Film review: “Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017)

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“Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017)

Sci-Fi/Action

3-stars

Running Time: 149 minutes

Written by: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan

Directed by: Michael Bay

Featuring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins and John Turturro

Sir Edmund Burton: “It started as a legend, one of the greatest of all… For a thousand years, we’ve kept it hidden, to protect Earth from what is expected to arrive…”

One thing about Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers” movies is that every single one of them boast an ‘A’ list cast, it seems that there is an endless queue of actors just waiting to be in this now five picture series. In “Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017) the latest big name actor to appear is the great Anthony Hopkins who chews scenery like the pro you would expect him to be – it is easy to see he knows exactly what kind of film this is – even if other members of the cast seem a little lost within this franchise. The question is now, after all these films that seem to be eerily similar, can there be anything more to see and experience from a new movie as well as is there a plot that can convince people to pony up the bills to not only go and see this movie but to take the family as well?

I am not a Michael Bay hater at all, in fact I probably like most of his movies, he is unashamedly a male movie director, caring little for anything else, I truly believe he loves movies wanting to make movies that he wants to see. Bay has the clout to pretty much do anything he would like, yet he has continually returned to the ‘Transformers’ Universe even though with each movie he says it will be his very last – something he has echoed in the last few days unsurprisingly. Why wouldn’t he return, the last four ‘Transformer’ movies have generated almost US$4 billion at the international box office – surely one of the biggest franchises in film history. These movies gave Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson careers, as well as solidifying Mark Wahlberg as a box office giant. They also created great over the top roles for character actors John Turturro, Jon Voight, Stanley Tucci, TJ Miller and Kelsey Grammer to name a few.

There is much to like with these movies, of course there is much to dismiss – one of these is the bloated running times, another is the action which at times can be hard to follow – something that harkens back to the first film and continues through to this fifth one.

This new Transformers movie is concerned with the absence of Optimus Prime and the war that has commenced between the Transformers Reaction Force (humans) and the Transformers. To save their world, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) forms an alliance with Bumblebee, an astronomer named Sir Edmond Burton (Anthony Hopkins), and an Oxford University professor named Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock) to learn the secrets of why the Transformers keep coming back to Earth.

I am not going to get into plot details but needless to say Bay and his new team of screenwriters have attempted to keep the plot simple as much as they can, however I did feel myself start to get a little confused at one point with the myriad of characters as well as their motivations. There is a lot to the story that seems to contradict itself particularly in the last thirty to forty minutes. In terms of that if you are willing to let these elements go then you will be able to cope, however if plot is important to you then you probably shouldn’t be watching this movie.

There are a few reasons why I actually enjoy these movies; I am talking specifically about the Transformer films here, not overblown expensive and non-sensical blockbusters as a rule. I really like Optimus Prime as a characters as well as a hero, he leads a seemingly endless, while small number of characters, the highlight of them is always Bumblebee. Prime’s home, Cybertron, has been left broken (there have been a few reasons given) as a refugee from space he is really trying to fit in and do his best for his people among humans. The action and special effects are almost always excellent, although the way in which they have been directed have been uneven over the entire run of these movies, a problem that is getting solved a little better with this film especially. I found it was much easier to follow what was happening onscreen, this could have something to do with a lot more wider shots being incorporated by Bay and his special effects team. The other thing that I enjoy is that whilst they attempt to be broad in scope as well as onscreen, they are nothing more than the original cartoon version’s brought to life at cinemas, they are escapist where there is a good guy as well as a bad guy, one will win, one will lose. Of course Bay overly complicates this by having multiple good and bad guys with different (not really) motivations but in the end it is always sorted out – the good guys win and vanquish the baddies. Of course the issue always is where to go to next, Bay has an answer, as does his new cadre of writers – or so they would have us believe – but i saw nothing here that was really new enough to justify the running time let alone another movie but as long as audiences keep turning up at the cinemas, the will keep churning them out.

After saying all that there are still issues with the movies, it mostly for me boils down to plot as well as narrative choices that are made – as well as characters that are introduced, then dumped for no reason, then having choices made that seem to contradict motivations that have been set up either in the current story or previous films. More troubling, particularly with this current installment is the fact that the finale is not one, as we are given a pre-ending credits sequence that vainly attempts to set up another film, making me feel like I just sat through two and a half hours for nothing more than reinstating Prime’s home, Cybertron,  world as a macguffin for the number six.

As I have said there are any number of good actors that appear in these movies, the reason to have them is that they are the ones bringing the story to life, in this case the three standouts are Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock and the great Anthony Hopkins. These three main characters, when together onscreen, or just interacting with each other, really made this movie fun for me – even when the plot was way out of control or over the top. Wahlberg has turned into such a star that it is easy to forget he has made some pretty terrific films, just over the last year he has appeared in two legitimately great under seen films in “Patriots Day” (2016) as well as “Deepwater Horizon” (2016), both directed by Peter Berg. Here he carries a movie that could have dreadful but is saved by his expert ability to incorporate not only massive amounts of green screen acting but also bringing in two other actors to let them showcase their own skill. The highlight for me was Anthony Hopkins, brilliantly playing his age, acting against at times, green screens, other actors, a phone as well as giving great reaction shots – my favorite is him flipping people off during a high speed chase. Laura Haddock who almost plays like a Megan Fox lookalike comes into her own towards the end of the film, she could have been just another Bay babe, but has the chops to know what film she is in, and unlike previous versions of her character has much more experience in film to be treated too badly – I mean she seems to be playing her age – 31 – and has multiple degrees – so I think that is a step up from previous versions of this character.

Another thing that Bay has seemed to want to do is make some narrative sense out of the previous films, by not only upping the reason why Sam (Shia LeBeouf) was so important in the first three films – it involves his heritage and the great Witwicky name, but also bringing back John Turturro as some kind of Transformer legend expert – although he spends the entire film on a phone from Cuba – which was a little jarring – the entirety of this sub-sub-plot could have been removed easily with no harm to the plot – yes I used the word plot.

This is primarily an action movie with a sci-fi twist as well additions of humour, that is it – it is not a drama or a war film (although I think Bay may have grander things in mind). The best action films always move forward in terms of narrative, plot as well as the action itself – if it doesn’t do this it fails. One of the best action/sci-fi films that did this was James Cameron’s “Terminator” (1984), it was exposition heavy but when something was explained to the audience there were action set pieces taking place so we felt like it was perfectly natural – by the way it always lowers the running time of the movie, something Bay could take lessons from. What we have with these Transformer movies is action then explanation then more action – not only that it seems the action has nothing to do with the story, even with the massive ending, there are major holes of logic where the goal of the movie just keeps changing to encompass these huge CGI scenes, of really, after a while, is of  little interest.

It’s a real shame to see how this movie turns out; I thought there was going to be more meat on the bones, especially with Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci returning to the movie – it seemed there was going to be a logical progression from number four, but this is put to rest in the opening scenes of Camelot (oh dear), with a particularly nasty bait and switch with Tucci, then an exposition heavy catch up on where we are in terms of the Transformers – by then I was more than a little confused as well as let down. The other element I disliked, which added to the confusion was the arbitrary way characters enter the story, disappear completely, then reappear, again for no real good reason. My feeling was that this was not a completed script with the special effects being planned before anything else – to me it feels like an Ed Wood film with hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at it. Look I have no problem knowing that people will go to this movie, but the question remains will enough people go to make a sequel worthwhile – who knows? There is some kind of Bumblebee movie planned for next year, but at this stage it may be too little too late for that character to have any impact on this behemoth of a franchise.

After all that I would actually say that this is an action movie that is PG, so all the family can enjoy it for what it is – a truly forgettable popcorn movie – it lacks the heart of Marvel films but also eschews the darkness of those terrible DC movies as well. It is more concerned with wowing an audience with CGI characters that are mostly fun but lack depth. This is the perfect example of a post-modern action film, there is nothing new to be added to a shallow legend, it has all been done before, but maybe thats the comfort of the Transformer movies. When I was a child I would have loved these movies, after all that is who they are aimed at. Just remember that it is two and a half hours long, so hang on in there for the very long haul.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is out now only in cinemas.

 

Film Review: “My Cousin Rachel” (2017)

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“My Cousin Rachel” (2017)

Thriller/Drama

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Running Time: 106 minutes

Written & Directed by: Roger Michell

Featuring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen and Holliday Grainger

Philip: “Whatever it cost my cousin in pain and suffering before he died I will return with full measure upon the woman that caused it.”

If you have never heard of author Daphne Du Maurier that is a loss you can solve by going and finding some of her books, reading them and coming back to this review, maybe start with the novel that is the basis for this review, ‘My Cousin Rachel’. In fact you may have seen her two most popular works as Alfred Hitchcock films, the timeless “Rebecca” (1940) as well as “Spellbound” (1945) which had hallmarks of Du Maurier’s work, the supernatural, lost love and a heightened sexuality in many of her creations. Some of these can also be found in Roger Michell’s film adaptation “My Cousin Rachel” (2017), which will have you enthralled not just with the story but the performances of the leads Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz. There is a real air of mystery to this story that strikes a note with modernity as well as the time it is set in.

The film is primarily concerned with Philip (Sam Claflin), a young Englishman who finds his cousin Ambrose (also played by Claflin) dead after traveling to Florence, Italy. He vows revenge against Ambrose’s missing wife Rachel (Rachel Weisz), blaming her for his untimely demise. When Philip meets Rachel for the first time, his mood suddenly changes as he finds himself falling for her seductive charm and beauty. As his obsession for her grows, Rachel now hatches a scheme to win back her late husband’s estate from the unsuspecting Philip.

Whilst “My Cousin Rachel” could be seen as a thriller as well as a ensemble piece the real thrust of the story, as well as the reason for any thriller aspects is driven by the excellent performance by Sam Claflin as both Philip and his Uncle Ambrose. I found the character of Philip to be completely fascinating, the word I would use to describe him is juvenile. Once you watch the film you may think he plays the innocent but in fact he has been raised to be ignorant of almost everything to do with relationships as well as perceived outsiders to his family unit of two. In fact he is given the opportunity to expand his horizons, mix with new people of a different social strata as well as receive an education but he spurns this as he sees this as unimportant, something he will of course later regret, as he is clueless about anything outside his extremely narrow field of vision.

The very reason that Rachel is a mystery as well as the reason that she is able to spin her web, entrapping Philip seems so obvious to not only the audience but to all of his friends  – the only others that seem not to notice Rachel’s hypnotic spell are all the workers and servants that work for Philip – much like they are extensions of his will, they, like him are manipulated by others with no power of their own. In fact the simple fact is that there is no challenge for Rachel, she in fact does very little up to the point Philip makes his sad intentions clear – she is as passive a person or antagonist as I have ever seen in a thriller. It is Philip with his seemingly simple way of viewing the world as well as the people who inhabit it, that he has trouble with. Philip is completely without the ability to rationalize his thoughts in terms of anything he does immediately, understanding and reacting with emotion whilst putting logic to one side, he is a pure emotional being, not confined to one he seems to be only able to cope with one at a time, anything outside of that does not compute.

In fact the film is so closely associated with Philip that every scene only concerns Philip, his relentless drive towards some truth about his own situation. In saying that of course it means that the lead actor has to be on his game – in that, Sam Claflin, who plays the protagonist is excellent here as the Philip – he has to carry this entire movie from beginning to its gripping, sad, conclusion – he has the opening narrative dialogue as well as the haunting final statement. Claflin has been making some extremely interesting choices in terms of movies this year, one only has to watch the excellent Dunkirk film “Their Finest” (2017) to see that. He strikes me as a more austere and serious Hugh Grant, which believe me is a compliment. Claflin could be making bigger budgeted movies or be the lead in charming indies, but sees to have chosen a slightly different route – not unlike his peer Dan Stevens.

The rest of the cast is rounded out with some great English talent, no more so than Oscar winner and titular character Rachel Weisz, who plays the role of Rachel with reserve as well as a hint of coldness – watching her you are not sure really what her motivations are at all, she enters the film about a quarter of the way in, all the while being built up to some kind of super woman that has a true dark side. Of course the reality of her arrival is not what Philip or the audience expect, like most things the expectant evil genius is not what she seems, or is she? The two other actors that witness what is going on are “Game of Thrones” stalwart Iain Glen, as Philips legal guardian, Nick Kendall, and Holliday Grainger as his daughter, Louise. As you would expect they are both excellent, underplaying the happenings in Philips life, trying to not get in the way until it really is far too late for the plot, which ends up snowballing to its eventual climax.

Roger Michell, the director as well as adapter of the original novel has created a real elegant looking film, that owes a debt to Kubrick’s “Barry Lydon” (1975), with its lush settings, real props, on the nose art direction, but most importantly its use of subtle source lighting that has to be seen to be believed. Michell who is South African born had had a varied career with his biggest hit being the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant classic “Notting Hill” (1999), it is with “My Cousin Rachel” he has created his best most personal work to date – when I view this film it seems to me he is in complete control of performance as well as camera. The elegant nature of the daytime scenes, as well as scenery is as good as it gets – there is one scene in a barn full of hay with Phillip in conversation with Louise that looked like a painting from the period, shafts of light entering windows up high – just breathtaking.

In case you have not guessed I really enjoyed this film, it stayed with me many days after I had seen it, mainly because of the relieve complexity of the plot, it does remind me of elements of “Gone Girl” (2014) with a female protagonist as an unreliable narrator – even though in this film it is a male narrator who is letting us in on the story. What is interesting here is the way in which Rachel is able to manipulate almost everyone around her not only with ease but also with a real lack of action. It is almost like people see in her what they want to see – their own emotions are cast back at them – we see what we want to see until it is too late.

I thoroughly recommend this film to people who enjoy thrillers that are not only based around gender as well as the standings of people but that will not mind the steady pacing that could leave some modern audiences craving some movement as well as a complete ending.

“My Cousin Rachel” is out now in cinemas only.

Film review: “The Mummy” (2017)

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“The Mummy” (2017)

Thriller/Action

3-stars

Running Time: 107 minutes

Written by: Ben  David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman

Directed by:  Alex Kurtzman

Featuring:  Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, and Russell Crowe

Dr. Henry Jekyll: “Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters. “

Apparently shared universes are the new ‘in’ thing, it is supposed to give a studio the ability to run movies with similar themes parallel to each other without having the hang up of actual sequels – but not doing away with them entirely. This film is supposed to be the launch of a “Dark Universe” that links vampires, mummy’s and all sorts of other traditional Universal monsters – you may have heard of this before, that’s because in 2014 Universal tried to launch it then with “Dracula Untold” (2014) starring Luke Evans and Charles Dance, directed by Gary Shore – it was met with not great reviews or box office so now Universal have decided that it never happened and have opted to re-launch the Universal Monster (UMU maybe?) universe with the Tom Cruise starrer “The Mummy” (2017). Something of an uneven trip that does not always succeed but is something of an enigma – caught between genre poles.

The film centers on Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) who is a soldier of fortune attempting to plunder ancient sites for timeless artifacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet, a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years. With her powers constantly evolving, Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London.

The last time the Mummy movies were remade was in 1999, when Stephen Sommers directed the similarly titled “The Mummy” (1999), that was a worldwide hit featuring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah and introduced Arnold Vosloo as the titular character. There were three films in the series and it ended up being extremely successful, if not a little uneven in patches – but made out at the box handsome handsomely. Sommers even had his own idea of linking the monsters, which he failed to launch with the Hugh Jackman starrer “Van Helsing” (2002), which was a major flop for the studio, so plans ended there – or so it seemed.

Now we have a misguided attempt from producers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman who came to fame as screenwriter’s for J.J. Abrams various film and television projects. Unfortunately for me these two are linked with one of the most over rated screenwriters working today, Damon Lindeloff. Between the three of them they came close to ruining the Star Trek, Alien and Lost franchises. It’s a wonder anyone lets them near their films, I know I wouldn’t. When it come to the this new “The Mummy”, they have attempted to mitigate the risks by casting Tom Cruise as a possible antagonist as well as having a special appearance by Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Even with these superstars as well as up and coming actress Sofia Boutella as the titular character, fresh of the hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014), they cannot save this movie from being nothing more than a diversion. It is such a shame because Universal and their monsters have a rich vein in not only scares but also great empathetic characters. One only needs to view the the early 20th century versions to see a well of greatness – in fact one could do worse than rewatching those true classics.

Tom Cruise, here is trying something new, this is the first horror film, of a kind, that he has appeared in, as well as the first new franchise he has tried to be a part of since his role as Ethan Hunt. His success lies in his ability to commit to each role he takes, here he is a victim as well as an action hero, he seems to be the only one that knows what film he is in – he lends much humor to the film which is sorely lacking from everyone else, which is a real shame. They try and give him a sidekick in the form of Chris Vail played by the excellent and underused Jake Johnson, who appears without any logic or reason as a ghost, much like the Griffin Dunne character in “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) – here it may have been better if he was the sidekick instead of the vapid as well as trope heavy Jenny played with vanilla essence by Annabelle Wallis. Boutella who vamps it up as the mummy, looks like she belongs in this movie, much like Crowe who chews the scenery left, right and center round out the modest cast.

The film has been competently directed, but when you have the cast and crew as well as a big budget then things should really turn out more dynamic than this has. Looking at the credits, when a film has five people credited as writers something has gone wrong somewhere, this in the end is a fairly standard plot for a mummy movie: Someone finds a sarcophagus, ships it back to blighty, the mummy escapes, curses everyone and is the finally defeated. The narrative too is fairly simple, particularly when there is a voice over explaining everything, as the plot moves forward. Somehow the people behind the camera have really managed to try and seem to make things complicated, have reigned in Cruise producing something that is a little bland – it has not committed completely to being a comedy, an action film, a horror or even a thriller so we have something that is stuck firmly in no mans land – this is something that happens more commonly these days with big budget films.

Don’t get me wrong this is not a bad movie at all, in fact I would say that it only just misses the mark for a Summer blockbuster. It is no fluke that Tom Cruise makes very good movies, with a quality that is not found with many other people, actors, directors or producers. Interestingly Cruise who is a producer in his own right does not have a production credit on this and I would argue that if he did it would have been a tighter more logical film without many of the plot holes. When you look at movies he has produced they are nothing if not logical as well as being extremely well thought out – look at “The Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), possibly one of the best Sci Fi films of recent years as well as being hellishly original (to a point) – maybe they would have been better off ditching some of the many writers and producers and getting Cruise involved behnd the camera as well.

Regardless of all that if you like a supernatural action film with some laughs then this could be for you. It is a good film for the family; with no real frights just a lot of action, and you may be pleasantly surprised. The next movie that will be appearing will be “The Bride of Frankenstein” in 2019, featuring Javier Bardem as the monster, that’s if this one has any life in it.

“The Mummy” is out now only at the movies.

Film review: “Wonder Woman” (2017)

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“Wonder Woman” (2017)

Thriller/Action

3-stars

Running Time: 141 minutes

Written by: Allan Heinberg

Directed by: Patty Jenkins,

Featuring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen and Elena Anaya

Diana Prince: “The gods made the Amazons to restore peace to the world, and it’s what I’m going to do.”

Possibly one of the most anticipated super hero movies in recent history has arrived in the form of the Patty Jenkins directed, Gal Gadot starring “Wonder Woman” (2017), about an Amazonian warrior who after years of training as well as shunning the world of ‘man’ is drawn into World War I by her sometime beau Steve Trevor. If you have been following Wonder Woman’s journey to the big screen you will know that she first appeared in the terrible Zack Snyder directed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) where she stole the show with her kick ass attitude as well as the fact she didn’t defer or wait for the boys – she got on with showing off almost all of her tools, the shield, the sword, the lasso, those bracelet’s and of course her battle hardiness. Now as every good super hero as well as possible new franchise needs is an origin story, not just any story but a great one – something Warner Bros./DC has finally learnt from Marvel. As with any good origin story this one is built around a solid character, with some moral unrest as well as a few friends to help out where needed. What also helps is a director that can handle a huge budget as well as the expectations from the studio and audience alike. What we get is a very mixed bag with a film that starts strong then plot contrivances combined a with a very weak as well as confusing third act lets this film down but is still a great ride.

Before she was Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot (Chris Pine) who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

For me the first question that had to be answered was all to do with the director, that is, the hiring of a relative newcomer to direct what is potentially the blockbuster of the year as well the re-launching after a much publicized failure (thanks Zack Snyder) in 2016. I am happy to say that Patty Jenkins has done an outstanding job given all the inherent limitations as well as having a huge studio hovering in the background. It has been pretty obvious in the press as well as the marketing that Jenkins and star Gal Gadot have been on the same page right from the jump. Seeing a hero that is based in Greek mythology brought to life in three dimensions as well as it being done so competently is a real gift for audiences, one I hope they embrace with open arms. This film was always going to be directed by a woman, Warner Bros. had to beat Marvel at something and if they are unable to do so with the product or success, they at least could be first at something – having the first female led superhero movie as well as having a woman direct what is probably one of the largest budgeted superhero movie’s is a start. I think it is unfortunate that we do live in an age where this is seen as a step forward but women have been systemically cut out of this process.

The next step to get right was the casting and when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman for her debut many people had no clue who she was. However with a super strong marketing campaign as well as a few “Fast and Furious” films under her belt the public quickly became aware who was playing the Amazonian Princess – in fact this is a role if handled correctly could be the answer for Warner Bros. to have a face for the DC Universe that is 100% unique as well as being one of the three pillars of the DC Universe – giving those tired old warhorses Batman and Superman a well deserved break – is it me or are those two so last century. Gadot has embraced this character so well that she shines onscreen and even though the story may seem a little rehearsed, overblown and at times just like any other superhero origin, particularly a DC one – how can they still not get their endings right? Have you seen “Guardian’s of the Galaxy: Volume 2” (2017)? She seems above it all and able to handle anything.

The other two standouts for me are Chris Pine (Steve Trevor) and Lucy Davis (Etta Candy) – I was not sure how I would feel about seeing these two characters brought to life but like all great actors Pine and Davis are fully invested. I was invigorated to see Chris Pine take this role, as was it a sidekick role that has the job of showing Diana the ropes, so to speak. But Pine with his own franchise and after his own turn in last years excellent “Hell or High Water” (2016) it is obvious that this role required something special and real, so Pine is your man. After years of playing characters such as Dawn in the original “The Office” (2001 – 2003), Dianne in “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) and Emily in “Maron” (2015 – 2016) it is deserving she play Wonder Woman’s number 2 in the amazing Etta Candy – straight from the comics, she plays her wonderfully and threatens to steal the movie.

It was with some relief when I found the story shifting from Paradise Island to the ‘modern’ world that this was going to be set during World War I. The relief came from the fact that we were not going to be subjected to World War II and all the tropes that go along with it. In my mind it always seems to be a lazy way to move the plot as well as establishing a narrative as almost any fantasy or comic book film will use the Nazis as the ‘bad guys’ thereby negating the need to build three dimensional antagonists. With “Wonder Woman” however there was a need to establish a villain, the standout being Elena Anaya as Dr. Poison who I found to be extremely compelling and original, for a comic book villain that is. Unfortuabltey the same cannot be said of Danny Hustons whose idea of seeming evil is ywllng, a lot, as well as having no clue about what his motivations are, expet he is bad and just has to kill everyone else – really? That’s a villain in 2017, all he was missing was a moustache to twirl. However and no spoilers give it was about to get worse.

Once again we see with these high priced and still overblown superhero movies a massive reliance on CGI, which of course is the case with “Wonder Woman”, the difference with the better films is that this use of special effects is combined with great characters as well as interesting action moments that serve as one scene or moment. It could be with Jenkins background in independent movies, she directed Charlize Theron to a best actress Oscar for her only previous movie the serial killer biography “Monster” (2003), that she is able to take character first building around that to give a complete moment. Of course there are still third act issues with the big showdown that we have come to expect, but it is saved by the Gadot doing what she does best in with the character that is to stand up and not look back.

Unfortunately it has to be said the entire movie is ultimately let down by the ending as well as a final battle which I thought had ended with something akin to previous Marvel film. I also thought it was going to be a smarter ending which was hinted at in regard to the war, our place as humans in conflict and the fact that there is no easy answer. Boy was I ever wrong, it the film took a left turn, and suddenly I felt I was back at the end of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” – what a nightmare, please get me out. It was such a shame to see a film let me down this much.

I will not go into any real plot details as this movie is better left as a surprise even though the trailers have given away a few of the key points which is par for the course these days but this is a movie definitely worth seeing on the big screen and for my mind without a second watch is still in the top 15 comic book films produced to date. It is a true relasation of a property (again with a painful third act) that has gone through some turmoil over the past ten years with issues from medium, to directors, to writers to who would play the main part. But “Wonder Woman” is a fantastic watch for all ages and both genders, you should go and see. We should be thankful to have a Wonder Woman finally come to life.

“Wonder Woman” is out now only in cinemas.

Film review: “Table 19” (2017)

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“Table 19” (2017)

Drama

3-stars

Running Time: 87 minutes

Written by:  Jeffrey Blitz and  Jay Duplass, & Mark Duplass

Directed by:  Jeffrey Blitz

Featuring:  Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Wyatt Russelland Tony Revolori

Eloise McGarry: Do you know what Francie’s mother called table 19? “The table that should have known to send regrets, but not before sending something nice off the registry.”

Bina Kepp: “What?”

Eloise McGarry: “The table that could disappear in the middle of the wedding and no one would even notice.”

Jo Flanagan: “A table of people they don’t care about!”

Movies that have their plots based around weddings can be highly convoluted, they mostly involve the main parties of the occasion, the bride, groom, bridesmaid or best man. There is normally some kind of story revolving around someone finding their true love, which is not who they start the story with, or there is a meet cute, and shenanigans occur from there. With Anna Kendrick’s new movie“Table 19” (2017) the occasion is indeed a wedding, however this story revolves around all the guests that have been invited that are not family or real friends but people who are in the periphery of the bride and grooms lives – in fact you probably hope they will decline their invitations. In designing a film like this as well as keeping it interesting the actors chosen for the film had better be able to carry the entire plot forward – which they do even in the most bizarre situations. Make no mistake about it this is a comedy tinged with drama that has some of life’s mistakes and omissions laid out in from of us as well of the main characters.

The movies central character is Eloise (Anna Kendrick) who after starting out as the bridesmaid to her best friend Francie’s wedding, she is swiftly ‘demoted’ two months before the wedding when her boyfriend Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the bride’s brother and the best man, dumps her. After switching back and forth on whether or not to attend, Eloise RSVPs, only to find herself seated at Table 19, a table intended for guests who were only reluctantly invited and whom the hosts hoped would not attend. The other denizens of Table 19 are Jerry and Bina Kepp Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), who own a diner and are Facebook friends with the groom’s father due to his own diner chain, Renzo Eckberg (Tony Revolori), whose parents are acquaintances and came to the wedding in the hopes of meeting a girl, Jo Flanagan (June Squibb), Francie’s childhood nanny, and Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant), a distant nephew.

This a very interesting movie, it has been sold as a comedy but does have a serious issue at its core which is handled extremely well and should appeal to all who watch it, whether they agree or disagree with the outcome it is a very good piece of entertainment. This is a comedy that sits right in the middle of the road in the pantheon of comedies of today – it goes out of its way to not offend anybody, while highlighting some very real moments in some of the characters lives – it should be commended for this. It would have been nice for the smooth edges of the movie to be roughed up a little with some real stakes to be felt by the audience – but that was not the decision that was made behind the camera.

The movie is directed by Jeffrey Blitz who came to fame when his first film, the excellent documentary “Spellbound” (2002), was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary, it lost to Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (2002). Blitz has since not made another documentary and instead has concentrated on comedies, with the highlight probably being his stint directing eleven episodes of the US version of “The Office” (2005–2013). The director has teamed up with the Duplass Brothers who are a force unto themselves, both of them are not only writers but are also actors, directors and producers of some note. Mark and Jay Duplass have appeared in or created some of the best films and television series since their mumble core debut, “The Puffy Chair” (2005). Both Blitz and the Duplass brothers have brought a lot of heart to this movie, while staying within some of the confines of a Wedding film, while subverting others – there is a hilarious subplot where Eloise meets a man who she immediately hits it off with and as the audience you may be thinking she has found a new man, the payoff is very cruel but funny.

“Table 19” has an excellent comic cast, particularly at the eponymous table, for me it is the always uncomfortable Stephen Merchant who steals the movie from everyone including Anna Kendrick – something that is extremely difficult to do as Kendrick has a habit of stealing movies from her co-stars such as in “The Accountant” (2016) and “Up in the air” (2009). Merchant is so funny as a businessman, or so he says, he gives a great comedic performance and shows how someone like him can have an impact on a film like this when he is not the star, this is something many English comedians do in American movies, it is their bread and butter, and here he excels. The rest of the cast is excellent and former Oscar Nominee Anna Kendrick shines as a down on her luck character, so to does Lisa Kudrow and the always reliable Craig Robinson who brings his ‘A’ game to role that really he is far to good for – in fact the same can be said for most of these actors who could all (and have at some point) headline their own movies. The cast is rounded out with former Oscar Nominee June Squib who plays the brides former nanny who has been all but forgotten by the children she raised.

This is, in the end, a very good movie with a lot of heart, as you would expect from a comedy set at a wedding. The only issue is that it does start off a little reserved but after the first half hour it becomes quite a ride with a lot of laughs – I would recommend this film to most but as a light comedy film it works very well.

Film review: “Before I Fall” (2017)

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“Before I Fall” (2017)

Drama

3-stars

Running Time: 99 minutes

Written by: Maria Maggenti,

Directed by: Ry Russo-Young

Featuring: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Jennifer Beals, Diego Boneta and Elena Kampouris

Samantha Kingston: “If I was going to live the same day over and over, I wanted it to mean something… and not just to me.”

This movie is the second movie I have reviewed this month that has been written and directed by women, not only that they were both based on novels written by women – this is one of the most refreshing things about both these films, “Their Finest” (2017) and now this one, “Before I Fall” (2017). The differences being one, “Their Finest”, was a historical lesson of sorts, while “Before I Fall” is a kind of morality play, based on a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver. Starting to watch the film you may see this as a “Mean Girls” (2004) rip off with a touch of “Groundhog Day” (1993) thrown in for good measure – just to make a difference. Now I am the first to admit I am probably not the target market for this movie, but the longer I stuck with it the more I enjoyed it. It does have many story tics you would expect, the main character learns her lesson, starts being ‘nice’ to people and in doing so does save the day for all – this is a lesson movie, and everyone learns theirs.

The film is primarly concerned with Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) who wakes on Valentine’s Day. She is picked up by her friends, Lindsey (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi), who joke with her about losing her virginity to her boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley) that night. During class, Sam is handed a bunch of roses from her boyfriend with a blasé note. Included in the bunch is a pale colored rose with a note suggesting it is from another boy named Kent (Logan Miller). He later invites her to his party. During lunch the girls make fun of Juliet (Elena Kampouris), an outsider girl that they view as a “psycho”. At the party, Juliet shows up, seemingly uninvited. Lindsay confronts her and the two fight, with Juliet leaving in tears. As they are driving back from the party, the car hits something and crashes.

Sam wakes in her room on Valentine’s Day again. Thinking the previous day was just a dream, Sam continues on with her day but finds that the same events occur, and they again crash leaving the party.

So the general thrust of the movie is something that we have seen in many genre television shows and many many movies, that is the time loop where one or more characters have to relive moments over again until they learn some kind of lesson – so when you think about it a mean girls inspired movie was just screaming for this, where the not so mean girl learns her lesson and loves happily ever after. What makes this movie unique, or is unique at all?

The look of the movie is interesting as it dovetails the natural look of teen films by actually making it look more like a horror film, this is in part thanks to the use of Michael Fimognari as the cinematographer who has surprise surprise worked on a high proportion of genre movies, particularly horror movies. This is something that works really well as can be seen as the plot and narrative move along. It of course gives some sense of dread as the main character Samantha learns about her peril as well the peril of others. There is a use of lighting to highlight moments in the film, like red for danger, blue as a muted tone and black as the main highlighting of a duality within Samantha.

The lessons that Samantha may have to learn or be made aware of are relatively simplistic as far as lessons go, and of course we are dealing with adolescents means that the plot has to move along extremely quickly. This means that Samantha learns about her predicament and accepts it pretty quickly compared to other similar yarns, which does ring hollow as well as her ‘experimenting’ with time loop, which again feels rushed on her part as well as the story. To me this is a little unfortunate as the aspects of her nature that change can feel unearned – I mean the lessons she is learning would probably be learned once she went to College/University – does she really need a time loop?

The director, Ry Russo-Young, working with her screenwriter Maria Maggenti, bring to life the cliques as well as the worries that face teenagers not only now but throughout most peoples experiences, so that is nothing new. One of the more disappointing aspects of the film is the reliance (not just for this film but for many teen films) on the fact that the main protagonist as well as her antagonists are all extremely wealthy, or have wealthy parents, which again means that some real socio-political problems don’t even have to be raised – like money issues, paying for college, not having transport or anything else that may be perceived as ‘real issues’. Oh yes, this is also a part of the US that has no racial issues either and they get around that by having no African-American characters – it is that almost mono-culture we live in – very post-Trump.

Now saying all that bullying is no joke especially at school as can be seen in the news almost every other day, but what this film does is negate everything else and say that if only people were nice to each other everything would just be alright. Unfortunately that world does not exist, humans can be cruel, and teenagers are no exception. Bullying can be a symptom of other social ills, which do not seem to exist in this white town – it’s a shame because a real opportunity was missed. I still think that this a good film, it does work both plot wise as well as using the narrative that has been set up.

This is actually a very entertaining movie and reminded me of another teen-centric film directed by David S. Goyer, “The Invisible” (2007), about issues at a High School, but while the protagonist was very upper class, the movie’s antagonists had real issues that were worked through the entire movie – this too was based on a novel – but was more ‘real’ than this one. It seems to me that more could have been done to make this film more ‘real’ and take some of the narrative shine of it.

Given all of my thoughts I would still recommend this movie as a watch just to support the kind of film it wants to be and not the film that it is. The performances are all as polished as you would expect them to be given that this is a studio film. This film works well if there was just one issue, but in life that is very rarely true, so I believe while this gives the main character hope in changing her life and those around her it would have been good to add some realism to it.

“Before I Fall” is out now in cinemas only.

Do you need help if you are being bullied?

Who can help?

Whanau: If they aren’t sure what to do, show them this link. 

School: If you and the bullies are school-aged, you should let a teacher, school counsellor and dean know. They are responsible for student wellbeing and safety.

Workplace: If it’s happening at work, you should let your boss know – and if your boss is the bully, then contact their boss or check out this link.

Friends: They hang out with you so you’re not alone and stick up for you when the bullies are around.

Counsellor or youth worker. A counsellor can help with the impact bullying has had. They can teach you skills to stick up for yourself and build your confidence back up again.

“Before I Fall” is out now in cinemas everywhere.

Film review: “Alien: Covenant” (2017)

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“Alien: Covenant” (2017)

Horror/Science Fiction

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Running Time: 123 minutes

Written by: John Logan and Dante Harper

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Featuring:  Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demián Bichir

David: “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

Ridley Scott returns to the world of ‘Alien’ once again after his now classic second film, “Alien” (1979) and his not so classic “Prometheus” (2014). It appears he has some unfinished business with the franchise, particularly after killing a rival ‘Alien’ movie that was to be directed by Neill Blomkamp, as well as featuring original star Sigourney Weaver. I for one welcome any movie in this franchise, looking back I even enjoy the films that failed and still fail to connect with audiences, So it was with high hopes I entered into this film. I had watched and enjoyed the three short films that were the marketing for this movie, particularly the Noomi Rapace/Michal Fassbender “The Crossing” (2017) which I recommend you see as well. I can report that this is well worth watching as it is a real throwback to not only the Alien franchise but R-rated horror films as well.

Of course where would an ‘Alien’ film be without a long outer space voyage, and this movie starts with one, during which the 2,000 human passengers, along with 1,140 embryos, linger in a deep-freeze sleep for several years. The giant ship, called Covenant, is headed for a very distant planet, Origae-6, which is considered a promising new home for humanity to settle. For this reason, not only the slumbering immigrants, but the crew, too, are composed of prospective parents meant to propagate and establish a new home.

This couples-only plot point does give the movie a new feeling, it also means that when things go wrong as they were always going to, it means there is a double sense of loss when someone dies.

Scott has done a mini reboot behind the scenes as well as on camera for this new Alien installment, we have his usual director of photography Dariusz Wolski returning as well as a pair of new screenwriters, dumping the absolutely awful Damon Lindeloff, for Oscar nominated (and “Gladiator” (2004) writer) John Logan as well as newcomer Dante Harper. All of these changes are welcome, particularly Lindeloff who seems to deflate anything he is involved with script wise.

It is great to see Wolski return as he nailed the look of “Prometheus” with both the exteriors of the planet as well the interiors of the Prometheus itself. Wolski is one of the best cinematographers working today; he is in high demand so it is great that he and Scott enjoy working together to produce some of the best-looking movies around. Ridley too is a welcome return, there are few director working today that can command the cinematic language involved in making not only a big budget film but one that has a huge cinematic legacy, of course that legacy does have some holes in it. What I find refreshing about Ridley Scott is that he has such a high attention to detail in particular with the mise-en-scène that you never doubt any of the locations that exist in this artificial world.

The director has made more of an ‘Alien’ movie than a “Prometheus” follow up with more scares and many more actual xenomorphs – this plays like a horror film than many of the other films in the franchise, it may even be the best entry after the first two groundbreaking movies. The movie also attempts to tackle what the previous film tried to do which was analyze what it means to be alive, sentient as well as the asking the questions about where life starts, where it stops as well as where the spark of life originates from.

Once again Michael Fassbender illustrates why he is one of the best actors around as his David from the original film encounters the newly created ‘synthetic’, Walter. Fassbender aided buy special effects plays David and Walter off against each other. David has become a kind of Frankenstein with the alien virus from “Prometheus”, he evens says idle hands are the devil’s play things – once you start to witness his creations you will see what he means. It turns out that David has had plans since before he even went on the ill fated trip from the previous film – in an early scene with Weyland (Guy Pearce) you can see fear palpable on David’s creator’s face which is extremely chilling. David’s point of view as well as his true nature can be seen by Oram (Billy Crudup, here so excellent) who says he has seen the Devil as a child and can recognise him anywhere.

This film moves the origin of species onwards, it is fitting to me that mankind is reaching for the star but is being bitten by something that is closer to home, than in the heavens. There is certainly an aspect of reaping what you sow, in particular in the area of technology as well as creating something that you do not know what the ramifications of which will be – something that we could lean in todays world. Of course it is not limited to technology, as well see the original Captain of the ‘Covenant’ being killed and being replaced by someone out of their depth and who finds it hard to string two words together – sound familiar.

If you like R-rated horror films as well as science fiction movies with a great director at the helm then this is for you. If you are squeamish then maybe try something else. This is a return form for Scott who at eighty years of age is directing movies like someone a quarter of his age – not afraid to correct mistakes of the past, but with an eye on the future – I am so looking forward to the next instalment.

“Alien: Covenant” (2017) is out now in New Zealand theatres.