Movie Review 20: Hostiles

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In preparation for seeing Hostiles the next day, me and my parents recently watched Open Range. It made me realise that I’m a sucker for Westerns, which is strange considering the fact that my favourite genre is sci-fi. But films like Magnificent Seven (original and remake), 3:10 to Yuma, The Revenant, For a Few Dollars More, and even Blazing Saddles are among some of my favourites to just whack on the TV of an evening. Hostiles began as an equal to these films, but I’m afraid it peaked far too early.

Christian Bale plays Captain Joe Blocker, a US cavalryman tasked with transporting a dying Cheyenne and his family across to Montana. But the Cheyenne is Chief Yellow Hawk, Blocker’s bitter rival from the Plains Wars, a fact Blocker must come to terms with lest he face court martial and the retraction of any benefit for his time served in the military. Over the course of his journey, he also comes across Rosamund Pike’s character. I genuinely don’t remember her name and I like to point out this fact instead of just looking it up for the review, because it shows how weak her character actually was. A story of honour and forgiveness, honestly, for a movie entitled ‘Hostiles’ it contains considerably fewer than expected.

The Good:

I mentioned above that Hostiles peaked too early. Our neighbour came round for tea before we watched the film, and he told us that he’d watched the first half an hour or so and found it violent and terrifying. It’s violent enough, but certainly nothing special, and there are a few tense moments for sure. The Comanche stalking Rosamund Pike’s character (who I’ve just learnt from IMDB is called Rosalie, so we’ll just refer to her as such for the rest of the review) is genuinely chilling, and seeing her whole family get killed in seconds is harrowing-ish, I suppose. It sort of happens too quickly to really conjure up any sort of emotion other than slight distaste, though, a trend we shall see runs through the rest of the film. Some other great aspects of the film’s first half hour are the acting, where Christian Bale’s performance is just phenomenal, and the locations. In fact, the latter stays fairly satisfying throughout. But then Bale’s moping, mumbling soldier-type demeanour becomes quite frustrating. Man, I really am having trouble giving this any praise, aren’t I?

However, one more thing I want to point out before we move onto the real criticisms is the character of Tommy. At the outset of the film, he mentions to Blocker over a glass of whiskey that the doctors say he has the melancholia. Then, almost at the film’s climax, Tommy rides off into the woods in a rainstorm wearing nothing but his breeches, and is later found sitting against a tree with a bullet in his head and a pistol in his hand, the barrel streaked with blood. I can’t remember ever seeing a character who suffers from depression and suicidal tendencies in a film before, at least not one where they aren’t the main subject of the plot. But as someone who has battled with similar feelings myself in the past, I think it was a great addition and really added to the depth of the characterisation. Tommy’s character is so much more amplified by this inner struggle which, even though it only surfaces a few times, is one that many filmmakers are unwilling to pay attention to.

To focus on a true positive, let’s look at the ending of the film, where Blocker escorts Rosalie and the now adopted Little Bear, Yellow Hawk’s grandson and the only surviving Cheyenne of the group, to the train station. He sees them onto the train then turns to walk away, the film winding down with a tastefully done slow-motion sequence. We see Rosalie crying in the carriage. We see Blocker walk away. We see Rosalie wiping her tears. We see Blocker stop. He turns to face the camera and stares into the audience’s soul with big mournful eyes for what feels like a whole thirty seconds (a long time to break the fourth wall). Then, slowly, elegantly, he walks along the platform after the train. As the music swells to its crescendo, Blocker puts a hand on the guardrail and lifts himself up onto the back of the last car, followed by a fade to black. It damn nearly redeemed the entire film for me, but after sleeping on it I realised that, try as it might, such a well-done ending couldn’t blind me completely to the shortcomings of the film throughout the rest of its runtime.

On a side note, there’s a particularly beautiful if detached sequence where Bale lays his gun in the dirt and silently screams while lightning strikes on the horizon and thunderclouds roll overhead. But that’s a single minute out of a hundred and thirty, so perhaps isn’t quite enough to sway me.

To be Improved:

Let’s start off with the most niggling issue I have: campfires. Bloody campfires. My mum put her head in her hands near the films climax and moaned “No more campfires”, but almost on cue they managed to put another ten second shot of the Cheyenne family sitting around one. It was to show the passage of time, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfectly awful. In all seriousness, there is just far too much sitting around and talking. Every scene, pretty much, is in a camp, or ends with Blocker ordering his men to stop and make one.

Another big problem I have is that the primary antagonist seems to be the plot itself. Anything to get in the way of our heroes goes, really. The Comanche, who are the coolest looking but least explored members of the cast (as is the case with many things, here’s looking at you, Boba Fett), and are frankly wasted. After a brief but exciting altercation, the troop sets off on another day and finds the last two Comanches killed, murdered in the night by the Cheyenne Blocker is escorting. It’s scenes like this that I want to see instead of the aftermath. I know you can only squeeze so much into two hours, but it would have fleshed out Yellow Hawk’s character no end. Instead, we’re left with the desire to see what happened and how he singlehandedly took down the two vicious warriors who, oh, I don’t know, murdered Rosalie’s whole family at the beginning of the film, but no satisfaction. Speaking of that fact, after being picked up by Blocker, Rosalie initially sees the Cheyenne he is transporting and shies away, screaming and crying. Then, after the Comanche attack again, she immediatelynay, purposefully makes a beeline to the Cheyenne and cowers with them. It’s a blatant contradiction to the character’s personality, and very jarring.

The final gunfight (which caused me to whisper “It’s not a Western unless everyone dies” in my girlfriend’s ear) is very muted and, whadya know, everyone dies in about six seconds flat, very back and forth in the nature of one protagonist down, one antagonist down, one protagonist, one antagonist, until there’s only a few left and of course the love interest and main hero, shot through the wrist but apparently impervious to any damage caused thanks to the wonder of plot armour, are the last ones standing. It doesn’t really work, and has nothing like the stakes, dynamics or duration of final shootouts such as those found in the true classics.

And finally, on a small technical note, there is a series of very awful shots of sunsets containing massive, painfully blue and purple Star Wars and Star Trek-esque flares. It completely detracts from the film as these strips of neon colour only occur when light goes through a manmade lens, so it immediately makes it clear that there’s a film crew present. What’s even worse is the fact that the flares aren’t even mixed up with the other, more natural colours. They’re completely isolated of off to one side, and I’m no expert, but it seems to me like they could have very easily been edited out. Accidental or deliberate, it was a huge oversight to include them.

Overall: 4/10

What a load of drivel. Songs round innumerable campfires, deaths that happen off-screen, a final gunfight where you don’t even see the last kill even though it’s the most satisfying (Blocker performing a Comache-style “stem to stern” slit with a bowie knife), a cast of characters where the most memorable one has about ten lines then shoots himself. Strange, then, that critics are hailing this as one of the most brutal Westerns ever made, a fact which not only makes me throw my head back and laugh, but also causes me to wonder if perchance they’ve ever seen Bone Tomahawk, Hateful Eight, or even Slow West. With probably three instances of actual bloody violence, and even then ones that are so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it that by definition they are nowhere near “brutal”, I’ll repeat what I started this review with: the cast and plot of Hostiles are anything but.

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Movie Review 19: Bright

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The trailer for Bright came on before Star Wars… And despite the massive ‘Netflix’ logo that normally turns me off completely, I was actually thoroughly impressed. The visuals caught me right away, and the idea of orcs and guns was one that, I gotta admit, appealed to me greatly. Unfortunately, I got home to discover that it wasn’t going to come out until the 22nd of December, granted only about a week away but still too long for me to wait. Basically, I don’t know if there was just something about it, but I was itching to see this movie.

Following officer Ward (Will Smith) and his orc partner, Jakoby, Bright injects fantasy creatures into a sprawling LA, set some decades in the future. A magical war swept the Earth two thousand years ago, and a mysterious figure called the Dark Lord rose and was eventually defeated by the nine armies. Now, a powerful artifact has been discovered which could bring about his return, and it’s up to Ward and Jakoby, with the help from an elven sorceress, to find it and destroy it. That probably doesn’t sound too interesting to the majority of people, but it’s really quite good.

The Good:

One thing that sprung to mind immediately from the moment Bright started was something my girlfriend says all the time when we’re watching movies. “I don’t like this,” she tells me, “You can tell it’s a script.” With Bright, I find the exact opposite to be true. Will Smith is a highlight, of course, with his Deadshot-esque quips (directed by David Ayer of Suicide Squad fame, after all), but the others characters talk like normal people, too. It’s incredibly refreshing and is most likely because a movie like this, which goes straight to TV/Netflix but has still had some semblance of a budget behind it, doesn’t have to fill the expectations created by the silver screen in terms of dialogue. But that doesn’t mean it’s worse. It means that, free of the confines of cinema, TV writers have full reign, and actually write better scripts overall. What sounds better, truly? Sherlock Holmes, or Avengers? If you think it’s the blandly barked orders and cliche catchphrases of the latter, I pity you. Bright’s script is one of the best things going for it.

Now, I’m a sucker for already-established lore, like that of the Star Wars universe, and my other favourite thing about Bright is the mythology behind the story. Mythology which, in the film’s setting, has existed for thousands of years, so is already deeply ingrained in the characters’ thoughts, actions and psyches. Meanwhile, in Lord of the Rings and the like, the many races and locations and creatures and weapons and blah blah bloody blah are without fail explained in massive exposition dumps. “This is Bluddagud, the sword that slew Infil whom slew Underfil whom begat Grundil,” and so on so forth. Don’t make me laugh. Just hand the sword slowly and carefully to the hero (so I know it’s an important or sacred object just from the way you’re handling it), maybe tell me its name in a hushed whisper (so I know you’re scared or intimidated by it) and then have the hero react accordingly (so I know, simply from their actions, that this weapon must have a huge reputation). I want a universe where characters can just reference things around them like they’ve been living amongst them for years, which, if we’re suspending our disbelief as one must when watching movies… they have! Think about it. In a film of your life, would you buy a coffee with a friend and, as you pay the barista, turn to them and explain the strange metal discs in your hand? No. As a writer, when you spoon-feed the audience information, they know you think they’re too stupid to figure things out by themselves. When a police car drives past a checkpoint and there’s a fricking centaur in body armour with an assault rifle, I know that this is clearly a normal thing in this society. This is the way things should be done, and it’s the way things are done in Bright.

There are also some very cool visual and musical cues that brought tears to my eyes, especially at the finale, where the score that has been teased for the duration of the film builds to a proper climax. Just an aside.

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“Croc? Wrong movie, man, come on! No, I’m not Deadshot, I’m Ward this time. Look, it’s complicated.”

To be Improved: 

Tikka? Chicken Tikka? I couldn’t really tell her name from the way they were saying it, the problem when you never see fantastical names written down, but she’s this nimble elf blondie who’s stolen a magic wand and she’s really damn annoying. She’s basically a walking ex machina, for one thing, able to steal handcuff keys in the heat of the moment, while being shot at, may I add, but on top of that she cringes at every slight noise and is generally just a bundle of nerves. Her acting, towards the end, though, actually gets incredibly good. The elves in general are all a bit of a let-down, considering they’re some of the coolest-looking in the film. The main villainess can take down a whole SWAT team single-handedly, with one knife, but is somehow bested by Will Smith literally wearing a tracksuit. She then comes back to life, an even more annoying result, and her henchman is a ripoff Hitman complete with suit and bald head, and:

There is also plot thread with a Magic Task Force, led by a blue-haired elf, following the heroes along with the police, the human street gangs, the orc street gangs and the creepy Elf death squad, which just gets lost as the protagonists have so many people after them that it seems unlikely they’d be able to even turn a corner without bumping into one of their pursuers. Finally, there is a very cheesy moment (if a little touching, come on, I’m not made of stone) where a character emerges who knows one of the protagonists but is inexplicably the one person tasked with killing them. When said character then leaves and the protagonist is actually killed, I thought this criticism was going to have to be put in my ‘The Good’ section for having the balls to actually stiff a hero. But then, the character is brought back to life a second later! Disappointment to pleasant surprise and back again. If anything I can at least say it kept me on my toes.

Overall: 6.5/10

After enjoying the trailer immensely and seeing the potential in a film like this, I was worried that Bright wasn’t going to be anything special. But I think, for the most part, I was proved wrong. The socio-political commentary on race is a little heavy-handed, especially given the nature of the setting (where orc ghettoisation has clearly just represents African-American ghettoisation) but perhaps it’s exactly the sort of thing we need in today’s world. Granted, it probably won’t change the world. Ratings for Bright have been anything but. In my opinion? The message is there. And it’s wrapped up in what is, honestly, a well-written, Suicide-Squad aesthetic, brilliantly-acted, sometimes cheesy but more often visually and narratively impressive and innovative, movie. And you can’t take any of that stuff away from it.

Movie Review 18: Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi

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

Yesterday, the two year wait for VIII finally came to an end. Taking my seat in the cinema, I suddenly felt sick. Very sick. The lights went down and my stomach was churning. But this was not a winter vomiting bug, or something I’d eaten. This was raw, untamed excitement.

Last Jedi picks up (almost) immediately where Abrams left off in The Force Awakens, over seven hundred days ago. Luke has been found. The First Order, after obliterating the Republic with the Starkiller weapon, now approaches ready to snuff out the last spark of hope in the galaxy: The Resistance. Finn lies in stasis, injured from the final battle with Kylo Ren. Will the light rise again to face the darkness that rises to meet it, or is this truly the end of the Jedi order for good? I DON’T KNOW LET ME WATCH THE DAMN FILM ALREADY I’VE WAITED TWO YEARS.

*BEFORE WE BEGIN, LET ME REITERATE: HEAVY SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. TWICE.*

The Good:

Once the opening scene got past a particularly long and drawn out joke about being put on hold, holy space balls was it insane. I remember sitting there and my only thought, after two years of incredibly anxious waiting, was this: My god. Rian Johnson has done it.

Seeing the spiralling X-Wing engage its boost drive and take on the mighty First Order Dreadnought, I was just bouncing in my seat, I really was. The visuals are somehow even more crisp and clean than they were in Force Awakens. Although I really think that Abrams bridged the gap between the almost entirely practical Original Trilogy and this, the half-and-half Sequel Trilogy, Rian Johnson really knocked it out of the park with this. It’s pure, gorgeous, laser-pulsing sci-fi in all its glory, and to see The Last Jedi is to see the franchise at its peak. It’s as simple as that, and I’m going to just get that out of my system now.

In short, everything has been fixed since Force Awakens. Despite the fact that it goes in some odd directions at times, as we’ll see in the ‘To be Improved’ section, the story finally feels like it has a proper focus now. Some burning questions have been answered, others… Not so much, again, as we’ll see below. Phasma got a gorgeous chrome-plated send-off, awash with pink and blue neon, after doing nothing in the first film. The Praetorian guards are absolutely beast and engaged in one of the most tense, exciting and visually awe-inspiring lightsaber battles in the franchise, in my opinion. The force was finally properly explained, after all these years, putting a forty-year-long debate to rest. We saw Luke’s green lightsaber. YODA’S BACK, BABY.

So much goes on and the visuals, sound design, effects, plot choices, tension, score, characters, settings, EVERYTHING is wonderful. Well. Perhaps not absolutely everything.

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‘Heeeeere’s Phasma!’

To be Improved:

Little disclaimer, one I’ve said before in many of my reviews. When a piece of work, be it film, book, or game, is as incredible as this, the list of things wrong with it may seem numerous but that’s only because anything less than amazing sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s simply a blessing and a curse that comes with things that turn out to be really really enjoyable. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.

There were two types of moments in this film that I didn’t appreciate, both of which caused me to turn to my girlfriend and tell her I was very upset, and she often agreed. The first type is the unnecessarily injected moments of humour that simply do not add to the film in any way. Some of these are alright and bring a different and fresh sort of spark to the story, like Leia telling C3PO to “Wipe that nervous look off your face”. Others, like Luke squeezing the teat of some odd pink space-walrus that giggles as it sprays milk into the bottle, made my stomach flip over. “Oh, fuck,” I thought. “Rian Johnson has done to Star Wars what James Gunn did to Guardians of the Galaxy with the sequel”. If you’ve read my review of GotG2, you’ll understand why this feeling was the most unfortunate one that could have possibly surfaced during a trip to see a film from my favourite franchise of all time. But, luckily, thank the maker, these moments are very few and far between. Just enough to add something funny for the common denominator, I guess, but I’m still upset that they weren’t left on the cutting room floor.

The second type of moment is a lot more challenging, for it comes in the form of actual plot threads that don’t do anything for the wider narrative, or are otherwise just confusing and misleading. Case in point: I know we all should have seen it coming, but are Rey’s parents really just… nobody? That seems like a massive kick in the balls to anyone who waited two years to find out some sort of answer, and I can tell you, I was one of those people. Another of these moments was when Snoke was killed by Kylo. Though the entire proceeding fight scene was glorious and brought tears to my eyes with the refrain from John Williams’ Force Theme, throughout all of it all I could think was “Oh god, who’s going to be the big bad of the franchise now that the Emperor Palpatine knockoff is dead?”. I guess only time will tell, but for now it looks like Star Wars IX is going to be left with a very whiny teenage darksider as its primary antagonist, which does not bode well. The next of these moments is what I like to call Chekhov’s X-Wing. Chekhov’s gun is the controversial literary principal that everything that is shown (or at least focused on) in a narrative must then be utilised later in the story. The example given is if, in the second chapter, a person walks into a room and notices the shotgun hanging on the wall, that shotgun must be used by the final chapter or it should not be included in the first place. Case in point: A dramatic shot of Luke’s X-Wing, sitting underwater just offshore. It was just such a disappointment to remember that shot once the credits started to roll, and to know that it was never returned to. But perhaps the weirdest scene of them all is when Princess Leia is shot out into space, only to pull herself back to the ship using the force. Just… WHAT? I’m pretty sure even Luke wouldn’t be able to do that! It’s horribly CGI-ed, the imagery is disturbing, Leia has never had the force in all its strength until this moment, where it comes very suddenly, and above all it’s probably single-handedly the worst thing about the film. That and the rage-inducingly prolonged sequence in the casino, where Finn and Rose ride these weird horse things through town destroying cars and buildings for what seems like a good ten minutes. On top of that, the film finishes with, in my opinion, an appalling final shot, with a slave child looking up to the stars and holding his broom like a lightsaber. It was just a really disjointed, tacked-on sequence that could have been left until the next film, or at the very most stuck somewhere other than right on the tail-end of this one.

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Alan and Jim might have taken it a little bit too seriously when everyone told them red was their colour.

Overall: 8/10

Not ten, I hear you ask in shock? Well… No, not really! Despite this being one of the best films in the franchise, and (after just a single viewing, mind you) definitely up there in the second place spot below Empire and above Rogue One, The Last Jedi had a lot of frustrating things about it. All the moments that were fabricated purely for the sake of it or because they looked ‘cool’ or ‘funny’ or because they hurried the story along really detracted from the scenes that were pure genius. Luckily, the film plays out a lot like Blade Runner 2049 in the sense that all the scenes are so sort of separated into separate threads of consciousness rather than one long story that when they’re put together as a whole film, it doesn’t really matter if some fall down while others are elevated. To cut to the chase, though: Rian Johnson has done it. And the wait? It was more worth it than my seventeen-year-old self could have possibly imagined.

Movie Review 17: Thor Ragnarok

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As soon as I saw the trailer, I was excited for Thor Ragnarok for two reasons. One, instead of being a normal action film like regular superhero movies, it was a sci-fi. And two, it had a kickass neo-80s vibe to its soundtrack. Two of my favourite things in one? Sign me up! Though after the shambles that was, oh I don’t know, every other film I saw this year save for Blade Runner, I once again lowered my expectations. That strategy actually worked this time round, because the god of thunder far exceeded them.

In short, Thor’s sister Hela, Goddess of Death and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, no big deal or anything, has returned. She seeks to bring about Ragnarok (imaginative title for the film, then) the end of everything. That’s a pretty vague description for the apocalypse but it’s all bad news either way, and it’s up to our unlikely band of heroes to stop the evil Hela once and for all. Classic good versus evil stuff, fairly standard.

The Good:

Directed by Taika Waititi, who also helmed The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film I really should go back and review on this site, for once a Marvel film has finally managed to make me laugh out loud. Some of the jokes in the first half are just there for the sake of it, but despite obviously unnecessarily interrupting the action sequences because they’re there for the kids, they’re in no way immature. Finally, I mean god-damn I’d had it up to here with jokes about farts and sex (not at the same time), here’s looking at you, Transformers and GotG 2. But yeah, if you’ve seen Waititi’s 2016 classic then you’ll know that he has a bloody good sense of humour. That said, the New Zealand accent he threw in for the comedic relief Korg (“What’s up, name’s Korg, just a big walking rock but there’s nothing to be afraid of, unless you’re made of scissors – there’s a rock-paper-scissors joke for ya”) does help a lot. So the humour, for the most part, if a little juvenile, is there. What else? Well, I’ve already mentioned the soundtrack. Along with the screaming vocals of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, the pounding synths to go along with the appropriately Star Wars trench run-esque spaceship battles were superb. In fact, the whole sort of neon and laser aesthetic is one that I really appreciated, and I’d agree with the many critics calling it the “boldest Marvel film yet”. It certainly is that. Story-wise, honestly, you can’t really praise or criticise anything because it’s legitimately all the same at this point, save for a few clever little bits. Besides, there’s so much to look at with this one as we switch between the sweeping clifftop fields of Norway, sprawling cityscapes of Chicago, sparkling cities and rolling junk-hills of Sakaar, and the glistening gold glory of Asgard. On top of that, there was a particularly beautiful cut where the camera zooms into a view out a window at the stars against the blackness of space, and the stars become lights moving past Thor as he travels forward on a conveyor belt. I know this is a very specific, split-second point to focus on. But in fact, it was such a good shot that it sort of diminished the merit of the rest of the film, and unfortunately reminded me of Enchantress turning June Moon’s hand over in Suicide Squad:

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It reminded me of it because we all know that the film turned out to be nowhere near the standard of that clever piece of imagery. However, I’m pleasantly surprised to be able to say that with Thor that is very nearly not the case; it almost manages to match the ingenuity of its brief highlight. Particularly, at least for cosmetic standards, the sequence where we get almost a full minute of slow motion as ranks of gold-plated Valkyries ride gleaming white Pegasuses (Pegasi? Pega… you know what I mean) against Hela before she was exiled, is plain gorgeous. It’s just a scene that, with the synth music, is very epic, and I grinned all the way through it. There are a few moments like this, and they really carry the film because just as it threatens to be getting a little stale visually, a giant dragon will chase Thor through the rainbow space-bridge back to Asgard.

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“Does my apocalypse look big in this?”

To be Improved:

Let’s start with what stood out most: Blanchett and Ruffalo’s acting. She’s speaking like she’s trying very hard to put on a British accent, which she is, and it shows; and he’s changed the way he normally talks when playing Bruce Banner and is instead using this weird high-pitched panicky Bronx lilt that’s just grating and really doesn’t fit with his character. I know he’s supposed to be timid, but he’s not a quivering mess. In fact, quite the contrary: he’s got seven PHDs, as he’s so eager to point out during the film. On the subject of Hulk, he’s useless now, if I’m being honest. I don’t know why they’ve switched up the character so much, but he looks super weird and sounds nothing like he used to, and none of the rage is there. During Ragnarok he just walks around and, if anything, gets beaten up more than anyone else! Ridiculous. Speaking of characters looking different, the tattoos on the Valkyrie’s face (good lord, I for the life of me can’t remember her name, I don’t think she was even given one! Scrapper 421, I think? What kind of a name for a main protagonist is that?) disappear halfway through the final act. Yes, she goes through a wardrobe change and dons her Valkyrie gear, but that shouldn’t change permanent inking of the skin, right? Right? But it doesn’t stop there. There’s a very jarring moment when Thor confronts Hela and she becomes this weird fake CGI Blanchett that’s all airbrushed and shiny, or at least that’s what it seems to be. As far as I can tell it’s actually the genuine Blanchett reading the lines, so it isn’t even fake and definitely shouldn’t fall into uncanny valley territory. But it does. It makes it look like the actress dropped out of filming early so they had to make a CGI version of her for the last few scenes, and it’s all very odd. Furthermore, Hela’s right hand man is an Asgardian recruited during her takeover of the city, and he’s called… Scourge. So my problem here is Scourge being called Scourge (that’s just… somehow just too much for me, because he’s a good guy before Hela recruits him, so, what, you’re telling me no one suspected a guy called Scourge?!) along with the fact that he has dual M16 assault rifles on Asgard for no discernible reason (if this is his signature weapon from the comics I do apologise, but come on, I know enough about the comics that I recognised Korg and Miek from the Planet Hulk arc, I can’t be expected to know absolutely every little detail). Fenris Wolf is tragically wasted, and I was hoping for a more brutal, ‘King Kong breaking open the jaws of a T-rex’ style death seeing as Hulk was the one fighting him, but we’ve already discussed how useless he’s become as a character. And while we’re talking about Hulk, I guess we’re not finding out if Banner is coming back, so that’s… I don’t know, I guess 2018 will have to tell us with Infinity War Part 1. Weird disjointed cliffhanger if you ask me, and a weird rehash of what they did with Age of Ultron.

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“Legolas, how’s it go- Oh wait, it’s just Thor. No, he’s cut some silly design into his hair, I though it was ears, I- Look, just forget it.”

Bonus Round – Trailer Turmoil:

Ah, yes. Now we come to my main issue with Ragnarok, and it’s not even one that’s to do with the actual film, hence the separate section. It’s going to be quite a long ranty one, so if you don’t feel like reading it feel free to skip to the final verdict, as this section won’t effect my rating of the movie. That said, it’s an issue I’m rather passionate about so I’d appreciate if you stuck around. I’ve started boycotting trailers for films I’m excited for, because, as we’ve all probably realised, these days they just completely spoil the plot. When I go and see Last Jedi in December, for instance, as SOON as I see snow, I know that Imperial Walkers are going to appear at some point. It doesn’t matter that I “don’t know when they’re going to arrive”; it ruins the whole scene if, as soon as it starts, I know what the main spectacle is, so it renders any and all build-up moot. So, that’s why I don’t watch trailers anymore, and I only saw the one for Ragnarok because it came out on YouTube way before I decided to avoid the damn things. With Rogue One, there were issues with the various cuts of the finished movie so, annoying though it was, I can understand why there were some shots in the trailer that were just plain not in the final product. With Thor, however, I fear an even more worrying trend has been started. Or, in fact, not even just started, but carried on. After seeing Force Awakens back in 2015 (man, time flies when you’re waiting for Star Wars sequels), when I went back and watched the trailer I swear they’ve slightly edited some split-second shots so that when you see them in the movie they’re different to the way they were initially. I might be wrong, and even if I’m right the changes are subtle enough that they probably only did it because us eagle-eyed viewers scrutinise every detail of trailers so much these days that we’re likely to spot Obi-Wan Kenobi standing on the bridge of the Star Destroyer that’s taking off in orbit if the producers don’t edit him out. With Thor, on the other hand, they were anything but subtle. They’ve straight up rejigged shots so that they don’t spoil massive moments of the storyline. A standout one is when Thor lands on the bridge to Asgard, lightning coursing through his body. In the trailer, he’s mostly unscathed, but in the film, he’s got a bloody eye missing! There were a few more shots like this, were a massive thing had simply been wiped using VFX, and while some may argue that this is kindness on the producers’ part because it means we don’t get spoilers. “Antlerflax”, I hear you cry, “You said you didn’t want spoilers, and now they’ve taken them out for your benefit, you’re still complaining! What will make you happy?”. I’ll tell you what will make me happy. If filmmakers stop blatantly corrupting the concept of the trailer. They’re just moving further and further away from what they should be, and spoiling more and more of the movies we’re excited for, and now they’re actually bastardising shots from the films themselves just so they can show them a month before you see it on the big screen. If it’s that important, here’s an idea… Don’t even bother showing it in the damn trailer! I tell you, it’s a huge issue, and it’s becoming a larger and larger problem with every new blockbuster that’s released. Trailers have release dates now, for goodness sake. Isn’t it time to stop?

Overall: 5/10

As superhero movies go, this is certainly one of the more enjoyable, though it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to judge these as I get older due to the target demographic being… Well, what I was when I was twelve, which was nearly ten years ago. Despite how far-removed I am from being able to truly appreciate thrill-ride candy-coloured action movies, Thor Ragnarok’s soundtrack, action scenes, little injections of actually laugh-out-loud humour (take notes, everyone else working for the studio) and, honestly, just the sheer fun of it, mean that I agree with what the big reviewers, Empire and the Guardian alike, are saying: It truly is Marvel’s bravest and boldest film to date.

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.

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.