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 – 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 – 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

Movie Review – Alien: Covenant

TL;DR – Beautiful sets and locations, fantastic suspense, interesting action, and some characters that make some really odd misstates.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is No after credit scene

Alien: Covenant

Review

Wow, this was kind of unexpected, to be honest, I’ve not watched an Alien film since Aliens and from what I have heard the quality of the movies since have been not that great. So I didn’t have high hopes when I walked into the cinema, but honestly, this is one of those times when I’m glad to be wrong because Alien: Covenant was really great. In today’s review, we are going to break down the acting, set, music and action before looking at Alien: Covenant’s big problem. So we are going to avoid spoilers as best we can but given it is a part of a franchise there may be some inadvertent spoilers and also some general assumption that you will probably already know before going to see an Alien film. Now there will be a section a bit later when we go full spoiler but that will be clearly marked so you can avoid it if you wish to do so.

Alien Covenant 4

How beautiful is the scenery in Alien: Covenant

So let us begin with where the film begins in 2104 with the colony ship Covenant on a mission to deliver 2000 colonists to their new home on the other side of the galaxy when tragedy strikes and the mission synth Walter (Michael Fassbender) is forced to wake the crew out of hypersleep early. As they repair the ship they discover a rogue human transmission from a nearby planet, a planet that should not have any humans because they are on the first ship to make it this far into space, and a planet that is more habitable than their destination. So the crew decided to check out the source of the transmission and see if this planet could be a better candidate for colonising. Thus the crew descends to the surface of the planet and chaos ensues.

Now I may have an issue with some of the decisions the character make in the film but I have to give props to the whole cast for their wonderful performances. I have to give full credit to Katherine Waterston who has to give a very difficult performance, showing great lows and highs and a determination I’ve not seen in quite a while, she was great in Fantastic Beasts, but here playing Daniels I think she has shown that she will be a force to reckon with in the future. It’s also great to see Michael Fassbender shine after a couple of less than stellar films, boy can that man do charming and creepy at equal measures. Now the big surprise for me is Danny McBride, this is the first dramatic role I have seen him in and he really excels. The rest of the cast, sure a lot of them are just there to die, this is an Alien film after all, but each creates a believable person, this is not just an actor but a real person with wants and desires … that sometimes does really stupid things. Indeed, it is the acting that helps back up the tone and feel of the movie, which has moments of great lows, moments of great highs, and lots of really creepy moments in-between.

The whole cast is putting in strong performances

The whole cast is putting in strong performances

So when you come to an Alien film there are a couple of things you expect, and one of them is that at some point an alien is going to burst forth from someone and wreak havoc. In many respects, the movie lives or dies on these moments of high tension, that realisation that you are not on the top of the food chain and that now you are the one that is being hunted. Thankfully this is one area where Alien: Covenant shines, those long moments of tension where something is wrong followed by carnage. The design of the xenomorphs have updated quite a bit heading towards the Aliens we are used to, they are also incredibly well realised and animated. This is important because as people found in games like Alien: Colonial Marine, if the xenomorphs are not terrifying then the whole house of cards falls away. But the creaking sound, ok let’s be clear all the sound mixing here is amazing, the attacking in long grass, the vicious extermination of … well, now we are getting into spoilers. The only thing I will say is while most of the action is really great in the film, there are a couple of brawling fight scenes that are a little to cutty with the editing.

Having good action is one thing, but it works even better when you can set it in interesting soundings, and boy does Alien: Covenant pull that off with style. One of the reasons that this film is as compelling as it is, is through the realness of everything. The sets feel tactile, the planet is a real location, and the CGI blends seamlessly with the physical elements. While it is clear that CGI is being used to expand the sets, it is nice to see people walking around real sets interacting with real props, and you can see that with the acting, it just gives the film a level of authenticity. The big standout is, of course, the ship Covenant itself, and a lot of care and attention has been put into making it feel real. This is expanded to the expansive locations shots on the planet that were filmed around Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in New Zealand, and what a beautiful location it is. All of this is supported by some of the best CGI in the business, honestly Animal Logic has outdone themselves here. Visuals are not everything, but when they come together here you have to applaud it. Also, it has to be said Ridley Scott knows how to frame a scene, that cold open immediately draws you into the narrative, you know something unsettling is coming.

The Covenant is beautifully realised in both CGI and practical sets

The Covenant is beautifully realised in both CGI and practical sets

Another big technical area that Alien: Covenant excels in is the entire soundscape of the film, from the orchestral score all the way to the use of silence. I was honestly surprised to see there was a bit of a rocky start with the score for Alien: Covenant because it might be one of my favourite scores so far this year. It referenced some of those older musical sci-fi themes, an homage to the work of the great Jerry Goldsmith, it almost had a Star Trek feel to it, only for it to get twisted and manipulated as the horror unfolds. I loved the use of the violin in Alien: Covenant it really shows off its versatility of the instrument from serenades, to ominous, to the musical equivalent of a hunter stalking its prey. I mentioned the sound mixing and editing before but I want to bring it up again because the sound work here is some of the best in the business. Sound is one of those things that you tend not to notice, unless something is wrong with it, like that line that was added in post-production that does not quite match the rest of the dialogue, or a misapplied sound effect that can undercut an entire performance … Man With a Golden Gun. But here, every creak of the ship, click of a xenomorph, scream in pain, wind blowing through the grass, the lack of insect chirps, it all comes together to heighten our engagement with the story.

Now all this being said there were a couple issues that I have with Alien: Covenant that does sort of affect my overall view of the film. [Spoilers] Ok the first big issue I had was that it felt like some of the crew just wanted to die, because their actions make no sense from the perspective of self-preservation. For example, the whole movie was set in motion because two of the crew released the spores that caused aliens to grow inside them, but let’s look at that for a moment. One of the crew became infected when he poked the spore pod, dude you’re on a new planet don’t poke things, the other crew member was infected when he accidentally stepped on a pod whilst sneaking a cigarette. Now while this is more understandable it does lead to the next question, why were none of the crew wearing any protection when landing on an alien planet, just because there was a breathable atmosphere does not mean that is nothing that could kill you in the air/dirt/water, bacteria, viruses, pollen that could cause allergic reactions, alien bioweapons lying dormant waiting for people to disturb them. Yes I know, like the plank Rose was lying on in Titanic, why were they not wearing suits or protective gear?, because the plot needed to happen, but it could have been done in a more thoughtful way. We see this again when Oram (Billy Crudup) who has just witnessed David talking to the Alien that just killed one of his crew, instead of killing the now clearly untrustworthy synth he follows David of his own free will right down into the heart of the building past a plethora of evidence that David in unhinged and actively looks into what is clearly an egg/pod thing and with something pulsating inside. Look this is not a big deal but when we see movies like Get Out where people are acting with intelligence, it is just frustrating to see lazy characterisations here. As well as this, while most of the time the slow parts in the film are masterfully used to build tension, there are a couple of times during the second act when they felt a bit less like a slow build and more like the film dragging a bit, but thankfully it does not last long. [End of Spoilers]

The tension is palpable

The tension is palpable

In the end, while it is not a perfect film, but boy is Alien: Covenant a compelling film. The actions is great, the technical side of things is outstanding, the locations are amazing, and if you get through the fact that some of the characters engaging in some of the stupidest decisions in cinema you will be engaged from start to finish, and what a finish it was.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Ridley Scott
Screenplay by – John Logan & Dante Harper
Story By – Jack Paglen & Michael Green
Music by – Jed Kurzel
Cinematography by – Dariusz Wolski
Edited by – Pietro Scalia
Starring
– Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby & Guy Pearce
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

TL;DR – Volume 2 takes everything from the first film and elevates it with an interesting story, beautiful visuals, and some of the best humour in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but your mileage may vary depending on a couple of factors.

Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. There are 5 mid/post credit scenes

GOTGVol2

Review

Back in 2014 Marvel undertook the biggest experiment yet in this whole expanded universe, it was an ensemble cast which they had not done outside of an Avengers film at that point, its main lead was still a mostly unknown Chris Pratt. Seriously when he was cast he was mostly known as that quirky dude on Parks and Rec, two of the main cast were CGI and one of those only said I am Groot and it was amazing. It was funny, but emotional at places and that opening still makes me tear up, and until Captain America Civil War came along it was my favourite film in the MCU, or maybe still is, I go back and forth a bit here. So it would not be a surprise to say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 might be the film I was the most looking forward to in 2017. Now this as a reviewer is something you have to be careful with, you need to make sure your rose-tinted glasses are not blinding you to the flaws, or conversely that you don’t hype it up so much that it is a disappointment no matter how good it is. But I have just come from the cinemas and overall I really loved Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but I can also see areas that may put people off. So with this in mind let’s start the review.

So if you missed the first film or just need a refresher, Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of a group of outlaws but they also saved the Galaxy so they are not all the bad who fly around taking jobs from people in need, who can also pay. We have the leader Peter Quill or as he likes to be called Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) a human who was abducted from Earth on the day his mother died and brought up by Youndu (Michael Rooker) a Ravager captain who rather than delivering him to his alien father as planned kept Peter as part of his crew. We have Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who is the estranged daughter (in name only) of Thanos who betrayed him in the last film, and who has an interesting (they try to kill each other) relationship with her sister (in name only) Nebula (Karen Gillan), also someone who you don’t want to upset when she is armed. We have Drax (Dave Bautista) who is, on the one hand, a huge beast of a man who could rip you apart with his bare hands, but also the source of a lot of the humour as his species does not have metaphor so everything is literal and thus there is no filter. Then we have the genetically engineered racoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper/Sean Gun) who was a bounty hunter protected by his bodyguard Groot (Vin Diesel) though this time round the roles might be reversed. In the last film everyone started as individuals with their own agendas but got brought together as a group, they found an Infinity Stone, fought off a Kree fanatic and saved the galaxy from a murderous extermination whilst showing that they were not 100% dicks. But what happens afterwards, what holds a group like this together, this is what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 explores.

Gotta love baby Groot

Gotta love baby Groot

Once again one of the things that shines with Vol. 2 is the cast, because everyone is giving their all and it shows. Star-Lord is a role that is perfect for Chris Pratt because no one has captured that balance of roguish charm since that one scruffy-looking nerf herder. Dave Bautista shows why he is the best thing to come out of WWE since The Rock, with some of the best deadpan delivery of lines that I have seen. Zoe Saldana shows such an amazing range from anger to concern, from joy to sadness, she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors because she always brings her A-game. As well as this, in Vol. 2 we get to meet a couple of new characters like Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who brings this really different energy to the group, and Ego (Kurt Russel) who is well named and well played, but when you hire Kurt Russel that is to be expected. One of the great things of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that it is an ensemble cast just like the first film and it is great to see all these fun characters. The Ravagers are back with all their quirks, and we actually learn that the Ravager world is much bigger than we first thought. This also means we get to see the wonderful interplay between Yondu and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) as well as some other things that I can’t talk about because it would be giving too much away. It was a delight to see Elizabeth Debicki being simply exquisite in every scene she is in as the High Priestess Ayesha. There were some great cameos, and look you have to love a little Ben Browder in your films, though I think they needed to develop Sylvester Stallone’s character a bit more. Like Civil War, you could not have a film of this scope if the cast is not excellent, and it simply is.

Due to Guardians of the Galaxy being set in space, we, of course, have to talk about the visual effects, and for the most part, they are amazing. Now where you have a team like Weta Digital and Animal Logic working on your film that is to be expected, but still this movie is gorgeous to look at. Seriously some of those wide shots of alien worlds were stunning, the new space ships had interesting designs, the explosions have weight to them, and the effect even helps sell some of the more humorous scenes in the movie. Even the effects-heavy conclusion all works generally quite well and that would have been quite difficult to pull off given all the many moving parts. This is, of course, is complemented by amazing cinematography, the lighting and framing at times were simply on point. As well as this, the work on creating the CGI characters, both Rocket and baby Groot are some of the best I have seen, they feel like real characters, and it is the skills of the animators, the voice actors, and the onset crew that pulled that off.

Vol. 2 is one of the funniest films I have seen in a while

Vol. 2 is one of the funniest films I have seen in a while

Now more than any of the Marvel films, bar maybe Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy films fit more into the comedy realm, and Vol. 2 is no exception. Sure most superhero films have their one-liners, and sight gags, but Guardians of the Galaxy incorporates it deep into the core of the film. Part of this, of course, is the writing but it is also the actor’s deliveries that help sell it and make sure the jokes land with weight than a thud. Vol. 2 is funny, not only is it funny it is belly laugh funny, it is the whole cinema coming together as one and laughing funny, and it is brilliant because of that. There are some references and sight gags which I know are going to be racing around Imgur and Reddit in the next few weeks because it has that kind of cultural weight behind it.

Rather than breaking down the story per se, I’m instead going to be talking about the theme of Guardians of the Galaxy because I think this goes to the heart of the story that the film was telling, and if you wish for that not to be spoiled for you then you might want to jump to the next paragraph. So what does it mean to be a family? It is such a simple question but as we all know from life quite often it is not as simple as this. In Vol. 2 we see every character deal with this at some point in the film, whether it is trying to protect baby Groot from itself, finding out you have a biological father (Kurt Russell), or still dealing with the deep and profound loss of your wife and child. Throughout Vol. 2 we see all the different permutations of the notion of family: parents, children, siblings, cranky uncles, workplace proximity acquaintances, and all of these create interesting storylines for the characters. This focus also gives characters a bit more depth because Vol. 2 uses it to delve deeper into what drives them to make choices, for better or worse. While the theme is family and the tone is usually the same light-hearted banter from the first film, I do also have to point out that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a dark film at times, super dark, I think possibly the darkest film so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, this could be an issue for some people and I think it might be one of the more divisive elements of a Marvel film so far, ok maybe not The Mandarin divisive, but up there. I was honestly surprised at times that people okayed some of the choices, not because I thought they were bad but more that they were very risky in what is a very risk adverse medium.

Vol.2 has some stunning visual effects

Vol.2 has some stunning visual effects

Now all of this being said there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, and a couple of other areas where I can see people not engaging with it as much as I did. Firstly at the time of writing I have not seen Vol. 2 in 3D so I can’t say if these issues can be found there, but I found a number of the backgrounds on the planet Ego to be very flat, almost like a matte painting behind the actors, which is odd given how much work was put into all the other aspects of the film’s visual effects. As well as this, there were a couple of action sequences were the editing cut a bit too quickly to follow, it’s not as bad as a lot of other action films, but it could have been worked on a bit more and we still have not got that de-ageing through CGI right yet. Now while I really enjoyed it, I can see two aspects of the film that could quite easily move it into love it or hate it for people. Now as I said Vol. 2 gets actually quite dark in some places, surprisingly dark and that could be a deal breaker for you, which I understand. Also, if you don’t engage with the baby Groot quite a lot of the humour and the interplay between the characters is going to fall flat for you.

In the end, I have to say I really liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, while it does not quite reach the heights of the first Guardians of the Galaxy it still does a phenomenal job and may be the funniest film I have seen in a very long time. Look as someone who watches a lot of movies it takes something special to have me say this, but I’ll be watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 more than once in the theatres, I enjoyed it that much, I highly recommend it.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– James Gunn
Written by – James Gunn
Based onGuardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Music by – Tyler Bates
Cinematography by – Henry Braham
Edited by – Fred Raskin & Craig Wood
Starring
– Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sylvester Stallone & Kurt Russell.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Their Finest

TL;DR – Where Their Finest excels is in creating the world of WW2 United Kingdom and what it was like to make a film during this time, but it is held back a bit is in its slightly clunky script.

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Review

Their Finest

It is at the depths of WW2, Hitler is on the move everywhere, the allies have been forced to retreat from France, London is under almost daily bombings during the Blitz, and the USA is refusing to get involved, it is the darkest of times. However, it is also a time of great change both within society and also within the film industry, with pressures to boost moral but also the need to engage with women in a way that they have never done before. Within this complicated setting, we have the Ministry of Information who is trying to make a film about the Dunkirk evacuation, the biggest military retreat in history yet also a great source of national pride as the whole country mobilised to save the troops from the approaching German Army. This is a great setting for a film, it deals with a lot of issues that feel very much of the time yet still relevant today, but can it maintain your interest for the whole film, well that’s what we are going to look at today.

So let’s start with the premise of the film, Gabriel Baker (Henry Goodman) is the head of a film production company in 1940s England, he is known for making silly comedies that people love, but they are a distraction from the War, not a boost to the war effort, so he is desperate to be allowed to make a great patriotic film, but one of the heads of the Ministry of Information Roger Swain (Richard E Grant) is unsure he could do it. So it is tasked to Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) to find a story that would fit the bill and satisfy all the diverse parties. So Buckley brings in Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) to help them work on scripts to target women who have become more and more important in keeping the country going as most of the young men have been seconded into the war effort. This continues until they receive word of the Starling sisters who stole/borrowed their father’s boat and rushed to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation. This was a story that fit all their requirements and Catrin was brought on board to write the slop (women’s dialogue) to make it sound more authentic. Now at this point the reality of the extent of what they are doing dawns on everyone and so they begin writing the film that will unite the country, and as the movie goes on it has to do more and more things.

There are some beautifully filmed moments

There are some beautifully filmed moments

From this set-up, they jump into the world of WW2 and the world of trying to make a film during that time, and this is where Their Finest excels. WW2 London is painstakingly reconstructed from the costumes, to the locations, to the characters mannerisms and motivations. There is this constant looming threat that whenever the sun sets that a bomb could fall and kill anyone at any moment. To get this level of commitment requires a lot of attention to the details, even down to facial hair of the extras, but it pays off in locating the film in this thematically deep period of history. Another area the film excels is in how it shows all the behind the scenes of how they made movies in the 1940s. The use of matte paintings, using forced perspective to give the appearance of a lot of people on an empty beach, all of these were fascinating to watch.

The whole film more or less is shown from Catrin’s perspective so this puts a lot of pressure on Gemma Arterton because you need to connect with her or the movie just does not work, and thankfully she shines. She creates a character that is finding her feet in a new and ever-changing world, where she needs to prove herself at every turn. For many countries in the world, WW2 was the catalyst of the suffragette movement and Gemma Arterton’s performance and the script does a great job of showing this and in a clever way. She also does a really good job at the soft Welsh accent, indeed a lot of the accents are really good and it was great to see such a great regional variation rather than just the general London English accent that you hear most often.  Most of the cast have good characters arcs, with Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) having the most profound shift. It’s surprising but I tend to find one of the more difficult characters actors play is being an actor, but Bill Nighy navigated this interesting divide impeccably. I liked Sam Claflin performance as Tom, Catrin’s boss and chief screenwriter, he fits into that not-scruffy nerf-hurter category well. He does such a good job I completely missed that he was that guy from the Hunger Games. Overall it is a strong cast even in some of the more supporting roles like Helen McCrory and Eddie Marsan who play brother and sister Sophie and Sammy, and this is what helps drive the film forward.

Bill Nighy gives one of his best performances

Bill Nighy gives one of his best performances

Their Finest falls into this category of films that present Hollywood or filmmakers in general as heroes in a war, see Argo for example. Now Their Finest benefits better than many of its contemporaries as it is set during WW2 which had a clear good guy and a clear bad guy to construct narratives around. However, what many of these films fail to explore is the role of propaganda which is basically the motivation behind the film they are making. In Their Finest, I was glad to actually see some references to propaganda and its role, but I would have liked to see it explored a bit more.

Now all this being said, Their Finest is not without its issues and ironically or paradoxically whichever word you prefer, for a film that the main characters are screenwriters the big issue I had with the film is with its script or at least how they chose to present it on screen. Now because this section is looking at the story there may be spoilers here so please be careful if you have not seen the film. The first big issue comes with the pacing of the film, it is clear that they were going for a slow build but at times it felt like they went for too slow of a build. This is felt in the second act and the start of the third act, given that one of the key criticisms of Catrin is that her scripts are too wordy and needed to be cut down I think the film could have taken that advice at times. While the pacing was a problem the bigger issue for me is that Their Finest needs to set everything up with regards to its ending however by doing this, it actually shows its hand too early making what should be big emotional turns feel entirely predictable. There are two big emotional turning points in the film, however, if you have even the slightest familiarity to romantic cinema you will know what is coming and the outcomes. Part of this is because Catrin is the point of view character and as such, she can never be the bad person so it limits your options to the more predictable outcomes. So for example [Major Spoilers] for the first two acts, we are being set up with this love triangle between Catrin, Tom, and Ellis (Jack Huston). Now how was the movie going to resolve this, well from the second Catrin reveals she’s not really married to Ellis, I knew they would write him out the film by having her go home to surprise him only to find him in the bed with another woman, and sure enough 20 minutes later there it is. This is a story device that has been used so often in film it’s disappointing to see it here. This continues to the other turn in the third act which was also so predictable, indeed I wrote down how the movie was going to resolve itself at the start of the third act and sure enough, it happened. Even if you had not picked it up on what was happening, you would have known what going to go down because they for all intents and purposes shone a spotlight on it and said to camera ‘look at this, this will be important in a few minutes time’. After such a beautiful setup it is a little disappointing to see Their Finest get predictable, or lazy, with its script towards the end, because it really undercut the emotional impact that could have been there [End of Spoilers]

Their Finest 1

The film with in the film is worth the price of admission alone

In the end I did quite like Their Finest even with the problematic ending, because it does everything it set out to do, it showed us what it was like to live in that world, what it was like for women in this rapidly shifting world, what it was like to make a film during WW2, and the power that it could have on moral. It is beautifully acted, the world is wonderfully created and if they could have just fixed those clunky aspects of the script than this could have been a classic for the ages. Overall I do recommend Their Finest, if you like the process of making films, or you want to see more of the setting, or if you want to see Bill Nighy own every scene he is in, or simply to see the finished film within a film when it is done, but if those things don’t interest you then you might want to give this one a miss.
 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Lone Scherfig
Screenplay by – Gaby Chiappe
Based on Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans
Music by –  Rachel Portman
Cinematography by – Sebastian Blenkov
Edited by – Lucia Zucchetti
Starring
– Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachael Stirling, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Claudia Jessie & Stephanie Hyam
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: R