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.
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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.

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.