Movie Review – Wonder Woman (2017)

TL;DR – While not revolutionary per se, DC finally found a formula that works, and realised that there is no point moving a universe ahead if the individual movies don’t work.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is NO mid/post credit sequence

Wonder Woman (2017)

Review

So if you have read my reviews for Suicide Squad or Batman v Superman you would probably know that unfortunately, I have not had the best time with the DC Expanded Universe so far. Now when it comes to DC v Marvel I have no skin in the game, I want both to succeed, and I only care about if the movie is good or not, and so far DC just has not made a compelling entry into this expanded universe of theirs. Well, that is until now. Is Wonder Woman a perfect film, no of course not, but it is logically structured, emotionally resonant, and filled with fascinating characters, which is a huge step in the right direction. Now as we go one we will keep this as spoiler free as possible, however, we do need to discuss the ending, but we will clearly mark them so that you can avoid them it if you want.

So let’s set the scene, all her life Diana (Gal Gadot) knew the story of her birth, that her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) moulded her out of clay and prayed to Zeus (the last of the Greek Gods after Aires went on a rampage) and he gave her life. Diana was the only child in Themyscira the home of the Amazons a race of immortal protectors who were hidden on Themyscira by Zeus. As Diana grew she was trained in the martial arts by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) for the day she would have to save her people and the world from the vengeful Aries. All of this seclusion is changed when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the barrier separating Themyscira from the rest of the world unwittingly leading the Imperial German Navy right to them, and what was hidden cannot remain hidden anymore. Now putting aside that at the start of the film we get a flashback inside a flashback, flash-ception if you will, you have everything you need to tell a great story from this opening. You have young Diana knowing that she is destined to protect the world but incredibly naïve as to what it is like, you have family trying to protect her, but in different ways, and you have Steve who both shatters her world, but also justifies it.

Wonder Woman (2017) 1

The whole cast is giving their all here

Now Wonder Woman is set during the ending days of World War One when it was clear that Germany and its Allies were going to lose the war and were desperately trying to find something to stave off defeat. General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) in that moment of desperation turned to Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) a chemical expert to find a gas that would kill even if you were wearing a gas mask. This is an interesting setting, one that we don’t actually see all that often in movies, unless it was a historical piece, most people usually set their work during World War Two, as it has a much clearer motivation. However here WW1 does work quite well because, for one, it creates the kind of moral ambiguity, or at least tries to, which helps with the story, and because a lot of work has gone into getting the setting to look right. Indeed one of the absolute standouts in Wonder Woman is the locations and the sets. Themyscira blends an ancient world with lush surrounds, London has that dark industrial grittiness to it that makes it feel lived in, and the fields of Belgium give the full look at the war in all its awfulness, or at least in all its PG-13 awfulness. Today’s set can have that slight oddness to them that show when you are just walking around a green screen, and while yes there is some of that here, it is also good to see sets that feel tangible, lived in, and it is a credit to the locations manager, and the set/props/costume people that made them real.

Now one of the big issues with the past films is that all the exposition and emotional development of the characters felt either forced, or was not in keeping with the character, or sometimes both … “Martha”. Thankfully this is one area where they have learned from their mistakes because every character has a clear motivation, and every emotional beat in the film is earned. Now part of this is the script of course, but also it is also in part due to the many strong performances throughout the film. Gal Gadot as the titular Wonder Woman has to do a lot of the heavy emotional lifting and she shows that she is more than up to the task. Part of why the character works as well as it does is that we have a clear arc that is understandable and this range is shown in Gal’s performance. I was really glad to see Chris Pine really having fun with the role, I’ve not really been a fan of his acting, it has always felt a bit stiff, but he really came into his own in Star Trek Beyond and he continues it here. Chris plays a really conflicted character really well, once again we understand his motivations, because he behaves as a rational person would in the situation. While the core of this film is the relationship between Diana and Steve, and there are some amazing exchanges here, the world is also made up of some fascinating supporting characters. We didn’t get to see a lot of her but I loved Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), when it comes to the Amazons I would have liked to have seen a bit more of them but I loved the interplay between Antiope and Hippolyta on what it means to be a good parent. Also the little group they form all have clear back stories that set up their characters with very little dialogue which was great to see. Though I would have liked to see a bit more from the villains who hinted a bit more depth to their characters but never quite got there.

The action sequences are wonderfully constructed

The action sequences are wonderfully constructed

Now while the story and characters were good, another area where the film excelled was in the action sequences. Now I’m not saying they were revolutionary, but they were competently put together and flowed in a clear and concise manner. There is such a range of action in this film from bows and arrows through to the peak of military technology in WW1, this means you get some really interesting matchups that you would not normally see. From a technical side, I did like the use of slow-mo added in to highlight key moments of the action. It helps give those key moment impact, especial when paired with Diana’s faster than normal speed, so you get these moments of high frenetic activity followed by the moment to take it all in before the person gets smacked on the head by a shield. The action is supported by an amazing musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, now you might be a bit sick of that guitar riff they have been using in all the trailers but when you hear it in the film it just hits right at the best moment. Look the combination of the action and the music leads to a number of ‘oh damn that’s cool’ moments throughout the film. However, while I did enjoy the action there were two small issues that did draw me out of the film a little bit. There were a couple of times when it was clear that it was not Gal Gadot or a stunt double but rather a CGI model fighting on screen. Now, this is not really a big deal on the wide shots, but the CGI model was also used on more medium shots and it was quite clear that it was not real, suspension of disbelief will only get you so far. As well as this, the movie did feel more than a little sanitised, especially given its war setting. Now I know that this was a PG-13 film and as such there are certain restrictions at play and what you can show that the film was obliged to follow because there is no way they would want to risk a higher rating, which is understandable, but don’t draw attention to it. [Spoilers] For example, at one point Diana impales someone with a sword and the sword goes right through their chest and through the floor and is left protruding out of the roof of the room below.I the next scene we see Diana walk underneath and look up at this sword lodged in the roof and it is spotless, not a drop of blood [End of Spoilers]. Look I know not every film can or should be Logan, but in a post-Logan world don’t draw attention to the fact that you can’t show blood when we know it should be there.

Now while I did really like the film there were some issues that I did find held it back a little bit and since part of that is the ending there will be [Spoilers] for the rest of the paragraph. The first issue I had was with the WW1 setting, not because I don’t think that is a good time to set your film, but that it kind of feels like the film was originally meant to be set in WW2 and someone decided to change it to WW1 to stop any comparisons with the first Captain America film which follow a similar trajectory. This lead to Imperial Germans standing in for the Nazi’s, which is fine, but there are issues with the story that would have been fixed or elevated if they kept the original setting. For example, the way General Erich Ludendorff/ Doctor Poison is presented fits much better with the Nazi army than it does with the Imperial German Army used in this film. Also, General Erich Ludendorff is a real person that lived, and while a very complicated and problematic man, his depiction here does not seem to line up. Now while this is just a small factor it is felt much more clearly in the final moments of the film which give a very kumbaya feeling, however it is all immediately undercut by the fact that the much, much, much worse WW2 is only a couple of years away, and if that was set at the end of WW2 it would have felt a bit more appropriate. As well as this, a number of the key plot points were a bit predictable, though I will take predictable over nonsensical any day.[End of Spoilers]

The locations are beautiful

The locations are beautiful

In the end, I really did like Wonder Woman, to the point that I am almost a little cautiously optimistic that the Justice League film might actually work. Going forward I hope DC takes the lessons learned here about what makes a good film, you need good casting (which DC has always done), you need passionate people both in and behind the camera (which is already there), but you need to realise that films need to hold up on their own merits before you force them to push the franchise along, and most importantly it is all about the story. So do I recommend Wonder Women, you bet I do, it is the best non-Lego film DC has done since The Dark Knight and I really hope this is the start of better films for DC/WB going forward.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by – Allan Heinberg
Story By – Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg & Jason Fuchs
Based onWonder Woman by William Moulton Marston, & Characters by DC
Music by – Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by – Matthew Jensen
Edited by – Martin Walsh
Starring
– Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock & Ewen Bremner
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

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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 – The Great Wall

TL;DR – The action sequences are some of the best I have seen in a very long time, truly epic in scope, the only problem is you have to sit through a lot of rubbish in between it

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

The Great Wall

Review

The Great Wall is interesting just from its very existence, it is the most expensive movie ever made in China, and it is a real indicator of the continued rise of Chinese cinema and the continued push of Chinese soft power diplomacy. Like Kung Fu Yoga, this leads to some interesting features, but it also leads to some issues. The Great Wall ends up being a film that is dependent on its action sequences because there is not a lot else going for it.

Now The Great Wall didn’t start off on the best foot when the first trailers dropped, a lot of commentators accused it of whitewashing or some sort of spin on the white saviour trope. After watching it myself, I can honestly say I don’t think The Great Wall falls into either category, however that does not mean there aren’t problematic features. Instead of it being a case of white saviour, it is almost the reverse that is happening, William (Matt Damon) spends most of the first act walking around being amazed by the Chinese technology, army size, combat prowess, and his usefulness mostly comes from being lucky with finding a magnetic rock and being good with his bow. As well as this, while the film is not completely clear as to what timeframe it is representing, from the style of armour, buildings etc it feels about the time that European explorers were venturing towards China, so contextually it fits. Indeed, if there are some awkward stereotypes here it’s the representation of the character from Spain, in the first battle Pero (Pedro Pascal) takes on the guise of a matador … for some reason. As well as this, and this is quite common in the genre, the movie does not have a good view of the Imperial Chinese Emperor nor the court/bureaucracy that sounds him.

The armour does take some time to get use to

The armour does take some time to get use to

When it does come to the action The Great Wall does a really good job of bringing that epic feel. Indeed part of it is just the sheer number of people involved, like Battle of Helms Deep levels of people involved. While it doesn’t quite work out as well when the monsters get to the top of the Wall, the archery and weapons built into the Wall itself are fascinating. Another thing that works in The Great Wall’s favour is the battle choreography, especially of the Crane Troop, it is really amazing to watch them swan dive into the enemy below. There is also a good use of drums to both communicate to the other towers and to give a pounding percussion to underscore the action on the screen. As well as this, the action can get quite brutal at times, taking on the same levels of brutality as the Mosasaurus scene from Jurassic World. Though there are more than a few, ‘yep you’d be dead’ moments throughout.

When it comes to the character they are all fine, like I don’t know what accent Matt Damon is doing as William, but he equips himself well. It was interesting to see Willem Dafoe play a much more reserved role as you normally see, though it did feel like that bit of a waste of his talents. I have to say I really liked the performance of Andy Lau who played the chief strategist, there was something about this performance that really showed his strength of character and command. Also, Jing Tian showed a great use of physicality as Commander Lin, and is a very believable commander of her troops. The one issue with the characters comes mostly from their arc, either the characters are so unimportant they have no arc, or if they do it is the most predictable arc you could imagine.

This is as epic as it looks

This is as epic as it looks

One area that The Great Wall really does well is in the overall design of the weapons, costumes, monsters, and the Wall itself. Behind the production of The Great Wall are the two powerhouses of effects Industrial Light and Magic and Weta Workshop. You could have a terrible film but if you used them it would be a very good looking terrible film. The creature designs are quite interesting, though it would have been nice to see a bit more variety as it does get a bit bland when there is just a sea of green ahead of you. Once you get past the Power ranger/anime quality to the armour, the use of colour actually helps in the large battle sequences. Just in general the sets are really good, and the CGI to build the larger cities is ok, not the best in the world but serviceable for a movie like this. Indeed The Great Wall is greatly helped by its locations, the rainbow hills, and the desert plains are gorgeous.

While I have touched on this we really need to talk about it, the big issue with The Great Wall, is not its action sequences, those are amazing, the big problem is everything that happens in-between the action sequences that makes The Great Wall a bit painful to sit through at times. The dialogue is really clichéd and just comes off as people talking at each other and not to each other. This means there is no flow to the dialogue, and this is not just because people are talking different languages and someone needs to translate, because you can make that work, it is just not very engaging. Also there are while scenes that don’t really go anywhere, like we have this whole big thing where we get William out on one of the cranes only for him to go no ‘I’m not going to jump because I don’t trust people’, it’s just a waste of five minutes and it happens quite often. As I mention most of the character arcs are completely predictable, but they are so predictable and combined with macguffins, coincidence after coincidence and you can start to see the gears at work and that is never a good sign for a film.

There is some tension in places that really helps the action feel interesting

There is some tension in places that really helps the action feel interesting

In the end, can I recommend The Great Wall, yes/no, if you go see it you will probably find parts of it enjoyable, and it is interesting from a number of perspectives, however, I don’t think you really need to seek it out if it is not already interesting to you. I think in the future The Great Wall will not really be remembered for the film itself but what it represented a big step forward for the Chinese film industry, and that by itself is very interesting.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Zhang Yimou
Screenplay by – Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro & Tony Gilroy
Story by – Max Brooks, Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz
Music by – Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography by – Stuart Dryburgh & Zhao Xiaoding
Starring
– Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Lin Gengxin, Chen Xuedong, Huang Xuan & Wang Junkai
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Hidden Figures

TL;DR – Hidden Figures is an amazing film about our past and very much relevant in our present, that when you oppress people it holds everyone back.

Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars

Hidden Figures

Review

Straight from the start, I should say I love movies about space, the history, NASA, the satellites, probes, and rockets, I watched the Curiosity landing even though it was very early in the morning here. So what I am saying is Hidden Figures, much like The Martian & The Dish, is a film that automatically peaks my interest before I make it to the cinema. This means that I have to be really careful when reviewing these films to make sure I am being objective and not just getting caught up in my joy of the subject material, but even with a cautious approach Hidden Figures still knocks it out of the park, or knocks it into orbit, or, wait no I think I am starting to mix metaphors here.

Hidden Figures is set back in 1961, The Soviet Union is putting Sputniks into space and America is playing catch up. Also, it is 1961 so a lot of America’s south is still segregated, yes this is not ancient history, during the lifetimes of many people alive today people in parts of America had to use different bathrooms based on the colour of their skin. Indeed it would not be until 1964 when that kind of discrimination would be banned by the Civil Rights Act, well at least official discrimination. So NASA is desperately trying to get a man into space and safely back to Earth and at every step, it is requiring engineering and math that has never been used before and at every step, the Soviets are beating them. This would be a great set up for a film even before you have the fact that this is all real life history.

The rapport between Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe is what helps Hidden Figures shine

The rapport between Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe is what helps Hidden Figures shine

From this, we are introduced to the triumvirate who are at the heart of the film, Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). The three are very close friends and computers at NASA in the west computer lab which is used by the coloured employees of NASA. But this is also a time of great transition, computers are about to be replaced by computers of the IBM kind, revolution and civil rights is in the air, and if we are going to the Moon we need to get to outer space first. Katherine is a maths natural, someone who lives and breathes numbers, Dorothy is a mathematician but also has a way with computer languages and deeply cares for her staff, and Mary is a natural engineer in a time where women, let alone coloured women were not meant to be engineers. One of the things that works so well is the rapport between the three leads, it is heartfelt, brutal at times, but also full of joy and love. There is a kind of playful banter between them which is so hard to fake, and it makes their interactions a joy to watch, the standout being the Church lunch where we are introduced to Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali this is a truly funny film. But as well as the more light-hearted moments, at several points throughout the film each of the leading cast have moments where they show their force of will in a system designed to stop them from achieving their goals.

Hidden Figures would not have worked as well as it did without the amazing comradery of its leading cast, indeed all the cast do their characters justice with amazing performances. From Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) the staunch, driven yet fair director of the Space Task Group, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) the far too sure of himself head engineer, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) who does not see how she treats people, Jim Johnson and his not always smooth swagger, and John Glenn (Glen Powell) the astronaut they are trying to put into space, but also a top bloke. It is rare to see a whole cast kill it with their performances, but even the smaller roles in Hidden Figures still have powerful moments.

At every step of the way there are barriers put in place to stop people from succeeding.

At every step of the way there are barriers put in place to stop people from succeeding.

When you are doing a based on true event story, especially one dealing with a controversial subject matter (it shouldn’t be controversial but that is a story for another day) it is really important that you give genuine performances, because you want to be informative and not come off as preachy. Here Hidden Figures exiles because nothing feels forced, everything feels genuine, from Ms Mitchells constant refusal to treat Dorothy as an equal, even when she talks about there being no favourites at NASA, or Al’s annoyed frustration at discovering that the only bathroom Katherine can go to is across the campus. From the moment that sheriff appears at the start of the film when the ladies were stuck on the side of the road as their car had broken down set the tone for the rest of the film, because what should have been a welcomed help was instead turned into an interrogation, which of course has no bearing on America these days …

So when looking at a ‘Based on Ture Events’ kind of film you have to ask how close is it to the reality and how much is dramatised. However, much like The Dish, there are some people who are amalgamated into one character, and the bureaucracy of the NASA hierarchy has been simplified, and of course urgency is placed on events which in real life were not that urgent. But overall it gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the lives of the characters, of the space programme, and a very accurate portrayal of the world of 1961. Indeed this is one of Hidden Figure’s strength, from the costumes, to the cars, to the hair, to the technology on show, each detail has been carefully picked to be appropriate to the era. If I had one criticism it’s that it does hold back a little on some of the issues of segregation.

Hidden Figures is a reminder that policies like this are just plain wrong no matter the justification

Hidden Figures is a reminder that policies like this are just plain wrong no matter the justification

In the end, I highly recommend Hidden Figures It is a powerful film, but it is also an enlightening film, it has a strong cast and deals with some tough issues in a straightforward way. If you have the opportunity to go see it then I really think you should and it more than earned its Oscar nominations. If nothing else you should go watch it for that wonderfully awkward Church lunch scene, it will bring a smile to your face.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Theodore Melfi
Screenplay by – Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder
Based onHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Music by – Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams & Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematography by – Mandy Walker
Starring
– Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell & Mahershala Ali
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: G; NZ: PG; UK: na; USA: PG

Movie Review – Assassin’s Creed

TL;DR – The best movie adaption of a video game, but that was not really a high bar to cross and Assassin’s Creed kind of just stumbles across it.

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Assassin’s Creed

Review

It is one of those weird things of Hollywood that no matter how many times they try, no one has made a decent adaptation of a video game into a movie. Now part of this has been that people have been adapting video games without understanding what there were, and also there are a lot of difficulties condensing a long interactive experience (sixteen hours for the first Assassin’s Creed game) into a two-hour passive movie. To the point where the most successful and critically acclaim versions of this genre Wreck-It Ralph & Tron used video games as just the backdrop for their story. This can be complicated even further as video games are big multi-billion dollar industry so if you’re making a film, you’re gonna want to franchise the heck out of it, the big problem with last year’s Warcraft (See Review). So within all this mess comes the Assassin’s Creed film, based on the incredibly popular series of games that has the fascinating caveat that you could set it at any point in human history. So how does it go, well for a video game adaptation movie, it goes quite well, for just a movie, it is a bit meh.

Assassin’s Creed tells the story of Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) who as a child comes home one day to find his mother dead and federal agents closing in. So he goes into hiding only to end up on death row thirty years later, but psyche he as not killed instead he is taken by the Abstergo Foundation to unlock his past through the Animus Project. This is the first step in the right direction for Assassin’s Creed, as they tell their own story based on a time and place not visited in the main games yet, with a mostly new set of characters. This means you limit some of the issues of condensing some of the larger stories down to a smaller run time. As well as this, there is quite a bit that Assassin’s Creed really does get right, and I do want to mention them before we start breaking down some of its flaws. Firstly, the setting is fascinating, the Spanish Inquisition and the re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula is a good location for this movie and the themes it likes to play with. As well as this, it allows you to make use of some amazing locations, which they do with some stunning locals from both Spain and Malta. Also, the action really resonated back to those first games, with building climbing and parkour on full show. I did like they used a father/son team to show a character over time. All of this is set with a really great musical score, and I liked the motif of the eagle used to transition between time and locations.

There are some great action set pieces in Assassin’s Creed

There are some great action set pieces in Assassin’s Creed

However, there are still many issues with Assassin’s Creed which stop it from truly shining and stepping forth from the train wreck of movie adaptions behind it. Now to explore this we will look at more general decisions where the film stumbled, which you may consider to be spoilers so proceed at your own risk if that concerns you, before moving on to talk about explicit issues with the story at which point full spoilers will be in effect.

The first big issue is how the movie splits between the past and the present, and how it decided to do that. In both the games and movies this is undertaken by a device called an Animus which unlock memories in your blood. This allows Assassin’s Creed the game to be both in the near future and also in the Holy Lands during the Crusade. The big issue is in all the Assassin’s Creed games the bit set in the present is never as interesting as the stuff set in the past. Unfortunately, this is something the movie also has with it, and more problematically we spend much more time in the present than we do in the past. This is for two reasons, one like Warcraft they seem to be trying to set up a franchise so they spend more time in the present setting up all the moving pieces. However, the next reason comes from the design of the Animus which was the more problematic factor for me. In the games the Animus was like a high-tech bed you laid in, here it is some kind of mechanical harness with a holographic interface. Now this in itself is not the problem, the problem is that the harness mimics what Callum is seeing and the movements he is making so during every action sequence we are constantly cutting from the action on a Spanish rooftop to Michael Fassbender jumping around a room. Every time this happen it ripped me out of the movie, but more importantly, it ruined the flow of the action. When it came to the action when we got to see a complete sequence it was quite good, bar a moment when our protagonists run/jump across some ropes which looked like they had gotten confused with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for a moment.

The choice for a mechanical Animus did hamper the film

The choice for a mechanical Animus did hamper the film

When it comes to the casting I think Michael Fassbender did his best with the role, and it is down to his charisma that even the most ridiculous issues with the story can almost be forgiven. However, there are some big issues with the story, and because of that SPOILERS are now engaged. The first issue is the movie kind of cops out with regards to the central premise of Assassin’s Creed which is that powerful people have been faking important points in our history for their own gain, all religions were faked using the devices of which the Appel of Adam is one of, but also a lot of the key industry milestones, even evolution was faked to cover-up the truth of humanity in the Assassin’s Creed universe. This is an incredibly controversial if not fascinating central premise that feeds into the ‘history but not as we know it’ motif of all the games. However, in the film, bar one throwaway line, they steer clear and the story suffers because of it. Another issue is, there is a real lack of assassinations in a movie called Assassin’s Creed. Now I am not saying they should have gone down the R-rated film route, but it felt like this was one aspect where they dropped the ball a little. As well as this, just in general it really feels like the story putters out at the end. For most of the film it felt like they could not decide what character arc to give Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) which makes what she does at the end feel really false, and then what she does after the big climatic event makes you go, wait what, how does that work? It kind of feels like they didn’t have a real good handle on what to do after Spain, so instead of ending on a high, you feel like the film should have ended 15 minutes earlier than it did.

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There are a lot of jump teases in this movie

Now I feel like I have been quite critical here, but out of all the recent video game adaptations Assassin’s Creed had the best chance of escaping the curse, and while it does do better than its counterparts, it was also full of missed opportunities. So will we ever get the fabled Lord of the Rings comparison, well I am always an optimist and as new filmmakers who were brought up playing video games start making movies, maybe one of them will be able to, and who knows maybe it will be then next film that will do it, which is … Resident Evil: The Final Chapter… oh well never mind then. However, until then Assassin’s Creed is still the benchmark video game adaptations and while it has its flaws it still is quite entertaining.

 Trailer – Click Here to View
Directed by
–     Justin Kurzel
Screenplay by – Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper & Bill Collage
Based on –  Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft
Music by –  Jed Kurzel
Cinematography by – Adam Arkapaw
Starring
– Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Michael K. Williams & Charlotte Rampling
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Hacksaw Ridge

TL;DR – Hacksaw Ridge might be one of the best war movies I have ever seen, stunning visuals, a strong cast and emotive storytelling, I highly recommend going to see Hacksaw Ridge

Score – 5 out of 5 stars

Review

So here we are in 2016, the Cubs are doing well at baseball, England voted to leave the European Union, and I’m talking about a Mel Gibson directed film which may just be my film of the year … ok at this point we all just have to agree that 2016 has been a really weird year. But strange as it may be, nothing can take away from the power that is Hacksaw Ridge, it is a stunning film, but also a really emotional film, and all of that comes down to the amazing power of the cast, the work of Mel Gibson with direction, and the rest of the crew in producing such a powerful film.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the dramatised but true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who during World War Two became a hero during the Battle of Okinawa through an act of undeniable bravery even though he was a conscientious objector due to his religious beliefs. In many respects, Hacksaw Ridge is just as much a biopic about Doss as it is a compelling war story and this is part of what makes it so compelling. These days I find it hard to engage with war films because they tend to fall into either two camps, a glossy film which sanitises war to be a noble or glory filled endeavour usually for god and country and the all-American way, or conversely they use the war movie genre as a cover to get away with fetishizing violence and gore. Of course, both of these extremes ignore the reality of war, that it is messy, god awful, but a sometimes necessary affair. Indeed in recent years only Fury has come close to capturing war as it is. Hacksaw Ridge avoids falling into this trap because its narrative is focused on one character, Doss and telling his story so it allows us to see the war through his very particular viewpoint. Hacksaw Ridge shows war as it is, necessary, but not glorious, cruel and indiscriminate, with the ability to bring out the best and worst in people, and most significantly, war does not just leave its marks on the battlefield.

Hacksaw Ridge - Andrew Garfield

Andrew Garfield gives the performance of his carrier

It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson last directed a film, but Hacksaw Ridge shows that he has lost none of his talents, and in fact, this is the best direction of a movie Gibson has ever done. Now can’t escape talking about Mel Gibson when discussing this film because one of the many things Hacksaw Ridge is, is indeed a comeback film for the once Hollywood superstar who suffered a very public and very self-made fall from grace. However, Hacksaw Ridge also is very typical of Gibson’s work, it is a film about someone who puts their personal convictions above doing when is easy, it is steeped in both overt and hidden religious symbolism, and it involves large scale but impeccable produced battle sequences. It is almost like Hacksaw Ridge is the culmination of the work Gibson did in Braveheart, Passion of the Christ, and Apocalypto. However, it actually transcends anything Gibson has done in the past, both with regards to emotive storytelling and in a more board technical excellence sense.

One of the areas where this film excels in is its casting, every role from Doss down to what could be normally considered small parts like Lt. Manville (Ryan Corr) is played expertly by the cast. In a movie like this if you miscast Doss your film would be a failure before it left the gates, but Andrew Garfield gives the performance of his career here. It would be very easy for Doss to be played as too earnest, too naïve, too yokel and while the film does skirt those extremes it never gets there, instead what we have is a very determined, very devoted and very compelling character to which Garfield deserves all the Oscar credit he will be getting for this role. With one big exception, this was a very Australian affair with the casting, almost a who’s who of the current amazing talent from Down Under. Hugo Weaving is really compelling as Doss’ abusive and drunk father who was broken in many ways by the war to end all wars World War One, this lets you understand his character, to sympathise with him, but not to forgive him for what he does to his family, like his long-suffering wife Bertha (Rachel Griffiths). Then you have the men cast to play roles in Doss’ rifle company which all give nuanced and powerful performances. Sam Worthington who plays Captain Glover gives his best performance as the leader of a company who has no idea what to do with a conscientious objector who won’t hold a rifle, indeed Glover probably has the biggest character arc in the film. The rest of the company Smitty (Luke Bracey), Hollywood (Luke Pegler), Teach (Richard Pyros), Grease (Ben Mingay), Vito (Firass Dirani), Ralph (Damien Thomlinson) & Ghoul (Goran D. Kleut) give such compelling and nuanced performances you almost forget for a moment that the film opens on the battle of Hacksaw Ridge and that we will be coming back there. There is a moment where the clear new soldiers walk up to the front line and join with another company that was already there, and the stark contrast is not just down to the presentation, but in the performances of people like Ryan Corr, you can see the horror or knowledge of what is to come in their eyes. Indeed during those combat sequences everyone commits and you can feel it in the performances, from the actors to the stuntmen, to the extras, everyone was putting 100% into this film. The one big surprise was Vince Vaughn who played Sgt. Howell, I was actually surprised to see him in a film like this and was a little bit concerned that this was just not the film for him. Well, I am glad to be wrong, yes Mr Vaughn brings some levity to his role as the drill sergeant, but he also brings conviction and power to his performance.

Hacksaw Ridge - Hugo Weaving

Hugo Weaving plays a very broken man

So in the next two sections, I am going to talk about the themes as well as the action sequences of Hacksaw Ridge. While I will be talking in general and indeed this is a true story so you may already know about the story before going in, I will engage [SPOILER WARNING] for the rest of the review.

There are a lot of themes being touched upon in Hacksaw Ridge, from the realities and impacts of war, to how militaries and people of power deal with people who are different, however clearly the biggest theme on show here is that of religion and conviction. This is because Hacksaw Ridge is a story of a real person, Desmond Doss, and for him, religion was clearly a strong part of his life and it would be a disservice to downplay or mishandle that. Now given we are talking about Mel Gibson who directed the Passion of the Christ, it should not be that surprising that he would direct a film with religious themes, but here he uses them to create an incredible emotive story. Hollywood has historically been really bad at showing religion or religious conviction on screen, because they only use religion as a way to define a character or as a way of creating a stereotype, or it is so ham-fisted or trite that it becomes painful to watch. Part of what makes Hacksaw Ridge work is that we are focusing on one character who is a real person, with real convictions and views on faith, and that give it more weight than it would usually have. Religion forms part of Doss’ motivations and is a powerful driving force behind his heroic actions that lead to him being awarded a Medal of Honor. Also, there is none of that saccharine moralising or cookie-cutter characterization that you get in many other ‘religious’ films made for the American market. Because of this and because of its setting Hacksaw Ridge creates powerful symbolism not just with its overt themes of sacrifice, conviction and faith, but in the subtle framing of persecution, baptism, rebirth, and ascension. Though of course some of those subtle themes are less that subtle when you literally show someone washing the blood off himself. However, this powerful use of themes, combined with the setting and the conviction of the actors created one of the most emotional films I have seen in a very long while.

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Hacksaw Ridge, a place you didn’t want to find yourself at

Now while the casting, acting and themes all play into this film’s success, the other area we need to talk about is the action sequences, and they’re stunning. Now most of the action happens in the second half of the film, so once again this could be considered a spoiler for you. As I said most war films either sanitise or conversely fetishize the violence, and Mel Gibson with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ has been guilty of both of these extremes, but here in Hacksaw Ridge, he finds a better way. Now it needs to be said this is a very violent film, a lot of people die, in quite graphic ways, indeed some of the people on the battlefield have been dead for quite a while. In this film, you will see the brutality of war in every way, and that is because it is so well acted, choreographed and filmed. These were not small simple battle sequences that would have been easy, well easier, to film, they are extensive sequences full of explosions, flames, bullets. From a simple technical perspective, it is amazing how some of these sequences were captured on film. You’re dealing with hundreds of squibs in actors and imitation explosions in the ground, uneven terrain, massive number of cast and extras, and add flames and dirt and shrapnel, it is a disaster waiting to happen if you don’t have professionals running the show. I thought the Battle of the Bastards was the most impressive battle sequence I had seen all year and indeed for a long while, well Hacksaw Ridge takes it to a whole new level. For me what elevates this movie, other than everything else I have said, is the use of fire, in this case from flamethrowers. You know for a while know though filmmakers like the excellent Slow Mo Guys we have shown the beauty of fire in slow motion, but you forget why they were made, they were made to kill people. Now this is not to say all the violence is handled as well as I have said, indeed there are a couple of overly stylised sections that slip into that fetishizing of violence, most notably towards the end of the film where a perfectly formed trail of blood that falls in slow motion from a Japanese Officer.

While I loved this film, there were a couple of small things that could have been improved on a little. While most of the effects, both practical and visual, were great, there was a sequence with a battleship firing its main cannons that just looked fake, it needed a bit more work. As well as this, they kind of built up this dynamic between Doss and his family that kind of doesn’t go anywhere.

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It’s just visually stunning

In the end, this was a film which I had to spend a couple of minutes composing myself at the end because it had a real emotional impact on me, in fact, parts of this review was difficult to write for that same reason. My only fear is that it will get lost this week opening the same time as Doctor Strange [See Review] in places like the US, and it might just get missed by the general public. It’s not an easy film to watch but then neither is films like Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan, but it is a powerful film. If you get the chance I highly recommend you go see it, this may be my film of the year, I rate it that highly, and it deserves all the success it gets this award season.

Directed by – Mel Gibson
Written by – Andrew Knight & Robert Schenkkan
Music by – Rupert Gregson-Williams
Starring
– Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Ryan Corr, Luke Pegler, Luke Bracey & Vince Vaughn
Rating – Australia: MA; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: na; USA: R

Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven (2016)

TL;DR – A truly amazing film, one of the best westerns I have seen in a very long time, great acting, great filming, and top notch action, this is one to see.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Review

Once again another remake, it seems that 2016 should be subtitled the Year of Remakes, from the ‘surprisingly ok’ Ghostbusters to the ‘why bother’ Ben-Hur, to the ‘joy that was’ Pete’s Dragon. So this week not only do we have a remake, but we have a remake of a remake with The Magnificent Seven, and how did it fair, well really quite good if you ask me.

I have to admit I did come into this movie with a little bit of excitement because it has been a while since I have seen a truly great western, a genre that has fallen by the wayside over the years or maybe decades. The last good one I can think of was True Grit or indeed Rango, I mean we had The Hateful Eight earlier this year but that was all flash and no substance, but that was at least better than The Ridiculous Six, with the less said about that the better. So why don’t we get more good westerns anymore, well part of it is that the time period is problematic for a number of reasons with its historic representations of indigenous people, they all do tend to feel a bit samey after a while, more than a little out of date, and let’s be honest a lot of what we know about the ‘wild west’ is just a construction of Hollywood anyway. So why did The Magnificent Seven connect with me while so many haven’t … well, frankly it’s for a lot of reasons.

Some of the vistas in Magnificent Seven are simply gorgeous

Some of the vistas in Magnificent Seven are simply gorgeous

The first thing that works for The Magnificent Seven is its characters, what a great cast and what wonderful performances they give. This is what connected me to the movie more so than anything else because you can’t help but have a connection with what their motivations are. Now I’m going to talk a bit about the characters and that might lead into spoiler territory, if you want to go into the movie blind you might want to skip to the next paragraph. A really good example of this is Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), who I feel is one of the most complex characters that I have seen in a movie for a while. Firstly he is being played by Vincent D’Onofrio who from his work in Daredevil and other films has sort of made a name for himself by playing deeply complex characters. The best bit about the character is that you don’t find out everything about him all at once, you go ‘oh that is the slightly unhinged character’ but the more you learn about his life and the tragic turns it took you have to reevaluate the character and your response to him. As well as this you have Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) who is suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress but back then it was only known as cowardice, who is desperate to keep face but haunted by the things he did in the Civil War. You have Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who shows true strength in the face of adversity, and they did not try to force a terrible romance subplot which would have been the norm not that long ago, irrespective of if it worked or not. Even in the case of Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) who doesn’t have as big an arc as some of the other characters, but then he has a sense of physicality that stands out and when you are in a movie with post Guardians of the Galaxy Chris Pratt that is saying something, and of course Chris Pratt is as charming as ever.

Another area when the movie shines is in the staging, some of those shots in the first act were simply outstanding, now to be fair given their filming location you would actually have to work hard to make it anything other than amazing, but still wow. As well as this, the set design for Rose Creek (the town the movie is set in) was really top notch. It felt lived in, whilst clearly still on the frontier, which is surprisingly difficult to pull off. This also extends to the main characters, all of the costumes are designed for fitting within the time frame of the movie, but also giving each character a clear visual identity, which you’ll need in the inevitable third act firefight. The one thing I will say is that a couple of times at the start they were playing with shots in both light and darkness, with the hope to give some contrast or mystery, but they don’t quite work and it just becomes a little unclear.

Martin Sensmeier gives a commanding performance as Red Harvest

Martin Sensmeier gives a commanding performance as Red Harvest

Of course, if you are going to see a western the one thing you probably want to know about is the action and well you are going to get your money’s worth. In the first act, you get a lot of one v one standoffs, which escalate to small skirmishes in the second act, which then escalate to outright chaos in the third act. All of this action works because it is in the context of the story, The Magnificent Seven starts off similarly to John Wick with an act so outrageous that you as an audience are completely behind any and all efforts to bring the main antagonist down. Now if you saw the first remake in 1960 (or like since then) with Yul Brynner, the 2016 version will be both quite familiar to you, but also quite different, as it is structured similarly but the plot beats differ and as do the locations and motivations for the characters. As the film progresses each character gets moments to shine and show off their style or expertise, and this is something I draw attention to this as for some reason it is quite difficult for films to pull it off. I mean take the last Harry Potter where most of the final film was the battle of Hogwarts and even there you couldn’t really say everyone got their moment. There are a few special effects going on here but for the most part they fall into the Mad Max Fury Road School of amplifying the physical action rather than being a replacement for it, though the last shot of the film is oddly clearly all CGI (or at least looks it) and it stands out as such.

I really enjoyed the story of the film, though that may be because it has been so long since I last saw the original remake that I could not remember what was coming next. I liked that this film had tension, one of my big criticisms of The Hateful Eight was that it was a film all about the tension that ended up not being tense, but here wow. A great example of this is the opening scene in the Church, from the moment Bartholomew ‘Bart’ Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) walks in, it’s like the whole town holds its breath. You also see it in the first scene we are introduced to Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) which actually plays out reasonably similarly to a scene in Django Unchained, except for the fact that this is an American PG13 film so it is the same scene just without every second character dropping the N word. However, the film is also quite funny at times, and this does not all fall entirely on Chris Pratt’s shoulders, the whole cast all have their moments of levity. My one complaint is that some of the character arcs are so predictable that you will see them coming a mile away, for example [SPOILERS ENGAGED] oh wow there is one Native American on the bad guys side as well, I wonder if he will end up in a duel with the only other Native American in the film, oh wow I did not see that coming.

The cast is one of the strongest ensembles that I have seen in quite a while

The cast is one of the strongest ensembles that I have seen in quite a while

In the end can I recommend The Magnificent Seven? … yes completely. It has a strong cast playing complicated characters, it has a solid story, the action is spectacular, you will laugh out loud at times, and you may even get a bit teary. It’s a solid film, a worthy successor and a riot from start to finish.

Directed by – Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay by – Nic Pizzolatto & Richard Wenk
Based onSeven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto & Hideo Oguni & The Magnificent Seven screenplay by William Roberts, Walter Newman & Walter Bernstein
Starring – Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer & Peter Sarsgaard
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG13