Movie Review – The Mummy (2017)

TL;DR – This is a good start for the Dark Universe and I really enjoyed it, but there were just a couple of things that needed to be worked on that held it back a bit

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is NO end credit scene

The Mummy banner

Review

Now from the start, I have to say I do have a lot of love for the 1999 Brendan Fraser Mummy film, I mean I even like its only follow up The Mummy Returns because they were wonderful camp fun with a horror veneer. Indeed I will always remember the first time I saw The Mummy as a kid, it was at a friend’s place and there was a whole lot of people crowded around the TV and VCR and someone was passing around cups of tea when the mummy awoke and it scared them so much tea went everywhere. So whether I like it or not, I’m going to bring those memories and that nostalgic feeling with me when I go see The Mummy because it has to hold up to the ones that came before and for the most part I think that it does. So today we will breaking down how well The Mummy does as a standalone film, how well it does as the starting point for the Dark Universe, and also look at some areas where the film needed improvement.

So let’s begin by setting the scene, well setting the scene twice actually. To begin it is the New Kingdom of Egypt, well they say it was, but then they also say the sarcophagus is 5000 years old which would put it more in the Old Kingdom but I digress. Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was the only child of the King Menehptre (Selva Rasalingam), and all her life she knew she would be Queen and ruler over all the land. She trained every day and night to be a good ruler but then her father had another child, a boy, and in one moment everything she worked for was ripped out from underneath her. So what do you do when your world has fallen apart, well you form a secret deal with the god Set and go about killing your family as a sacrifice. But before Ahmanet could bring Set into the real world she was stopped, mummified alive, and buried in a tomb far, far away from Egypt, which of course is a plan that never goes wrong. Flash forward to today and two very important things have happened, first a crew digging a new railway tunnel find a hidden Knights Templar crypt, and in Iraq two US Army scouts Nick (Tom Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson) have stumbled across Haram where something once buried and forgotten now lays in wait and an archaeologist Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) might dig too far. Now, this set-up has a lot of working pieces that have to get into place, but when all three of these plot lines come crashing together it propels everything forward.

Sofia Boutella shows the power of acting with your eyes

Sofia Boutella shows the power of acting with your eyes

One area that I think they did very well was in casting because you have to build a franchise off this and you only have one chance to have your Robert Downey Jr. moment. Now I’m going to start with the big bad because if you have read my Kingman or Star Trek reviews you would know that I am a big fan of Sofia Boutella and her work. Her dancing experience gives her a remarkable physicality but more than that, she has one of the most expressive eyes in the business. Here even under the CGI and prosthetics, she had an amazing performance and honestly, I would have liked to see more of her in the film. As well as this, I did like Jake Johnson, he was perfectly cast as the witty sidekick to Tom Cruise’s Nick, and their banter together was one of the highlights of the film. This might be the perfect character for Russel Crowe because it lets him show his range, from that prim and proper gentleman we’ve seen in movies like Master and Commander, a side note, we need another Master and Commander film, and then also the brawler. Annabelle Wallis is an interesting addition and she holds her own in scenes with Tom which is not easy to do. One possible exception to this is Tom Cruise who it does fell at times that they had him playing a stock standard Tom Cruise action character, which does limit his character arc a bit. However, what you do get with Tom is an actor that throws himself into the action like very few people working in Hollywood do, and you see that here.

Now one of the highlights of the film has to be its action sequences that are peppered throughout. You have car chases, you have escaped from insurgents in the desert, you have monsters in the dark, and of course, you have one of the most spectacular sequences I have seen in quite a while. Now with this, I am talking about the sequence on the plane which I assume they filmed it on a reduced-gravity aircraft, I’m not sure you could film it on a rig but if they did wow that must have been some rig set-up. It is a great scene because first, it has a slow build as we see Chris get sicker and Nick starts to hallucinate, we know something bad is about to happen, but what. This is followed by something to distract you, then bang the first bird hits, and everything goes to hell. Now not every action sequence is as good as this, but it shows you how you can engage the audience and not resort to hundreds of cuts when trying to convey what is happening. Now I’m not generally a big fan of the horror genre because I tend not to find these movies scary, so this time I brought along my mother, and if her reactions were anything to go by there was some scary stuff. Ok even I jumped at that ambulance scene, are you happy, you wrought it out of me.

One of the highlights are the well constructed action sequences

One of the highlights are the well constructed action sequences

One area where The Mummy excelled is in the technical side of the film, the editing, music and effects. It might be a small thing but I am really fascinated in how you cut within a sequence and also how you transition between sequences, and so often no thought or more likely no money is put into making them visually interesting. However, here we have some really interesting transitions, especially between the hallucinations and the real world. I do want to give a special mention to Brian Tyler and his musical score, I’ve been enjoying his work ever since the score of the Dune miniseries and here he is so on point. The music is just as creepy as the movie, he uses discordant strings at infrequent intervals to really put you in the state of unease. Music is such a powerful medium to convey the story and it is really great to see when people use it creatively to effect the mood of the viewer. Of course, I have to mention the fascinating effects from Industrial Light and Magic. From sandstorms, to a murder of crows, to ghouls of all kinds, it is an impressive array of effects. I think the standout, which was a mix of practical and visual effects, was the first steps of the mummy which had almost stop-motion feel to it, a wonderful call back to the films of the past. But more than visual effects I have to give a shout out to the set designers, some of those sets felt expansive, and real and there is just something tangible about them that you don’t often see in this day and age. This was all helped by some great framing and good use of light and dark to create interest as well as contrast on the screen.

When it comes to the issues I had with the film they are not big but smaller little things which persist after you have left the film. The end of the second act and the start of the third did seem to drag a bit because it did kind of feel the movie was put on pause while they start introducing the universe. This meant that the slow build the movie was going for did not quite work as well as it could have. Also what was actually happening in that third act, a bit of explanation was needed. Finally, I just kind of feel that the last scene in the film was missing something, I can’t go into any more details or else I hit spoilers, but it felt like it could have ended on a stronger note.

It will be interesting to see where they go with this Dark Universe

It will be interesting to see where they go with this Dark Universe

So one thing we need to do is talk about how well The Mummy was as a launch platform for Universal’s Dark Universe. Now because this means we have to look at the story more in depth there will be [SPOILERS] in this paragraph. So this is a risky move for Universal, even though the Monsters might have been the first shared universe in cinema back in the day. This is because a lot of their classic monsters are actually in the public domain so there is a chance of them being undercut, also with the dominance of Marvel, and DC only just getting their act together with Wonder Woman, there is a possibility that we may be seeing a saturation in the market. Indeed with Wonder Woman outperforming expectations, there is a very real chance that The Mummy might get overshadowed, which is not where you want to be with your opening salvo. So with The Mummy they take less of an Iron Man ‘spoiler in an end credit scene’ approach to franchise building, and a bit more of a hands-on approach. Now as I said in the last paragraph this does lead to the movie taking a pause but it does give us an insight into the structures behind this universe. Monsters exist, and there have been people hunting them for a while to keep evil at bay, and at some point there is a distinction between monsters that are good and those who are bad, setting up the dichotomy for the future. I’m sure as they swept through Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory you would have picked up more than a few references to those classical monsters of cinema’s past, indeed it will be interesting to see just how many Easter eggs there are. I will say the one interesting thing I noticed is that one of the Books  in the library was the Book of the Dead from the 1999 Mummy film, which raises some interesting questions was this just a reference like the head appearing out of the sandstorm, or is it implying that they are part of these movies canonically. Look more so than in say Batman v Superman I am actually interested to see where they go in this universe from here. Though next time, don’t give away things like Russel Crow’s character before hand, if would have worked so much better if the Dr. Jekyll was a big reveal, instead you leaked it as part of a promotional trailer. [End of SPOILERS]

In the end, I have to say I did enjoy this first entry into the Dark Universe, sure my heart will always be with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gallivanting around 1920s Egypt. Well we can’t go back in the past, we can only look to the future and I’m interested to see where we go from here.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay by – David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman
Story By – Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet
Music by – Brian Tyler
Cinematography by – Ben Seresin
Edited by – Paul Hirsch, Gina Hirsch & Andrew Mondshein
Starring
– Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Selva Rasalingam & Russell Crowe
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13

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Movie Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

TL;DR – Somewhere in here is a good movie, unfortunately, it is smothered in poor action, the need to jump cut eight times every second, and an entirely predictable story.

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Review

So Hollywood has been on a bit of a bender recently bringing back franchises from the 2000s to give them another try. First, it was Underworld, then XXX, and now the granddaddy of them all (by a couple of months) Resident Evil. Now, of course, Resident Evil does have a bit more stability in its releases compared to the other two, but when in Rome, lump a bunch of stuff together to make it easier to analysis, so who am I to disagree. Honestly, I do have to say I did quite like the first two films in the series, the first Resident Evil had some iconic scenes, and the second really made the most out of its unfolding zombie apocalypse setting, you know before we got sick of that particular setting, thanks, Hollywood. However, since then the Resident Evil films have felt more like rehashes of each other, different movie, same themes, so I was actually quite excited when they named this next film ‘The Final Chapter’. I wanted to see them really go for it, take that final chapter mantra to heart, and knock it out of the park, but alas once again my optimistic nature has been dealt a blow.

Milla Jovovich still brings a lot of power to the role of Alice

Milla Jovovich still brings a lot of power to the role of Alice

So if you have never seen a Resident Evil film before, don’t worry as The Final Chapter does a good job of setting up the main characters and their motivations, or just hand waving away things with a ‘just go with it’ vibe. So if you have seen the other Resident Evil films then you should have no problems with the plots, and if you have played any of the Resident Evil games then you were already rightly prepared to be disappointed before the movie started. But for everyone else, if you want a refresher, in the Resident Evil universe the T-virus, which can turn people into zombies, was released after a containment breach at a facility in Raccoon City. Since then there has been a lot of back and forth, however now after many battles, it looks like the Evil Umbrella Corporation has won with the last human settlements across the world about to fall and only Alice (Milla Jovovich) can save us all from extinction, oh wait no that was three movies ago.

Look, from my tone, it should come as no surprise that I had issues with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, however, my disappointment comes from the notion that there actually a really good film in here. It has some interesting set pieces, some good action setups, and a lot of narrative potential. You can see this in some of the small moments that transcend everything that I am about to say, like the street signs entering Raccoon City, the creepy way the Red Queen (Ever Gabo Anderson) talks, the set design, a couple of really good one-liners, and more. Unfortunately, there are some serious problems at the heart of the film that just undo all the good work they are trying to pull off here. When it comes to films, especially actions films, I don’t mind if the story is a bit off, if the action is top notch, or indeed I don’t mind if the action is a bit dodgy, if the story is interesting. For example XXX: Return of Xander Cage (See Review) has a lot of the same issues that will be talking about here, but they at least let Donnie Yen do his thing, and because of this and the less serious tone means you can enjoy it much more. However, because Resident Evil plays it so seriously all those issues that you may have just ignored unfortunately stand out.

The Red Queen is still a really creepy concept

The Red Queen is still a really creepy concept

So there are a lot of issues to break down, but since this is an action film I think it would be best to first talk about is the action and how it was filmed/edited. Look I know jump cutting a lot during action sequences is popular at the moment when editing action films, and I also know it often used to hide the fact that the actors don’t really know how to fight, but it is still a bad way to edit a film. But Resident Evil decided that Taken 3’s infamous over cutting was for beginners, there are times when it cuts 6-8 times a second. This means that most of the action sequences are just a whirl of edits and then Alice is standing around some bodies. Now not only is this a problem because you can’t follow what is going one, it is a problem because it removes the power and impact from these sequences. Not only is this just frustrating for a viewer, the more annoying thing is that some of the brief moments in between frantic cuts actually shows some really interesting action scenes, and if the director/editor hadn’t been so overzealous with their use those fights could have been really impressive. This issue gets compounded from about a third of the way through the film (till almost the end) because it is all set at night, or in places that have lost power. So not only do you have action that is cutting every quarter of a second, it is action in a dark room where you can’t really see what is going on. There were times when I thought they had killed one character only to have them pop up again and thus realising oh wait it was that other character. All of this has a flow on effect of limiting the character development of anyone who is not one of the three leads, which means you don’t have any basis to care when characters die. I’m sure this won’t be a problem to quite a few people, but when you have seen this kind of action done so well in movies like John Wick, or seen films which had a lot of jumps but used techniques, like keeping all the action in the centre frame like Mad Max Fury Road to help you follow what is going on, then it just feels lacking.

Now of course for an action film, having poor action is a problem but another issue is the story, or at least how it is presented. Now because we are going to be talking about the plot for this paragraph including a bit about the ending SPOILERS are now in effect until the end of this paragraph. So with Resident Evil’s story … well look it does get to an interesting place, but there is so much to slog through before we get there. There are a lot of issues with characterisation, first, we have Alice falling for two pretty obvious traps, and on several occasions not paying attention to the road that leads to problems, these things really undercut Alice’s persona as a bad ass. This is also reinforced by the movie constantly putting Alice in danger, when we all know she is going to make it to the climax of the film, removing any tensions from that scene. Just in general Resident Evil is full of lazy coincidences, like one of the last human settlements in the entire world is in the same city has the evil guy’s headquarters, or how the person that give the bad guy the finger just so happens to be the next one to die, or how the people that captured Alice just so happened to be going to the same location, or that everyone seems to be from the Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship until the plot needs it, and so on. This continues into other parts of the film, for example from the moment they leave the building it is painfully apparent that every person that is not one of the two leads is there to die on the way to and in The Hive, that is the only reason they are here, their only purpose in the film other than to provide some forced unnecessary conflict. As I said, this means that there being no emotional impact with their deaths, compare this to say Rogue One and you can clearly see the difference. Now all of this leads to the climax of the film and this at least has some interesting moments, even if they were cribbing notes off Orphan Black a little bit, so much so that I was starting to finally be a little more engaged and then, sigh, and then a film called Resident Evil: The Final Chapter left an opening for there to be another sequel, to use the parlance of today’s youth, I just can’t even.

There is just no real character development for anyone outside of Alice

There is just no real character development for anyone outside of Alice

You know I really wanted Resident Evil: The Final Chapter to go well, I wanted it to rise to the challenge of being an ending to a six movie franchise, which was bold enough to tell you this was the end in the title of the film.  There are some really interesting moments in this film that do make it at least novel to watch at times, but in the end, can I recommend Resident Evil: The Final Chapter? No sorry, I can’t. If you want to see a blast from the 2000s then XXX: Return of Xander Cage is the better film out at the moment, but if you really want your Resident Evil fix, well first you are probably playing Resident Evil:7 that just came out, but if not, you will probably find some interesting things here … maybe.

Trailer – Click Here to View
Directed by
– Paul W. S. Anderson
Written by – Paul W. S. Anderson
Based onResident Evil created by Capcom
Music by – Paul Haslinger
Cinematography by – Glen MacPherson
Starring
– Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose, Lee Joon-gi, Eoin Macken, Ever Gabo Anderson, Rola & Iain Glen
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; NZ: R16; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Underworld: Blood Wars

TL;DR – Honestly this was a surprisingly good film, though that may have something to do with my super low expectations I had going in and that I have never seen an Underworld film before.

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Review
I think I need to start this review off with this small issue, while I have always been meaning to watch all of these Underworld films until now I have never actually gotten around to it. You know each time a new one would come out in cinemas, I would endeavour to marathon the ones I missed and then watch the new movie, but alas I never actually ever got around to it. Also then Twilight was released and that killed any drive I might have had to watch the battle of werewolves and vampires. However it’s been four years since the last entry so this time instead of making the commitment to marathon the previous films I went blow it, let’s just go for it and see how good it is going in blind. I wanted to make that clear because not only did I come to Underworld: Blood Wars without seeing any of the previous films, I also come to it with really low expectations, like Leo McGarry going to a vice-presidential debate low. But despite this (or likely because of it), I have to say I was quite surprised how well I actually enjoyed Blood Wars. I mean let’s be clear here, this is not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is the best of this type of film I have seen in quite a while.

Kate Beckinsale brings the kick-ass with her portrayal of Selene

Kate Beckinsale brings the kick-ass with her portrayal of Selene

At the start of Blood Wars, they give us a quick rundown of all the important plot points that happened in the last films that you need to know about. On the one hand for someone who has not seen those films it was quite handy to have, on the other it was a bit of an indictment on those past films when they can be summed up in 30 seconds, or at least the important bits. But here we are, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is on the run hiding from both werewolf and vampire because of her daughter and she killed some important people or something, I don’t think it matters, though she still has one friend left in the form of David (Theo James). However, as well as this the vampires are on the defensive due to a number of devastating defeats giving Semira (Lara Pulver) room to maneuver and scheme with Thomas (Charles Dance) and the werewolves are on the rise due to the strength of their new leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) and of course everyone is out for blood both literally and metaphorically. This gives an interesting scenario to work with as there are groups on the run, groups on the rise, and groups battening down the hatches, so you can have some interesting interplay between the different sides.

So this set up gives a good basis to tell an interesting story and this story is supported by the cast really leaning into the campiness of it all, which is good, because if you did this super serious it would be a mess. It was also good that they decided not to tone things down and go down the safe PG13 rating, there are some really Mortal Kombat-ish moments here. It was also good to see the werewolves and vampire actually use some decent tactics which usually gets lost in these type of films. It was probably not really a stretch for anyone, but all the actors fit well with their roles, though there is nothing groundbreaking here, but it a solid performance from most of the cast. The story once again is nothing revolutionary, and you will probably guess most of the plot point ahead of time, but it still works.

The rest of the cast gives strong performances, but there is not a lot of depth to their roles

The rest of the cast gives strong performances, but there is not a lot of depth to their roles

One of the things I found most interesting was the way the film is set up to cater more for the female gaze than the male gaze that you usually see in this genre. Now, of course, I realise I have just opened a giant can of worms by bringing gender into my review, which for some unknown reason really seems to irk people. However, honestly it actually was quite refreshing to see a different take on the norm, and you could see this from the characters to the costumes, to the themes of motherhood, to how scenes are framed. This gives the film another dimension and makes it a bit more interesting to watch.

This all being said this is not a perfect film, it’s not even a great one as there are a lot of issues holding it back. Firstly, most of the action is presented in that style of editing were you cut shots every half a second, I mean come on everyone can we please stop doing this. Also while for me it may have been helpful that most of the dialogue in the film is people speaking exposition at each other, it does mean that there is very little dramatic weight to any of the script. From a production point of view it’s clear they did not have as much money that they needed with some duplicated animations, and also reusing footage at times as well, though they do make the most of their Prague locations. [SPOILERS ENGAGED] From a plot perspective, there is nothing new here, you will probably be able to spot all the twists and turns in the narrative coming a mile away up to and including Selene ex machina at the end, though not all of them. Also, you spent the whole film talking about how good those defences were, it was a shame we never saw them tested.

Dear action film directors/editors/producers please stop with the jump cut style of editing for fight scenes, it's really frustrating

Dear action film directors/editors/producers please stop with the jump cut style of editing for fight scenes, it’s really frustrating

Look Underworld: Blood Wars is going to be just a blip on the radar this holiday season as we build up to the Star Wars onslaught, and it’s not a great film in its own right, but it is an interesting one. So in the end can I recommend you watching Blood Wars, well if you have seen the others then you probably will want to go see this one as well, if you haven’t, well then you won’t have a problem following the story, but I would only go if you really like this particular genre.

Directed by – Anna Foerster
Screenplay by – Cory Goodman
Based on – Characters created by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman & Danny McBride
Music by –  Michael Wandmacher
Cinematography by – Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Starring
– Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Peter Andersson, Bradley James & Charles Dance
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; NZ: R; UK: na; USA: na

TV Review – Stranger Things

TL;DR –  Engaging, Emotional, Tense, and about the most 80s thing you could ever watch, but boy should you ever watch it.

Score – 4.5/5 Stars

Review

Stranger Things is a weirdly wonderful TV show, it is a complex web of 80s references, homages to films of that era, and call backs to the classics of the horror genre. All of that could have been done as a ham-fisted cash grab, banking on nostalgia over substance, *cough* Transformers *cough*, instead it is a well-crafted story with real talent, both in front and behind the camera, that draws you in at every moment. Now as I am reviewing the entire season at once there will undoubtedly be spoilers ahead, so if you have not seen Stranger Things yet, beware, and maybe come back once you have watched it.

Winona Ryder gives one of the performances of the year

Winona Ryder gives one of the performances of the year

To catch people up, Stranger Things is set in 1983 and takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Here a group of friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) who are outcast from the rest of the school because children can be cruel, heartless, hell spawn who … sorry went off topic there, where was I, oh yes …  the group meet up to have weekly Dungeon and Dragons sessions. One fateful night at the same time the boys are finishing up a game all hell breaks loose at the secret government facility hidden in town as an electric company. The only warning is a problem with the lights and TV, so as everyone rides home there is nothing to let them know that something very, very bad has escaped into our world. As thus the series is trusted forward with the mystery of The Vanishing of Will Byers.

Now if you don’t want to know any more of the story other than the opening snippet you might want to watch the show and come back, for ever one else. Stranger Things’ story has a lot of good things going for it, firstly it is supported by a really great setting. The time is really important, as it is set after the collapse of the Détente and the re-ignition of the Cold War, and the US government was funnelling millions of dollars into some really shady research. It also means that Stranger Things can hit that 80s nostalgia, and they don’t pull any punches or do only a superficial job with the setting, they hit that nostalgia hard. Also, the setting allows for there to be more than one thing happening, more than one bad guy, and an unclear notion of patriotism v knowledge. The setting is only one part of what makes a good story, you then need to populate it with strong actors, which they do, and then you have to craft a strong narrative and that is where Stranger Things shines. As far as the narrative goes, it clearly pays homage to a number of cult classics of the time, whilst still being its own story. So on the one hand, if you are familiar with the genre some of the surprises will probably not really be surprised, indeed like what happens to the guy who finds 11 (Millie Bobby Brown). However, just because there are those moments of familiarity, does not mean you will be able to chart the whole course of the show from just the first episode, which you can for so many of its contemporaries. There are some real moments of tension, gut-wrenching emotion, and wonderfully it tells a story full of horror without resorting to jump scares to artificially increase that tension. Part of what helps sell the story is the human reactions to the unfolding crisis, nothing feels forced, people act (with maybe the exception of the government goons) like they would, given the situation. As well as this, the eight episode mini-series is a good length for a show like this, because it doesn’t faff around, nor outstay its welcome.

Millie Bobby Brown is a revelation as 11

Millie Bobby Brown is a revelation as 11

Now while my students might think that I am ancient, this show is actually set before I was born, so that nostalgia does not really work on me, but I really respect the attention to detail, and the time and effort the set designers, prop masters, and costumers put into crafting this show. Everything feels that it is in the right time frame, from the clothes people wear to the cars they drive, to the town itself. The thematic design on the other world is really interesting, I liked how they used particulate matter in the atmosphere to clearly delineate the two realms. While the monster didn’t quite live up to the image you had in your minds from the snippets you see over the course of the show, it’s not really a problem because no monster ever does.  Though I would say with the use of lights throughout the season, there should almost be a warning for photosensitive epileptics, because there is a lot of flashing bulbs. All of this is wonderfully accompanied by probably the best period soundtrack since Guardians of the Galaxy, not just in the song choice, but the instrumental score as well, which encapsulates that time with its use of synthetic tones, I mean look at those opening titles and tell me that does not send you right back to that time.

One of the core strengths of this film is the acting, and I am all on board this trend of TV becoming the place for high concept professionally executed media. For a cast that is mostly made up of young actors there is always the potential for the lack of experience to undercut the show, but wow does this young cast just nail every scene they are in, with a level of professionalism that you don’t often see in their adult contemporaries. For example, Millie Bobby Brown shows such a range with 11, from a scared child all alone, to a powerful don’t mess with me, and everything in between. Another powerful portrayal is Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, I don’t know what it is like to lose a child, but her grief and turmoil were heartbreaking to watch, and that determination when she knows that her son is alive just from the sound of his breath and no one else believes her is such a strong moment. All the acting in Stranger Things is top notch, and this gives the show the power to excel.

Stranger Things is a constant contrast between colour and darkness

Stranger Things is a constant contrast between colour and darkness

Overall I really loved Stranger Things, and generally speaking, I don’t like the horror genre because it has the habit of just being rinse repeat with a different bad guy. However, here’s a show with real heart, with real grief, and real tension. If you have Netflix then you really should give this show a look, I highly recommend it.

Directed by – Duffer Brothers (Chapter 1,2,5,6,7&8), Shawn Levy (Chapter 3&4)
Written by – Duffer Brothers (Chapter 1,2&8), Jessica Mecklenburg (Chapter 3), Justin Doble (Chapter 4&7), Alison Tatlock (Chapter 5), Jessie Nickson-Lopez (Chapter 6) & Paul Dichter (Chapter 8)
Staring – Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Shannon Purser, Cara Buono & Matthew Modine

Movie Review – Ghostbusters (2016)

TL;DR – If you have never seen a Ghostbusters film then you should really enjoy this, if you have, it will take a bit to get use to the cast, but by the end you will be all on board.

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

P.S. there is a post-credits scene

Review

Ghostbusters as a movie is really quite simple, you have a bunch of people that stop Ghosts. The title of the film pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the story before you go to see it.

Now, of course, this is not our first Ghostbusters film, with the original coming out in 1984, with a sequel in 1989, and since then there has been a third film that is always coming but never here. As I mentioned last week with Tarzan, reboots are all the rage in Hollywood at the moment, and given people have been trying to get a Ghostbusters 3 off the ground for a very long time, and since the passing of Harold Ramis has made a Ghostbusters 3 movie a nonstarter, it was only a matter of time before we had a reboot. So why is this reboot such a controversial movie?, well the only clear answer is that not only did Hollywood have the gall to reboot a beloved movie franchise, they recast all the male leads as women, scandal, because you know Hollywood’s never done something like that before *cough* The Magnificent 7 *cough*. Like seriously who cares, well we know who cares, probably the same subset of the movie community that freaked out when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall in Thor. So it is a problem that they rebooted Ghostbusters with an all-female leading cast? Sorry, that’s the wrong question, the question should not have been ‘ought Sony have dared to gender swap the cast’, but instead ‘is this new Ghostbusters a good film’, and well in my opinion it is.

One good things about the movie is the great connection between the cast

One good things about the movie is the great connection between the cast

So this next section is for those of you reading this who watched the first films. If you haven’t seen them, firstly, how have you not, secondly, you can probably skip down to the next paragraph. So how does it compare to the first film, well you need to come into it with the view that it is not going to be telling the same story as the first Ghostbusters, more it takes the Star Wars: The Force Awakens approach of hitting the same beats with different content in-between. When it comes to the cast, it will take you a while to warm up to them, for me I got on board when Patty arrived, and I still didn’t get on board with Holtzmann until the end, but by the end of the film, you will be rooting for them. Also, there are a lot of callbacks and nods to the first film which you may get a kick out of.

Ok now everyone is reading, does the new cast work as the next generation of Ghostbusters, well, in my opinion, yes they do.  Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has that boundless enthusiasm and energy that you need to drive things forward, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) brings the levelheadedness … most of the time … and comes from a more scientific background, so she is the sceptic and cipher for the audience to help us engage with the premise of the film, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) is the engineer of the crew and is one complex techno-babble away from the destruction of a city block, and she has a certain zaniness that many will like, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) is the normal person on the team, but her boring job left her time to read, so she knows more about New York than anyone else in the movie, she brings the heart and the sass and she is amazing, finally Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) who is the perfect cute stupid person, but it is nice to see they let him have a bit of an Australian accent, and who knew Chris could dance like that. There is a good supporting cast, and the big bad played by Rowan North works quite well, though I don’t think Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong) worked as a character.

I did enjoy the design of the new ghosts

I did enjoy the design of the new ghosts

When it comes to the presentation, all the CGI is top notch, the ghost effects are all really good, which really helps sell the movie. They all have a certain style and colour scheme that really works for what the movie is going for. The music is really good, using the Ghostbusters theme sparingly to give accent to the action. As far as the pacing goes, bar the first 15 off minutes (I’ll get to that in a moment) it moves quite well, they switch things up throughout the film to keep the story pushing forward.

While it is a good film it is not without its flaws, which do detract a bit from the final product. Firstly, ok yes there will be product placement in films, we get that, but can you at least work it in so it does not slap you in the face, it makes you look tacky. Also just about everything before the first ghost at the start of the film is just so bad, the dialogue is clunky, the jokes fall flat, the rest of the film is really good, so I’m not sure why this made it to the end product.

Chris Hemsworth seemed just to be having fun throughout the film

Chris Hemsworth seemed just to be having fun throughout the film

So, in the end, I really enjoyed this reboot of Ghostbusters, it had a great cast, a good story, and some memorial ghosts, and I look forward to seeing how they push the franchise forward in the future.

 

Directed by – Paul Feig
Written by – Katie Dippold & Paul Feig
Based onGhostbusters by Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis
Starring – Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Cecily Strong, Charles Dance & Andy García
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

TV Review – Cleverman Season 1

TL;DR –  Cleverman is revolutionary TV show in many ways, its freshman season was a powerful work of cinema, though not a perfect one.

Score – 4 out of 5 Stars

Review

For those who have not seen the show yet, and you should go fix that, Cleverman is the story of Australia in the not too distant future. Where we lock people up just because they are different or because it is politically convenient for the government to shift the blame on to them, where people have to shed aspects of their cultural identity to try and protect themselves from harm just because they are perceived as being different, and where the government can use the catch-all excuse of ‘national security’ to hide things from the population and to deflect condemnation of the international system. So you know it’s clear that this is fiction because that would never happen in modern Australia…  To do my overview of the first season of the series I am probably going to spoil a couple of things, so you have been warned now to only proceed if you have watched the show.

Hunter Page-Lochard as the first indigenous superhero

Hunter Page-Lochard as the first indigenous superhero

The reason why Cleverman is revolutionary is that it takes The Dreaming stories of Indigenous Australians, and combines them with this post-dystopian narrative. This means for many people, this might be the first time they have experienced Indigenous Australia’s stories, and indeed this might be the first time they have ever heard Indigenous languages spoken in any context, and frankly that is an indictment on modern Australian cinema and Television. But where Cleverman excels is the immense tapestry of stories and influences it draws from. We have the stories from The Dreaming with the Sun and the Moon, The Crow, The Cleverman, but as well as this, also there are aspects of the Prodigal Son story in the narrative of Waruu (Rob Collins) and Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard), even references to classical Greek mythology with Ilithyia. All of this creates an interesting juxtaposition, the blending on the ancient and the future, the spiritual and the technological, in many respects, it has echoes of Fringe and Ghost in the Shell.

As well as this meta-narrative there are also the human stories that push the narrative of Cleverman forward. The story of Waruu the elder West brother, who at the core I really believe that he wants to do good for his people and for The Zone, but he’s not doing it out of a notion of doing good, he’s doing it out of a notion of making himself look good, I liken him to a reverse Captain Sisko. One the other side you have Koen who has become incredibly selfish as almost a defence mechanism, like sleeping with his best friends girlfriend selfish or helping out a family in need only to turn them into the authorities for a cash reward selfish. But all of that is a product of his childhood, a mixed race child, hated by everyone, including his own brother, and underneath all that bravado is someone who when presented with a dilemma tries to do the right thing. Then you have Slade (Iain Glen) who has the persona of someone who cares for people when the government won’t, and is looking to make the world a better place, but underneath that veneer, that is good enough to fool even his wife Charlotte (Frances O’Conner) who is a committed humanitarian, is a ruthless demi-god, who only cares because it helps him exploit people for his own personal gain. The way he works, is almost like the Nazis, blending mythology and science, using unethical human/hairy experiments and removing people once they are no longer useful to him.

Deborah Mailman brings power with her performance

Deborah Mailman brings power with her performance

One of the strengths of this season has been the use of amazing Australian talent. The power of Deborah Mailman (Aunty Linda) cannot be understated, even when she is just sitting on the stairs throwing shade she is wonderful. Her grief in the last episode after Waruu calls out her past was real and guttural, and if she does not win at least a Logie then there is no justice in the world. We also have Tysan Towney (Djukara) who has this bravado of youth, but in the moment where his father is punished for his actions you see the amazing range of this young actor, in fact, this whole scene was one of the most powerful scenes on modern television. While I will be talking about the representation of women in the show a bit later, what an amazingly powerful performance Rarriwuy Hick (Latani) gives. When she calls Djukara out for his reckless behaviour, the pain and grief mixed with anger echoes throughout the show. Cleverman builds upon these powerfully strong emotions and performances to deliver some of the most controversial, subversive, yet powerful television.

When fiction and reality overlap

When fiction and reality overlap

Given this is a freshman series there is always things that you can improve on, and things that I hope they work on for next season. For example, I don’t think they quite got the balance of World Building-Story-Action quite right this season, there were a lot of really great moments but also some awkward transitions between those moments that felt a bit like filler. For example, throughout the season there was this push that the next episode will be the turning point but that never really came to pass. If they can work on strengthening those transitions and lulls I know the narrative will be much stronger next season, and given we are moving out of an origin story and more towards the coming conflict, I’m sure that will give the narrative that important push it needs. Another area that I hope they work on is the representation of women in the show, for most of the season, most of the female cast felt a bit superfluous, or at least that they were passive actors in the narrative. Now in the last couple of episodes we saw that change somewhat with Nerida (Jada Alberts), Latani (Rarriwuy Hick) & Alinta (Tamala Shelton) realising that the men are next to useless and thus they show a much more active role to get stuff done, this is something I hope they continue and improve on next season. Also avoid those awkward sex scenes from the first episode, which had some jarring transitions and odd framing issues.

Bring on Season 2

Bring on Season 2

All in all, I really liked this first outing and frankly, it is revolutionary, if you have not watched it yet, then catch it on Iview or SundanceTV now, in fact, I think it might actually work the best binge watched rather than weekly episodes. The best comment I think I can give a television show is this, I can’t wait for the next season, and bring on Cleverman season 2.

Written by – Michael Miller (Episode 1,2,3,4,5&6), Jon Bell (Episode 1&2), Jane Allen (Episode 6)
Based on – an original concept by Ryan Griffen
Directed by – Wayne Blair (Episode 1,2,5&6),  Leah Purcell (Episode 3&4)
Staring – Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins, Iain Glen, Ryan Corr, Tysan Towney, Tony Briggs, Frances O’Connor, Stef Dawson, Tasma Walton, Rarriwuy Hick, Jada Alberts, Tamala Shelton, Andrew McFarlane, Marcus Graham, & Deborah Mailman with Jack Charles