My Cousin Rachel, 2017

Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

IMDb

Can a film be compelling if none of its core cast of characters are likeable? My Cousin Rachel attempts to prove that they can, and unfortunately falls short, resulting in a fairly dull time.

The story opens sloppily with heavy exposition, what I can only assume originated as a chunk of the book of the same name left out of the film, explaining that Philip’s (Sam Claflin) cousin/father figure got ill and had to move to Florence to stay with his cousin, a girl named Rachel (Rachel Weisz), who he promptly falls in love with and marries. A single letter comes back to Philip, completely contrary to his prior praise of her, claiming she is slowly killing him in an attempt to acquire his fortunes, but unfortunately he dies before Philip can reach him again. When the widow comes to visit her husband’s home, Philip finds that she wasn’t quite what he expected.

Characterisation wise, Philip is an entitled prick, an idiot, completely irresponsible and overall quite unlikeable. This is a bold move for a film, a medium obsessed with self-insert blank slates and generic good-guy-with-flaws types. Other films that attempt this kind of thing, however, have other characters to root for, and therefore can hold the viewer’s attention more aptly. The entire driving force for this film, however, is the back and forth of the audience’s opinion on Rachel. It’s very hard to root for her when half the time we’re supposed to think she’s a horrendous human being. To the film’s credit, its best aspect is its ability to have the audience constantly shifting its opinion as more information is revealed. It’s a good mystery. I really liked the payoff, and overall found the ending to be the best part of the film.

Both leads do a good job, especially Weisz, who’s performance I found to be pretty nuanced, given the mystery, but my above criticism still applies. Knowing the ending, I might have appreciated her more, but with neither lead being compelling, I had to fight the urge to check my phone.

Pretty much everything else, I found to be average to fine for a Victorian style period piece. There was the occasional unconvincing accent, some really shoddy CGI of Florence, and some awkward editing decisions at times. But in equal measure there was effort put into cinematography to convey symbolism, for better or for worse (one shot was about 80% obscured by an out of focus table).

While I haven’t and don’t intend to read the 1951 novel of the same name from which the film is adapted, I would recommend you read that over seeing this. Alternatively, the 1952 film I’ve read is also superior. The mystery is good, but not worth it in my opinion.

The Mummy, 2017

The Mummy was a bad movie, but not entirely unenjoyable. Tom Cruise played Tom Cruise with startling precision, the story was predictable and didn’t really leave room for any surprises, and the movie is gonna make me talk about feminism for the second time in a row. The movie takes one step forward by having the typically male role of the titular monster taken by Sofia Boutella (who does a great job for what she’s given), and then leaps backwards, somersaulting through the air in a spectacular fashion, by making her primary method of killing people kissing them, turning them into zombie-slaves. Imagine if Loki enslaved people in The Avengers by giving them a good old pash. It’s honestly pretty embarrassing. Not helping is Annabelle Wallis’ character, who acts as Tom Cruise’s love interest/damsel in distress who displays just about every cliché imaginable, and to top it off is the most boring character in the entire movie. Yet, the marketing touted the movie as ‘progressive’. It’s not. It’s shit.

The number one thing giving the movie any intrigue is that it’s supposed to kick off a cinematic universe with Universal Monsters, an idea which genuinely gets me pretty excited. The potential for a battle royale style romp with like 6 or 7 classic monsters makes me want to believe that this franchise will work out. This concept manifests in the inclusion of the best part of the movie: Russel Crowe playing Dr Jekyll. He was, fun, interesting enough and his inclusion was the only element breaking the usual shitty formula. I get the impression he’s supposed to be the Samuel L. Jackson of the franchise, and the way that they set that up works well enough for me that I’ll inevitably watch the Bride of Frankenstein movie in 2019.

For now though, this is an aeroplane movie at best. There’s no reason to check it out in cinemas.

Wonder Woman, 2017

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

IMDb

Wonder Woman was a bunch of things. It was the first actually good DC extended universe film. It was the first actually good Superhero movie with a female lead. It was also somehow the first ever Wonder Woman movie. It really is baffling that despite being such a ubiquitous character, it took over 75 years for her to get a live action film.

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of a movie like this in establishing female heroes/role models into the cultural psyche, especially for little girls. Thankfully the film pulls off this aspect of its existence very well. Starting the film with Diana as a little girl: brilliant. Not only did it work well in fostering a connection between young girls and Wonder Woman, but it worked well for the character. It fit seamlessly into her motivations and character traits. Also, it doesn’t fall into the trap of confusing ‘strong independent woman’ with ‘perfect, infallible badass’. What we have here is an actual character with flaws, who makes mistakes and has to learn from them. She is independent, but not beyond asking for/needing help, even if it is from a man. Incidentally, she is a total badass. It’s pretty clear that the filmmakers knew they had to handle this aspect of the film carefully, and I applaud them for taking a few risks for the cause of enriching the character. They did well.

Cultural stuff aside, the movie is overall pretty good. The story is not going to blow anyone away, but at least it was simple and enjoyable. It also had colour, both visually and tonally. Given DC’s track record, this is greatly appreciated. It’s actually a pretty funny movie. The action scenes were pretty exciting and had a nice aesthetic to them. There was a bit too much epic slow-mo for my taste, but I feel like this won’t bother most people. I also quite liked the way the film depicted WW1. It was a clever way to tie into the protagonist’s arc.

I quite liked Chris Pine in his role. In fact, I quite liked all of the supporting cast and their characters. Without spoiling anything, knowing what I know about how the main villain of the film is portrayed in other media, I am thankful for the depiction that we got. It really could have been much more generic and mundane.

This was a fun one. I’m curious to see what the overall reception will be like. The current level of praise it’s getting (based on IMDb and RT scores) would imply it’s phenomenally good, which it isn’t. It’s not even the best superhero movie this year (Logan). I’m anticipating some minor backlash to some of the ‘risks’ I mentioned. Hoping I’m wrong.

Anyway, go check it out. DC finally did it. They took their damn time, but they actually did it.

John Wick: Chapter 2, 2017

Director: Chad Stahelski

Starring: Keanu Reaves

IMDb

John Wick: Chapter 2 has an interesting title. On one hand, it’s very apt, as it implies a close link to the first film, which is absolutely true. The plot relies heavily on the set up provided by the first movie (not a bad thing at all by the way). On the other, it implies that the story of the first film was incomplete without this follow up. At this point I disagree.

John Wick is one of the tightest, most focussed action films I’ve ever seen. It excelled by getting you on board with the protagonist from the word ‘go’ by giving him a very sympathetic setup and just letting him loose on an extremely satisfying revenge plot. It also delivered on a very interesting world with very interesting characters that you naturally want to know more about. Despite this, John Wick ends in a satisfying enough spot. They could have ended it there.

They didn’t however, and now we have John Wick: Chapter 2. And thank god for that.

Chapter 2 ditches the tight, simple story for a much larger, more intricate one, allowing for some much larger action set pieces, raising the stakes and fleshing out the ever-interesting world a lot more. Depending on your point of view, this can be either a good or bad thing. For my money, I prefer the first movie, mostly for its more driven story and slightly better action (in my opinion), but I can see why someone might prefer the sequel. They’re both pretty great.

I do have major criticism for Chapter 2. The thing that strikes me about the first film is the deep set respect that everyone has for John, an element all too rare in a sea of action films that set their heroes as rebels to the system. John Wick works entirely within his system, he just happens to be the best, and everyone knows it, especially his enemies. The main antagonist of Chapter 2, however, does not. This could create an interesting dynamic to differentiate the two films, but in reality it makes you just want him to die a lot more. Not in the good way either, he’s just a lot less entertaining than the excellent Michael Nyqvist from the first film.

I really liked the rivalry dynamic with Common’s character. It was totally overdone, but it was a lot of fun. I honestly feel a little bad for criticising the film at all, as it was just a lot of fun. Lightning kind of struck twice with this franchise.

Final verdict: John Wick: Chapter 2 is a lot of fun. I personally prefer the first, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Biggest criticism: the Australian release date.

Alien: Covenant, 2017

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender
While I ultimately have a lot of mixed feelings about Alien: Covenant, my main takeaway is that I quite enjoyed it. Certainly more so than its overly confusing predecessor Prometheus. My short review: if you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, then go watch Covenant. It’s pretty good, and answers many more questions than Prometheus ever did. If you’re not a fan, this one probably won’t change your mind.
 
To get into some more specifics, I walked in not knowing how direct of a sequel to Prometheus this would be. If I had I probably would have been less enthused to go see it, but nonetheless the film captured my attention with its dedication to world-building. Like no other film in the franchise, this one successfully expands the world of they inhabit and revitalises an interest in its history and intricacies. This is so much the case, that it almost makes Prometheus feel like a prequel to Covenant, rather than the other way round. I walked out of the movie simultaneously satisfied by what I had learned about the universe of the franchise and wanting to know more, which I see as a really good thing.
 
However, I didn’t come to watch two hours of lore, I came to watch a movie, and on that front I can only call it good, but not great, with a few really great bits. H.R. Geiger’s design work resonates strongly, and I liked the aesthetic of the new world and new creatures. I also thought that Michael Fassbender was fantastic, twice as good as the last one (watch the movie, you’ll get it). It looked and sounded great overall, and I can’t think of any bad performances. It had some really excellent tension, I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, holding my breath for bits and that’s very commendable.
 
It also had an overall quite forgettable peripheral cast. Gone are the super charismatic and memorable side characters from James Cameron’s Aliens, centred around the notably great action hero Ripley. I only really remember the characters by their stereotypes, especially the incredibly on-the-nose Tennessee (who is actually pretty enjoyable, to the film’s credit). The entire premise is kind of meh, and the story hinges on one character continuously making some terrible terrible decisions. Yep, unfortunately this movie made me want to get up out of my seat and yell “DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT YOU MORON” and considering this is from the same director as Alien, one of the most influential Sci-Fi and Horror movies ever, I can’t give it a pass.
 
So yeah, mixed bag. Overall, it is a good time, and definitely worthwhile for fans of the series, but it’s a far cry from the first two films.

Get Out, 2017

Directed By: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

IMDb

Get Out is the best film that I’ve seen this year so far. I highly recommend you go see it. If you were avoiding it because you don’t like horror, rest assured that is more of a thriller, featuring more comedy elements than it does horror.

The characters and writing were great, and I really enjoyed the genuine suspense the plot had me in. I had no idea exactly where the film was going to go until it went there, but it didn’t cheat, there were plenty of clues. I don’t get that experience very often, so it was a real treat.

I also enjoyed the film’s aesthetic, using classic horror-esque techniques in colour palette, soundtrack and cinematography to get the audience on edge. The use of comedy in its first two acts to establish the racial themes in a lighthearted manner, before twisting them into the horrifying reality in the third is freaking brilliant.

Speaking of Comedy, the comic relief character is fantastic, one of the best parts of the movie. It really shows that the writer/director, Jordan Peele, is a comedy veteran. The more intense tones aren’t undercut by the comedy though, the balance is masterful.

Go see Get Out. Please. I want Jordan Peele to make more movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker

IMDb
I think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bares many similarities to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films had a lot to live up to, both tried valiantly to outdo their predecessor in every aspect, both are very entertaining movies. Both don’t quite live up to the impossible expectations.

How does one outdo Guardians 1? Apparently the answer is take the aspect most praised and play them up tenfold. As a result, the soundtrack is back and more prominent than ever. The humorous tone was praised, so the sequel was given many more jokes. To be perfectly clear, each of these aspects taken individually make for a really good time. The issue is balance. The first film worked so well because it managed to balance its own quirky style with the typical marvel movie formula. Guardians 2 feels overloaded, unbalanced.

Not helping in the slightest is the story, which I feel is Guardians 2’s biggest shortcoming. Instead of one story, the film opts to tell about three or four, and none of them are really all that original. Honestly, they’re all pretty predictable. The first film wasn’t really anything all that special when it came to story, but what I can give it is that it was one thing, it was pretty tight.

All this said, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’m still working on my ability to communicate my feelings towards movies, especially while criticising them. To be as clear as I can: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t even a bad movie that I enjoyed bits of à la Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s a good movie, that entertained me thoroughly, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad let down. My expectations were a bit too high, and I criticise because I care.

The film did better its predecessor in a few respects, however. Depictions of much of the peripheral cast was much better. I really enjoyed spending more time with Drax, Yandu, and Rocket. Also, in its attempts to out-scope the previous film, it actually succeeded in setting up some awesome scenarios. Overall, the cinematography was also better, some really beautiful shots. The movie was really colourful and was overall really enjoyable to look at.

If you were planning on see Guardians 2, I say go right ahead, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Colossal, 2016

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis
Colossal came right out of nowhere and really surprised me. Before last week I hadn’t even heard of it, but after seeing it, I think it’s disappointing that it’s gone so under the radar.
 
To those that don’t know, the premise is that a failing alcoholic writer (Anne Hathaway) returns to her small home town after her boyfriend kicks her out. At the same time, a giant monster appears out of nowhere and starts attacking Seoul. After noticing a pattern, she realises she was the monster all along.
Not metaphorically, she is literally the monster. It’s weird, hard to describe, and super original.
 
I have to applaud the movie for its originality, it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, plot-wise, which is so rare in hollywood. It also falls into a sub-genre of film which I have a particular affection for: Films with a sci-fi/fantasy element, but are ultimately very human stories set in a real-world environment. Stories that focus on the human condition through the lens of the fantastical element. Notable examples of such films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, Inception, Chronicle and Swiss Army Man. (Almost all of these are among my all time favourite movies btw)
 
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give great performances as the leads, and not to spoil the plot, they develop a very interesting dynamic.
 
The film gives a really satisfying blend of tones, balancing funny, charming, intense and honestly kind of horrifying at points. Not to say it’s without flaws: I didn’t love the side characters, Dan Stevens plays Hathaway’s boyfriend and he’s a bit of a typical controlling, untrusting boyfriend. Also, there were a few points that the film was trying portray horrifying situations, but they came off a bit silly and hard to take seriously. They, however, were only small blemishes on an overall really good product.
 
 
Anyway, if you can catch it before it fades into obscurity, I definitely recommend you go watch it!