Movie Review – Cars 3 & Lou

TL;DR – It starts really formulaic but then it hits you right in the feels

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is a post credit scene

Cars 3

Review
Cars have always been the odd one out of the Pixar films, some found the cartoon cars charming, others heralded it the beginning of the end of Pixar, for me I just found them to be ok, nothing more, and nothing less, the Thor’s of the Pixar catalogue. So it has been six years since Cars 2 a movie didn’t end up seeing because, to be honest, it didn’t sound all that good. This led to a bit of apprehension before seeing Cars 3, was it a chance for Pixar to show that they had learned from their mistakes, or was this just simply another toy cash grab, because Cars merchandise has been a real boon for Disney. Well, can it be both?

Lou is beautiful in every way

Lou is beautiful in every way

So before we really dig into Cars 3 I want to take a moment of time to look at the Pixar short film that ran before Cars, Lou. Lou, or as I have seen it titled in places Lost and Found, is this beautiful and absolutely charming short film. Lou is a spirit living in a primary school’s lost and found box who embodies what is left is left in the box at the end of the day. It tries to get all the lost items back to who they belong to, but there are always items left at the end of the day. The animation of Lou is some of Pixar’s best, the movements are fluid but ever changing given the nature of Lou being all sorts of different items held together. I won’t spoil the story but, I would say that Lou is worth the price of admission alone.

So to set the scene is has been a couple of years since the last film and Lightning (Owen Wilson) is still on the top of his game on the Piston Cup having one of the best seasons along with his friends and fellow racers. Well, that is until a new racer Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) arrives on the scene, Jackson is a new breed of racer, fast, sleek, and a bit of a dick. Well soon these new racers are taking over the track and all of Lightning’s friend have retired or been replaced, and in a moment of hubris, Lightning tries to catch up to Jackson only to lose control and crash. Fast forward to the start of the next season and Lightning is back at Radiator Springs sulking in his garage when Sally (Bonnie Hunt) gets him out of his funk and the long complicated road to recovery begins. I do have to say that this is a good start for your movie, however, it is also a really generic opener. The sports star coming back from an injury is a very familiar story and Cars 3 follows that path almost to a tee. Unnecessary fighting, check, a corporate sponsor applying pressure, check, a rival that is an ass so you really, really want to beat him, check, and I could go on. Thankfully it doesn’t stay that way throughout the film as it switched gears about half way through.

What starts of as a straight forward story, thankfully does not end as one

What starts of as a straight forward story, thankfully does not end as one

While the story is important another thing we have to talk about is the animations because they are a very interesting juxtaposition of the overly cartoonish and the super realistic. On the one hand, you have the cars that have an interesting but clearly overly cartoonish in their style. Ok quick aside, honestly how does this world work, like everything is set up for humans but they are all gone, how did the Cars come about, how do they make more Cars, also there are none who could make all the things that need small hands with an opposable thumb to create. Like it is a children’s film I know, but I do get a bit weirded out when the question ‘where are all the humans can get raised’. But back on topic, while we have these overly cartoonish cars, at times they are placed in locations that could be almost photo realistic. You see this the most when the gang gets to Thomasville and starts to drive around the old dirt track and in and around the forest. The amount of detail in what seems to be a very drab location on the surface, well it is a testament to all the animators that worked on this movie.

Now as I said Cars 3 starts with a very generic setup and it continues along on this path till about half way through when it starts to reveal its true nature in the aftermath of the destruction derby. [SPOILERS] It is at this point where all of Lightning’s issues come to ahead and he sees what an ass he has been to those around him, mostly Cruz (Cristela Alonzo) his trainer who frankly has more drive than Lightning. See this is where Pixar excels in its story making, by taking themes that other movies would consider to be too adult for children and then smacking them down in the middle of their films. In Cars 3 you are dealing with becoming obsolete through no fault of your own, getting old and watching the world change around you, how someone’s absence from your life can still have a profound effect on you even years later. Now, of course, Pixar has touched on these in other films like Toy Story, but it used very effectively here because it helps with the trajectory shift in Lightning’s character. As well as this, I liked that there were no real villains throughout the film, sure you have antagonists but they are not villains. Jackson is a dick but he’s not evil, Sterling (Nathan Fillion) might want Lightning to stop racing but that comes from what is a sound business decision from his perspective, even Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria) isn’t evil, just very passionate about destruction derbies. All of these factors mean that there is a point when the emotions hit, and they hit hard. [End of SPOILERS]

There are no villains, though there are some real asses

There are no villains, though there are some real asses

So, in the end, can I recommend Lou and Cars 3, well yes of course, as I said I would recommend it for Lou alone, and that is just the six-minute short film at the start. Cars 3 lulls you into thinking that it is a very straight forward film, one you have seen many times before and then hits you with an emotional two-by-four.

 

 

Cars 3
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Brian Fee
Screenplay by – Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson & Mike Rich
Story By – Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell & Jonathan E. Stewart
Music by – Randy Newman
Cinematography by – Jeremy Lasky & Kim White
Edited by – Jason Hudak
Starring
– Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Cristela Alonzo, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger & Paul Newman

Rating – Australia: G; Canada: G; Germany: na; New Zealand: G; United Kingdom: na; United States: G

Lou
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Dave Mullins
Screenplay by – Dave Mullins
Music by
– Christophe Beck
Cinematography by – Adam Habib
Edited by – Anthony J. Greenberg
Starring
– Jim Broadbent
Rating – Australia: G; Canada: G; Germany: na; New Zealand: G; United Kingdom: na; United States: G

 

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Movie Review – Despicable Me 3

TL;DR – It has its moments but it lost a lot of the charm of the first two films

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Despicable Me 3

Review

So I should get this out of the way right from the start that I do really like the Despicable Me films, they have a beautiful charm to them, and they have a story that cuts right to the heart of what it is to be a family. Now part of this is probably because I don’t have children which means that I have thankfully not been so inundated with Minions to the point of involuntarily hating the colour yellow. So I came into Despicable Me 3 on a high note after just seeing the great Cars 3 and I was looking forward to another great entry, but well, I don’t think we quite got there, unfortunately.

So to set the scene, at the end of the last film Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) married creating a very weird but loving family for Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). Gru and Lucy work for the Anti-Villain League (AVL) and while they have been able to stop Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) from stealing things like the world’s largest diamond, they can’t seem to be able to catch him. But that’s fine, its part of the course, I mean no one ever actually catches one of the villains, unless they wanted to be captured as part of a convoluted plan to steal something. Of course that all changes when a new director of AVL Val (Jenny Slate) arrives, fires Gru and Lucy, and then Minions leave, Anges starts selling her toys, and a surprise visitor arrives to tell Gru that he has a secret twin brother Dru (Steve Carell). So right from the start, there is a lot to take in, as for Gru and his family everything is changing. Now, this could have been a great starting point for an interesting story but it just does not quite get there.

Despicable Me 3 2

The cast is clearly having a lot of fun with their roles

Ok look it feels like I am starting to get a bit negative with the film, and that is a bit unfair because it outperforms a lot of the rubbish in cinemas at the moment. So before we move on I do want to talk about the areas where I think the film really worked. Firstly, of course, the animation is spectacular, things are adorably cute, and the water is so crystal clear you can see in detail when they kill Nemo at the start of the film. When it comes to the story there is this sub-plot of Lucy trying to work out how to be a mother to three grown girls and when the film is working on the notion of family it excels. Even with the Minions I could not help but laugh along at their shenanigans, to parents of young children I am so sorry. As well as this there are jokes all throughout the film which you will find funny well at least on the first viewing, also there is a complete lack of Russel Brand which is always a bonus, and it is really clear that all the actors are having fun, no one is phoning in their performances.

However, where Despicable Me 3 doesn’t quite work is in its overarching story which has some real issues with consistency. I know this was not what the writers planned but it kind of felt like they got a spin wheel of ideas and through darts at them randomly. So Gru gets fired, but then he has a twin, but his twin is a millionaire, but then his dad is a secret villain, but also there are all these pigs around, but the Minions have run away, no wait they are in jail, oh there is a villain that use to be a villain on TV. All of these different factors create a real issue because there is a lot of inconstancy in-between the different moving parts o top of the film already being quite short. On the one hand, you have the story of Lucy finding out what it means to be a mother, whilst Agnes tries to find a real unicorn which is full of heart and warmth. But then you also have Gru bonding with Dru, which had a lot of potential, but fell flat. This is because Dru is really not that compelling of a character, and feels like a tacked on addition rather than a core component. This is a real pity as it becomes much of the motivation for the final act of the film and it just feels unnecessary. They needed to refine Dru’s character a bit more or at least do something creative with it. As well as this, the villain is fun at first, but he’s clearly written for the parents watching the film and not for the kids. Look it’s not unheard of for there to be adult jokes and references in kid’s film, in fact, it is almost expected at this point, however, since this is still a children’s film and as such they can’t do much with the character other than the references he gets a bit tired after a while.

Yes I found the Minions to be hella funny

Yes I found the Minions to be hella funny

So look can I recommend Despicable Me 3, Yes and No, it does have its moments of adorableness, you will laugh, but it just does not have the charm of its predecessors and the story is too fractured to make an interesting viewing in such a short time frame. That being said there is a Minion sing-along segment, so it might be worth the price of admission just for that.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
–     Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Written by – Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Based onCharacters by Sergio Pablos
Music by – Heitor Pereira & Pharrell Williams
Edited by – Claire Dodgson
Starring
– Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate, Julie Andrews & Pierre Coffin
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 6; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: U; United States: PG

Movie Review – Transformers: The Last Knight

TL;DR – There is a good movie in here somewhere, it’s just not the one we ended up with

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

Transformers The Last Knight

Review

Well here we go again another Transformers film and another disappointment, though a slightly different disappointment this time round. What is interesting with Transformers is more so than say the Star Wars Prequels or other bad films, I can actually pinpoint where it was that this series fell apart for me. I was really enjoying the first two-thirds of the first film and then outside the Hoover Dam wanting to hide the AllSpark from the Decpticons the one person who had shown any military understanding up to that point goes ‘Let’s take it to Mission City to evacuate it’ and that was it in one moment my entire suspension of disbelief crashed down around me. It made no sense, sure it led to a visually spectacular action sequence, but given you were surrounded by desert the best option was to take it as far away from civilisation to protect people, and of course, a lot of people died because of that stupid decision. Since then I gave the second film a go because the first film was affected by the writer’s strike, so maybe they would learn from where they went wrong, well no, not at all. From there we had Dark of the Moon which was as bad as its title and Extinction was well more or less a bit meh. I tell you this because I came into this advanced screening with very low expectations but against my better judgement about half way through I found myself actually going along for the ride only to be let down once again.

So to set the scene, it has been a couple of years since the Age of Extinction, and since then the world has fallen apart a bit, maybe, it’s actually not clear because things seem normal but then Chicago is still a ruin and the Midwest is a badland for some reason, they don’t explain it all that well. But with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) gone and more Autobots and Decpticons falling from the sky with no warning a new T.R.F. (Transformers Reaction Force) is set up to destroy any Transformer they find on the planet bar in Cuba for stupid reasons. So all the Transformers are trying to lay low, if they are not partying on a Cuban beach and some people like Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) are trying to rescue the fallen before they are found by the TRF. It is during one of these missions in the ruins of Chicago that Cade stumbles across Izabella (Isabela Moner) who is protecting a bunch of kids and some fallen Transformers from TRF drones. While Cade was not able to save the Transformers he and Bumblebee do stumble upon a talisman from a time long ago. Because that’s right ladies and gentlemen and however else you identify, the Transformers have been here since the time of King Arthur and oh King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Merlin (Stanley Tucci) are all real. As well as this, we have Optimus Prime who after floating in space for a long time crash lands on a rapidly approaching Cybertron to discover that his maker Quintessa (Gemma Chan) is not happy and she is coming for Earth. So right from the start, you have a lot of competing threads of the story going on, and this leads to many of Last Knight’s major issues.

Bumblebee is Last Knight's MVP

Bumblebee is Last Knight’s MVP

Before we take a deep dive into Last Knight’s issues I do want to take a moment to point out the many places where the movie shined. First I do have to give a shout out to the actors because there are some really great performances here. Stanley Tucci is and always will be a delight no matter where he is cast and here even though it was a short moment I loved every second of him as Merlin. Also, Anthony Hopkins who plays Sir Edmund Burton brings a wonderful class to the film, his scenes with Cogman (Jim Carter) were one of the highlights for me. Mark Wahlberg and Laura Haddock play off each other really well, and that makes the London section of the film really work. As well as the acting, of course, I have to give a shout out to Industrial Light and Magic as there was a lot of work they and their partner VFX studios had to do to get this film looking as nice as it was. Now a lot of people complain about Michael Bay’s directing style, and it has its problems but the man knows his explosions and there are many spectacular explosion for you to partake in.

Ok so let’s unpack where Last Knight went wrong, we are going to start with some of the smaller plot points that frustrated me then we will unpack the big problem that that was the story structure. Now to do this, and also because I am aware that it is not in full release at the cinemas yet, a big preventive [SPOILER WARNING] will now in effect. Ok while we will get to the big story beats let’s look at the smaller things that frustrated me. The first is the world-building, the movie can’t decide if the United States is falling apart or the biggest most advanced power in the world and given how much product placement the US Army, Navy & Air Force is getting, they probably should have cleared that up. Also, why is it that Bumblebee can do the put-yourself-together trick while everyone else is just dead. Another thing at a point in the film ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons are fired at a large structure above all our heroes. Which is problematic because I don’t think the movie understood what nuclear weapons do and how they work, and why everyone should have died at that point, also why the hell would you not try to nuke it before it got to this point. Another issue I had was that the film does not seem to understand how astronomy or physics work, which fine whatever, it’s not a deal-breaker, but if you are going to ignore those things, don’t have one of your side characters be from NASA and go on a rant as to how they don’t believe in mystical rubbish and that they are putting their faith in hard science. Look I could go on, but all throughout my notes I have ‘oh that’s some “rubbish” right there’ but I didn’t say rubbish, and it is not a good sign when that happens.

There are a lot of missed opportunities, and unnecessary plot lines

There are a lot of missed opportunities, and unnecessary plot lines

So there are a lot of smaller problems, but none of these dwarf the biggest problem and that is the story, the structure and how it was all edited together. To give these problems context I have to say I have no real stake in how good an adaptation it is of the source material because I didn’t grow up with the cartoons, my introduction was actually through Beast Wars. So I’m not looking back to some mythical untouchable show that could never be superseded no matter what they did, I’m looking at how the movie works today. Structurally where the film is the weakest is in the opening and closing acts which is really odd. Films can have a bad opening but recover like Rogue One, or start strong and fall apart like The Hateful Eight, or simply be a mess from start to end like Gods of Egypt but I have never seen a film start a mess, get its act together only to fall apart again. So we start in the dark ages, with some big retcon that the Transformers have been here a lot longer than we thought, not the last retcon for the film as well. This section is actually ok, saved by some delightful Stanley Tucci, though the whole King Arthur myth felt like a really unnecessary addition. However, from here we are split between Cade and Izabella meeting, Optimus meeting his maker, Viviane (Laura Haddock) playing polo, and William (Josh Duhamel) going back and forth between being a mole in TRF, to being a US Army colonel, to back again to, look the film does not really know what role he is playing, and then finally we get some Decepticons introductions in a style reminisce of Suicide Squad. The film starts to come together when we get back to the hideout in a scrap yard, we get to know some of the Autobots, then we get a reasonably good action sequence before whisking off to London.

Once we get to London the film finally feels like it is working, there are some wonderfully funny scenes, the plot moves along, we get a race through the streets of the capital, and it sucked me in. For a moment in there I was along for the ride, the whole audience was laughing at Cogman’s musical interlude, and then Cybertron appears and like magic, it all falls apart again. I’m not going to talk about the third act all that much because that is major spoilers but I spent the whole time thinking how nonsensical it all was, though I will say one thing The English Channel is actually quite shallow especially around the cliffs of Dover.

Michael Bay does love his explosions, and there are a lot of them

Michael Bay does love his explosions, and there are a lot of them

Now at the start, I mentioned that there is a good movie in here somewhere, and the second act shows it, but the big issue here is story bloat. There are so many plot lines that could have been streamlined or removed entirely, and the film would have been stronger for it. The whole Cuba subplot with Seymour (John Turturro) added nothing to the film, there was no need for there to be two bad groups to fight, nearly all of the TRF stuff could have been easily replaced with Decepticons, and you would have avoided a lot of the messiness with how the TRF and the US Army interact. A good 45 minutes could have been cut from this movie and you would have had a much tighter and frankly stronger story to place around your many slow motion explosions. Also in a scenario that possibly millions of people died, oddly there was no sense of any stakes, which is an odd scenario to find yourself in. This is not helped by Michael Bay’s style of filmmaking which there is an attempt to be always visually stimulating, which is fine at the start but over two hours in you can’t help but be fatigued and it starts turning into visual noise. It was probably not helped by there being six different editors, so there is no consistency in style throughout the film and it probably contributed to the long runtime. Finally and more problematically, most of the film feels like we have seen it all before in other Transformer films. [End of SPOILERS]

So, in the end, can I recommend Transformers: The Last Knight? Well look it has its moments, the action is at least interesting in places, and there are reasons that it did not score lower than what it did, but then 2.5/5 is not really a great score as well. So if you are going to see a film this week and someone goes ‘let’s see The Last Knight’ there are worse options out there, and there are some fun moments for you to enjoy, but for me, I think I would have much preferred to see The Mummy than this.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Michael Bay
Screenplay by – Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & Ken Nolan
Story By – Akiva Goldsman, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & Ken Nolan
Based onTransformers by Hasbro
Music by – Steve Jablonsky
Cinematography by – Jonathan Sela
Edited by – Roger Barton, Adam Gerstel, Debra Neil-Fisher, John Refoua, Mark Sanger & Calvin Wimmer
Starring
– Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins, Isabela Moner, John Turturro, Santiago Cabrera, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Omar Sy, Gemma Chan & Jim Carter
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13

Movie Review – Rough Night

TL;DR – It’s not the best film I have seen, while it has some laughs, it is let down by its highly predictable storyline.

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is a Mid & End credit sequence

Rough Night

Review

It is the year 2009, those heady days when Balloon Boy was a thing, remember that, oh and Kanye West was an ass at the VMA, wow how times have changed. It was during this year that The Hangover a relatively small budget (35mill) R-rated comedy came out in cinemas and made a metric-ass-ton of cash at the box-office. Since that time there have been a string of R-rated ensemble comedy films that have tried to capture that same draw with 2011’s Bridesmaids being the closest contender. So why do companies keep making them, well they’re cheap, low risk, and a chance at a very big potential reward, but because of this combination the films tend not to be that good most of the time. So today we are going to be looking at the next challenger into this realm with Rough Night which while not being anything revolutionary does have its moments of interest.

Now before we go one I do need to point out that because of its mature content there is probably a very easy litmus test as to whether or not you think you’d want to go see Rough Night. So let’s highlight just a couple of things from the movie, there are male strippers, cocaine, neighbours that are in a very open marriage, and they end up stashing the dead body in a room with adult accessories. As I said at this point I have probably polarised the opinion of the people reading the review, but then that is the nature of these films. Also don’t take your eight-year-old to go see this, come on I didn’t think it needed to be said but apparently not.

The cast has a great rapport with each other

The cast has a great rapport with each other

So to set the scene in college four girls become fast friends and promise to always be there for each other. Fast forward ten years and Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is engaged to Peter (Paul W. Downs) and is running for political office, Alice (Jillian Bell) is a teacher but never really moved on from her college years, Frankie (Ilana Glazer) is an ‘activist’ but it is more for show than anything else, and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) is a successful business women that is going through a bad divorce. They along with Pippa (Kate McKinnon) a friend Jess made whilst studying abroad in Australia have come together in Florida to celebrate Jess’ bachelorette weekend. Jess is just looking for a quiet weekend with friends and is desperately avoiding anything that could damage her election campaign, but of course, the complete opposite happens when the group hires a stripper (Ryan Cooper) and then accidentally kills him. Look as crass as it is, it is still a good setup for a film, you have a dead body, you have everyone having a motive to try and hide the body because there are drugs everywhere, and you even have a question over who some people are. However, while the setup is good, the story does not really take it and run with it as we will see later.

Now it will probably become clear that I am quite mixed on Rough Night, mostly because of its story but one area I do have to give full props to is the cast, who is giving it their all and are really game for anything. For me the stand out was Kate McKinnon and not just because she really rocked that Australian accent which is not the easiest thing to do, but because she was game for anything they throw at her. I look forward to curious Americans trying Vegemite cold turkey, and the hilarity that follows, for our international followers, Vegemite should be consumed on toast with butter and you should build up the doses until you are comfortable with them. Also, I have to give credit to Paul W. Downs who spends most of the film pulling of a rendition of the sad astronaut, I really hope they paid you well. As well as the standouts I have to say the one thing that stood out for me was the rapport of the main cast. They actually feel like they are friends that have known each other for a long time it comes across in their performance. It was interesting to see Demi Moore and Ty Burrell play so off the norm with their swinger couple team and thankfully they are not around too long that the bit gets old and Dean Winters is always a good addition. As well as this, there were some good ideas here, like the TV in the background that gives you hints of what is going in the town.

Rough Night 1

Unfortunately it does not capitalise on its setup

Now while the film has a good set up, and the cast is up for anything, what stops the film from excelling is the story. Now there are some really funny moments in Rough Night, but for me, there were also far too many completely predictable plot points. [SPOILERS] At times it felt like we hit every trope in the genre that you see in film after film. Now while you kind of expect the standard Chekhov’s Gun, though it was interesting to see it in the form of a code word, there were also so many others that are just grating. For example, the story was fine but there was for some reason this really unnecessary conflict about Alice being too possessive over Jess, that either could have been handled better or removed. Sure yes, it inevitably leads to a big blow up and the inevitable catharsis, but this in itself is something you can see coming a mile away. Also, there were a lot of missed opportunities, like we don’t find out the first stripper is dodgy until almost the end when stripper Number 2 (Colton Haynes) appears but this could have added much earlier to the freak out the characters and provide a better source of conflict. Honestly, at times it kind of felt like there was a checklist that the movie had to reach before it could finish. [End of SPOILERS]

Look at the end can I recommend Rough Night, well yes, but only if your other choice is seeing Baywatch which is also out at the moment and has a similar tone. Other than that, well, of course, I have seen worse films, but I have also seen films in this genre that have been much better. It has a strong cast but there are just too many missed opportunities for me to fully recommend it.

 

Directed by – Lucia Aniello
Written By – Lucia Aniello & Paul W. Downs
Music by – Dominic Lewis
Cinematography by – Sean Porter
Edited by – Craig Alpert
Starring
– Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, Paul W. Downs, Ryan Cooper, Demi Moore, Ty Burrell, Colton Haynes, Dean Winters & Enrique Murciano
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R

 

Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

TL;DR – King Arthur is a fascinating film as long as you don’t care that much about the source material, though it does have more than a few lulls and awkward story moments

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

King Arthur Legend of the Sword

Review

So this was a surprise, from all accounts, and my own expectations going in I was expecting a dumpster fire in movie form. Instead what I got was sure a flawed film in many respects but also a really interesting one as well. So today we are going to look out how this film approaches the legend, how the cast works, then the parts of the film that excel and the parts that really fall short. So let’s begin with how they approach the myth of King Arthur, and well it’s interesting.

Because it is in the public domain, the King Arthur story is one of those narratives that gets remade over and over again. We’ve had miniseries do a classical remake, we’ve had it reinterpreted into a teen angst drama, a side event on a fairy tale TV show, we found out that Camelot was a bit silly, and we even got it reimagined as a real world event as the Roman’s retreated. So you needed to do something new, make an interesting idea, approach it from a different angle, or else you risk the question of why should I watch this when there are already versions of this out there. So King Arthur: Legend of the Sword approaches this conundrum by just having the Arthurian legend as a window dressing for the story. So we have Arthur witnessing his parent’s death before being raised in a brothel and becoming a black market leader in an occupied town. You have some nods to people in the legend but some core members get barely a cameo, and some are missing altogether. On the one hand, this gives the filmmakers a lot of latitudes to tell a story that is not confined to a certain progression, on the other hand, if you are a fan of the original legend you are going to find the inconsistencies jarring. As well as this, they take bits of reference from everywhere and smash it together, we have the very magical Camelot existing at the same time as the real world Londinium after the Roman exodus, with a little Old Testament thrown in there for good reference. So this leads to a movie with giant elephants existing at the same time as negotiations with Norse traders, a martial arts master teaching students in an abandoned Roman bathhouse, and people of legend working within the social structures that existed at the time.

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Part of what worked for me is that it’s clear that the cast was on board for whatever Guy Ritchie threw at them. We have Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, who I’ve not see much of before but he really brings a command performance here, a sort of suave cockiness but also being a bit down to Earth, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is on a Bond shortlist somewhere.   Jude Law as Vortigern, is just eating up the stage stealing almost every scene he is in. The rest of the cast is given good performances, hell even the David Beckham cameo was incredibly watchable. Also, it’s just great to see Eric Bana back on the big screen, Hollywood needs to cast him in more movies.

Something that I really found interesting with King Arthur is how Guy Richie took a film set in the Middle Ages, or a weird alternate reality where after the Romans left mages traipsed around England in giant elephants, but also embodied it in what is a very modern style. The outfits, the hairstyles, all feel a bit out of time, but it is more than that. In many ways, there is also this undercurrent of a modern gangster film beating just under the surface. I mean at one point Uther (Eric Bana) literally goes ‘hold my crown’ before jumping straight off a collapsed bridge into the previously mention giant elephants. This is also reinforced with editing style of the film, uses a combination to frantic montage scenes, this might have some of the best montage scenes I have seen in a very long time. As well as this, King Arthur has some really interesting sequence editing, which for the audience has a way of keeping you always on your toes. A good example of this is where Arthur plays out what would happen if he is introduced to the great families of England.

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays 'The Mage' or 'I am an important character from the myth whose identity won't be revealed until the sequel'

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays ‘The Mage’ or ‘I am an important character from the myth whose identity won’t be revealed until the sequel’

One big standout for me was the musical score by Daniel Pemberton. I’m a big fan of bending musical styles, or taking something familiar and putting a new spin on it, or using music as a juxtaposition and it is here where King Arthur shines. Most high fantasy films or medieval period pieces use a classic orchestral score, which I’m not knocking at all, I mean just listen to the power of Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings or Ramin Djawadi’s score for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But it is nice to see someone put a spin on the familiar, which is what we get here. The standout has to be what I think was an electric violin or a real violin that has been modified in post-production. Using an instrument that couldn’t exist at the time creates this interesting dichotomy and helps create that modern veneer that the movie sits in. As well as this, King Arthur also has a fantastic driving drum beat during some of the action and montage scenes, which really jells with the slight frenetic pace of the editing. All of this is combined to create a really interesting soundscape in the film.

Now while there are some interesting parts in King Arthur there are a couple of things that do really hold it back, though how big of a problem these are might change for you. While I did like the story overall there were some issues, for example, it did start to feel that this was a film with some great action scenes and other sequences, but in-between them there was a lot of treading water waiting for the next moment of action. [Spoilers] As well as this, it does feel like a lot of character motivations ended up on the cutting room floor so we are left with some weird scenarios. You can see this with Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen) who is shown throughout the film to be incredibly smart and knowledgeable, who forgets all of that when he risks everyone’s lives to kill Earl of Mercia for no reason. Also, at one point Arthur is betrayed by one of his own, but we see no reason for why this person turned it’s just like they’re good, oh wait, nope not anymore. Another big issue was that some of the fight scenes it became very clear that it was a CGI model fighting and not an actor. This is disappointing because other than this, the rest of the CGI and visual effects are really good. [End of Spoilers]

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

In the end, even with its problems, I did really enjoy this weird ride called King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. When you have actor throwing themselves into the roles, a story that is bonkers but people care how portrayed, beautiful sets, and a rocking score, well you have the components of an interesting film. Of course, that being said, if you really like the Arthur legend and you are not a fan of big diversions well this might not be the film for you.

 

 Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by – Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram & Joby Harold
Story By – David Dobkin & Joby Harold
‘Based on’King Arthur Legend
Music by – Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography by – John Mathieson
Edited by – James Herbert
Starring
– Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, Annabelle Wallis, Bleu Landau, Mikael Persbrandt, David Beckham, Michael McElhatton, Peter Ferdinando, Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

TL;DR – This is a paint by numbers film with no direction or heart, a real disappointment, and the better title is probably Pirates of The Caribbean: Coincidence on the High Seas

Score – 2 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is a post-credit scene

Pirates of The Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales banner

Review

So here we are looking at the fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and I’m sitting here wondering where it all went wrong. The first Pirates of the Caribbean was one of those breaths of fresh air that pop up every now and again, a brilliant standalone film, reinvigorating a genre of film that had disappeared, and it had one of the greatest character entrances in film history. Its two follow-up films which completed a trilogy of sorts were not as good as the first but fine films in their own right. However, the last film felt more like a continuation out of necessity rather than a new story that they felt needed to be told, and this continues in Dead Men Tell No Tales. So at this point, it should be no surprise that I didn’t like the fifth Pirates of The Caribbean film so we’re going to break down what worked and what didn’t and one of those lists is going to be bigger than the other.

This is more symbolic than they were going for

This is more symbolic than they were going for

Before we get into the heart of the review let’s take a moment to set the scene. It has been about fifteen years since ‘At World’s End’ and about four since ‘On Stranger Tides’ and Henry (Brenton Thwaites) the son of Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom) is on a quest to free his father from the curse that bound him to The Flying Dutchman. Henry is convinced that the only thing that can help is the fabled Trident of Poseidon and also that the only one who can help him find it is Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his magical compass. To try and find Jack Sparrow who had gone into hiding Henry signs onto the British Navy so he can explore the Caribbean, where after a confrontation with Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) he arrives at Saint Martin runs into Carine (Kaya Scodelario) who has been arrested for being a witch, she’s not, she’s actually an accomplished astronomer, and has to hunt down the Trident before everyone else can get it. As far as a set up goes, it’s not bad, but as we’ll find out it is not without its many issues.

So let’s start the review with the casting and performances because this is one of the film’s few strong points. Look we’ll get onto the story in a moment and that does impact on the performances, but despite that, I do think most of the cast is doing a great job with what they are given. Javier Bardem is amazing he has such a presence about him that even behind the CGI overlay his performance shines through. I did quite like Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario performances, which yes has more than a little feeling of Will and Elizabeth 2.0, but they make it work through a sheer stubborn will. Geoffrey Rush, well Geoffrey Rush is just a delight on screen, I mean he shined in Gods of Egypt and that was a dumpster fire of a film and here, while he doesn’t have any of those classic moments from the first film his presence is felt in every scene he is in. Now, of course, the big question is Johnny Depp and eh, it’s not bad but at this point, he has been playing the same character in all five films and there has been no real character development so you may or may not like it depending on how over you are with Captain Jack Sparrow. One thing I will say is that the film woefully underutilised David Wenham.

Watching Javier Bardem & Geoffrey Rush play off each other was fun

Watching Javier Bardem & Geoffrey Rush play off each other was fun

When it comes to the technical side of things it is more of a mixed bag, with some parts like the visual effects being fantastic in places and oddly poor in others, and the music being all over the place. A lot of the visual effects in Dead Men Tell No Tales are really quite good, with standouts being Salazar’s ship and crew. I really did like the semi-corporeal feel of the crew, and the ship opening up to eat its prey was a fascinating design choice, as well as this, there were some really good water effects which are not the easiest thing to pull off. However, while it was good to see some decent visual effects, there were also some quite poor CGI which I was not expecting. There were some overhead shots of Redshirts running which looks really poor (I assume they were CGI, if they weren’t then something was off with the framing), also there was a scene where a small boat was being towed at speed and it could not have looked more green screened, and the de-aging tech is still not quite there. The physical sets and costumes were all really good, I really liked the town they created it had a lot of interesting details, and allowed for one of the better action sequences in the film. However, one area that was a real let down for me was the music. When you have had one person (Hans Zimmer) be the creative force behind the music from a franchise it is difficult for another person to jump in, as there is that tension between adding your new voice and respecting what came before, we saw this play out with Rogue One. Now I should say that Hans Zimmer’s score for Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favourites from the 2000s so maybe this is clouding my view, but this score was lacking heart and didn’t add anything new that stood out for me.

Now while the things I have mentioned are snags, at the heart of Dead Men Tell No Tales’ problems is a story with no direction, it is more of a combination of stock story points slapped together with a thin veneer of plot, and it is frustrating to sit and watch two hours of lazy story writing. At every point the story took the opportunity to take the most boring direction, whether through rehashing plot lines from the past, or having characters acting stupidly, or by going ‘surprise’ when the rest of the audience saw it coming a mile away. When a character announces that they are on a quest to find their father that they never knew, well I’ll let you guess how that turns out and you’re probably right on the money. You have the captain of a large (deep hulled) British warship knowingly chase pirates into uncharted water, ok, near a rocky island with sharp rocks gouging out from the water, um wait, then into a cave with no knowledge if the masts can even fit or it there is an exit, wait what no, you are bad at your job. There is no tension throughout the film, everyone who we have seen in the past might as well been wearing a force field. The whole film is filled with both literal and metaphorical Redshirts that exist only to be killed so none of the good cast has to die. [Spoilers]There is one point where a bunch of secondary characters escape a ship, yep that ship was dead moments later, and no one that we could possibly care about was put in any real danger. When we have an extended fight sequence with Jack Sparrow’s head in a guillotine, well you know they won’t be that serious in putting anyone’s life in any real danger or peril. This leads to a dull and emotionally flat film, indeed there was only one moment in the entire film where I felt any kind of emotional attachment to the characters or the narrative and that was a scene almost at the very end of the film. [End of Spoilers] Now this was probably not the writer’s fault, they might have been working from a brief with a lot of things being forced onto them that they had to add whether it worked or not, but it ends up being a flat nonsensical mess.

It is getting better but we are still not quite there with CGI de-aging

It is getting better but we are still not quite there with CGI de-aging

Structurally the film is also a mishmash of long setups, overwhelming coincidence, and long stretches of dull padding. Look I don’t mind a slow build, indeed I championed Arrival for that very quality, but there is a difference between a slow build and a film taking forever to get started. We know from almost the start that the film will be a hunt for the Trident of Poseidon, but it is not until we are well into act two before that actually starts. Before this we are stuck sitting through one coincidence after another, oh Henry needs to get to the Trident, well he runs into Salazar which means he can get to St. Martin (which if you think I am going to gloss over the fact that St. Martin was never a British colony you are mistaken) when he finds Jack, but also Carina the only person in the world with a map to the Trident, also if Henry was not there Jack and Carina would be dead, and it goes on and on. Yes you might be saying ‘but Star Wars has a lot of coincidence too’ and you would be right but A New Hope’s story is strong enough that you don’t see the coincidences until you go looking for them, here you can’t help but trip over them on the way to the next action set piece.

There are also some really cringy scenes, which really doesn’t help the film in any way because it reinforces the lazy storytelling. The worst offender of this is probably the wedding sequence about half way through the film. Here Jack is woken up in the middle of a wedding ceremony to discover that he is the groom and is being forced to marry an unpleasant looking woman. Besides this scene feeling like it has been ripped out of multiple films of the past, it serves no purpose in the film. It doesn’t tell us anything about Jack we don’t already know, it doesn’t show us something of Henry or Carina’s character, it does not forward the plot or reveal anything, it serves no purpose. Now in better films like Mad Max Fury Road use this kind of scene as a way of letting the audience breathe, or to release the tension, however here it just feels like they needed a bit of filler, which would have been fine it was in any way funny, but it’s not.

Pirates of The Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales 2

This is a cool moment but the film needed more work on its story to support moments like this

In the end, I really wanted to like this film, I was a fan of the original trilogy, and this was even filmed around where I live so you kind of want to see your local film industry excel, but it just didn’t do it for me. If there is to be one more, which let’s face it there will be, please can I implore you to take some time and think about the direction of the movie, the motivation of the characters, and give the story some substance which it desperately needs.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Screenplay by – Jeff Nathanson
Story By – Jeff Nathanson & Terry Rossio
Based onPirates of the Caribbean by Walt Disney & Characters Created by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie & Jay Wolpert
Music by
– Geoff Zanelli
Cinematography by – Paul Cameron
Edited by – Roger Barton & Leigh Folsom Boyd
Starring
– Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, Stephen Graham & Martin Klebba, with Paul McCartney, Orlando Bloom & Keira Knightley
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Snatched

TL;DR – It honestly feels like this movie was a waste of everyone’s time, including mine

Score – 1.5 out of 5 stars

Snatched Banner

Review

Sigh, what a disappointment, this movie had an interesting premise, the cast all had such potential, but what we got was a confused mess that does not know what kind of film it wanted to be. Now of course this first sentence probably would not fill you with confidence, and you’d be right, but when you have Goldie Hawn someone who can light up the screen no matter what film she is in and in her first movie since 2002 and you can’t make it work, well you have problems. So in today’s review we are going to break down the film and talk about what things did work and what didn’t, and one of those sections is probably going to be bigger than the other.

Ok to set the scene, Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) is a 20 something year old who has no real direction in life who just got fired from her job and whose boyfriend (Randall Park) has just dumped her all before she was meant to go with him on a non-refundable holiday to Ecuador. So after all her friends bail on her she asks her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) who was cool back in the day but now lives with her cats and son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) who suffers from agoraphobia. So to cut a long story short, they go to Ecuador, meet ‘plutonic friends’ Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack), Emily hooks up with totally not at all dodgy James (Tom Bateman) and then shock horror they get kidnaped and then stuff happens.

Unfortunately moments like these which look interesting are lacking throughout Snatched

Unfortunately moments like these which look interesting are lacking throughout Snatched

Ok I know a lot of people are not fans of Amy Schumer and her style of comedy, but she’s not the big problem here. In fact I think the whole cast is doing their best in their roles it’s just they are given nothing to work with. Seriously you have Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack and Wanda Sykes in your film, you need to be aggressively mediocre to make them feel dull. The same can be said for the cinematography and editing, it is clear that they had talented people behind the camera, there are some really well constructed shots, some great framing, but the story gives them very little to work with. When it comes to the sets and locations, I will say they are all really well done but it’s clear they are in Hawai’i and not South America and that would be clear even if they didn’t use a lot of the same locations from Mike and Dave need Wedding Dates.

Ok well we have already starting to touch on some of the issues but let’s dig down to the big issues plaguing Snatched. The first big thing is that it does not know what film it wants to be, this is an American PG-13 in tone/story/structure that it feels like a week out from shooting the studio told everyone that no, actually you’re going to be R instead. Seriously it has the structure of a classic PG-13 movie, you have a couple of characters that are complete opposites from each other but have a pre-existing relationship, then something happens that forces them to work together, at some point they’ll air all their dirty laundry, run into some ‘quirky’ characters, and then they’ll work past their differences to escape. It could have easily been edited down to a PG13 film and not been great but it would have probably been better. Nothing is added by the film going to R, they don’t use it to add to the narrative like Deadpool, it’s just there so they can make that nip-slip gag.

You have to work to make a cast like this feel bland

You have to work to make a cast like this feel bland

As well as this, the movie opens with this narration card, ‘the two women caused chaos across South America’, and oh ‘and the kidnappers did some bad stuff to’. So when the first act of the film is really boring, you go to yourself, its ok, they are just setting this up for the juxtaposition so when they get captured and escape and things go off the chain you have something to compare it too. But no, they don’t ‘go of the chain’ they whine and winge from Ecuador to Columbia, with maybe only the very last part of act three being at least partly interesting. There are some moments of action here but it all really tame, like X-men 1 compared with Logan kind of tame. Seriously this is a good ‘fish out of water’ premise for the film, but they do nothing with it. Indeed they can’t even commit to what kind of film they want it to be as the tone varies widely across the film, from slapstick to this serious commentary on the role of tourism in developing countries which could have been interesting if it was not a throwaway line of dialogue.

Another big issue is the characters themselves, who are mostly awful people, but who are all playing broad and often unpleasant stereotypes. We have Emily, the stereotypical millennial with no direction in life, Linda, the stereotypical divorcee who lives alone with her cats, Jeffery the stereotypical nerd, I mean come on Snatched it’s not the 80’s, Morgado (Óscar Jaenada) the stereotypical Latino mobster, Ruth and Barb who are, well actually I don’t know what they are doing but it’s odd to say the least. Frankly they were so awful that I didn’t care at all if they learned to work together or not at the end.

We sympathize with you Goldie

We sympathize with you Goldie

In the end, I don’t know what I was expecting of Snatched, but I did not expect to spend most of the film being board. It is a film who can’t commit to what it wants to be, full of stereotypes and clichéd set ups, and honestly I think I only laughed once in the 1 ½ hours I sat through this in the cinemas, I’d give it a big miss, and don’t subject your mothers to it on Mother’s Day.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Jonathan Levine
Written by – Katie Dippold
Music by – Theodore Shapiro & Chris Bacon
Cinematography by – Florian Ballhaus
Edited by – Melissa Bretherton & Zene Baker
Starring
– Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Joan Cusack, Wanda Sykes, Christopher Meloni,  Óscar Jaenada, Tom Bateman & Randall Park
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R