Review: Transformers – The Last Knight

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The endurance of this particular fan of the Transformers films has apparently, finally, run out.

It is the end. With Optimus Prime travelling out into space looking for his creators, Earth sees the return of Decepticon leader Megatron as well as a planet-sized menace from beyond the solar system. All that can save us is a Cybertronian relic that hasn’t been seen since the Arthurian legends.

A lot of people rightfully hate on the last three monstrously sized Transformers films, but this reviewer has stuck with them because, well, Transformers never was Shakespeare; it was dumb laser battles between giant robots that frequently turned into awesome vehicles. I had low expectations that these films were nothing but fun, Saturday morning nonsense. But this franchise needs a reboot. Right now. The Last Knight is a glowing example of a franchise burnt out of ideas.

The previous title, Transformers: Age of Extinction, saw the introduction of Cade Yeager (played by Mark Wahlberg) and numerous new Autobot heroes (Drift, Crosshairs, Hound and the Dinobots) and was even considered by director Michael Bay as a “start of a new trilogy”. Megatron died for the second time in the third film, Dark of the Moon, but was resurrected in the fourth as Galvatron, with an awful new look and a stupid particle transformation sequence.
Why am I getting into these details? Well. The Last Knight features Megatron. Who is not Galvatron, and looks nothing like what he did before, and now turns into a jet, with no mention of Galvatron.
You might say, Cinema Cocoa, stop overthinking continuity in a Transformers film! But it gets worse…

Spoilers, if anyone cares, lie beyond.

By the gods… this is the fifth entry in this series, and we are still doing the same plot. This is the end of the world, yet there’s so little weight given to any piece of information; the film is so doggedly determined to race at breakneck speeds you barely know what’s happening. So, Optimus is brainwashed by a Quintesson (they are the creators of the Transformers in the original cartoon), only not the same fleshy Quintessons hinted at in AoE (yet more continuity errors) to get “the staff”, I don’t think it even had a name. Yet another magic macguffin to restore Cybertron. You know, the Transformers’ homeworld, the same one that supposedly died along with the All-Spark back in 2007, or was again destroyed when Sentinel Prime attempted to teleport it to Earth in 2011. More continuity errors.
But it doesn’t stop there, apparently the reason Transformers keep coming here, is because Earth… wait for it… is Unicron. A Transformer. Now… The All-Spark came here by chance, and Unicron would’ve reacted to the literal heart of Cybertron landing on him. The Fallen was going to destroy Earth by consuming The Sun. Sentinel Prime was going to destroy Earth to rebuild Cybertron. Weren’t those Quintessons in AoE who came to primordial Earth to make Transformium out of the planet’s base materials?? None of these characters noticed that Earth itself is a godlike Transformer??
More continuity errors. Fundamental storytelling errors that, if you are like me and actually paying attention to these films, are ridiculous.

Four people wrote this film.

Nitpicking aside, good elements exist: Anthony Hopkins is in this for some reason as a wealthy British custodian of the Transformers legacy that has been going on throughout history. He seems to be having a good time. He has an advanced robot butler who gets a few funny lines and extinguishes the usual stupid Bayisms before they occur. Which was welcomed self-awareness. Laura Haddock plays our leading lady Vivian who, amazingly, is not objectified. In fact… there aren’t any half-naked women draped over motorcycles anywhere!
Indeed, there’s little obnoxious or toilet humour here, and far less product placement than in AoE (not that this is hard to do; shopping malls have less) and everything is still gorgeously over-designed. The final battle is properly huge and quite creative; it isn’t set in a city, or a forest or a desert. There’s even some scenes of Transformers interacting without human involvement and they even tried to give the Decepticons personalities! (I say tried, it felt like watching Suicide Squad again). There’s even a distinct three act structure! All of these things are technically better than Age of Extinction.

But, I am just so tired of seeing creative characters wasted on the same repetitive plot over and over. The films are virtually overwriting themselves at this point.

A film like this shouldn’t make Optimus Prime apologise. None of this is his fault.

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Additional Marshmallows: I guess Galvatron just transformed himself into Megatron and in such a way his transformation sequence wasn’t particles? Or maybe this is the old Megatron from Dark of the Moon returned again and Galvatron is still out there? Sigh.

Review: Baby Driver

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An enjoyable, original heist movie, although with some bumps in the road.

A young, unassuming heist getaway driver wants out of the business of crime after falling for a waitress, but his boss and fellow criminals who need his ace driving skills won’t let him go so easily.

Baby Driver is the brainchild of writer/director Edgar Wright, who is well known for such visually stylish and cunningly clever films such as Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, so one can expect a lot of style and incredibly quick but clever editing. You certainly get that in spades with his new film!
Baby Driver starts out initially very strong; straight into what the trailer promises with the bizarrely named Baby providing the getaway driving for a bank robbery. We not only get a flashy, perfectly executed car chase but also a quirky mix-tape soundtrack of very familiar pop music from the last several decades with Ansel Elgort, playing Baby, singing to the music. This follows onto a cool segment where Baby is walking, listening to music, and various words of the song are written in the set dressing behind him, such as graffiti or shop signs.
The film is loaded with excellent music cues, sound mixing and editing; such as sounds within action sequences timing with the song Baby is listening to, from car impacts to bullet ricochet. You can tell that this is an Edgar Wright movie, it is incredibly well made and slickly put together. The film’s pacing is revolving around three heists that Baby is involved with, as well as his blossoming relationship with Debora (Lily James), and for the most part it is effective and escalates well.

But, perhaps critical hype set expectations too high, but the performances (and even at times the screenplay) weren’t incredible. The film stalls midway through, almost exactly when Baby and Debora hook up. The film is a prime example of “Chekhov’s Gun”; there are so many moments of foreshadowing it gets a little too comical. Moments between the two romantic leads are uninspired and quite drab in chemistry (hard to imagine Wright wrote this film at times) mostly because Baby had just found himself “out” of the crime circle. Yes. Of course he is… It is a moment the audience finds itself tapping its collective feet, waiting for more. Not what you want when your film is ultimately about young love. The chemistry fell completely flat.
Kevin Spacey is playing most of the characters he plays nowadays (though it is nice to see him in something good!) Jamie Foxx is one dimensional, and Jon Bernthal barely features at all (although he walks away with one of the best lines!) That’s not to say there isn’t good lines dotted around, but I honestly didn’t care for very many of the characters. Except for Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez as two of the criminals, they have a great “modernisation of Bonnie and Clyde” vibe going on. I could watch a spin off film just about them!
Also all of Ansel Elgort’s scenes with CJ Jones are great. There’s tonnes of chemistry. How that could be achieved yet the central romance of the movie missed so heavily is a mystery.

This is a matter of style over substance, which is probably what you can expect from an Edgar Wright passion project. Baby Driver is a fun black comedy that tonally gets lost a little and lacks weight in its characters (why does Baby grow up into an ace car driver when he has PTSD flashbacks about a car accident?) but it is a very well made, very unique movie.

It isn’t the groundbreaking movie critics are claiming it to be, but it is an enjoyable distraction with incredible editing and an awesome, toe-tapping soundtrack.

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Review: The Mummy (2017) (2D)

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You’ve probably made up your mind about The Mummy already, but honestly, it a good – and scary – ride!

When two US military recon scouts see an opportunity to steal treasure from a village in the Persian gulf, they come across an ancient Egyptian burial ground that is more like a prison than a tomb. When an expert from Britain arrives hot on their heels and has them excavate the sarcophagus, they unleash a curse upon them all, potentially dooming the world in the process.

There are several things straight out of the gate that put The Mummy at a disadvantage: one, this is yet another reboot/remake of a concept over eighty years old, two, the trailer wrongly depicts this as a full on action movie when it isn’t, three, it stars Tom Cruise, and four, it is the beginning of yet another “expanded universe” only for Universal Studio’s monster movie franchises. Woof. You can be forgiven if one, several or all of these elements put you off watching this film.
However, despite some very rocky opening scenes, The Mummy was not half bad; certainly above average and doesn’t deserve the huge criticism being leveled at it.

Maybe I had such low expectations going into it that I was more surprised than angry.

Maybe starting with the negatives is wise, and honestly, the biggest one is Cruise himself. Not that he is phoning it in or giving a bad performance, in fact quite the opposite; he looks like he’s having an absolute blast! Probably the most entertaining and self-aware Cruise has been in a while. But, it is that self-awareness that didn’t jive with the rest of the film.
Tom Cruise is larger than life now, and while the film does try to paint him in a morally grey manner – he is a thief and a mercenary who is chosen by an undead Egyptian demigod to be the vessel for the God of Death – there’s still a lot of cheeky winks at the camera, deliberate writing as if the film knows this character is Tom Cruise. It is extremely subtle, but it is there: his character Nick exclaims that he’s protecting his face during a moment of carnage, or villainess Ahmanet closely studying his perfect teeth. Etc etc. The film would benefit – in the long run – with a less well known actor, despite Cruise probably giving the film the attention Universal needs to finance the Dark Universe.

The opening starts with one too many flashbacks and a jump to modern, war-torn Iraq where we see Cruise and his companion Vail dodging bullets, explosions and collapsing buildings. This is the weakest part of the film and risks losing audiences who were hoping for a return to the film’s horror roots.
However the film is about to get creepy. Despite Ahmanet’s “prison” being absurdly easy to open, and Cruise hanging onto an airborne plane again – albeit impressive – the film does eventually get into a dark and horror-centric vibe in the second act. Dropping all of its trailer’s promise of action-over-scares immediately. Practical effects on the undead monsters, Gothic and eerie sets (be it in ancient Egypt or rural England) and the one stealing the show is rising star Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) as the monstrous Ahmanet as she slowly restores her human form. If you have a fear of creepy crawlies, spiders and rats, you won’t like Ahmanet’s choice of fear tactics. This film is easily scarier than this year’s Alien: Covenant.
This all comes down to a surprising move on Universal’s part by making The Mummy a 15 certificate (an R-rating in America) which is an incredibly ballsy move, but extremely welcome. Innocent people have their souls sucked out, people are shot, people die. Unlike a family-friendly Marvel clone the Dark Universe could have some extraordinary effects and monsters to show us in the future!

The film was surprising, with its dark tone and visuals (it also threw in the occasional joke here and there to keep some levity) and a strong focus on the monster. Is it perfect? Certainly not. The screenplay could do with some polish. Saddled with the expectations of sequels and crossovers, this film feels like it could easily become unfulfilling; Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll was a great implementation of the classic character, but felt slightly shoehorned in.

Honestly, go in with an open mind and reasonably low expectations and you will probably enjoy this. Similar to Kong: Skull Island, studios appear to be not simply ripping off the Marvel magic but perhaps trying to do their own thing. Whether the Dark Universe works or not, hopefully we get at least a trilogy with this focus on action-horror.

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Trilogy Review: The Mummy

Despite The Mummy franchise derives from themes of Life after Death, and that “death is only the beginning”, it has certainly gotten more rotten and dead after each resurrection.

Doesn’t spell much hope for Universal Studio’s “Dark Universe” kickstarter The Mummy, the 2017 film starring action hero Tom Cruise… Mostly because fans today covet the Brendan Fraser comedy antics of the trilogy, but also because The Mummy does not scream “Tom Cruise action film”, and another direction should have been taken.

Of course, the first 1999 Brendan Fraser film was a successful action movie. But as I have discovered through this rather fruitless venture, watching the trilogy, that film was lightning in a bottle. Unlikely to happen again.

And no, I am in no hurry to review The Scorpion King.

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The Mummy (1999)

Ahh, 90s fantasy action movies. The Mummy is a great example of cheesy, overblown but infectiously fun movie making.

A timid British librarian and her brother team up with an American soldier to explore the ancient Egyptian City of the Dead. But with another team challenging them to find the treasures buried there first, a curse is enacted and the mummified remains of Imhotep, priest of the dead, is brought to life.

Director Stephen Sommers started out directing Disney’s first live-action interpretation of The Jungle Book, and would go on to direct Van Helsing and the first G.I. Joe movie, but 1999’s The Mummy should be considered lightning in a bottle. Arguably the film is utter nonsense, but it is very obvious that the cast and crew were having a great time.

Here, Universal Studios outright abandoned any sense of horror or dread in this new interpretation of their monster, in fact to compare this with the Boris Karloff 1932 movie is impossible. Nothing remains of the original except two or three names. Sommers’ film is an outright action comedy with an Indiana Jones quality of scares and suspense. Front and centre is Brendan Fraser (more known as George of the Jungle at this point in time) being a googly-eyed, clean-shaven tough guy, and Rachel Weisz as a dotty librarian. There’s a host of other characters, some might say too many characters for such a simple action movie. Weisz’s character Evelyn’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah) is the at-times-insufferable comic relief, Oded Fehr plays a magi warrior who defends the City of the Dead, Kevin J. O’Connor plays a slimeball called Beni who tussles with Fraser with great physical performances, Erick Avari plays a scholar, there’s a slew of American treasure hunters and also Omid Djalili was there, probably contractually obligated to feature. We’ve not even got to the Mummy yet!

The film has the most perpetual state of action and chaos I’ve ever seen, almost permanently set at ten and occasionally pushed to eleven. If we aren’t witnessing a cavalry charge, we are seeing someone escaping a hanging, if we aren’t seeing a man consumed by scarab beetles, we are seeing a boat explode. This film has incredible stamina.
Which does make it something of an endurance to watch, but it never feels entirely repetitive (example: Die Hard 5) it does maintain creativity and steady escalation of threat, as well as plenty of characters of varying importance that we can grimly kill off along the way. Quipping all the while.

Perhaps my biggest conflict with The Mummy is in its special effects, because sometimes the effects here are incredible! Other times… they look really bad. I can remember the effects being bad in 1999! The monster, Imhotep, here played by Arnold Vosloo, swings wildly between convincing and really fake between scenes, between kinda scary and deliberately cartoonish. He never feels truly threatening physically, only when the camera cuts away as he kills another victim.
His mummified guards and priests however, can be very convincing! A definite mix of practical effects, physical performances and CG tinkering makes them more Jurassic Park than Van Helsing. Something that the 1990s had that has been lost recently is a great use of production value; set designs, costume design and action set pieces are all pretty great here.

There’s a lot of fun to be had with The Mummy; the film knows what it is, it is tonally perfected, everyone is on board and giving their best. It is an odd direction to take your monster movie franchise, but they jumped into it with both feet and deserve the credit.

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The Mummy Returns (2001)

What phenomenally awful “bigger-is-better” film-making.

The reincarnation of Ancient Egyptian princess Anck-Su-Namun seeks to revive her love, the priest of the dead, Imhotep, while the heroic explorers Rick and Evelyn uncover the secret of The Scorpion King, a tyrant blessed by the deity Anubis.

Honestly, I don’t really know what’s going on.

It isn’t hard to imagine this film being released less than two years after the original, a rapid fire cash-in on what Universal Studios must have seen as a surprise success. I do remember watching this upon release and not liking it then, and time has done it no favours either.

The positives, there’s still a good amount of production value here; set, creature and costume designs are often impressive. The action is certainly creative all the way through the run time (even if much of it is retreads of the original) and the casting reprise their roles and go through familiar hi-jinx and antics with gusto.
That’s about it.

The computer generated imagery in The Mummy Returns is rampant, even catastrophic at times. We are immediately introduced to an army of Anubian warriors; dog-headed berserkers who are entirely CG, presumably seeing The Phantom Menace two years earlier suggested this was an okay thing to do in blockbuster cinema. We also see “The Rock” – later in his film career known as Dwayne Johnson – looking younger and decidedly not the size of a house yet, as The Scorpion King.
Cut to 1933 and we discover our heroes Evelyn and Rick are married and have an eight year old son, Alex, and if this film took anything else from The Phantom Menace that it shouldn’t have… it would be “annoying blonde child actors who can’t act”. God, he is absolutely insufferable and kills the first and second acts stone dead, going from: “Wah, stop treating me like a kid!” to, “How should I know, I’m only eight!” within minutes. Or the immortal line: “My dad is going to kick your arse.” All in a wonderfully unbearable English accent. Oh, he also speaks fluent ancient Egyptian, believably…
I could go on and on about… Freddie Boath… and his “acting”, but how is everyone else? Well, retconned mostly. Rick (Brendan Fraser) is revealed to have a tattoo on his arm no one noticed before that means he is of an ancient line of magi, protectors of the world. Or something, it is briefly explained between scenes of excessive carnage. While Evelyn is having lucid visions of ancient Egypt for no discernible reason except to keep the “plot” moving, much like the woman who is the reincarnation of Imhotep’s ancient squeeze who apparently knows everything even before getting the princess’s soul put into her. Evelyn has also miraculously evolved from terrified bookworm into a badass swordswoman!
Oh, and Dwayne Johnson turns into a horrendous CG garbage fire and is probably the only thing you will remember from watching this film.

It rinses and repeats moments from the first film, which can be fun if you like repetition, but the film prioritises insane attempts to up the action on a film that was already bursting with action! This film… does not stop. There’s maybe two moments of slow, uninterrupted dialogue after the first twenty minutes, and almost all of it is exposition, after that it is a constant barrage of chaos. Ten minute chase sequence. Twenty seconds of pause, “everything is okay”. Oh no it isn’t! Back to the action again!
There’s simply nothing here to make you care, especially when Evelyn and Rick lose their son, sort of a big deal. But when we’ve seen nothing of a family bond between them (borderline terrible parenting) no quiet scene of loving parents with their only child, no emotional resonance at all, when it comes round to tearful “Oh, I can’t lose him!” speeches, it falls on deaf ears. No one cares.

It lacks the first film’s simplicity by over-writing the stakes, it lacks the first film’s charm by choking the characters with excessive action sequences and CGI, and despite the “family” involved the single pang of emotion felt was for Imhotep. The guy trying to kill everyone!

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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)

Oh boy, I hadn’t seen Tomb of the Dragon Emperor until now due to the weight of backlash it received on release. It certainly isn’t great.

Rick and Evelyn are called back into action to return an artifact to China conveniently at the same time their son Alex, now old enough to go on his own adventures, digs up the remains of a mummified Chinese tyrant and his army. Unsurprisingly, the dead are reanimated, and they must stop the emperor from attaining immortality.

Even writing a synopsis, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor just sounds like the cliff notes of the original movies and there’s a distinct by-the-numbers feel to the movie in general. We start off with a long backstory for the titular The Dragon Emperor, narrated by the talented Michelle Yeoh, heaps of exposition and multiple locations making it quite a dry experience to start off with.
We then find our heroes Rick and Evelyn retired, with Brendan Fraser reprising along with Maria Bello….. wait what?? No Rachel Weisz? Seriously?
Yes, while there’s no criticising an actress called in to do a recast, a recast is a terrible choice to make in any film, especially when Fraser and Weisz had good chemistry over the last two films. In fact despite what I’ve said about those films, the lead actors made them fun. Maria Bello (Prisoners, but also Grown Ups) does not cut it as a replacement for Weisz here; her performance feels very stiff and has none of the bookworm flightiness or sassy-ness the character relished in.

So that threw me for most of the film. The third film was released seven years after The Mummy duology, and direction was taken over by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, that being the first one, for clarity) who claims an invested interest in Chinese culture and history. Certainly the film still has decent production value like the first two movies; the Dragon Emperor and his legion, mummies that are clad in terracotta, makes for inventive visuals after the atrophy of two movies with exactly the same story. This film has a varied colour palette too, we travel to snowy mountains and monsters include the aforementioned terracotta soldiers and iron horses. It also has some desire to slow down occasionally, unlike its adrenaline-junkie predecessors.
Also yetis…
Not… sure who thought friendly yetis were what was missing from this film, but they are there.

But everything is pretty uninspired or bland. Once again we gravitate towards huge armies mashing together, only this time its mummy-vs-mummy (you get more stakes in a Dracula movie) and while there is thankfully less CGI tomfoolery, they couldn’t help having Jet Li turning into a hydra for… some… reason.
The writing is abysmal and rather sad. Gone are the cheesy, punchy quips of the first movie. Did Rick just have a dick-measuring contest in regards to guns… with his own son??
Even Jet Li is barely in this film, he could have been played by anyone. But they tried riding on the coattails of 2003’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by casting him and Yeoh but failed in a most lackluster fashion.

Without Rachel Weisz, or Stephen Sommers directing, and with a different set of writers, no amount of inventive design work or change of scenery will fix what is wrong with this film. Is it as bad as everyone says? In isolation, not really. In relation to the first two, the first film is still above and beyond, but this isn’t much worse than the second movie.

I’d say you can avoid this one.

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Review: The Mummy (1932)

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The Universal Monsters have been around a lot longer than Brendan Fraser.

When British archaeologists uncover the tomb of Imhotep, a prince of ancient Egypt condemned to be buried alive, a curse is enacted and brings Imhotep back to life! Now stalking the world, the prince seeks to restore the life of his ancient beloved, princess Ankh-es-en-Amon.

To think the classic monsters have been around for eighty-five years, and with The Mummy going through several iterations since then as well as 2017’s Tom Cruise adaptation, it is only fair to look back at one of Universal Studio’s best eras.
Having played the definitive role as The Monster in 1931’s Frankenstein, both horrifying but also capturing the hearts of audiences, actor extraordinaire Boris Karloff must have been a shoo-in only a year later to play Imhotep, the monster in The Mummy. But the term “monster” is almost ill-fitting here. At least by today’s standards of the word.
No, there’s no billowing sandstorms with big faces intent on eating our heroes, no there’s no bullet-riddled immortal foes. The Mummy is a distinctly mellow affair that has a creepiness and menace all of its own.

The film starts out strong with the discovery of the tomb and the foolish releasing of a curse. Much of the scenes are completely silent as our first victim sets into motion the terror that will plague the rest of the film. The lighting and this silent makes everything tense and full of foreboding. There is a sense that the filmmakers researched ancient Egypt thoroughly before making the movie.
The bulk of the film actually involves our protagonists actually conversing, unknowingly, with an Imhotep who has integrated himself into their operation. Karloff’s towering, unsettling presence is clearly off, but our scientifically minded heroes are not going to leap at the possibility their Egyptian liaison is an undead Pharaoh prince! So there’s a lot of suspense and anticipation: how far will Imhotep’s secret plan go before our heroes discover him?
On top of all of the dread that an impossibly strong, undead monster is in arms reach of innocent people, is the idea that Imhotep is doing it all for love; the love he lost thousands of years ago. While Frankenstein’s Monster provoked more literal sympathy, there is an earnestness and fragility with Karloff’s Imhotep.

But, there’s one thing that really bothered me in this movie. This theme of love and Imhotep’s desire to be reunited with his beloved, crossing thousands of years of death and prepared to kill and murder to obtain it, is of course countered with an equally powerful love.

Or at least… it is supposed to be.

Imhotep’s goal is the reincarnated body of Ankh-es-en-Amon, currently Helen Grosvenor (played by Zita Johann). But during the film’s events, the son of one of the archaeologists, Frank, falls in love with her, causing strife between Ankh-es-en-Amon and Helen.
The script and chemistry between Frank and Helen is completely passionless, straying into downright creepy. Frank instantly, instantly falls in love with Helen, who is recovering from a traumatic ordeal and practically passed out, yet he immediately moves in to embrace her. It feels like something is wrong, and that feeling never goes away! Frank (played by David Manners) constantly leers, suggesting they be together, while Helen never shows a particular emotion for him, often completely indifferent to his advances! It is so awkward, not even the film’s climax can set a fire between them, it still feels like Frank is a creeper finally getting the tail he wants.

Shudder.

Boris Karloff is the best thing in this film, as well as the two older actors Arthur Byron and Edward Van Sloan. There’s a great sense of omnipresent menace with Imhotep stalking around, invisible to our protagonists but clear as day to the audiences. Older films had to achieve much with little, these movies especially being made during The Depression.
If only the romance was even slightly felt! For a film that derives much of its themes and poetry from, could they not have achieved more chemistry than this??

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Review: Wonder Woman

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Honestly, this DC comics movie is just too competently edited, it has way too much character depth and development, and the music cues are actually implemented correctly. Plus, it has colours and you can see what’s going on!

I am being facetious: Wonder Woman was great!

Diana is a princess of the Amazon warriors living on the idyllic paradise of Themyscira, which is sheltered from the real world by a magical barrier created by Zeus. But Diana’s sheltered perceptions are about to change when a man crashes his plane through the barrier having escaped the chaos of World War One. With the Amazons designed to defend the world, Diana feels honor bound to face the carnage.

It has been a rough road for DC and their fledgling Expanded Universe. Under the guidance of Warner Brothers Studios and director Zack Snyder each of their films have been fundamentally flawed. Enjoyable at times, but by no means “well made” movies. A little startling is the fact that Wonder Woman isn’t made by Snyder, and seemingly hasn’t been butchered by studio executives, but instead has been directed by Patty Jenkins, whose debut film Monster collected an Academy Award for Leading Actress.
More startling, is that Wonder Woman is a film. As in a film with a coherent plot and editing that makes sense, and characters deeper than one line of dialogue who go through challenges and personal doubts. A film, that could actually move an audience emotionally.

Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana from last year’s Batman Vs Superman, perhaps the one shining thing in that film (albeit unnecessary) and she doesn’t disappoint here. While the sheltered Amazonian beginnings might give predictable portents for her and could have weakened her character, the film balances her development almost perfectly. Chris Pine (Star Trek) accompanies her as an American spy, Steven Trevor, a man of action but more importantly a cynical man brought up in a time of chaos and politics.
Incredibly, these two are the heart of the film, more so than any action set piece. Diana’s ignorance but extraordinary convictions and strength, tussling with Steve’s need for something more tangible and real to fight. They both have a lot to learn from each other, and gratefully their chemistry is compelling and drives the story along. They are given equal footing.
The setting, The Great War, is a fine choice to oppose Diana’s youthful optimism and headstrong beliefs that men are inherently good. We see her being worn down by the senseless travesties around her, and her rallying against it all with furious strength; culminating at an incredible sequence upon No Man’s Land at the trenches.

But do not fear, those burned by DC’s previous grim-dark storytelling. Wonder Woman does have moments of levity dusted throughout, in an almost Thor-esque manner when Diana arrives in 1910s London, she wonderfully balances awkwardness at misunderstanding human society of the time but also dressing down the pigheaded individuals she encounters.
But more than simply injecting fun into the mix, there’s a similarity to 1978’s Superman, our hero is a positive force of action, none of this grim and brooding mentality that has plagued the DC films recently. Probably one of the most respectable aspects of the film, and one of the things that elevates it above even Marvel’s recent cascade of movies.

There are some little issues, but the good outweighs them. Some of the effects are dodgy looking; some composite shots are clearly green-screen and will look dated within months, while DC remains a bit hampered by the need to fully-CG actors to allow them to fly through walls and punch tanks around the place. Does it do anything new as a superhero film, not exactly; if you are bored of the genre, Wonder Woman won’t change your mind.

But this is the classic origin story formula that audiences have been dying to see from DC ever since Man of Steel emerged. A solid, balanced, exciting and surprisingly human story that adds heart and emotional purpose to the characters and the chaos around them.

A very, very strong 4/5

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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s Revenge 2D (aka Dead Men Tell No Tales)

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Creativity remains in the rotten timber of Salazar’s Revenge, but there’s little passion left in the hollowed out core.

Henry Turner seeks to remove the curse that has his father, Will Turner, trapped as the undying captain of the Flying Dutchman, but to do so he needs the trident of Poseidon. Joining him is a woman of science and the ill-fated Jack Sparrow, who is being hunted by an undead Spanish captain.

Warning, this review contains reference to films with titles too long for their own good.

The first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was released in 2003! Nearly fifteen years ago! Since then we have been privy to three sequels of diminishing quality and over-written storytelling, ending with 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which almost ended the franchise with audiences underwhelmed by the hard focus on Johnny Depp’s slapstick protagonist Captain Jack Sparrow.

Now we are back in it again and things are feeling distinctly 2003. We are introduced to two new protagonists, Henry Turner and Carina Smyth played by Brenton Thwaites (last seen, unfortunately, in Gods of Egypt and the dreadful Maleficent) and Kaya Scodelario (the Maze Runner films) respectively. They are distinctively the next generation Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, only with even less charisma. Plus we have Javier Bardem doing his thing as the vengeful villain Salazar, his ghost ship terrorizing the seas looking for Jack.
The film is baffling directed by two men, which is hard to swallow since some of the later action sequences are so dark and messy I had no idea what was happening, and Bardem’s slurring undead captain was hard to understand at times. There are also often points when it feels like a scene is missing, such as when Jack’s crew miraculously escapes a fully functioning British galleon’s prison without being spotted.
Oh lord, is there a lot of “being captured and then escaping” in this film. Jack, Carina, Henry and co all get caught only to escape again moments later, multiple times. If audiences are truly attentive, this kills almost all threat posed by our antagonists.
Antagonists plural, as Salazar’s Revenge has also shoehorned David Wenham (Netflix’s Iron Fist) into the plot as a… British… naval… captain? He does nearly nothing except chase Carina’s misunderstood-to-be-a-witch scientist (which is a joke that gets incredibly old quickly, like most of the jokes).

The film starts to feel more and more like what it is based on: an amusement park ride. There’s plenty of spectacle and inventiveness. I thoroughly enjoyed Depp’s shtick as he and his crew “rob a bank” in the opening third of the film and then the following breaking up of his crew (a shame that drama didn’t last more than ten minutes). Salazar’s crew and ship are foreboding and interesting, but without the original films’ director Gore Verbinski’s steady hand and gorgeous photography, they look poorly handled. Not quite as menacing as Barbossa’s skeletal crew or Davy Jones’ nautical monsters as the film wants them to be. But zombie sharks, a ship that literally eats other ships, and cool ghost effects on the undead crew, among other larger-than-life events later in the film, are impressive to see.

As for Depp, he is delivering the same performance but it never feels especially fresh; Salazar is a real threat, on paper, but it never seems to really matter to Jack. He’s an unflappable fool.

Really, I would wait for a DVD release for Dead Men Tell No Tales / Salazar’s Revenge. Normally I would suggest a cinema visit for the spectacle, but at times it is so dark and poorly photographed that it isn’t as incredible as it should be (nothing memorable like Davy Jones and Jack fighting on masts over a whirlpool).
But at this point everything feels a little recycled and more than a little passionless.

34347-2-5

Review: Colossal

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What a unique but strangely awkward experience. Colossal a one-of-a-kind movie.

When Gloria, Anne Hathaway, returns to her suburban roots from living in the big city, she not only finds familiar childhood faces but also discovers she is in direct control of a massive monster that materialises in South Korea whenever she enters a play park at 8am.

What?

So… What can I say about this film? Firstly, the trailer for this film is wildly misinterpreting it as a comedy when it really isn’t. While it does have a chuckle or two in it, this film is more about alcoholism. Yeah. So funny.
But unlike Flight, which I detest solely because it was advertised as a action thriller when (coincidentally) it was a raw drama about alcoholism, Colossal‘s premise is just so bizarre that any false advertisement is almost forgivable!
Anne Hathaway (bizarrely, since Interstellar and the award winning Les Miserables) plays Gloria, and we are introduced to her character being thrown out of her boyfriend’s apartment after she’s found to be drinking again. Gloria is a hopeless, lazy, underachiever who turns to drinking every night and upon returning to her childhood home, she meets Jason Sudeikis’ character Oscar who she recognised from their school days. She gets a job working at his bar.

Oh, and while she’s struggling to function as a member of society, she discovers not only is a monster attacking the city of Seoul, but that she is the monster!

Colossal goes through some strange moments and rollercoasters of emotions. Gloria’s below-respectable self gets attacked from all angles from those around her, her ex-boyfriend Tim’s (Dan Stevens) frequent verbal assaults are at first justified but quickly lose all credibility making him look like a selfish prick. In fact, everyone in the film is inherently unkind or failing in some way.

It is a surprisingly human film when boiled down to its true intentions. Oscar is revealed to be a brutish, alcoholic thug, with his friends too scared to do anything about him, playing off of Gloria’s own insecurities about herself and where she is.

The monsters, surprisingly well designed and implemented for a smaller scale film such as this, are both plot device to spur Oscar and Gloria’s already compromised mentalities into world-changing consequences. The film promoting the ideal of staying true to yourself. There’s a lot of focus on the deaths the chaos in Seoul has caused, it is surprisingly bleak at times, more so than Godzilla or any superhero film.

When the dust settles and you dig deep enough, Colossal is a somewhat endearing experience. But that experience can be awkward to watch at times. The dialogue frequently falls into the same sort of difficult, almost circular, small talk, which means when Oscar’s true colours come out it isn’t foreshadowed at all, it just happens. It is a huge gear change. But considering the deliberate heel-dragging beforehand, it is welcome, just too sudden. Audiences might find its ambiguous tone and intentions tedious.

I mostly wish the tone was more consistent, whether it is a comedy, playing to its quirky giant monster plot, or a graphic drama about the dangers of human failings. As it is, it is a hybrid.

I found it to be a bizarre distraction. It is ambitious, kind of fun, mostly random.

34347-2-5

Review: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (2D)

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Did Guy Ritchie just out-Snyder Zack Snyder? In a good way?

In this retelling of the fabled British legend of King Arthur, when a tyrant sorcerer rules over England he seeks out the last true heir to the throne by testing everyone of a certain age to pull the magical sword Excalibur from the stone it is embedded in. When a lowly street thug named Arthur does just that, he finds himself on the run from the sorcerer king’s army and in league with a rebellion of knights and mages.

Director Guy Ritchie is known for his British gangster and urban brawler films, starting his career with brutish hits like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and RocknRolla, elevating later to direct the two off-the-handle Sherlock Holmes interpretations among others. He’s probably the last person you would put at the helm of swords and sorcery myths with such weight and significance as the Arthurian legends. But here we are.
That was probably the biggest hang up going into this film. Nobody wants to see the creative genesis of most fantasy fairy tales reduced to “a lad movie”, with people punching each other and calling each other “mate”. While that does happen, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an entertaining and enjoyable movie full of dark fantasy imagery.

This is a reinterpretation of the legends, through Guy Ritchie’s lens, so some will undoubtedly dislike it simply for that. But sometimes legends need a change of style to be reinvigorated, and Ritchie’s fascination with street brawling and urban slums, isn’t a stone’s throw away from what could be Arthur’s origin story.
Execution of the film is like watching Game of Thrones take speed. Guy Ritchie’s editing style is fast and furious, tearing through all of Arthur’s childhood in a montage of lightning speeds, and his frequent use of flashback narrative devices are used for light comedic effect to break up what would be otherwise slow, plodding exposition. The film has good production value, breathing life into some creepy and magical creatures and monsters along the way. No, this isn’t the street brawler film Ritchie always makes, there’s a lot of magic and fantasy here. The film even opens with a sorcerer attacking a castle with massive war elephants!
It is great to see an unapologetic, under-explained sword and sorcery movie again, with some cool set designs, straight-forward storytelling and monsters. The acting is decent enough throughout, nobody steals the show but nobody flounders or looks out of place, although I wish Oscar Nominated Djimon Hounsou had more to do.
It is an origin story through-and-through: our characters are down in the gutter but also on the tip of an iceberg of mythical possibilities.

Perhaps my major issue with it is the handling of the combat. Truly Excalibur is a mighty, legendary weapon and should bestow incredible power to the one able to wield it, but does that mean we need everything to become CGI? There’s one penultimate “epic” battle that has everything in slow-motion and CG, even lead star Charlie Hunnam is enveloped in it, and flashes of The Matrix Reloaded came back to me. It was dazzling on the big screen, but in a couple of years it will look bad and right now I was bored with it. Why can’t we have well choreographed sword fights to be impressed by, with magical power involved?

My earlier Zack Snyder reference isn’t unwarranted either. There’s a load of slow-motion and ultra-high definition photography here, which isn’t a bad thing. This is like old-Snyder, 300 Snyder.
Some people will probably dislike the lack of chivalry, noble knights and fair damsels and wizards with beards, but as a reinterpretation I liked Ritchie’s King Arthur origin story. This sort of well executed swords and sorcery fantasy doesn’t come by often.

We just need to change that burden of a title…
And no doubt he will make a sequel which ruins everything (I’m looking at you, Game of Shadows…)

762da-3-5

Banter – Who’s in the suit?

SPOILER WARNING
– in BIG BOLD LETTERS –

Straight off the bat I want to make very clear that this article is giving away possible key plot points for the Alien franchise as it stands today… and possibly into the future!

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But I like to make predictions, and this one is the most shot-in-the-dark prediction yet, but if I am right I want a time stamp (more like a date stamp) proving how quickly I called it.
So, director Ridley Scott intends on making several (read: a fluctuating number) of Alien prequels and regardless of how you feel about Prometheus, this weekend’s Alien: Covenant (you know how I feel about them, at least) I think he fancies himself a bit of a sneaky storyteller. I think we will see plenty of twists down the road.

Down the long road to a film tying into his 1979 classic, Alien. At some point, an Engineer “derelict” ship will crash on LV-426 with a butt ton of xenomorph eggs on board, with a singular (we can only assume just one) “space jockey” or “engineer” piloting.
Of course, we can only speculate, but with Prometheus revealing (unfortunately) that the “space jockey” was a exo-suit that an Engineer or human can enter… I am reminded of that specific, haunting shot in 1979’s Alien.

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Not the best picture, but that eerie, silent close up on the space jockey’s petrified eye socket, where we are treated to something almost like a glint. It is all we get from that rotten, mysterious corpse.

My prediction is, this is David’s last moment in the Alien franchise. Inside that space jockey suit, is Michael Fassbender’s mentally unhinged robot, David.

Say whaaaat?

At some point in these prequels, we need to establish The Company (Weylan Industries) hearing about the xenomorph so they can override the Nostromo’s course to “investigate” the derelict and have Ash reclaim the specimen. What if David was on course to deliver his payload of alien eggs via the derelict, but something went wrong and he crashed on LV-426?

Of course, the one piece of evidence that makes my theory fall down, is the “space jockey” has evidence of a chestbuster attack. David is synthetic and immune to the parasite. However, since this is an exo-suit and no longer a living thing (RIP Alien mystery), it stands to reason that the damage was caused by someone else infected at an earlier time.
Someone David wanted dealt with.

It is unlikely to be an Engineer in the suit, considering what happens in Covenant looks a lot like mass genocide…

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Of course, it is possible some survived, somewhere… maybe.

(If you have seen Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, you know Ridley Scott can have anything “make sense”.)

It is either David, or the sorry soul inside that suit is whichever lead actor/actress is in the final prequel. The one person who bests David, finally ending his insane creationism, tries to dispose of the derelict and its foul cargo only to succumb to one more of David’s children… a parasite surely implanted earlier… and then crashes on LV-426. The Company tracks the last known coordinates, and the fallen hero is left to stare out with dead eyes from a cold exo-skeletal husk as the cycle of horror continues.

Yeah, the second theory makes more sense, huh? But, it is clear that Scott adores his creation in David, and that suggestive zoom into the eye of the jockey could easily be turned into the final appearance of the robot who has so far dominated all of Ridley Scott’s prequel movies. Plus David has proven himself capable of flying the derelict.

After all, to Scott, it wouldn’t be an Alien film without David.

With my attempts to predict Ridley Scott’s motives, it seems far too tantalising a prospect to make his original film feature his newest character. For better or worse…

Something to think about…

This is Cinema Cocoa, signing off.