Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, 2017

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevigne

IMDb

Valerian and the City of a Thousand was a pretty crap movie and I had a great time watching it.
 
To be clear, there are actually some solid points to the film. The visual direction and style is pretty stimulating, a bunch of the ideas pulled from the source material were pretty unique and very neat, and surprisingly not totally played out as far as hollywood sci-fi movies are concerned. Dane Dehaan’s performance was pretty good when the script allowed him to be, and I’d be lying if the film didn’t manage to get a few laughs out of me, even if it didn’t mean to in every case.
 
The dialogue, and indeed the writing as a whole, was cringeworthy and hilarious. I didn’t buy the banter/romance between Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevigne for even a second. Still funny though.
 
Speaking of funny, Cara Delevigne’s performance was amazingly terrible. There were points where it looked like she had to struggle to remember her lines, her accent slipped between british and american liberally, and I swear the majority of her line delivery was in the style of a sitcom. I’m not sure why hollywood is so insistent on making her an actress but if this kind of performance is going to become her standard I almost hope to see her on screen more often.
 
The CGI was at an interesting level, particularly with the alien creatures. It was at a level of competency that these creatures would look fantastic if they were featuring in an animated film, but unfortunately we, the audience, are meant to buy that they exist side by side with live action human characters. It’s honestly kind of hilarious how jarring the differences are. Early on in the film there’s a jump cut from a fully CGI rendered world to a close up on Dane Dehaan and I actually laughed from how silly it looked.
 
Rihanna has what amounts to an extended cameo in the film despite how heavily the marketing focused on her presence in the film. Of the approximately 10 minutes of screen time she gets, about 2 of those are dedicated to a shapeshifting pole dancing routine, which ends up being a highlight of the film if only for the awkward reaction shots of Dane Dehaan. Her implementation into the film was incredibly dumb, and despite her evident lack in acting talent (I never saw Battleship so as far as I’m concerned this is her debut) she still ended up being one of the most endearing elements in the film.
 
 
 
One last comment is that this is one of the most explicit offenders of telling rather than showing in order to translate as much of the source material as possible. Literal minutes straight of nothing but exposition plague this film. Some of it, especially towards the end, was absolutely hilarious. Trust me. This movie is actually a great time if you have 0 expectations.
 
It tries its best to have actual tension but it never quite makes it. It has half hearted attempts at emotional moments and never comes close. No, the best parts of this movie are the laughs and some of the visuals, in addition to some neat ideas which can’t even be attributed to the film, as they were from the graphic novel.
 
It’s bad, but the good kind of bad. If you’re into that kind of thing, go ahead and enjoy.
 

Atomic Blonde, 2017

Directed by: David Leitch

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy

IMDb

Atomic Blonde is the result of very well executed production, and pretty terrible pre and post production. I would say it’s a piece of shit, but it’s more than that. I would say it’s a whole shit, but it’s not quite that either. It’s 2/3 of a shit. A two-third-turd, if you will.
 
Let’s start with pre-production. The story is extremely hard to follow, and rarely makes sense. The film prioritises its artsy-fartsy framing devices and modes of storytelling over the film being immediately comprehensible to great detriment, as whenever something significant happens, there is no impact, as if you’re too bored to notice. Plot lines appear to go nowhere, and when they do, they’re often poorly developed. Characters have little to no depth beyond their narrative requirements. To sum up the writing style, they were explaining what was going on the entire time and I still had no idea what was happening or why.
 
The film was pretty well shot. You could tell that there was a lot of effort put into making it look interesting, although sometimes the camera’s movements were a little too pretentious for my taste. Performances by Charlize Theron and Jame McAvoy were both fine, but they had very little to work with, and so I ended up not really caring about either. Theron especially, she was practically a blank slate. Most of the action in the film was pretty standard, but there was one very impressive sequence at the start of the third act. I would estimate that it lasted at least seven minutes, and it was done all in one shot. The camerawork, fight choreography, stuntwork, acting, makeup and effects were all excellent for that one blissful sequence, and I highly recommend you check it out on youtube when it gets uploaded.
 
The editing really let the film down. For me, it straight up ruined the visual aesthetic by having the whole film too dark, à la Suicide Squad, letting down the well executed cinematography. Additionally, the film used this stencilled spray-paint font very heavily in the opening credits which really didn’t fit the movie well at all. Speaking of ill-fitting additions, the soundtrack, while not bad, worked wonders for making this film feel impact-less. I.e. slow songs during fast paced action scenes, where the cinematography implies that it wasn’t intended to be subversive, as if the soundtrack was an afterthought. The way the film was cut certainly didn’t help how confusing it was either. It really felt like a mess.
 
Bottom line: this is a shit film and I think you should avoid it. It’s a shame, as there was clearly effort and talent involved, but shit is still shit and I can’t recommend it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017

Directed by: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

IMDb

Spider-Man was a really big deal to me growing up, and to this day there’s still a simplistic glee to seeing a new Spider-Man movie on the big screen (even with Rise of Electro). So, I’ve been excited by the prospect of a new Spider-Man set in the Marvel Universe for years, even more so with the new direction that they’re giving the franchise. I mention all this to explain that emotions are high for me on this one, and I’m struggling to totally think about it objectively.

I really liked Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s a load of fun. I love Tom Holland’s version, giving us something completely different from any other Spider-Man, even any other on-screen superhero. What got me excited about Homecoming from the start is that this version of Spider-Man is a teenager through and through. Despite Holland being 20 years old, he, and all of his co-stars look and act like teenagers. Sure, the previous incarnations’ first films took place in school, it was laughably unbelievable, and they ditched the school setting as soon as possible. Homecoming goes all the way with it, incorporating the themes of the film to the kind of struggles a teenager would go through while trying to be a superhero at the same time as his normal teenage life.

Something the film perfectly portrays is what it would be like if a kid got superpowers. The excitement, the fun, the inexperience and the consequences of that inexperience. It’s as a result of this that the character is really nothing like the previous two iterations, who’s conflicts are much more based around heavy heroic responsibility and dark broody revenge respectively. This new one is about Peter Parker discovering the role he fits in this larger universe. I feel this direction is more appropriate, given the context of its modern audience, and the character’s place in a world that is already full of superheroes. Spider-Man is less of a big deal in this universe than the previous, but he’ll get there.

Speaking of, this film relies heavily on its universe in its narrative, which I see as both a good and a bad thing. It heavily benefits me, being the super-nerd that I am about this franchise, having direct ties and assumed knowledge of The Avengers and Civil War, but less avid fans who just like Spider-Man might find themselves a bit lost in the first act. It doesn’t quite stand on its own in the ways that the other sideline Marvel movies do (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Guardians). Additionally, I feel a little conflicted by the role Tony Stark/Iron Man has in this movie as a pseudo-father-figure. He’s definitely more of a plot device than he is a character, and without giving anything away, the way he influences Spider-Man’s costume I found a little troubling, as it almost has the character drift a little too far from his fundamentals. It doesn’t cripple the film or anything, and does sort of come full circle by the end, tying in with the themes nicely, but it still feels a little lost in amongst the bucketloads this movie has to go through.

Comparing to the other Spider-Man films, here are my thoughts. It’s better than both of the Amazing Spider-Man films. It’s better written, has better characters (villains in particular) and has more satisfying themes. While Homecoming is familiarly cluttered, it’s definitely better than Spider-Man 3. I don’t know exactly how to compare it to the original 2002 film, I think both have their strengths and shortcomings, the main thing letting the original pull through is how iconic and timeless (mostly) it feels; Homecoming focusses so heavily on its contemporary context that I feel it won’t age as well. Spider-Man 2 (2004), however, certainly remains the superior film, being the full package of endearing characters and themes, as well as excellent filmmaking.

I actually really liked Michael Keaton as the Vulture. While I was less of a fan of his goofy entourage, his motivation was pretty relatable and I liked how organically his animosity towards Spider-Man grew. The philosophy that he followed also had an interesting mirroring of Spider-Man’s. Also, without spoiling anything, a certain revelation about his character around the start of the third act led to my absolute favourite part of the movie.
Also, the irony of the whole Birdman thing isn’t lost on me. I love it.

Some minor complaints include some sloppy editing at the start of the film, especially in the High School scenes, some unconvincing CGI of the Costume, some of the humour doesn’t really land, and the entourage around the main villain is kind of lame. A bigger issue is the pacing; while it never gets all that slow, it ruins its own momentum by having three or four scenes that are so large in scale that they each could act as the climax, but don’t. It doesn’t have subplots that go nowhere like the Andrew Garfield movies did, but it does feel bloated.

Spider-Man: Homecoming does deliver on a fun Spider-Man story, featuring a vastly different character than what we’ve seen before though, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it quite a bit. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, as much as I wish I could say you should, but rest easy in knowing it ain’t bad.

Baby Driver, 2017

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

IMDb

Edgar Wright is one of the best comedic Writer/Directors working today, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his latest film, Baby Driver.

It’s the kind of movie probably best seen with as little knowledge about it as possible, so my very short review is to go see Baby Driver. It’s funny, fast paced and extremely well composed. It also has one of the best incorporations of soundtrack into film that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t care about not knowing, I’ll get into a little more detail.

My biggest criticism of Baby Driver is that it’s tonally inconsistent. The three acts are very distinct from one another, and can pretty much be judged individually. I adored the first act, I liked the second, and I really liked the third. I really want to emphasise that at no point did I stop liking it, but I feel like the differences, especially between the first two acts were quite jarring.

The first act is hilarious. It’s packed with everything I love about Wright’s style and is honestly a masterpiece of film composition. I laughed really hard. The stunt work, as well, was pretty damn fantastic.
The second act really slows down into more of a crime/action/drama. While it’s still filled with a lot of excellent film making, it’s undeniable that it’s less fun and therefore less enjoyable than its predecessor. What it lacks in comedy, it makes up for in tension, which to be fair don’t really go hand in hand, but it was just less satisfying. That said, its only real issue was that it followed the first act.
The third act breaks the tension from the second spectacularly, providing one hell of an action packed climax. The stunt driving, action and music use here are particularly excellent, and the ending is pretty satisfying.

If the film stuck to the style shown in the first act, I think it would have ended up my favourite Edgar Wright film. As it stands, it’s probably my number 3, behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. It’s miles better, however, than The World’s End (and Ant-Man).

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but the soundtrack use was really excellent, appropriate given the importance of music to the protagonist. I’ve seen plenty of films do similar things, but Baby Driver runs with it and takes it to the nth degree. It’s awesome.

Along with the music, the cinematography and shot composition is also great, distinguishing itself from Wright’s previous films with its use of long takes, but pulls them off excellently, and never excessively. There is still plenty of the dynamic editing I’ve come to love from the director.

All the performances were good, Kevin Spacey was a little typecast I think, but worked effectively anyway. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James.

Baby Driver is absolutely worth your time. Go see it as soon as it comes out next Thursday.

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.

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.