much.

And now, before we launch into my rather disappointing number of criticisms, let me just preface it with the fact that I really do think that the final half hour of this film did pull it back for me, and the fact that it ended on a cliffhanger means that Bay has one last chance (at least) to redeem himself, really hit home, and wrap this series up for good in a meaningful way. Which I hope he does, but am not in the least bit expecting him to. I’d much prefer if he stuck to his word and just effed off and let someone else take the reins. Hard reboot needed.

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Quintessa and Optimus proving that even Cybertronians have their kinks. Shame those chains aren’t pink and fluffy.

To be Improved:

Let me just start with my biggest complaint about this film, that being the fact that it is NOT ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS. This is a film about Mark Wahlberg hitting on a decidedly objectified Englishwoman, with the army following them around with a fleet of mini TIE Fighters (seriously, look it up), and a couple of thirty second robot fights in the background. In this vein, nigh on dozens of characters are completely wasted. Barricade gets one full body shot in the entire movie, complete with one of his amazing ‘Punish/Destroy” knuckle dusters, but is then barely seen and certainly never heard from again, before he disappears right after the main climax starts. Megatron is kicked out of an alien ship in what is once again a cataclysmically poor five-second-fight, much like the end of Dark of the Moon, and once again it is vague as to whether or not he is actually dead. Hot Rod and the gorgeous military green Allied Bumblebee fighting against Nazis is also a tragically underwhelming sequence, and one that my girlfriend was eagerly awaiting the entire time only to be left feeling utterly let down. Starscream’s head makes a nice cameo, but if I’m honest I’d prefer to have him back in his entirety if it meant he replaced one of the graffitied, racially insensitive Decepticons on Megatron’s team. And the twelve, count ’em, twelve guardian knights don’t even go into battle with the Arthurian ones other than in the form of Dragonstorm, whom they all combine to form and who is decidedly pretty interesting but, as with many robots in Age of Extinction manages to look very much like a pile of metal rather than the sleek, tyrannical lizard he could have been. All of the child actors are piss annoying, and I wish they would get squashed under a giant Cybertronian foot every time they’re on screen, but that’s not even the worst part. After a massive sequence involving the aforementioned TIE Fighters and no robots whatsoever (see above), there is a shot of the child heroine waking up in Wahlberg’s character’s scrapyard. I turned to my girlfriend and managed “Oh god, I fucking-” and didn’t even get the “forgot about her” out of my mouth before she held up a hand, nodded and agreed: “Me too.” Overall, The Last Knight really just doesn’t respect the series roots, and moves even further away from bringing back some of that spark (or should that be ‘allspark’?) from the first three films that was decidedly damaged, almost beyond repair, with the floating pixel transformations of the fourth film. Furthermore, much to my dismay, the film has adopted a very unfortunate trend that was started by the only piece of cinema I have ever given a 1/10 rating to: Guardians of the Galaxy 2. And it follows that trend in almost every way. Scenes that would otherwise be emotional and cool are shat on completely by Bay’s… well, nonexistent sense of humour, with a near-record-scratch moment of music cutting off in place of a quip just as it’s getting to the good bit, or a death scene interrupted by a joke attempting to get ‘down with the kids’ (a particular chase scene featuring a robot butler with an aristocratic English accent chanting “Move, bitch, get out of my way” made me feel particularly like I’d taken a big bite out of a lemon). One of the coolest action scenes is a game of polo in slow motion, for god’s sake, because it’s the only one that isn’t shattered by a poor joke. In my review of Guardians, I complained that the awesome opening scene was all blurry and shoved into the background, and it was instead decided that baby Groot dancing was the thing to focus on. Last Knight also achieves this, with a submarine (that is arguably just a big black cylinder) rolling through the water in the middle of the screen after it has been knocked off course, interrupted by split second shots of robots, tiny in comparison, beating each other up in the corner of the frame. As with Guardians’ opening, I was actually physically craning my neck to try and look around the massive obstruction blocking what I had actually come to see. However, not only does it follow in the footsteps of the absolute worst film I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but on top of that The Last Knight rips off some of the best. Okay, perhaps Suicide Squad isn’t among the best, but a greatly out of place sequence where Megatron chooses his crew is not only completely devoid of the tone set by the rest of the film and more like something out of a comic book movie, but is also so similar to Suicide Squad (especially considering the fact that in the following few scenes the army are using the Decepticons to track down the bigger bads, sound familiar?) that it’s outright insulting. On the subject of stealing ideas, what is most debilitating is that Bay seems to care about neither his own franchise nor in how shitty a direction he has taken it, openly having a character quote “What’s with the C3PO ripoff?” as if hitting the audience over the head with his outright assholery wasn’t enough and he also has to hammer it down our throats that he’s now become self-aware, as if that’s supposed to make it all forgiven.

Overall: 5.5/10

Five movies on and, in my humble, nerdy opinion, the Transformers series has absolutely lost its knack for creating awe-inspiring visuals in all their action-packed explosive glory, and is sticking well to the trend of including tamer and tamer storylines and acting as the series progresses. But come on, at the end of the day they’re based on children’s toys, for crying out loud, what did you expect? If you’re not willing to overlook that fact, then you really shouldn’t be spending money on a franchise you know you’re going to just hate and bash online later. Surprisingly, the child actors aren’t even the worst thing about the film, but instead it is the director himself. The humans are in the film far too much to not detract from the giant, metal T-Rexes and three-headed dragons, and sequences that could, nay, should have been five minutes long dragged on for half the movie, with none of the dry, actually funny humour of the first two films, and instead stuffed fuller with over-inflated sexual jokes than Vivian’s dress was stuffed with her over-inflated… Well, you get the idea. But did you hear me right? Giant. Robot. Tyrannosaurus. I can’t deny it: even if the Last Knight doesn’t make me all that proud to wear my ink, is barely hanging on to a positive rating and is honestly only doing so because of my love for the previous films… Shoot me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.