Death Note, 2017

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, and no one else worthwhile

IMDb

I normally don’t like to give movies a rating. I feel like it oversimplifies my thoughts on the matter to the audience. A single digit becomes the focal point for the entire review, and unfair comparisons between the films I review result.
I think, however, it’s appropriate to use one in the case of Death Note (2017). My scale is 0 is unwatchable, 10 is among the best films I’ve ever seen and 5 is mediocre.

4/10.

Far from unwatchable, but not good either.

I commend the film as an adaptation for following common sense (surprisingly rare for adaptations) of not at all trying to follow the same plot as its source material, as Death Note is a pretty convoluted story. Unfortunately, the one they left in wasn’t very interesting.

Taking the film at face value, not comparing it to the anime or the manga (which I haven’t read), the whole thing feels somehow uneventful, the kind of movie that I’ll forget about within a week. I didn’t form a connection to any of the main characters, I didn’t feel any impact when major plot points occurred. It sometimes had interesting cinematography, but it felt like all of those shots were handled by a seperate team, as the film is riddled with the typical shot – reverse shot with standard camera angles. If you had never heard of Death Note, maybe the premise would be good enough to pull you through, but to those people I say: Go watch the anime instead.

As I mentioned above, the film makes little effort to directly translate the source material, and most characters are significantly different. Light turner, for instance, doesn’t even slightly resemble Light Yagami. Light Yagami is outwardly very calm, in control, never giving even an inflection that would give him away and only from his inner monologue do we get any clue of how on edge he is. He’s a master manipulator, and when you truly get to understand him, he’s quite scary. Light Turner is an angsty teenager that will comically flip out over the slightest thing that doesn’t go his way, and we’re told he has a god complex, but he never really shows it. Light Yagami is interesting, Light Turner is not.

The ‘Misa’ equivalent, Mia, is also uninteresting, being demoted from pop-star to cheerleader, and being played by a Kristen Stewart wannabe who never once shows an actual emotion that I bought. The relationship between the two similarly doesn’t really resemble the source material at all, which I want to stress isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it wasn’t interesting.

L and Ryuk, however, were actually translated quite well. Ryuk doesn’t really change at all, but his performance by Willem Dafoe was great. L goes through a bunch of changes, both in the way that he acts and his overall aesthetic and backstory, but keeps enough characteristics that make him true to his original character. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this movie, he is actually interesting.

Strangely enough, I’m going to recommend that only fans of Death Note see this movie. It’s actually pretty fun to see what a poor representation its main characters are, and to laugh at the americanisation of what was a very Japanese thing. For everyone else, I recommend the anime. It’s very interesting and really gripping.

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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.

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!