Movie Review – Baywatch (2017)

TL;DR – It tries to tread a familiar path with tone and execution, but lacks the charm with its story and Dwayne Johnson’s charisma can only get you so far.

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

Baywatch

Review

So to be fair, where ever possible I try to read nothing about a film before I go see it, because I want my first viewing to be through my own eyes and not the through the lens of other people’s views, it’s why I avoid trailers wherever possible. However, for Baywatch that simply was not possible as it released a week later here in Australia and the mixed reviews were everywhere. So when I walked into the cinema I was not really expecting anything of great quality, possibly even a dumpster fire of a film. However, I do have to say it’s not that bad, I mean it is not great, or even good, more borderline, but if anything it is just a real missed opportunity. Now throughout this review, I am going to be referring to 21 Jump Street (2012) and its sequel 22 Jump Street (2014) a bit. Now, on the one hand, I do think generally films should stand or fall on their own merit, however in the case of sequels or here when they were clearly trying to replicate the success of a previous movie, well then you can’t help but invite comparisons.

Now before we start I should make it clear that this is a very R film with drugs, swearing and nudity, so not quite in line with the source material, but something you should know before someone inevitably takes their kids to go see it.

There are some beautiful moments of color and framing

There are some beautiful moments of color and framing

So to set the scene, we are here in lovely Emerald Bay Florida, on the first day of try-outs for new lifeguards for the summer season. Overseeing the try-out is Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), his second in command Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and long-time lifeguard CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). Now they usually only accept one new recruit a season but this time they can accept three new recruits which is lucky for the plot since there are three name brand characters running for the position. Of course there is Matt Brody (Zac Efron) the I don’t want to be here but they are making me but I’ll probably learn a lesson and come to like it at some point recruit, then there is Ronnie (Jon Bass) who has a lot of heart which is code for him not having the same physique as the rest of the lifeguards and who is mostly reserved for a slapstick comedy role, and you have Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) who is positioned as the no-nonsense recruit who immediately calls Matt out on his inappropriate flirting which means they will have a will they/ won’t they flirt off for the rest of the film. All is calm on the bay … that the lifeguards watch… until mysterious businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) comes to town and drugs start washing up on the beach. Ok as far as a set up goes there are some interesting characters, you have a good setting, and you have hired a cast that can really pull of these roles. But on the other hand, you have created a set-up that is so stock standard it feels like I have seen components of this film reproduced over and over again in different and often better films.

So firstly the good parts of the film and the first good point is the acting because I do think everyone here is giving their best even with the story not working all that well. Honestly, I think this is a perfect role for Dwayne Johnson because he gets to show a lot of his strengths, from his charisma to his ability, to motivate others, and he has the physicality that the role needed. Zac Efron plays the cocky overly ripped guy that needed to learn a lesson, basically a role he has played many times in the past like Bad Neighbours and a host of others.  The rest of the supporting cast all have their moments but bar the subplot of Ronnie and CJ the story leaves them all feeling a little one-note.

Everyone is giving their all, even if the story is not helping them

Everyone is giving their all, even if the story is not helping them

When it comes to the technical side of things there were also interesting features, first, it really helps that a lot of this was filmed on location it helps give you that sense of reality that the film needed. Most of the action scenes were competently put together, there was a flow to the editing that made the sequences clear and not the hacky jump cut edits of some movies. For me I think the standout moment was the opening sequence with Mitch rescuing a kite-surfer that hit the rocks, there was a great flow to the sequence and it had a more surreal style that would have worked a lot better had the film employed it throughout, but alas. The music worked well with a mix of orchestral and licenced works which do a good job of setting the scene. One area that they do need to work on is the sound mixing, you could tell the difference between some of the dialogue recorded on site and those recorded later in ADR.

So we’ve talked about some of the things that did work we need to now talk about the big thing that did not work and that is the story, pretty much all the story. Because we are talking about the story there will be [SPOILERS]. Ok, where to begin because there is a lot to unpack, so for starters let’s look at how they adapted this movie from the source material. There has been a big vogue in Hollywood to adapt old TV shows and turn them into movies, to tap into that nostalgia market that has been powering juggernauts like Nintendo for years. We’ve had such gems as the before mentioned 21 Jump Street, or The A-Team, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and this year’s Power Rangers, but also a whole ton of films that just did not adapt all that well to the big screen because of creative decisions like Avatar: The Last Airbender or Ghost in the Shell. What has been happening recently is that to stand out of the crowd movies spice these adaptations up by making them (USA) R-rated comedies to tap into that mindset of what if, imagine Baywatch but what if they were allowed to curse and actually show the things that we always saw in slow motion. It’s a good idea and one that works for about five minutes before the novelty wears off. Part of this is because the writing is just not as clever as it needs to be to pull this off, like there is a scene where they basically riff of some weird scenarios and clearly these were all plot points from old Baywatch episodes but it feels so forced, unlike say the similar thing that was done in The Lego Batman Movie which tipped its hat to the audience to let them know they were in on the joke. Or for example it is quite common to get the old stars to appear in the new film as cameos, it happened in The Brady Bunch Film, in Ghostbusters, in 21 Jump Street, in Get Smart etc. It is one of those things that is there for the fans of the original but one of the reasons that they work is that they are a surprise. But here there is no surprise because you know David Hasselhoff & Pamela Anderson are going to show up at some point because there are in the opening credits and not in a tongue and cheek Deadpool kind of way. Also, the R rating just does not provide anything new to the film like it does in say Logan, it all felt more than a little unnecessary, and took away from the charm the film could have had. For example, save for the unnecessary prison scene, in 22 Jump Street, they used their R rating as a way of highlighting the absurdity of the story not as a crutch to try to prop up the story

While the style is there in places, there needed more work on the substance of the story

While the style is there in places, there needed more work on the substance of the story

This, of course, leads us to the next problem, while the adaptation is one issue, the bigger problem is the threadbare story that is full of inconstancies. Look sure there are some funny moments in Baywatch but it all wears off really quickly once they start repeating the same gags, and everything else becomes really predictable. You have the film hitting stereotypes early and it does not let up throughout, like Ronnie and his often changing body hair. You have sloppy writing like at the start where Mitch points out a sea urchin and goes this will make you super strong and then kill you, and sure Chekhov’s Gun and all that, but it might as well have been labelled ‘This will be important to the final battle’. If it had just been these clunky foreshadowing’s then it might not have been that bad but the lazy writing leads to characters acting out of character just because the plot needed them to. For example Mitch is shown to put the people’s lives above everything, and he gets understandably angry at Matt when his actions led to people’s lives being put in jeopardy, but half way through the movie he abandons his post, and leaves no one watching the beach to run down a lead at the morgue. Also, there is Dave (Hannibal Buress) who is shown at the start to be friends with Ronnie, only just to pop up later in the film as one of Victoria’s henchmen. Finally, also there are those moments where characters just act stupidly with no regards to their lives. While it might not be at Alien: Covenant levels, but in the end, Victoria went to almost the worst place she could have gone to get helicoptered out. Seeing such lazy writing which amounts to nothing is annoying when there are really good examples out there like 22 Jump Street’s meta-commentary on sequels, or Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s exploration of Cold War politics, is just disappointing. [End of SPOLERS]

In the end, look it is not the train wreck I was expecting, but it wasn’t all that good either, so as much as a couple of things made me laugh I can’t really recommend Baywatch. Honestly, it has such a good cast that I really did wish that they had gotten a better story to play around in. So my recommendation is to spend your money elsewhere.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Seth Gordon
Screenplay by – Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
Story By – Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
Based onBaywatch by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz & Gregory J. Bonann
Music by – Christopher Lennertz
Cinematography by – Eric Steelberg
Edited by – Peter S. Elliot
Starring
– Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Hannibal Buress, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II & Rob Huebel with David Hasselhoff & Pamela Anderson
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

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Movie Review – The Fate of the Furious

TL;DR – The Fate of the Furious is a stupid dumb film, but it’s also a bunch of fun and downright heart-warming in places.

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Fate of the Furious

Review
Ok so we need to acknowledge straight from the start that this is the eighth film in the Fast in the Furious franchise, that’s a real accomplishment and puts it tied with Star Wars which is not mean feat, but it still has a bit to go to catch up with Star Trek, Marvel, Bond, and wait what Air Bud, really, there have been fourteen of them, goodness. Ok wait, we went off on a tangent there, ok where were we, oh yes eight films, it is a real achievement, and means that they are doing something right. However, to be honest for me I have not watched any since the 2nd back in the day, because they kept taking this ridiculous premise and playing it completely seriously and it just grated on me. But given that this is film number eight and given that this franchise has become one of the biggest in modern filmmaking I thought I’d give it another go, and wow was I pleasantly surprised. So going into the eighth film in a franchise there are some things that you can expect before the opening titles roll, there will be a lot of fast cars, a lot of women in tight clothing, a metric ass-ton of machismo, and oh, also a completely on point James Bond narrative, ok I was actually not expecting that last one but there it is and it was a pleasant surprise. It is really fascinating to jump back in after all this time and see just how much the series has evolved, but also how in many ways it has really not changed much at all. So in today’s review, we are going to look at the story, the characters, the action, as well as a couple of other tidbits.

The Fate of the Furious 3

This is a role that Vin Diesel is perfect for

Ok so let’s be honest for a moment, many of you are going to see The Fate of the Furious for one simple thing to see people drive fast cars both against each other in a race, or trying to get away from the police, or trying to catch a bad guy, indeed if you are here just to see those fine creations of engineering and art as they shred rubber down a city street, you’ll be really happy. Indeed there is quite a lot of action in The Fate of the Furious and not all of it is car based, ok a lot of it is but not all of it. There are some decent gun battles, exploding building, hand to hand fights, even the occasional riot to attend to and all of this works really quite well. Probably the best examples to talk about actually occur at the end of the film so I can’t really say much without heading into spoilers other to say, but to be coy for those who have seen the film, did it just use a car to defeat a [spoiler], like that was amazing but it makes no sense, oh well let’s just roll with it. Probably the best non-car action sequence was a prison escape/duel/riot towards the start which had some great combat sequences whilst also showing off just how much you do not want to piss off Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Also, there is a very novel fight sequence at the end of the film with high stakes and I really have to give the filmmakers credit for how they pulled it off.  While there are a lot of cuts the action is still clear and very fluid, so you always know what is going on unlike a lot of other cut heavy action films. However, one small issue is that in a film all about the cars, it is a bit disappointed that it is quite noticeable that they have used CGI cars in places. Look not every film needs to be, or can be Mad Max Fury Road, but some more work was needed to render the light maps on the CGI models so they didn’t stand out as much as they did.

While the action is really good, what also helps is everything around the action as it helps the whole movie shine. First, the locations in this film are amazing, we made the Bond comparison earlier in the review but you really see it here as The Fate of the Furious jumps from one location to the next, I even really liked how they implemented the location titles. Iceland once again shines here, and makes another compelling case for me to come visit one day. The film also starts in Havana, and actually filmed there as well and besides creating a fantastic location for the first car chase I do have to say this is the most rose tinted glasses version of Havana I have seen in a while, there is no chance they could have gotten away with all that without the police interfering, an issue we will explore a bit more in a bit. As well as the locations, I have to give a shout out to Brian Tyler and his great score that blends strong action beets with current licenced songs to make a compelling audio soundscape for the carnage on the roads. Part of what works is that they have had the same team in a lot of the roles (Editing, Cinematography, music, costumes) for a number of films now and you can see that they just get the film’s tone and characters.

They have put a spin on the car chase genre

They have put a spin on the car chase genre

Of course, we can’t talk The Fast and the Furious without talking about the characters because of how they are the more important, more so than just about anything in the film, ok maybe the cars too. Look Vin Diesel gets a lot of flak for playing the same character or at least the same type in all his films, but you can’t deny he is perfect for the role of Dominic. He oozes charisma, but while he may talk mostly in stares or in a low gravelly voice it is also clear how much he cares for his family. Dwayne Johnson is, well look, Dwayne Johnson is one of this generations best actors because he is comfortable in whatever situation you give him, from being a soccer coach, to breaking out of prison, to heading a raid in a foreign country with no parachute if something goes wrong. Charlize Theron is this movie’s big bad playing Cipher and while I thought she had an interesting introduction the more the film when on, the blander and one note her character became. Scott Eastwood is continuing his current trend in appearing in every action franchise as a CIA/Military guy, he has played this role quite a bit, so it will be good to see him branch out a bit more. The rest of the supporting cast is amazing whether it is Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) someone you do not want to mess with, or Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) talking his mouth off, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Tej (Chris Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) banter, or indeed the delightful Magdalene Shaw (Helen Mirren).

Now it is these characters that will help you get through this movie because it’s not really going to be the story. Look the story is there for one propose to drive the film to the next action or character beat, so in that regard, it does quite well, but it also means it is very superficial and starts to fall apart on a closer inspection. Now because we are talking about the story there will be some slight spoilers here so you will want to skip to the next paragraph if that concerns you. For example for someone who is meant to be so smart, Cipher makes some really stupid decisions, like it is clear that Charlize Theron is trying to play at something deeper but the script is given her nothing to work with. As well as this, you have things that just make no sense, like why is the Berlin police protecting a terrorist group, why would Luke be flown to the USA to stand charges for something that happened in Germany when it was clear that the USA government was not going to help him, these are just a couple of a number of examples throughout the film. In what world is an EMP a class 4 WMD, and from someone who studied Arms Control and Disarmament the whole nuclear subplot is a mess. This lack of story also leads to The Fate of the Furious biggest problem, it’s completely predictable, seriously you will probably be able to work out the fate of every character within a couple of minutes of them being on the screen. This being said, the movie will go and hit you in the feels at times, the characters are well written even if the rest of the script isn’t, and most of the story issues don’t get in the way of the enjoyment of the film, and it is good to see them take the series in a new direction, this time into spy film territory. Though there is this odd moment where we have all of these beautiful product placements of brand new car models, and then the movie goes and states that they can all be hackable and crashes them into other cars, I wonder if they knew that before oking the placement.

You do not mess with Dwayne Johnson

You do not mess with Dwayne Johnson

Look in the end all The Fate of the Furious really needed to do is have great action sequences and have great characters and in both cases, the movie works really well. Now would I have liked the story to have a bit more substance, of course, but it does not take away just how much fun this film was. Look after missing so many of the films in this franchise I think the best praise that I can give them here is that The Fate of the Furious has made me want to go back and watch the others that I missed.
 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– F. Gary Gray
Written by – Chris Morgan
Based onCharacters by Gary Scott Thompson
Music by – Brian Tyler
Cinematography by – Stephen F. Windon
Edited by – Christian Wagner & Paul Rubell
Starring
– Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Kristofer Hivju, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans & Helen Mirren
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Moana

TL;DR – A beautiful film from the animation, to the story, to the characters, a must watch this holiday season

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

P.S. There is an after credits scene

Review

Moana is a powerful story which is brilliantly animated, wonderfully acted and tells a great story. All of that would have been enough for me to recommend it to you, but on top of this Disney took a big risk in telling a story from Polynesia a place that rarely gets a look in this modern media landscape yet it is full of fascinating stories. I highly recommend you check Moana out at the movies if you can.

Moana starts with the story of Maui (Dwayne Johnson) a demigod who can be found throughout Polynesian mythology from New Zealand to Hawaii to French Polynesia and everything in between. In an attempt to harness the power of life from the goddess Te Fiti he steals her heart but instead of having the power over life, Maui is instantly defeated by the lava demon Te Kā and the heart (a small stone) and his magical fishing hook get flung into the ocean separating Maui from his power and releasing death into the ocean from the empty heart of Te Fiti. Or at least that’s the story that Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House) tells to scare the children of the village but it has been 1000 years and surely these are just stories. But it is these stories that drive Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), to see what exists outside the reef that rings her island, however, her father Tui (Temuera Morrison) the chief has banned people leaving the island and the protection of the reef because of the dangers that lurk in the open ocean. This is all a really good set up for the rest of the story, it gives you a glimpse into the power dynamics of the island Moana lives on, it also gives you some of the cultural knowledge you will need to make sense of the story.

Moana is full of beautiful scenes like this

Moana is full of beautiful scenes like this

It feels both surprising yet also unsurprising that Moana is such a good film, I mean usually when you see eight credited authors (and indeed if you look at the development of Moana you will see that there were more), you film generally ends up being a complete mess. However, Moana bucks that trend by having a beautiful story, that sure is a bit predictable in many respects, but it works. This is because instead of focusing on a large world with multiple moving cogs that you have to keep track of, Moana focuses on one story, the story of Moana focusing on her heart and fixing a wrong that had perpetrated on the world.

When it comes to the cast it was really good to see Disney go for people living in the South Pacific or who have Pacific heritage to tell this to tell this story of the area and boy did they cast some really strong performers. Auli’i Cravalho performance as Moana, is exemplary, especially given she spends most of the film next to ‘I steal every scene I am in’ Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, she brings a warmth to the character that really needed. Dwayne Johnson is amazing as Maui getting that perfect balance between cocky and damaged. Anyone who has seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople knows how strong a performer Rachel House is and in Moana it’s no different, Grandma Tala is at the heart of the movie and Rachel House’s performance nails this. Of course, it was fun to see Jemaine Clement as a murderous crab, who may have the best line of a Disney villain, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Alan Tudyk who plays a rooster, no not a talking rooster, just a normal rooster … well, maybe not normal, but just a rooster. Because this is a Disney animation you know there is going to be many songs, and how did they go, well with you have the combination of Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Opetaia Foa’i well you are in safe hands.

The animation is superb

The animation is superb in Moana

The one thing I have to mention is the animation, I mean it is just stunning, this was an amazing year for animation with Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia already setting a high bar but Moana meets the competition head-on. I mean look at that water, it is almost photorealistic, and water is one of the hardest things to animate correctly, from this point onwards Moana will be my benchmark I will use for all CGI water. The islands feel beautiful and lived in, and if nothing else are a postcard for why you should visit the South Pacific. It is not just the water, there are so many standout moments, like the starscapes, or the sunsets, or the fluid animations, to the actions which have an almost Mad Max feel to them.

Now Moana is not a perfect film, even when it comes to their depiction of Polynesian culture and mythology, however it is clear that the filmmakers took a long time to consult with a wide range of sources from across the Pacific to help with their depiction and that is something that is quite rare in the film industry.

Just look at that water, just look at it

Just look at that water, just look at it

So, in the end, can I recommend Moana, of course I can, there are so many trash children films dumped on us during the holidays but this is a beautiful film with a strong cast and a good story and is leagues about many of the others you may be subjected to this holiday season.

Directed by – Ron Clements & John Musker
Screenplay by – Jared Bush
Story by – Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell
Music & Songs by – Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Opetaia Foa’i
Starring – Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger & Alan Tudyk
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: PG; USA: PG